Murder in the White House
A murder and a security breach at Jaya’s exclusive country estate sparks a rash of rumours
Residents of Kodanad in the Blue Mountains refer to it reverentially as ‘White House’—the two-storied mansion on the lush 800 acre tea estate, with an electric fence and 1,400 surveillance cameras, which was a home away from home for the late chief minister, J. Jayalalithaa. In the initial years, after acquiring the property in 1992, she would come in a convoy of cars. Later, helipads helped cut travel time from Chennai to the retreat.
She seldom met the villagers, but Jaya endeared herself to them by making sure state resources were used to develop public utilities in Kodanad, which is 12 km from the nearest town, Kotagiri, and 550 km from state capital Chennai. For them, with her passing, the high security estate seemed even more remote, till a security guard at Gate No. 10 was found dead on April 24, his body hanging upside down, feet tied to a tree. The surveillance cameras were surprisingly not working, but the police, in the next 12 hours, established that a group of men in two cars had, apart from killing Om Bahadur, injured Krishna Bahadur, another of the 10 security
STRANGELY, TWO OF THE ACCUSED MET WITH ACCIDENTS, ONE OF THEM FATAL, DAYS AFTER THE BREAK-IN
guards on the estate. Clues provided by him and other circumstantial evidence helped the police identify some of the intruders.
What is baffling (a conspiracy according to some) is the extraordinary events that followed. On April 28, C. Kanagaraj, described by the police as the first accused in the murder, was killed, knocked down by a car while riding a motorcycle near Attur off the Salem-Ulundurpet highway. Barely nine hours later, at 5.30 am on April 29, the car of the second accused, K.V. Sayan, who was travelling with his wife and five-yearold daughter, rammed into a parked lorry at Kannadi on the Palakkad-Thrissur road in Kerala. A critically injured Sayan was moved to a Coimbatore hospital, where he is said to be recovering. Both were closely connected with the estate administration—Kanagaraj had been a trusted driver in Jayalalithaa’s service since 2008, and Sayan, a carpenter’s assistant.
The Nilgiris district police have so far identified at least six of the estimated 10 intruders. The criminals reportedly took away Jaya’s wristwatches as well as some artefacts, including a crystal rhinoceros. “As the case is still being investigated, we cannot reveal much more,” said Nilgiris SP Murali Rambha. Some suitcases were also found open, leading to suspicion that the gang may have also taken away valuables and even documents. DMK working president M.K. Stalin says “the police is obliged to investigate what is missing from the bungalow”. Meanwhile, the plot has thickened with Kanagaraj’s brother saying he was innocent and that it was all “a political conspiracy”.
There are other stories doing the rounds: that Jayalalithaa had “stashes at several places”, including a farmhouse in Siruvathur on the old Mahabalipuram road near Chennai, and that Sasikala is in the know. But that she is unlikely to complain, apprehensive that she might have to explain the source.
PTI MURDER MOST FOUL An accused in the Kodanad case at the Kotagiri police station in Ooty