In the evening of July 23, 65-year-old Uma Mageshwari, the first mayor of Tirunelveli Corporation, was found in a pool of blood alongside her dead husband Murugasankaran (75) and housemaid Mariammal (30) at their Tirunelveli residence. Their bodies, riddled with multiple stab injuries, were discovered by Mariammal’s mother who had come looking for her when she didn’t return home.
Within minutes, the place was abuzz with policemen and forensic experts. Tirunelveli city police registered a case of murder and formed three special teams to investigate the case. The initial probe suggested that it was a murder for gain as a few pieces of jewellery worn by Uma were found missing from her person.
At the same time, the police didn’t rule out the angle of political enmity, as Uma, a prominent DMK leader, had several political rivals in the region. The immediate suspect was her archrival Seeniammal, deputy secretary of DMK’s Adi Dravidar Wing, who is currently undergoing treatment at a Madurai hospital. One of the three special teams rushed to Madurai city to interrogate Seeniammal, who flatly denied any involvement in the triple murders.
The perfect murder
Circumstantial evidence was hard to come by, for it was a perfectly planned and executed murder. The assailant had reportedly spent more than 30 minutes in the house, taking his time to commit the crime, indicating that the killings were premeditated and not an outcome of sudden provocation. The killer had left no fingerprints, no mobile signals or tyre-marks of his vehicle and had carefully evaded CCTV cameras in the locality.
But, as it happens, even the faintest of evidence can expose the slyest of criminals. Despite being faced with blind alleys, the investigating agencies kept a close watch on Seeniammal and her family. They conducted tower dumping, analysed call records of Seeniammal, and scrutinized CCTV footages until they stumbled upon visuals of Seeniammal’s son S Karthikeyan’s car. Footages from CCTV cameras in Uma’s neighbourhood showed Karthikeyan’s car crossing a nearby street several times on the day of the murder.
This was a major breakthrough in the case as police believed that the decade-old cold war between Uma Mageshwari and Seeniammal could be one of the reasons behind the murder.
On the night of July 28, policemen picked Karthikeyan from his hideout. After hours of interrogation, a senior officer in Tirunelveli city police confirmed that Karthikeyan was the murderer.
Karthikeyan, apprehending arrest, had gone underground since the day of the murders. While police didn’t consider him a suspect during the initial phases of the investigation, he came under their radar as soon as the CCTV footage of his car surfaced.
The murder was a fallout of a 23-year-old grudge between the families of Mageshwari and Seeniammal over holding prominent positions in the DMK. A recent tiff between the two leaders over financial transactions to get a ticket in the 2016 Assembly elections had fueled the old grudge, a senior police officer said.
Police said that on July 23, Karthikeyan visited the house of Uma Mageshwari and asked her for water. When Uma came with a mug of water, Karthikeyan took out a knife and stabbed her. “On hearing Mageshwari’s shrieks, her husband Murugasankaran rushed in and attempted to stop Karthikeyan. But, Karthikeyan stabbed Murugasankaran as well,” police said.
Mariammal, the maid, who was reportedly washing utensils in the kitchen at that time had rushed to the hall and attempted to stop Karthikeyan. He had first pushed her down. He then stabbed her to death when she tried to raise an alarm to seek the help of neighbours, police said.
Sources in the special team said that Karthikeyan had cleverly planned and executed the murder. “Knowing that he would get caught with his mobile signals, he had not brought his mobile when he went to kill the couple. Also, he parked his car around a kilometre away from the house and had walked all the way, without getting caught in any of the CCTV footages in the locality,” sources said.
At the root of it – A 23-year-old enmity
The murders were a culmination of a 23-year-old enmity between the families of Uma and Seeniammal over holding leadership positions in the party.
Explaining the political cold war between Uma and Seeniammal, DMK workers in the Tirunelveli locality said that the two leaders were the two political heavyweights from the women’s wing in the region.
In 1996, when the elections for the newly formed corporation were held, Uma and Seeniammal’s name were doing rounds and Uma finally managed to get a ticket. She became the first mayor of the newly formed city municipal corporation. The rift started here.
As both of them are Dalits and both receive equal support from the locals, they eventually became rivals inside the party. “Ever since Uma became the mayor, Seeniammal was always treated less than Uma in the party,” a DMK man in Tirunelveli said.
Though Seeniammal holds a position in the party’s Adi Dravidar wing, people believe that Uma has a say over the selection of candidates for the assembly election. “Believing the same, Seeniammal’s family members gave ₹ 57 lakh to Uma as a token amount to get a ticket for them in the 2016 assembly election. However, Uma could not secure the promised ticket. Also, she did not return the cash that she allegedly received to get a ticket,” the DMK functionary said.
It may be recalled that after consoling the family members of Uma, DMK leader MK Stalin and women’s wing secretary MP Kanimozhi said that the law and order was not in place. Now, with the arrest of Karthikeyan, DMK cadres in the State are a dismayed lot.
On Monday (July 29) evening, the case that was being investigated by Tirunelveli police was transferred to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Division (CB-CID) police. CB-CID police said that they would get the case records and would inquire Seeniammal and her husband Sannasi to check their roles in the murder.