17th August 1997


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The History of the Ceylon Police

The Attygalle murder case

Following is yet another installment in our continuing series of excerpts from the book The History of the Ceylon Police (Vol. II) by A.C. Dep, Former Deputy Inspector of Police.

On 5th December, at about 10 p. m. Francis Dickman Attygalle was standing in the verandah of his house talking to a man named Baron when he received a gun shot injury in his abdomen. He was immediately rushed to hospital in a very critical condition. The Police were informed and the Superintendent of Police, Colombo (Mr. Dowbiggin) went to the Pettah Police Station and from there to the scene to direct investigations.

From an examination of the scene it appeared that the shot had been fired from behind a bush from a crouching position. On information, Baron Singho and an ex-constable named Singhoney Perera were arrested and taken to the hospital for an identification. Attygalle identified Baron Singho as the person who was talking to him at the time of shooting. Attygalle died soon after. Evidence pointed to Singhoney Perera as the person who actually fired the fatal shot. He was an ex-constable who had served under ex-Inspector John Kotalawela at Kollupitiya Police Station in 1895. He lived in one of his houses at Messenger Street and helped Kotalawela in the collection of rents. Kotalawela was ill disposed towards Attygalle, who was his brother-in-law over a family dispute. Evidence was collected to show that he had a hand in the murder.

At the time of the murder, Kotalawela was out in Japan. He had gone there in October to further the interests of the Ceylon-Japan Trading Company. His clerk notified him of this occurrence.

On the 24th January, the Hitachi Maru bringing Kotalawela arrived in the Colombo harbour in the early hours of the morning. The Port Surgeon and other Officials boarded the ship and left after performing their duties. John Kotalawela was dressed and waiting to go ashore. Just then, the Assistant Superintendent, J. H. Daniel approached him, read out a charge and placed him under arrest. He was then taken to the Fort Police Station and from there to the bungalow of the City Police Magistrate, Mr. J. F. R. Pereira. The relations of Kotalawela also moved fast. They retained Advocates G. S. Schneider and Donald Obeyasekara instructed by Mr. Williams and moved for bail. Bail was refused and Kotalawela was remanded till the 30th.

The propriety of the Magistrate refusing bail at his residence was questioned. Dowbiggin argued that wherever a Magistrate recorded proceedings that place was a court, even if it were an open field. This position was upheld. Mr.Perera's house was a court on that memorable occasion. Another matter which was fought out was an action for contempt of Court against a newspaper for publishing what purported to be the contents of a telegram sent to Kotalawela when in Japan. One accused was fined Rs.100/-

The arrest of Kotalawela on his arrival from Japan created a great stir in Colombo, for Kotalawela was a very popular figure.

This was further evidenced by the fact that on the 28th February 1907 when he was being brought from the Welikade Jail to the Hulftsdorf jail crowds gathered on the way and cheered him. When the non-summary proceedings were held by Mr. Macleod people gathered in large numbers and it was considered more prudent to hold the proceedings in the Welikade Jail. The Assistant Superintendent Daniel appeared in the Court premises and announced to the large gathering that future proceedings would be held in the Welikade Jail. Thence onwards the proceedings were held in the Welikade Jail and crowds then gathered at Campbell Park. At the end of March the non-summary proceedings were terminated and the case was committed to the Supreme Court. Kotalawela asked for an English speaking Jury.

It was established that Kotalawela had a strong motive for getting rid of Attygalle over a family dispute. Evidence was produced of an incident which had occurred when Kotalawela went to Dodangaslande where one of his mines was forcibly occupied. He had obtained the assistance of police and went there with a Sergeant and a constable and arrested two men. From there they had gone to Maduragoda. A large crowd of people who were supporters of Attygalle came to attack them. The constable and the others who had followed Kotalawela fled. Kotalawela and the sergeant took refuge in a house. Owing to the intervention of a mutual friend of both parties the men were turned away and Kotalawela and the sergeant escaped. Kotalawela took this defeat seriously to heart. He was filled with shame and anger "because in his life he never had hid for fear before. He always went forward to meet a man." On this occasion he is said to have remarked that Attygalle would not live long. He complained to the Government Agent. North Western Province (Mr. F. G. Tyroll) of what happened.

The Supreme Court trial was to take place on Monday the April 15th and preparations were made at Hulftsdorf to ensure that the trial will go on uninterrupted. On the l2th, Justice Mr. Wood Renton inspected the Court and the Court premises while Mr. Dowbiggin gave instructions to the police officers present on what they should do. It was decided to admit people to witness the trial on tickets which would be drawn.

On the 15th, as anticipated a very large crowd gathered to witness the trial. The police worked hard to keep the crowd back and in good humour. His Lordship, Mr. Wood Renton presided. The prosecution was in the hands of Mr. Crown Counsel, C. M. Fernando, assisted by Messrs. B. W. Bawa, H. J. C. Pereira, R. H. Morgan. The accused were represented by the eminent Calcutta Lawyer, Mr. Eardley Norton assisted by Messrs T. Thornhill, F. W. Williams, P. G. Cooke, Hayley, Schneider and Donald Obeyasekara. Mr. Keith Macleod the Magistrate who held the non-summary inquiry sat with the prosecution lawyers. The accused John Kotalawela stood in the dock clad in European clothes. Singhoney Perera wore a white cloth, white coat, and .shirt. Baron Singho was ill-clad.

The Crown Counsel, Mr. Fernando opened the case with the expected warning to the Jury to lay aside what they had heard and judge the case on the evidence that would be placed before them. Mr. Fernando made out that Attygalle was killed as a result of a well planned and deep-laid conspiracy. Witnesses were examined from Monday to Saturday that week. On Saturday 20th, the witness Pila gave evidence which was very damaging to the accused.

