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Confessed Serial Killer Jollyamma Joseph

Is this what a female serial killer looks like?

used with permission from iclipart
Source: used with permission from iclipart

On October 5, 2019, 47-year-old wife and mother Jollyamma “Jolly” Joseph was arrested for the murder of her first husband, Roy Thomas. The news stunned her neighbors, who described her as kind and welcoming, a good woman. Family members said she was a caring sister, a cherished daughter, and a bright student. It was not until her brother-in-law challenged the validity of his father’s will that Indian law enforcement had ever heard of Jolly.

While it was the unwitnessed and unregistered will that Jolly produced that stirred her brother-in-law to contact law enforcement, perhaps it was the geographic distance between Jolly, residing in the Koodathayi village in the northern Kerali province of India, and her U.S.-based brother-in-law that kept him from falling for her charms and, as it turned out, deception.

Others have not been so lucky. What started out as a property dispute has morphed into a serial killer investigation as Jolly has allegedly confessed to murdering six family members between 2002 and 2016—a mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband, uncle-in-law, cousin-in-law, and the two-year-old daughter of her husband’s cousin.

Evidence is mounting against her. Her father has stated that she told him about the murders shortly before she was arrested, in hopes that her family would stick by her. Suspicion that others were involved—either as pawns of Jolly’s manipulation or as willing participants in her schemes—are also swirling. Two men have been arrested for supplying her with cyanide over the past 14 years, although the extent of their knowledge and involvement has yet to be determined. Local CPI(M) member K Manoj was questioned by the police after he was accused of being paid by Jolly to help her prepare a fake will of her father-in-law. Her second husband, whom she married after poisoning his wife and two-year-old daughter, has also been questioned.

One thing is certain; Jollyamma Joseph was not who she seemed. Even as the deaths in her family mounted, no one suspected that she was a serial killer.

Living a Web of Lies

It’s hard to separate out what is true about people after are they are accused of a horrendous crime, as memories tend to be tainted by the present. Of course, it is also true that sometimes things that were hidden come to light. For instance, several of her former college classmates have stated that, in 1988, she had to move out of her rented room after being involved in a theft.

Her professional life was a sham. She certainly wasn’t the university professor she claimed to be. Every day for fourteen years, she left home, telling people she was going to her job as a professor at the prestigious National Institute of Technology Calicut (NIT) about a half-hour away. Police are still trying to figure out where she was during all this time.

Her spiritual life has also been called into question. When she was first arrested, people around her described a religious woman who was hard-working and accomplished. However, though multiple people claim Jolly regularly went to the local Christian church, the reverend disputes this. ­“She is not even a member of this diocese. She came here after getting married," he said. "Jolly was not a frequent visitor here, nor did she have anything to do with the activities of the church."

The Female Psychopath

Jollyamma Joseph has yet to be convicted of a crime. There has been no mention of a psychological evaluation or formal psychiatric diagnosis. At least one Indian criminologist (who has not evaluated her) has called her a psychopath, while a local forensic psychologist has called her a sociopath. Not surprisingly, there has been a flurry of gossip, speculation, psychoanalysis, and sociological interpretation in the media.

Is Jollyamma Joseph a female psychopath? True psychopaths are rare: approximately 1 percent of the population. Even if she is convicted of serial murder, that doesn’t necessarily make her a psychopath; a recent study found that the prevalence of psychopathy in serial killers was no higher than that found in other inmates—about 25 percent. Of course, serial killers are rarer than psychopaths, and female serial killers are rare indeed. While there have been attempts to classify them in terms of motives, there is a lot we don’t know.

If she is guilty, Jolly’s motives for the individual murders appear to have been diverse, although an overall theme appeared to be money. This was no woman living in the desperate throes of poverty, though. Several people have talked about Jolly’s “extravagant” interest in living the high life. Police now suspect the documents that emerged after the death of her in-laws, leaving Jolly and her husband their property, were false. Jolly’s suspected murder of her unemployed husband also appears to be motivated by an attempt to get rid of someone whom she perceived as a financial burden and emotional strain; ironically, it was the emergence of a new will after her husband's death, leaving everything to Jolly, that first led her brother-in-law to the police.

Retaliation may have been another motive. While few people questioned the apparent curse that appeared to take Roy Thomas and his parents, Mathew Manjadiyii, Roy’s uncle, was not so quick to accept Jolly’s assertion that her husband had a heart attack. He insisted on a postmortem examination. When traces of cyanide were found in his system, however, authorities believed Jolly’s assertion that her husband had committed suicide due to financial woes. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mathew Manjadiyii was the next extended family member to die.

Convenience may also have played a role in Jolly’s cold-blooded plan. On May 5, 2014, 2-year old Alphine Shaju died; Jolly, who was with her, initially said that the small child had choked to death. Twenty months later, Alphine’s mother collapsed and died in Jolly’s lap after drinking water given to her by Jolly while her husband was consulting a dentist. Less than a year later, Jolly and the widowed husband and father of the deceased Alphine, married.

The Bottom Line

The jury is still out on whether Jolly is a serial killer. And it’s impossible to diagnose from afar whether Jollyamma Joseph is a female psychopath. What we can say is that Jolly appears to have certain personality characteristics—her pathological lying, superficial charm, lack of empathy/remorse, and premeditated behavior—that are typically seen in both male and female psychopaths. And her choice of victims (extended family), motives (financial gain, convenience), and method of murder (poisoning) are consistent with many female serial killers, who, unlike their male counterparts, tend to gather their victims from friends and family rather than hunt them among strangers.


For more forensic psychology information, check out Dr. Johnston's website, true crime youtube channel, and forensic radio show.

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