There must be something fishy, was the verdict of the senior, a “man of few words”, to the junior. The junior heaved a sigh of relief. Earlier, mumbling and stuttering he had laid his fears and doubts before the senior. He had been ill that day, “running a temperature” and had pleaded for the afternoon [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The plot thickens

Continuing the saga of the Vicarage double murders in the 70s, Prof. Mohan de Silva the intern who attended on Russel Ingram, one of the victims, speaks to Kumudini Hettiarachchi

There must be something fishy, was the verdict of the senior, a “man of few words”, to the junior. The junior heaved a sigh of relief. Earlier, mumbling and stuttering he had laid his fears and doubts before the senior.

Prof. Mohan de Silva

He had been ill that day, “running a temperature” and had pleaded for the afternoon off. After lunch, he was stretched on the haansi-putuwa (a planter’s chair), reading a newspaper, when his batchmate walked into the junior doctors’ quarters adorned with photographs of the “greats” such as Prof. K. Dharmadasa. The quarters were on the upper floor of the building housing the X-ray Department of the General Hospital, Colombo. The other intern house officers of the 1973 batch of the Colombo Medical Faculty serving at the General Hospital had already had their lunch and departed for their respective wards.

The intern on the haansi putuwa was Dr. Mohan de Silva (now Dean and Professor of Surgery of the Sri Jayewardenepura Medical Faculty) and the late luncher at the table close by was Dr. Terrence de Silva.

While eating, Dr. Terrence asked him whether a patient with low blood sugar can get worse if dextrose was administered. Listening with half an ear, Prof. Mohan had answered that the standard protocol would be to put a cannula, collect blood for testing and then start dextrose. But his colleague did not seem convinced and it was then that Prof. Mohan questioned why he was asking. An unconscious patient had been brought in, he was told, and a by-stander was suggesting otherwise. To the query who, the answer that it was a priest went over him.

“It didn’t click then,” says Prof. Mohan, “for I was thinking academically.”
When he told Dr. Terrence that “we too had a patient and what you did is right”, his colleague murmured that “a very authoritative person…..a priest” seemed to disagree.

It was when Dr. Terrence mentioned the priest with the “give-away” ravula (beard), a long ravula, that immediately his mind went back several months. Young intern Mohan was gripped by a strange feeling……he wanted to see the priest.

The lure was great and forgetting that he was having fever, together with Dr. Terrence, he walked towards Ward 47. Ward 18 where he was the intern was close to the Kynsey Road entrance of the General Hospital, while Ward 47 was off Ward Place and near the Old Accident Service.

Peering down the long corridor, over the half-walls of the ward, he did a double-take. A chill went through his body and what he saw brought out goose-bumps.

It was a familiar figure, bespectacled and bearded, standing by the entrance…….there was no ambiguity, it was Fr. Mathew Peiris.
“I know him and he knows me,” was the thought foremost on Prof. Mohan’s mind, quickly followed by, “If he sees me I’m in trouble.”
Prof. Mohan was just not ready to walk past him to see the patient who was in a coma. (The patient was Eunice Peiris, the wife of Fr. Mathew.) But he was able to give a quick word of advice to Dr. Terrence to tell his boss, while walking away from the remembrance of an imposing man.

“But I had to tell someone,” he says, reminiscing. It was then that he realized that he was in slippers and wearing no tie. “Those days we would never-ever walk into a ward without proper attire that includes a tie and socks and shoes,” he recalls. Caught in a bind, he was wondering what he should do when along the long corridor he saw his own boss, Prof. R.A. Navaratne walking towards him in his customary posture of bag under arm and eyes downcast.

For Prof. Mohan, the compulsion was to “break the news”. Taking courage firmly in his grasp, he had then walked up to Prof. Navaratne and said, “I want to speak to you, Sir.” Not stopping in the corridor, Prof. Navaratne whom he calls the “best role model” had walked on to the Department of Surgery, into his room and sat down, while tremblingly Prof. Mohan poured out the story.

Thinking it was fishy and assuring Prof. Mohan that he would speak to his colleague, Dr. K.J. Nanayakkara (Dr. Terrence’s boss), on the matter, he had dismissed him. Vindicated he had gone back to his quarters, the memories flooding back.

The tale of events several months before the “fishy” talk comes alive from Prof. Mohan. “It was a Tuesday, the day of our clinic,” says Prof. Mohan. Under eminent Prof. Navaratne, the intern house officers were Dr. Bandula Wijesiriwardene (now a Consultant Physician), Dr. Upali Banagala (now a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon) and himself. Between them and Prof. Navaratne were Dr A.H. Sheriffdeen and Dr. Jerry Jayasekara, whom Prof. Mohan dubs the “fantastic trio”.