On the night of the 20th, the first accused was admitted to Hospital with a history of poisoning. He died within a few hours. Dr. Huybertsz who held the postmortem was of the view that death was due to poisoning either by arsenic or calomel. The deceased had left a letter to his wife stating that he had not instigated anyone to kill Francis Attygalle and that after Pila's evidence, he had no hope whatsoever.

The news of the death of Kotalawela created great excitement in Colombo. Excited crowds gathered in several places. There was a strong belief that Kotalawela had been poisoned. After the inquest the large crowd gathered near the hospital unharnessed the horses and drew the hearse along to Fellowsleigh. Another crowd seeing Mr. Dowbiggin in a rickshaw moving towards Netherton, the residence of the Crown Counsel, Mr. C. M. Fernando, hooted him and threw stones. Mr. Fernando took Dowbiggin inside. The crowd broke up the bicycle of his orderly and were shouting that Dowbiggin had killed their Lord, their King. The crowd dispersed on the arrival of the police.

There was much movement in Netherton while the crowd was outside. Those inside were scaling over the boundary wall. While Mr. Fernando was keeping Dowbiggin inside, his wife and children went over the wall to the next house cleverly. So did advocate Mr. Bawa who happened to be there.

The excitement continued till the day of the funeral. Crowds increased. The carters took "French leave" and the Moorish shopkeepers fearing looting put up their shutters. To dispel the belief people had that Kotalawela had been poisoned, Mr.R.W. Bryde went to Bambalapitiya and showed Mrs. Kotalawela the Ietter written by her husband.

The satin coffin containing the remains of Kotalawela was taken in procession to the cemetery. The coronation band played on this occasion. The Brothers of the deceased Dr. Kotalawela, Martin, Francis, Alexander and B. Kotalawela acted as pall-bearers. It was accepted that the gathering which attended this funeral was even larger than that which gathered for the funeral of Rev. Migettuwatte Gunananda. The police discreetly stood by at the police stations.

The case against the other accused was taken up and after a lengthy trial Singhoney Perera was found guilty and sentenced to death. Baron Singho was acquitted.

On 14th June at 8.00 O'clock in the morning attended by a Buddhist monk, Singhoney Perera moved quietly up to the place of execution at Welikade and submitted himself to the death penalty. Thus ended the most sensational case witnessed so far.

Talahena Murder Case 1st August 1907 This case was also referred to as the Pitipane Murder Case. On 1st August, police received information that the body of a young woman with several injuries was found washed ashore at the Pitipane Beach. The body was very soon identified as the body of Karlina, the servant woman employed by the rich and influential Migel Mudalali of Talahena. His brother K. Paulu Gunesekara was the Police Vidane of the area. Powerful influences began to work from the very start to make the discovery of evidence and the prosecution of the case difficult.

Mr. Altendorf and Mr. Boone went to assist the Magistrate at the inquiry. They were to look for blood imprints in the house of Migel Mudalali. No evidence was led at the Magisterial Inquiry at the spot. Inspector Coore was allowed by Court to remove two women, Jane and Ana Maria to the Police Station for questioning. Their statements were recorded and the persons involved were revealed to the Police. In Courts, Inspector Coore led evidence and produced the blood imprints taken from the cement floor and walls of Migel Mudalali's house. One of the witnesses Gabriel Fernando alias Gaba went back on his statement. The Magistrate allowed Inspector Coore to detain Gaba at the Station and release him later.

After Gaba was released Proctor De Saram got at him and had him examined by a doctor and a case of assault at the Police Station was made out against Inspector Coore. When Coore was absent in the Ja-Ela District, Proctor De Saram filed a plaint against him under Sections 314 and 333, before Mr. Seneviratne who was the District Judge at the time and not before Mr. Aserappa as he should have done. Mr. Seneviratne visited the Police Station and recorded evidence. Mr. Aserappa hearing of this ordered the Police to arrest Gaba and produce him before him. Mr. Seneviratne countermanded this order. This allegation against Inspector Coore was made with a view to weaken his position in the murder case. His conviction would be detrimental to the case.

In Court, Jane and the matron Christina said that they did not see any assault. Ana Maria said that she saw Gaba on the ground by the feet of Inspector Coore. His feet may have struck him. Dr. Leembruggen said that the abrasion found on Gaba could not have been caused in the manner described. Mr. Aserappa gave evidence and said that he authorised Inspector Coore to detain anyone he suspected at the Police Station for questioning. The Inspector was acquitted. Next the accused party tried to get at Jane and Jane had to be kept beyond their reach in the Hatton District.

According to the evidence the deceased Karlina had spoken of the pregnancy of Migel Mudalali's sister-in-law. Migel Mudalali's wife Dona Eugina Hamine and her sister Dona Josephine Hamine assisted by the servant boy Kaitan, had killed Karlina using knives. Jane, a very material witness went through a severe cross-examination. So did the other witnesses. Inspector Coore himself went through a harsh cross-examination and came out unscathed. The evidence convinced the jury, who returned a verdict of guilt against Dona Eugina Hamine, Dona Josephine Hamine and the boy Kaitan. All three were sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to 20 years imprisonment for life. Kaitan who was a minor was to be detained in the Maggona Reformatory till he reached the age of 18 after which his sentence was to be further considered.

Constable 1503 D. James who assisted Inspector Coore received a reward of Rs. 40/-. The citation read, "For assisting Inspector Coore loyally and faithfully and successfully guarding the witnesses till the trial in the Supreme Court was over.

An appeal was made to the Privy Council. But the Privy Council declined to vary the order of the Supreme Court. The accused had to serve the sentence passed by the Supreme Court.

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