side of the Sathasivam case
A Murder In Ceylon: The Sathasivam Case by Prof.
Ravindra Fernando. Vijitha Yapa Publications. Reviewed by Firoze
The case revolved around three major factors: the identity of the
murderer, the location of the crime, and the time at which Mrs.
Anandan Sathasivam was killed.
Prof. Ravindra Fernando deserves to be commended on this 480-page
account – touching on the medical aspects and leaning toward
the defence – in giving us the intricacies involved in this
celebrated case of 1952.
Parallel contrary views
Sir Sydney Smith's account under the same title in his book Mostly
Murder (1959, Harrap Ltd, GB) is upheld by Prof. Fernando. However,
readers should study former Supreme Court Judge A. C. Alles's version
in his Famous Criminal Cases of Sri Lanka Vol. 4 to have a balanced
view of what really happened on that fateful day at No. 7, St. Alban's
Place in Bambalapitiya, on October 9, 1951.
Confusing the jury
In some celebrated murder cases, a common streak is clearly discerned
in the line of conflicting evidence by expert witnesses, running
into several thousands of pages, led by eminent defence counsel
in examination/cross-examination vis-à-vis the clear evidence
at hand. The resultant effect confuses and confounds the seven lay
jurors comprising average folk, leading them to unanimously acquit
the accused! In such cases an erudite three-judge bench would have
determined otherwise as witnessed in the Mathew Peiris, Rita John
and Hokandara trials, all leading to convictions.
Ranjani taxi-cab murder
The Ranjani taxi-cab murder case in September–December 1954,
showed this kind of clever strategy adopted by G. G. Ponnambalam,
QC, and Sir Ukwatte Jayasundera, KCMG, KBE, JP, QC, in their cross-examination
of three topflight fingerprint experts. Alles states that “a
large part of the cross-examination was confined to minor contradictions,
irrelevancies and fanciful improbabilities, which were bound to
affect the lay jury and confuse them in regard to the salient features
of the crown case”. Trial proceedings of 3,500 pages comprised
cross-examination of the finger prints and ballistics experts testimony
topping 1,170 pages! The jury's unanimous verdict saw all four accused
Ceylon: Turf Club robbery and murder
The Ceylon Turf Club robbery and murder case in January 1950: two
belated witnesses, one saw the 4th accused Aratchirala at Punchi
Borella; the other saw him travelling in the car Z6033 along Havelock
Road at almost the same time 8.30 a.m. on 31.01.49. Crown witness
Rupananda's statement that the arrangement was for Z6033 to be at
Darley road/McCallum road junction at 8.00 a.m. added to the confusion,
while proctor Somaweera Gunasekera testified that Aratchirala met
him at Hulftsdorp at 9.30 a.m. Aratchirala and his henchman Madaviya
were, at the early stages of this case, discharged, while four accused
went to the gallows.
Chandrasekera Dias murder:
Called by the defence, Professor of Forensic Medicine at Peradeniya
University, Dr. Chandra Amerasekere, vehemently contradicted AJMO
Dr. J. G. Gunaselvam, a lecturer in Forensic Medicine, whose excellent
job in conducting the autopsy established beyond reasonable doubt
that Chandrasekera Dias was the victim of homicide and not suicide.
Cross-examined by the defence for almost nine
days to shake his testimony to throw doubts on the time of death,
they could not shake his evidence on the cause of death as a result
of homicidal strangulation. The seven-member Sinhala-speaking jury's
unanimous verdict saw Mrs. Rohini Dias and chauffeur Nimal Fonseka
being acquitted on 04.09.82.
Sathasivam murder case:
Similarly, in the Sathasivam murder case, the jury appears to have
been thoroughly confused, especially with the conflicting medical
evidence, and should have seriously considered the following facts:
1. IGP Sir Richard Aluvihare, KCMG, breaks protocol,
requesting Prof. G. S. W. de Saram, Professor of Forensic Medicine
of Peradeniya University, to conduct the autopsy over the JMO, Dr.
P. S. Gunawardene.
2. Prof. de Saram's dogged stance insisting on
conducting the autopsy by himself sans assistance from the JMO portrays
a psyche of blatant infallibility (p137).
