Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

The true story of the Jolly Joseph case, now subject of a Netflix documentary

Jolly Joseph killed six times to cover her lies, grab property, and to settle down with a married man. A new Netflix documentary delves into the case. We tell the true story behind it.

JollyJosephJolly Joseph (left) with her now-deceased husband Roy Thomas. (File)

Netflix documentary Curry and Cyanide: The Jolly Joseph Case, based on a series of six murders allegedly committed by a Jolly Joseph, was released on Friday (December 22).

Also known as Koodathai serial killings, the murders unfolded over a period of 14 years, from 2002 to 2016. Here is the true story behind it.

Jolly Jolly’s lies

Jolly Joseph was seemingly a jolly and friendly soul. The daughter of a wealthy cardamom farmer of Vazhavara village in Idukki, she was the first in her family to go to college, and an ambitious woman who dreamt about life beyond the farm.


Jolly met Roy Thomas, the eldest son of Koodathai’s Ponnamattam family, during a relative’s house warming function in 1997. Roy’s father, Tom, used to be a senior clerk with the education department, and his mother, Annamma, was a school teacher. He had a younger brother and sister, and had supposedly secured a well-paying job in Hyderabad. A romance blossomed between Jolly and Roy, and wedding bells rang later that year.

But all was not as it seemed. After getting married, Jolly realised that Roy was actually unemployed, and sat at home all day. Jolly herself had lied about her M.Com degree. While she did go to college, she never completed her post-graduation, as she had claimed.

How lies led to the first murder

Festive offer

Jolly’s first victim was her 57-year-old mother-in-law, Annamma Thomas. After seeing Jolly’s (forged) M.Com certificates, Annamma insisted that she get a job or continue to study. After retirement, Annamma became even more persistent.

Thus, Jolly lied once again, telling her family that she got a guest lectureship in a Kottayam college. She left home, and visited only on weekends. But the fact that Annamma might find out about her lies bothered her. Finally, in 2002, she decided to take matters into her own hands.


Jolly went to her veterinary hospital and got some dog kill poison. She mixed this in her mother-in-law’s soup on August 22. Annamma died.

Property tensions drove Jolly to kill again

Jolly’s next victim was 66-year-old Tom Thomas, her father-in-law. Tom owned a decent amount of land, roughly 1600 sq m, which he seemingly intended to give to his younger, US-settled son Rojo before moving stateside himself. Fearing that her good-for-nothing husband and she would be left with nothing, she concocted a plan to grab the property.

In 2008, Tom was in Colombo to see his only daughter. He planned to fly to the US from there. But Jolly called him back, telling him that she was pregnant, and that her husband was drinking too much. Hearing this, a concerned Tom quickly returned to Kerala where Jolly managed to get possession of his title deeds, and concocted a forged will bequeathing all of Tom’s properties to her husband Roy. Subsequently, on August 22, exactly six years after the first murder, she killed her father-in-law using cyanide.


The cyanide was supplied by Mathew, with whom Jolly was having an extra-marital affair. Jolly convinced Mathew to help, after telling him that Tom had found out about the duo’s illicit relationship.

The husband was next

The first two deaths had not raised any suspicion. It was the third death, that of Roy Thomas in 2011, which for the first time gave a whiff of murder. After Tom’s death, Roy had inherited all his property. Jolly’s next murder was carried out with the intention of laying her hands on it.

On October 30, 2011, Roy was found lying unconscious on the floor of his bathroom, vomiting and frothing from his mouth. He was declared dead at the hospital. Suspecting foul play, Roy’s well-settled siblings and their 68-year-old uncle Mathew (not to be confused with Jolly’s lover) managed to get an autopsy done — revealing the presence of cyanide in his body.

However, Jolly convinced the police that Roy, a depressed alcoholic, had ended his own life. The local police agreed, and did not probe further. Jolly was now a landlady, and the coast was clear for her to make a life for herself.

But Jolly did not stop killing

Not everyone was satisfied with the police’s conclusion. Uncle Mathew insisted on a probe into the mysterious deaths of his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew — making him Jolly’s next target. On one fateful date in 2014, she spiked his evening drinks with cyanide. Mathew collapsed, and was rushed to the hospital by Jolly and neighbours, but it was too late.


Meanwhile, Jolly was having another affair, this time with Shaju Zacharias, the first cousin of her late husband. Unlike Roy, Shaju was a teacher with a steady source of income. But to get together, she needed to ‘remove’ further obstacles.

First was Shaju’s little daughter Alfine. On May 1, 2014, Jolly gave the girl cyanide — Alfine died a few days later. Next to be ‘eliminated’ was Shaju’s wife, Sili. On January 11, 2016, Jolly took unknowing Sili for a dentist appointment, where she laced her medicines with cyanide.


Jolly was active in Sili’s funeral, and became a frequent visitor to Shaju’s house. The couple would get married in 2017.

How ‘deaths’ became ‘murders’

Since his brother’s death, Rojo Thomas had never been satisfied by Jolly’s version of events. Finally in June 2019, he approached the police, seeking a probe into the deaths of his parents and brother. Subsequently, all the dead bodies were exhumed and subjected to autopsies, proving foul play.


Jolly was arrested on October 5, 2019, and she confessed to all her crimes. Her lover Mathew, who supplied the cyanide, was also arrested. Both remain in custody and are facing trial.

First published on: 23-12-2023 at 14:25 IST
Latest Comment
Post Comment
Read Comments