Curry murder

The "curry murder" was a high-profile murder case in 1984 that supposedly involved the perpetrators covering up the killing by chopping the victim Ayakanno Marimuthu's (given as Marithamuthu in some sources) body into pieces and cooking them in curry. In March 1987, six suspects, including Marimuthu's wife Nagaratha Vally Ramiah and her relatives were charged with murder, but given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal as no remains or evidence of the killing were ever found.1

Investigation of the murder
On 9 January 1987, an informer notified Detective G. Alagamalai that in 1984, a man by the name of Ayakanno Marimuthu had been murdered and his body chopped up into pieces and cooked in curry. Marimuthu was a caretaker at the Public Utilities Board holiday chalets in Changi. Alagamalai was initially disgusted and sceptical, but brought up the story to his superiors in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The senior officers in the CID were equally sceptical of the informer's story, but instructed Alagamalai to conduct inquiries into the case.2

Alagamalai soon found a missing-persons report on Marimuthu lodged by his wife Nagaratha Vally Ramiah on 18 December 1984 at the Joo Chiat police station. In the report, Ramiah stated that her husband had not returned from a trip to Genting Highlands in Malaysia having left Singapore on 12 December. Police found no cause for suspicion of foul play and recorded Marimuthu as a missing person. Months later, Ramiah was employed as a caretaker at the Foochow Methodist Church on Race Course Road.3

With his informant's story given credibility by Marimuthu's missing-persons report, Alagamalai pressed on with his investigation. Over the course of a two-month investigation, he spoke to about 30 people and gathered background information on a number of suspects, one of whom was a mutton butcher.4

On 23 March 1987, the CID's Special Investigation Section conducted an operation to bring in the suspects. From 2 am that day, five police teams raided different locations simultaneously, including a flat in Jurong East, a caretaker's quarters on Netheravon Road and the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. By 9 am, a total of eight suspects were rounded up. They were Marimuthu’s widow Ramiah, his mother-in-law Kamachi Krishnasamy, Ramiah’s three brothers Rathakrishnana Ramayah, Shanmugam Chandra and Balakrishna Ramiah and their wives.5

Balakrishna Ramiah was a butcher at a mutton stall at Commonwealth Avenue market, while his brothers Ramayah and Chandra were caretakers at the Ministry of Finance's holiday chalets on Netheravon Road and the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church respectively. Krishnasamy was a housewife, while Mary Manuee, Ramiah's sister-in-law, was a factory worker.

The suspects initially denied any knowledge of Marimuthu's murder, until 25 March 1987 when investigators established from one of them the details of the case. Details of the gruesome murder soon emerged. According to the suspect’s revelation, Marimuthu was brought to the caretaker's quarters of the Presbyterian Church by the three brothers on the afternoon of 12 December 1984.7

On that night, it was said that Marimuthu was bludgeoned with an iron rod in the kitchen of the quarters and his body chopped up and cooked with chilli powder, spices and rice in a large aluminium pot of the type often used in Indian restaurants to cook nasi briyani, a popular rice dish served with either chicken, mutton or fish. The remains, including cracked pieces of skull and bones, were placed into black plastic bags and disposed of in several roadside rubbish bins.8

Then-director of the CID, Assistant Commissioner Jagjit Singh, described the case as "one of the most unusual and bizarre murder cases handled and solved by [the] police – unusual because the remains of the body have never been found and the deceased had not even been reported to have been murdered; bizarre because of the manner in which the body was disposed of".

A newspaper report of the murder in March 1987 described the victim Marimuthu as often being drunk and violent, and physically abusive towards his wife Ramiah. A spokesman for the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church also said the duo were a hardworking couple, and that Marimuthu possessed a hot temper but would apologise after calming down.10 

The trial and subsequent events

On 27 March 1987, Ramiah and her three brothers Balakrishna, Ramayah and Chandra were charged with the murder of Marimuthu, while her mother Krishnasamy and sister-in-law Manuee were charged the following day with abetting the murder. The six were brought to court on 6 June 1987.11

During a 12-minute hearing, the prosecution said there was insufficient evidence to proceed against them as neither the remains of the victim's body, the murder weapon nor the cooking pot were found. District Judge Zainol Abeedin gave the six a discharge not amounting to an acquittal, which meant that they could be charged again for the same offence. Deputy Public Prosecutor Ang Sin Teck added that police investigations would continue with the intention of future charges. After the hearing, the six were taken back into custody by the CID.12

Ramiah, Krishnasamy and Manuee were not rearrested, but the three brothers were detained at Changi Prison from 22 June 1987 under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. After a number of applications for habeas corpus (a writ or court order) were denied, a legal challenge to their detention in March 1991 succeeded, and they were released unconditionally on 21 June 1991.13  

Television dramatisation and defamation case

The "curry murder" was adapted for television as part of a 20-episode drama serial featuring five true crime stories. The Mandarin serial titled Doctor Justice was produced by the Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS; now Mediacorp) and aired on Channel 8 in 1995.14

Following the coverage of Doctor Justice in an article in The Straits Times, the six former suspects sought damages by asserting that the newspaper had defamed them through misleading language that placed the responsibility of the murder on them. The court ruled in favour of The Straits Times, stating that only facts were dealt with in the article. It also dismissed the suit against TCS, which was involved in the case as a second defendant.15

Alex Chow & Alvin Chua

1. “Five Months of Digging into Caretaker's Murder,” Straits Times, 7 June 1987, 2; “Judge Frees Six Charged in Curry Murder Case,” Straits Times, 7 June 1987, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Lai Yew Kong, et al., “Diary of a Bizarre Killing,” Straits Times, 27 March 1987, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Lai, et al., “Diary of a Bizarre Killing.”
4. Lai, et al., “Diary of a Bizarre Killing.”
5. Lai, et al., “
Diary of a Bizarre Killing”; “Five Months of Digging into Caretaker's Murder.”
6. “Five Months of Digging into Caretaker's Murder.”
7. “Curry Murder Horror,” Straits Times, 27 March 1987, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Curry Murder Horror”; Lai, et al., “Diary of a Bizarre Killing.”
9. “Curry Murder Horror”; Lai, et al., “Diary of a Bizarre Killing.”
10. “Curry Murder Horror.”
11. “Five Months of Digging into Caretaker's Murder”; “Judge Frees Six Charged in Curry Murder Case.”
12. “Judge Frees Six Charged in Curry Murder Case.”
13. Brendan Pereira, “Three Held since 1987 Freed,” Straits Times, 22 June 1991, 1; “‘Curry Murder’ Case Brothers Challenge Detention,” Straits Times, 10 March 1991, 11; “Three Drop Action against Government for Wrongful Detention,” Straits Times, 21 July 1991, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Chin Soo Fang, “Curry Murder Case to Be in New TCS Serial,” Straits Times, 6 May 1995, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Brendan Pereira, “‘Curry Murder’ Defamation Case Dismissed,” Straits Times, 18 April 1996, 34. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 23 October 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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