3. Re: Time of death – his postmortem report
states 10.00/11.30 a.m. and, after conducting experiments on executed
prisoners on Sir Sydney Smith's advice, changes it to 11/11.15/11.30
a.m. in and not earlier than 10.45 a.m.! (p169).
4. This stance stood diametrically against the
temperature/alimentary tests conducted by Professors Paul and Peiris,
and tests by the radiologist Dr. A. H. N. Welikala indicating 9.30
a.m. keeping with William's story.
5. Prof. de Saram's aversion from pronouncing
executed prisoners dead, revealed his stance against capital punishment.
Prof. G. S. W. de Saram, called as a prosecution
witness, at the very outset turns a hostile witness.
1. Sathasivam's voluntary statement made on 31.03.52
at the magisterial inquiry held by N. M. J. Rajendram, indicates
thus (p280-281): Mr. Sathasivam said that he then had sexual intercourse
with his wife (on the 9th morning).
“After my bath I came out of my bedroom.
While I was rubbing myself down I remember my wife telling me, ‘Summons
has also been served and I do not know what I could tell Mr. Mack
if I conceived’.”
2. OP Mack acting for Mrs. Sathasivam in the divorce
case states that some time between 10.30 a.m. and 12 noon on the
9th he received a call from a lady who asked him whether summons
had been served in the divorce case. Although she did not give her
name, he presumed it to be the voice of Mrs. Sathasivasm. However,
he entertained some doubts later.
But then we all know from Sathasivam's very statement
that Mrs. Sathasivam already knew that summons had been served on
Sathasivam on the 8th (p17). Why would she query Mack again?
1. A villager,18 years, just 11-days in service
in the Sathasivam household, bereft of any education or imagination,
tells a long story, ball by ball in cricket parlance, on how the
master threatened him and made him an accessory to a murder, and
all the attendant actions of going about it, from the bedroom via
the pantry, right through the kitchen and to the garage, and later
being given a part of the jewellery. This is unimaginable for such
a villager to concoct.
2. The controversial abrasion on the victim's
back could easily have been caused while the body was being carried
via that narrow 17-inch passage between the pantry and garage.
3. The drag mark on the kitchen could very well
have been one of the victim's feet being dragged along that same
passage, thereby causing blackening of that foot. The victim could
even have stained her feet by walking about the kitchen before she
4. The victim's head injury, as opined by the
defence, was the cause of William hitting her with a piece of firewood,
followed by strangling her, is rather far fetched. He could have
continued to hit her with that piece of firewood, better still that
blowpipe, and done his foul deed.
5. That William attacked Mrs. Sathasivam from
behind vis-à-vis she having approached him from the pantry
to the kitchen while facing him, when that “protrusion”
allegedly causing the abrasion between her shoulders, was at the
point of the narrow passage leading to the garage far behind William.
Also, if he had approached her from behind, how come he received
those scrape marks?
6. The dead body had husk scrapings, not coconut
scrapings, on the neck region. Evidently, the body was lying close
to a whole heap of coconut husks. William was scraping a coconut
at that time.
William's confession at an early stage to the
murder was a strongpoint with the defence, but then his motive of
robbery was flawed, since there was enough wealth in the house he
Sir Sydney Smith, CBE
Prof. Sydney Smith was successfully challenged in the Sidney Fox
murder case by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, where the jury accepted Sir
Spilsbury's evidence and found the accused guilty of murder by strangulation,
rejecting the opinion of Prof. Sydney Smith that death had resulted
from heart failure, due to suffocation induced by excessive smoke
and a weak heart.
Alles states that “in both cases, that of
Sydney Fox and Sathasivam, Sir Sydney Smith appears to have displayed
a weakness of too readily supporting his medical opinions by an
acceptance of non-medical facts, on which a forensic expert is not
competent to express an expert opinion.”
1. William's evidence on leaving the residence
about 09.30 a.m. and meeting with V. S. N. Shanmugam was established
at the trial.
2. Quickshaws driver Pabilis's log sheet shows
he left Majestic cinema in Bambalapitiya in response to Shanmugam's
call at 9 a.m. for High Street, and according to both Pabilis and
Shanmugam, they both travelled together in the taxi from 9.45 a.m.
to 11 a.m. that morning. The log sheet strangely showed an ‘erasure’
after the numeral nine, for which he could not give a satisfactory
3. Quickshaws driver M. L. A. Perera picked Sathasivam
at 10.30 a.m. at his home, and after having driven down the lane,
turned the vehicle, and while travelling towards Galle Road glanced
at the Sathasivam household and at the entrance saw Mrs. Sathasivam.
