“Crime investigation is a game. A game that the detective plays with the criminal only to win,” KG Simon, who has solved many complex cases, including the Koodathayi cyanide murders committed by Jolly Joseph, says.
In an interview with ‘Vanitha’, Simon says he does not take for granted the joys of success and rewards. He, instead, derives motivation from each success to focus more on his job. It is this balance and control that has imprinted Simon’s name in the history of criminal investigations in Kerala. In his 35 years of service, Simon has proven 52 cases.
He got a meritorious service entry for solving within a year, seven cases with no clues against the accused while he was an inspector in Munnar. He proved 19 cases as the SP of the Ernakulam Crime Branch.
Then, after setting a record of proving 10 cases in one year while discharging his duties at Kasaragod, he went to Kozhikode. It was after he took charge as the Rural SP there that the case of Koodathayi murders, which shocked Kerala and also became controversial due to some decisions of the police, unfolded.
The name K G Simon became familiar to every Keralite after the culprit, who believed she could get away with the murders that took place between 2002 and 2016, was unmasked. Jolly Joseph had allegedly killed six people over 14 years, including her in-laws and husband, using cyanide.
Now the district police chief of Pathanamthitta after moving from Kozhikode, Simon says there is reason for hope in the case that currently has the media abuzz — that of Jesna Maria James’ disappearance, which has remained unsolved for two years.
Simon, the proud star of Kerala Police, shares his experiences.
Did you seek the transfer from Kozhikode to Pathanamthitta?
Yes, I had told superiors I wanted a transfer because the Koodathayi case was something in which I was heavily involved. There were six cases at once. The mental exertion and the running around that were required for the case was beyond imagination.
Investigating a case is like playing chess. We must pay attention to the moves we have to make and the moves of the opponent, and also have control on the interventions of others. That’s the case that had filled my head for days. It was necessary to get away from that.
We had gathered all the information about the Koodathayi murders much before the media and the public knew about it. There are many aspects in a case that have to be done with people’s knowledge, that need witnesses. Like exhumation, for instance. We were waiting for the right time do it. That went as we desired.
The interrogation and investigation in all the six cases have now been completed. The government and the DGP had asked me to continue in Kozhikode. They said I will have to remain in charge of the case even if I moved. They made the demand not because they doubted that the new people who would take over the case wouldn’t know how to handle it. They asked me to stay in charge because it would have been difficult for the new team to study and understand all the details. So, the earlier team is continuing on matters related to this case.
Now, what is needed in the case is follow-up action, conducting tests and dealing with other complaints related to the case. That can be done by sitting here, too. Moreover, the special investigation officers of each of the case are still there. The new ADGP, SP and we (the old team) are now handling the case together.
Isn't it difficult in our country to do things like exhumation?
We cannot mix faith and investigations. I had said that I will be solely responsible for any problems that may arise and that it was I who had taken the decision to open the grave (as part of investigations into the Koodathayi murders). I had also said that it was not a decision of the police department or the government and that colleagues and doctors did not have any role in it.
At first, there was opposition. There were arguments like, ‘It is a good family, opening the grave would be a disgrace to them.’ But we made them realise that it had to be done, that it was a question of ensuring justice for the dead. We said if we are not allowed, we will have to take legal help.
There were those who feared and reminded me that if anything goes wrong, it would be difficult to offer an explanation. I knew what I wanted. While I was certain that justice would be served, I also wanted to ensure that it did not cause any trouble for my colleagues.
I am very much thankful that despite the initial opposition, the church and the people stood by us, they even got us the workers to open the grave.
In many cases, the victims are poor. They have no one to turn to.
Your opinion is that the police are for them. But isn't the perception of the people about the police the opposite?
That's right, I have said so. In the vast majority of cases I have investigated, the victims were poor. In some cases, there will be no one to explain things or form an action committee. In such a situation, the investigating officers should be guided by the principle of ensuring justice for the dead. I have followed that principle in the cases that came before me. These include the murder of a woman who was wandering the streets of Erattupetta (in Kottayam), the killing by three men of a mother living alone in Kasaragod, and the rape and murder of a mother and daughter in Vandiperiyar.