The unconscious Russel Ingram had been referred to Dr. Sheriffdeen by senior Consultant Physician, Dr. Nagaratnam. A letter from retired Physician Dr. Ernie Pieris mentioned an “insulinoma” or an insulin-producing tumour of the pancreas, a majority of such tumours being benign. It was a very rare condition which affected 1 in 100,000.

The letter with a diagnosis on hand was like getting a virus into the brain, smiles Prof. Mohan, pointing out that juniors would never doubt or even question such a diagnosis. He was also thrilled to see such a rare condition, as he was set on becoming a surgeon.
Doing ward rounds, Prof. Mohan saw the patient being wheeled in on a stretcher. There was a priest and a fairly “timid” looking woman accompanying the unconscious patient. He would later come to know that she was Delrene Ingram, the patient’s wife and the priest’s private secretary. Ingram’s family was not around.

“There was an aura about the priest,” recalls Prof. Mohan of his first impressions of Fr. Mathew. “He could control an audience and he could control the environment.” As Fr. Mathew “presented” the case to Dr. Sheriffdeen, the confidence, the flow of words and the knowledge struck the young intern, who wondered whether he, a person who was aspiring to be a surgeon would be able to do so, “so beautifully”.

Vivid are his memories of that Tuesday, more than three decades ago. Fr. Mathew was referring to an episode some time before when Russel had come to the Vicarage after a cricket match. “He was in a daze. His eyes rolled up. He was sweating profusely,” Fr. Mathew recounted, going on to explain how he felt his pulse. The hand was cold and clammy and the pulse was bounding.

He tried to wake him, but to no avail, Fr. Mathew said, and quickly got a cup of tea and fed him himself. A little later Russel did wake up and asked bemused, what had happened to him, said the priest whose body language was just right. Fr. Mathew was describing in detail the “classic symptoms” of hypoglycaemia.

After being admitted to Ward 18, for about a month the unconscious young man remained in a coma. During the early part of his internship, Prof. Mohan’s quarters were at the hotel-like Barnes Place building that the government had bought. The interns working in the night would be brought by van from there and dropped off near the Koch Memorial Clock Tower of the Medical Faculty. Prof. Mohan would walk into the General Hospital from the Kynsey Road entry point while his wife-to-be Dr. Dhammika Godagama would go ahead to the De Soysa Maternity Home where she was doing her internship.

He would often see Fr. Mathew and Delrene walking to hospital, bringing the fluid diet, mainly milk, for Russel which they would hand over to the nurses to pour into the nasogastric tube. What the couple who were illicit lovers must have added to this “food” can only be imagined now.

At night, Fr. Mathew when he came to see Russel would stop by the doctors’ room at the entrance to Ward 18 and have long chats with him. He was not only well-read and having an excellent command of the language but also impressive. “He had a controlling posture and a hypnotic quality about him. A powerful personality.”

When 32-year-old Russel died on August 10, a post-mortem was held, says Prof. Mohan but no insulinoma was found. Rarely an insulinoma can form at sites other than the pancreas. The matter was closed thereafter and the friction between Russel’s family and Fr. Mathew came to the fore then with regard to who should get the body. Up to that time, Prof. Mohan had not seen the Ingram family.
This Man of Religion’s slip-up seems to be the arrogant confidence that he developed that he could get away with murder, says Prof. Mohan in hindsight.

If he bided a little more time and put his second evil plan into action with regard to his wife, Eunice, a few months later, the interns may very well have moved on and the Vicarage double murders would never have come to light. Haste with coincidence seems to be the “detective” in the revelation of the cold and premeditated murders of Russel Ingram and Eunice Peiris.

Chandran Rutnam rewriting script

Well-known film-maker Chandran Rutnam is excited. He is rewriting his script with regard to the scene at the General Hospital, Colombo, during which the death of Eunice Peiris occurs. For, he has got new information through the Sunday Times piece, ‘According to the doctor’ on August 4, in which we interviewed the intern house officer at that time, Dr. Terrence de Silva, who attended to Eunice when she was admitted to hospital.

This followed Rutnam’s interview headlined, ‘Mathew & me’ which was published on July 28, in which he not only talks about the film ‘According to Mathew’ but also of his close links with Fr. Mathew Peiris, the Vicar of St. Paul’s Church Kynsey Road, who was convicted of the double murders of his wife, Eunice, and Russel, the husband of his lover Delrene Ingram.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has written an editorial in the Gnanartha Pradeepaya, expressing deep concern about the symbolization used in the movie, alleging that people would link the events to it. The Anglican Church, to which Fr. Mathew Peiris belonged, has remained silent with no public comment.

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