This was a time divorce action was filed against her husband, and
here she was at the door to send her husband off!
4. Quickshaws manager, Allen Mendis's evidence
that Mrs. Sathasivam called just before 10.30 a.m. notwithstanding
the log sheet entry stating ‘Sathasivam’.
Obviously some sinister hand at Quickshaws was
tampering with evidence, detrimental to the interests of Sathasivam.
The damning evidence of simple people who gave
details of time, action, and events absolutely ignorant about the
implications their evidence will relate to the time of the crime
vis-à-vis the so-called experts, who were stubbornly insisting
on various times and happenings, using their tenuous and conflicting
medical expertise and experiments to substantiate their position,
being cognizant their evidence will either save or send Sathasivam
to the gallows.
Professors Paul and Peiris's evidence conflicted
with Professors de Saram and Sydney Smith, obviously casting doubts
in the minds of the lay jury, let alone the eminent judge's direction
to the jury, which appeared to lean more in favour of Sathasivam.
A hard-fought attempt was on the cards to save Sathasivam from the
gibbet, since William too had turned crown witness, and at the end
of the day, nobody was going to be hanged. The verdict of the unsequestered
(as opposed to the OJ Simpson case) jury to acquit unanimously.
Points to ponder
1. Sathasivam was a prominent and popular all-Ceylon
cricketer vis-à-vis William, a nonentity.
2. The eminent trial judge E. F. N. Gratiaen (later
CBE, QC) was a sportsman himself.
3. The English-speaking jury, comprised folks
favouring Sathasivam's prowess at cricket.
4. Colvin R. de Silva's inimitable charisma over
solicitor-general T. S. Fernando (later CBE, QC) swayed the jury.
5. Conflicting medical evidence amongst experts
vis-à-vis that of ordinary folk.
6. Sinister and powerful hands working behind
the lines in favour of Sathasivam.
7. Affluent friends like M. M. Haniffa allegedly
doling out funds.
8. Some support for Sathasivam from a section
in the police department.
All these aspects favoured Sathasivam, who had
a strong motive to kill his wife after divorce action had been filed
on the 8th – which was obviously going to succeed against
his interests – and he stood to lose all, including his lover
Yvonne Stevenson, whom he wouldn't have been able to support, let
alone pay alimony to his wife. His last try for reconciliation on
the 9th morning appears to have failed.
Some editorial drawbacks: Quotes carry closed inverted commas at
the end of every paragraph, instead of only the last one. The inevitable
“different to” provokes a riposte of “similar
from”! Overkill of exclamation marks. All in all, Prof. Fernando
has made a significant contribution in recounting the in-depth medical
ramifications of this diabolical crime.
Into the heart of matters
The Banana Tree Crisis by Isankya Kodithuwakku
Reviewed by Ayesha Inoon
The characters come from all walks of life. They
laugh and cry, dream impossible dreams and struggle to survive against
the barriers of their existence. The clash of their diverse opinions,
the stubborn resistance of a culture to change, and the inevitable
return to traditional ways materialise through the pages of Isankya
Kodithuwakku’s debut collection of short stories, The Banana
For this 24-year-old, the book is the culmination
of many years of observation and of personal experiences that she
has been able to step back and look at in a different light. “Sometimes,
little things that don’t seem important at the time can make
great stories,” she says. Her stories take us beyond the ‘little
things’ to the deeper thoughts and significances behind ordinary
The title story, ‘The Banana Tree Crisis’
describes a quarrel between a young Sri Lankan woman and her American
neighbour over the cutting of a banana tree on the border of their
homes on Ward Place. The symbolism of the story is apparent –
with the American embodying the superior attitude of the West towards
Third World countries, while the woman, with her long history and
neglected potential, is representative of Sri Lanka itself.
When you travel overseas, says Isankya, you get
to see Sri Lanka from a different perspective. As a result you tend
to appreciate your motherland more and to see things more acutely.