It is not correct to say that people's perception of the police is the opposite. Everyone knows that in some cases, things can go wrong. However, it is not necessary that the explanations offered are right.
The sense of justice does not diminish even in cases involving the rich, like the abkari contractor Mithila Mohan case and the Cheemeni murder case.
Mithila Mohan's business partner, known as 'Kurumulak Annan', conspired to assassinate him and used people from Tamil Nadu to kill him due to enmity caused by a dispute over a spirit deal.
A teacher at Cheemeni in Kasargod was killed to steal her gold and money. After an investigation that stretched to the neighbouring states, the victim’s neighbours were arrested in the case. The accused in the Cheemeni case were caught after we monitored it closely and made our moves tactfully.
I was the Superintendent of Police in Kottayam when Mathew, who ran a ‘blade’ business (illegal money lending) in Thalayolaparambu, was murdered. It was done by someone who had taken money on interest. The person went to Matthew's business establishment saying he wanted to repay the money, killed him and buried him in a vacant plot behind the building.
The owner of the plot built a four-storey building on it not knowing about the buried body. The culprit thought he would not be caught. But, he was caught. This was a case that happened eight years ago. His accomplice in the crime was then lodged in the Thiruvananthapuram Central Jail in connection with another crime. I sent a CI to Thiruvananthapuram. Then, as I stood with the main accused in Kottayam, I questioned his accomplice over the phone. We then got details of the place where the body was buried. It took us 10 days to dig up the foundation of the building. We found Mathew's bones and his watch and proved the case.
You studied history, and a police job was not your dream. How did you get interested in criminal investigation?
The main quality of an investigator is observation. I have realised that women are more likely than men to find small objects that fall to the ground. That is because of my observations. I have not had to correct that realisation.
As a child, when a ball would be lost in bushes and fields, I would divide the space into columns and search for it. It was only after I started investigating cases did I realise that there was such a method of investigation. It is called the ‘strip method’. Many children have this observational intelligence. If you nurture it, you can be a good detective. There are many books available on scientific research methods. They should be read. It helps us identify the abilities we have and those that we don’t. We should then work on developing the skills we do not possess.
At the beginning of the Koodathayi murders case, you had talked about Dr Harold Shipman, the greatest serial killer in world history.
I came to know about that through reading. It was my eldest son who reminded me of Shipman at the time. No one could have imagined that Shipman, who had earned the reputation of being a hard-working and compassionate doctor, would commit murders.
He was caught when he forged a will in the name of his last victim, an elderly lady called Kathleen Grundy, to acquire her property.
While such things can be read and understood, it is difficult to connect such things to a criminal investigation. That would become prejudicial. I just remembered the case then and mentioned it, that’s all.
How much does training help?
Classes are available on criminal investigation methods. The decision on which to use, how to use and developing the ability to apply them all boils down to one’s interest. There was an hour-long class that I attended on how to understand someone’s nature by looking at their handwriting. From then on, I started observing the handwriting of my friends. We know their nature (since they are friends). I realised that the inferences from their handwriting tallied with their nature. I continued that study. It is not a scientific method. However, it has been helpful in case investigations.
In football, we are awestruck by some goals. We wonder if such a goal is possible. The goal would have been scored by a forward, but it would have been the result of teamwork. Similarly, in case investigations, too, ‘passes’ from team members are important. The courage and techniques of the person leading the investigation are also important. Otherwise, there will be no result even if the team is good.
What techniques are used for case exploration?
There are many things around that link the accused to the case. And there are ways to find them. They cannot be disclosed in detail because people will use that knowledge to escape. That will increase the work of the police. The first step is to 'shape' the investigation. There are some witnesses who will say nothing when the police question them directly. The accused are made to reveal themselves through psychological tactics.
