Murder in the temple

  • Quick-thinking man’s action of writing down one suspect’s vehicle number on the sand proved vital in breakthrough, say police
By Damith Wickremasekara

Two weeks ago Harsha Manjushri Keerthi Perera Basnayake Nilame of the Vapikaramaya Temple in Galgamuwa, Kurunegala District, called a youth known to him promising to find him employment. They met in Colombo.

Keeping to his promise he found employment for 21-year-old Suresh, a resident of Embilipitiya, as a labourer at a worksite in Mirihana. They met regularly thereafter.

Ven Gunaratana Thera Ven Pitigala Jinarathana Thera

The Basnayake Nilame told Suresh that he needed some money urgently and he had worked out plan to find the money. The plan was to rob money from a monk at the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya.

The Basnayake Nilame had known the 81-year-old prelate Ven Pitigala Jinarathana Thera for over six months and in recent weeks had been discussing with him an investment plan. The Basnayake Nilame was an investment planner for a leading insurance company.

“Both, the Basnayake Nilame and his accomplice were to reach the temple at night and the Basnayake Nilame was to strike up a conversation with Ven Jinarathana Thera after drawing him out of his room (Awasage). Suresh was to then enter his room and locate the money and escape,” Deputy Inspector General of Police (Mirihana) I.M.Karunaratne who is in charge of investigating the killing of two monks at the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya told the Sunday Times.

Hours before they executed their plan the Basnayake Nilame had gone in his car WP KM-6376 to Mt Lavinia and met Suresh. Both had consumed liquor and in addition Suresh had been given Cannabis. The Basnayake Nilame had invited a woman to the hotel too. According to police the three of them left the hotel and the woman was dropped off at Kottawa. On the way they had bought a knife from a super market in Maharagama.

They proceeded to the temple. The premises was almost deserted except for a family of four who were conducting a pooja. “As planned the Basnayake Nilame met Ven Jinarathana Thera on the bottom floor of the Awasage. He was joined by another monk, 60-year-old Ven Boralesgamuwe Gunarathana Thera. While they were talking Suresh had gone upstairs,”DIG Karunaratne said.

“Still immersed in the conversation, Ven Jinarathana Thera had said to excuse him as he wanted to use the toilet and had proceeded upstairs. It was at this moment that Suresh, who was still looking for the money, had panicked and hid himself in the bathroom,” the DIG said.

The upstair floor of the Awasage (monks’ residence) where the brutal stabbing took place
Army patroling the temple premises. Pix by Susantha Liyanawatte and Nissanka Meegoda

“As the monk entered the bathroom, Suresh had warned him not to shout, but as the monk had shouted out Suresh had stabbed him on the neck. As Suresh tried to escape the other monk, Ven Gunaratna rushed upstairs on hearing the monk’s cry and had tried to prevent Suresh escaping. He too was stabbed sustaining serious injuries, to which his later succumbed,” DIG Karunaratne said.
The Basnayake Nilame in the meantime had got into his vehicle and driven off.

The husband of the family of four who were attending a pooja were alerted by noises and the commotion. He noted down the vehicle number on the sand believing that it could be important”, he said.
Western Province Senior DIG Anura Senanayake who was among the officers who rushed to the scene of the crime told the Sunday Times that the quick-thinking action of the man proved to be a vital lead in arresting the suspects.

“Within an hour the Police arrived at the residence of the Basnayake Nilame at Maharagama where he lived with his mother and sister. He appeared calm and denied visiting the temple at Kotte,” he said.
The suspect was questioned for four hours before he admitted visiting the hospital.

Meanwhile, media reports quoted police officers saying that four people had been arrested in connection with the killings. The suspects had been taken in for questioning from a nearby worksite after police sniffer dogs led the police to the location. But they were released the following day. The Sunday Times learns that the 27-year-old Basnayake Nilame had left the temple and contacted Suresh who had fled the scene of the crime. They had met and Suresh was given Rs. 1,000 and told to take a bus to Thanamalwila in the south and remain in hiding.

On the day following the crime, the Basnayake Nilame who was in custody received a call on his mobile from Suresh. Police had instructed him to answer the call and say that he was safe and some others had been arrested. He was also instructed to get directions to Suresh’s hideout.

Two Policemen accompanied the Basnayaka Nilame in his car to the location. When they got there, Suresh had got into the car unaware that the two policemen were hiding inside. He was taken into custody too.

Back in Mirihana the murder weapon was found. The two suspects were produced in the Gangodawila Magistrate courts and remanded until April 5. A tense situation arose outside the Courts after the lawyer appearing for the suspects was manhandled by Buddhist monks and those protesting against the murders.

Civic-conscious man to be rewarded

The resident of Kotte who noted down the Bsnayake Nilame’s vehicle number on the sand is to be recommended for a police reward. Western Province Senior DIG Anura Senanayake told the Sunday Times that the information proved vital to make a breakthrough within an hour after the crime was committed.

He said in addition the person had called the emergency service and stood guard on the spot where he had written down the number till the police arrived.DIG Senanayake said crowds who turned up at the temple on hearing about the killings had tampered with the evidence making it difficult even for the sniffer dogs.

He said crowds had even entered the upper floor of the monk’s residing area, where the crime was committed.

Vehicle number noted on the sand
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