As the daughter of the former Minister of Education, Dr. Karunasena
Kodithuwakku, Isankya has travelled extensively, accompanying her
father on diplomatic assignments to Japan and South Korea as well
as visiting other countries. Her love of reading, combined with
the emphasis on language skills in her primary schooling abroad,
led to her writing stories even as a young child.
Despite having done her A/Levels in the mathematics
stream and being selected to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura,
Isankya chose to follow her dream to be a writer. She was awarded
a scholarship from Kenyon College, a small Liberal Arts College
in Ohio, to major in International Studies, and also to study creative
Her years at college in the U.S. gave her an insight
into how differently Sri Lanka was perceived in the eyes of others,
and helped her to sharpen her writing skills.
Being a politician’s daughter not only let
her see the personal side to politics, but also gave her remarkable
exposure, she says, recalling especially the visit to Jaffna with
her father soon after the Ceasefire Agreement was signed.
In her story, ‘The House in Jaffna’,
strikingly vivid descriptions create pictures of the desolation
and rugged beauty of the war-torn landscape of Jaffna. Having fled
to London to escape the violence of the war, Mr. Nadarajah returns
with his family in the hope of returning to life the way it was
before the war. The eager hope and the conflicting doubts in his
mind as his children protest his decision, and the growing despair
as he realises the futility of his dream to return to normalcy are
described with a sensitivity that leaves the reader with a sense
of yearning for what cannot be.
Isankya believes that one has to sit back for
about ten years before writing a story based on a personal experience,
because it is only then that you will see it for what it really
was. She laughingly refers to the story ‘How Mrs. Senarath
Called a Marriage for Mala’, which is based on a maid who
worked for her family several years before. The attitudes and needs
of the servant Mala and her employer, who wishes to treat her fairly
as well as keep her from quitting like the other servants before
her, make up a tale that is humorous as well as poignant.
Returning home after graduating with the highest
honours from Kenyon College, she immediately plunged herself into
tsunami relief efforts and spent a year working with the Sarvodaya
Shramadana Movement. The last two stories in her book, ‘Buffer
Zone’ and ‘Shallow Canoes’ take us deep into the
physical and emotional struggles of the tsunami survivors and discuss
both the good and the evil that came out of the spate of post-tsunami
“Even if you have a gift, the craft of writing
is something to be learned and to be sharpened with techniques,
just as a piano player has to practise playing the piano,”
says Isankya. She herself has far to go, she adds. These stories
were her maiden experiments and she hopes she will gain greater
skills, as she continues to write and learn. Having received a fellowship
to do Postgraduate Studies in Writing at the Columbia University,
Isankya left for New York this month. She hopes to return and teach
creative writing in Sri Lanka.
Guide to learning French
Pratique de la Comprehension Ecrite by Mahendra
Pathirathne Reviewed by Malith Senanayake
In this global village of today, where every nation
is close to each other as never before, the enthusiasm to learn
foreign languages has increased immensely. Mahendra Pathirathne
recently released Pratique de la Comprehension Ecrite, at Alliance
Francaise de Colombo, where he has a remarkable service record,
over 20-years, as a French teacher.
By writing this book he hopes to serve G. C. E.
A/Level students, teachers and enthusiasts of the language, who
struggle without proper study materials. The author writes on the
methodology of the French language to help students learn the language
in a more relaxing way, while avoiding common errors committed as
beginners. This is his third book, the first two of which are rightful
properties of the National Institute of Education (N. I. E).
The book consists of 40 comprehension passages,
with 720 questions and answers. The Asian touch given to some passages
would enable Sri Lankans to make themselves familiar with the given
exercises. The book will greatly assist G. C. E. A/Level students
with the comprehension passage, a section which trips them up at
The author holds a first class honours degree
in French, German and Japanese from the University of Kelaniya.
He did his Masters at Sorbonne-nouvelle, Paris-III and is a former
lecturer of the University of Peradeniya. He was also a former consultant
in foreign languages to the Ministry of Education (MoE). He was
among the last batch of students who went to France under the sponsorship
of the Republic of France for their higher studies. It has been
the author’s goal to fill the gaps in French education in
Sri Lanka as much as possible.
Those interested in his book could contact Mahendra
Pathirathne on tel: 033-2225439.