Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 1, April 16-30, 2019

The Subbanna Reddy murder case

by C.K.N. Panicker, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Salem Town

Some famous crimes recorded in various Tamil Nadu police journals.

In the investigation of cases apparently trifling clues may lead to detection. It is therefore necessary to carry out a very careful examination of the scene of offense to discover such clues. The Subbana murder case reported below, in the investigation of which I had the good fortune to be associated, will clearly prove what has been said.

Early in the morning of March 25th, 1931, one Neelamegham, a key watchman of the South Indian Railway, while proceeding along the line from Srirangam to Bikshandar Koil Station, saw the dead body of a man lying in the Coleoon river-bed below the railway girder bridge. He proceeded to Bikshandar Koil Station and informed the Station-Master of what he had seen. The latter telegraphed to the Permanent-Way Inspector at Lalgudi. The Inspector took the next train to Bikshandar Koil and inspected the body. The deceased had not met his death as a result of any stab wounds in the neck and chest. Mr. Rangachari, the Permanent-Way Inspector, reported the discovery to the Police Out-post at Coleroon toll-gate and the Head Constable-in-charge passed on the information to Sub-Inspector of Police, Manachanellur and also to Srirangam Station, where I was then a probationer.

Sub-Inspector Thyagaraja Pillai, now a retired Circle Inspector of Police, was in charge of Manachanallur Station. He and I reached the place at the same time. A minute examination of the scene showed that blood had oozed to some depth in the sand. It was evident that the deceased must have died in the river-bed. In the surface of one of the wounds, a tell-tale piece of straw was found.

There was no clue to the identity of the deceased. A careful examination of the pocket of the shirt, which was only garment on the corpse revealed a blood-stained piece of paper. This, on being unfolded was found to be a ticket for the Srirangam Lottery. The body was photographed and sent for autopsy.

The Sub-Assistant Surgeon of Srirangam Hospital, who conducted the post-mortem, found as many as 5 stab wounds, of which 4 were in the neck and one in the chest, 2 of the wounds in the neck having penetrated into the trachea and that on the chest into the thoracic cavity. All the wounds appeared to have been caused by a sharp instrument, and one of those in the neck by an instrument with a larger blade than that used to inflict other injuries.

Sri Thyagaraja Pillai followed up the only clue in his possession by contacting Sri Jaganatha Iyyengar, the Secretary of the Srirangam Lottery. From the counterfoil in his possession, the Secretary was able to furnish the information that the particular ticket, found on the dead body, had been sold by one of their agents, Abdulla Sahib of Thennur, to a man called Subbanna, a goat-herd. From this Abdulla and another employee of a local goat dealer, particulars regarding the residence and the occupation of the said Subbanna were ascertained. Both these witnesses recognised the photograph of the deceased as that of Subbanna-the person to whom the lottery ticket had been sold. It was also ascertained during investigation that another person, one Thimma Reddy from Cuddapah, used to accompany Subbanna and that this person had come recently to Thennur with a number of goats and gone to Madurai from there. A Head Constable was immediately sent to Madurai to trace Thimma Reddy. He traced him in Madurai and brought him to Trichinopoly. When questioned, Thimma Reddy admitted that he knew Subbanna, but said that he had met him eight months back. He agreed that the photo shown to him bore some resemblances to Subbanna. Since there was nothing to connect Thimma Reddy with the crime, he was allowed to go back to Madurai, where he disposed of the 50 goats and sheep, he had with him.

An intelligent constable was sent to the native place of the deceased with a copy of the photograph. A number of relatives and friends of Subbanna recognised the photograph and some of them came to Trichinopoly. One Bhookarama Reddy told the Sub-Inspector that he had been financing the deceased and produced a letter which he had received from the dead man. This letter, which was post marked at Piler on 21st March, disclosed that the deceased was starting that day with a consignment of sheep and goats for Trichinopoly. Sri V. Gunnaiah, the Acting Station-master at Piler, proved that a man named Subbanna had booked a waggon on 21st March for the conveyance of 60 goats and sheep to Srirangam Station; that the waggon was attached to mixed train which left Piler Station at 4:15 a.m. on the 22nd. At Pakala, which is the first junction after Piler, one Thulakkanam, a Railway Shunter, stated that he had seen Subbanna arriving at Pakala on the 22nd morning with a waggon load of goats. This witness also stated that one Thimma Reddy had been waiting at Pakala from 10th March onwards, messing in the hotel of one Abbai Naidu, that he had been expecting a waggon load of goats and that the deceased and the Thimma Reddy had left by the same train with the goats.

At Katpadi, which is the next junction after Pakala, one Narasimhalu Naidu, a hotel keeper, identified the photo of Subbanna as the person who had arrived at Katpadi with a consignment of goats on 22nd evening and had eaten in his hotel. He said that on the 23rd morning he had seen the deceased and the other individual putting the goats into the waggon. At Villupuram also, the deceased and another individual had been seen together. The waggon in question had been attached to a goods train, which left Villupuram at 11:10 a.m. and reached Srirangam 7:50 p.m.

Investigation showed that when the waggon arrived in Srirangam there was none in charge, and hence it was detached from the train and pushed on to a siding. At 11:30 p.m. that night a man, representing himself to be the consignee of the goats, had appeared at the Srirangam Station and produced the railway receipt for the consignment. When the Station-master asked him why he had come so late to take delivery of the goats, this individual had explained the delay by saying that he had been to Thennur to find coolies to drive the goats. This individual signed on the reverse of the railway receipt as Subbanna in Telugu characters, and took delivery of the goats.

On the strength of the evidence available, accused Thimma Reddy was arrested. At an identification parade held in the court of the Lalgudi Sub-Magistrate, the Station-master of Srirangam, the pointsman who had assisted him, and the two coolies who had helped in taking out the consignment of goats from the waggon, all identified the accused as the person who had taken delivery of the consignment. The pointsman at Pakala, the hotel keeper, Abbai Naidu, and others also identified the accused as the person whom they had seen with the deceased bringing the goats to the waggon.

During the investigation, it was disclosed that the deceased Subbanna was an illiterate person. In fact, when he booked the consignment at Piler, the Assistant Station-master had taken only his thumb-impression on the consignment risk note. The railway receipt, on which the accused had signed, was seized and sent to the Chemical Examiner who traced a blood mark on it.

The accused was not in affulent circumstances and investigation showed he had been trying to raise some money for purchasing goats but had not succeeded. He could not satisfactorily explain how he had come by the 60 goats which he had taken to Madurai from Trichy. Nor, could he explain how he came by the railway receipt on the strength of which he took delivery of the goats at Srirangam. The only inference was that Thimma Reddy had murdered Subbanna in the waggon, pushed him off into the river and taken delivery of the goats at the Station, by impersonating Subbanna.

There was no direct evidence and the accused was charged for murder on the purely circumstantial evidence appearing against him. He was ably defended. But Mr. Courtney, I.C.S., the Sessions Judge, found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The sentence was confirmed on appeal by the High Court, which paid a tribute to the painstaking investigation of the officers responsible for bringing the murderer to justice. – (Reproduced from The Madras Police Journal, September 1956.)

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