Let me tell you about the Changanassery Mahadevan missing case, a major case in my career. I started the investigation 18 years after the case started. The locals believed that a 13-year-old boy named Mahadevan had left his hometown. Mahadevan had the tendency to leave the place. After he went missing, Mahadevan wrote a letter to his house. Many had said that they had seen him at many places. But relatives did not believe them.
I did a detailed study of Mahadevan’s character. He would leave his home often, but return when he ran out of money. Mahadevan was last seen in the town before the local Chathayam day rally. On that day, no vehicles had gone out of the place. So there was no need for an inquiry outside the region. After questioning a number of people, we got information that he was last seen going to a local bicycle repair shop. The police had, however, not summoned the person running the shop and the investigation had almost stalled.
We got a breakthrough after policemen won his friendship by pretending to be ordinary people. They sponsored his and his real friends’ drinking sessions. He revealed clues about the murder in his drunken stupor.
When we questioned him, we uncovered not one but two murders. During an argument in the shop, he had beaten Mahadevan to death and dumped his body in a pond with the help of a friend. When the friend started demanding money often by threatening to reveal the murder, he killed him by mixing cyanide in his drinks and dumped his body, too, in the same pond.
The boy's skull was found after 18 days of digging the pond.
It is often through such techniques that a case is proven. It's not by beating, shouting, threatening and hanging people upside down as is shown in movies. The incompetent are the ones who get angry and assault people.
It is said that Jolly does not have any mental problems. Did circumstances turn her into a criminal?
Psycho criminals fall under another category. One does not become criminal due to circumstances. It is the hard-hearted who resort to crimes. People commit crimes for selfish gains. Their goal is to achieve what they set out to do. The goal can be position in society, money, comfort, and so on. Some derive pleasure from misleading others. The cruelty they indulge in to get things done does not seem cruel to them. All of it would seem cruel only to the soft-hearted.
The newspapers said that you bought Jolly a change of clothes.
Yes. Even though a murderer, she is a woman. How many days can you wear the same clothes? I got a number of messages asking, "Sir, don’t you have any other work?” Some came directly to the police station to register their protest, most of them were women. The court will decide the punishment for the offence Jolly committed. There were no concessions made during the investigation. One can consider buying and giving clothes as a gentle behaviour on the part of the police. She was provided food also by the police.
People came to know about you only after the Koodathayi case.
My wife Anila was additional director of public instruction. She is now retired. My eldest son Avinash Simon is a history research scholar at Kalady University. My younger son Suraj Simon is preparing to do research after completing an integrated MA in English from IIT-Madras.
Anila was in Thiruvananthapuram during the last years of her service, but we were together otherwise. I do not bring anyone to my residence in connection with a case. I see them only in the office. When the children were young, they would not tell anyone what their father did. It was only after Koodathayi that even their classmates knew they were my children. Only after the case did many people know about me. What is needed is not publicity but results. My duty is to ensure justice for human beings in society. My wife and children do not interfere in my work unnecessarily. They have been able to really understand the nature of my work. The eldest son also shares with me the knowledge he obtains through reading.
The most brutal case you have investigated.
The Koodathayi case is the most brutal murder case I have ever investigated. But the most brutal murder that was emotionally traumatic took place in Vandiperiyar when I was the Kattappana DySP in Idukki district.
The accused who had broken into the house at night when her father and brother were not at home had planned to kill the 22-year-old girl and her ailing mother and then rape them. The girl did not die even though she was beaten. When she woke up after she was raped, she said to the accused, "I will not allow you to touch my body even if I die..."
She had forgotten everything that had happened due to the impact of the blow. When he heard this, the accused hit her again with an iron weapon to ensure she was dead and then raped her again.
The next morning, a man saw her seven-month-old baby who was covered in blood and had reached the front yard through the front door that was open. He then called the police. A team of 10 people was formed and the police arrested the accused the next day. During interrogation, the accused himself told me the last words of the girl.
Do you continue to lead the church’s choir despite your busy schedule?
I am a part of the choir of the Ellumpuram church in my hometown Thodupuzha. I never lost interest in music no matter how busy I was. I practise when I get time after duty. Whenever possible, I also take part in the church choir.