Death sentence of Pauline de Croos – a Travesty of Justice ­– (Part 1)

Gotabaya Kirambakanda murder Case


(Sensational Murder Cases of yesteryear)

St. Rita's Well and the Church Sacristan


In the 1960s and 1970s there were four sensational criminal cases heard in the Colombo Supreme Court (in assize). They were the Gotabaya Kirambakanda murder case, the Padmini Kularatne arsenic poisoning case, the Kalattawa murder case and the Coup case.

The Kirambakanda murder took place in Ratmalana where a small boy was found dead in the well at St. Rita’s Church in Ratmalana. The Kularatne arsenic poinsoning murder was in Galle, in the house of Dr. Daymon Kularatne a well known physician. He and his mother, Mrs. Laura Kularatne, and their servant, Sopia, were charged with the murder of the doctor’s wife Padmini, by introducing arsenic (licorarsenicialis) into her food. This case was transferred to Colombo on the ground of prejudice.

Dr. Alfred de Zoysa an apothecary and private practitioner in Anuradhapura and two others were charged with the murder of three people in the jungles of Kalattawa, Anuradhapura. Dr. de Zoysa and others were found guilty and sentenced to death. This too was transferred to Colombo due to prejudice. The three accused in the Kularatne poisoning case were also sentenced to death, but were acquitted by the Court of Criminal Appeal. All these cases evoked much public attention and were reported in the newspapers with banner headlines.

The case under review is the Gotabaya Kirambakanda murder trial which culminated in Pauline de Croos being sentenced to death. Her death sentence was later commuted. It was the opinion of many that Pauline was wrongly convicted. What led to the conviction was her moral character. This, like the Kularatne case was a verdict in dispute. It is commonly said that it is better to let a 100 criminals go free than to convict one innocent person.

The Gotabaya Kirambakanda murder case concluded with the Chief Justice Hugh Norman Gregory Fernando (HNG Fernando) passing Sentence of Death on one of the accused, Pauline de Croos.

HNG was the son of Justice VM Fernando and HNG’s son, Mark, too was a judge of the Supreme Court. It is rather rare for three generations to be judges of the Supreme Court. The conviction and sentence of death was a miscarriage of justice according to most readers who closely followed this sensational murder trial. What earthly reason did Pauline have to push this innocent boy into the well? This boy was only the son of her lover, Don Bodipala Kirambakanda. The very thought that she wanted to get rid of this boy was mind boggling. Pauline had no motive. So was this murder planned by someone else with mathematical precision, to implicate Pauline in a murder she never committed, while himself staying away from the realm of suspicion. Was there an insurance policy on this boy?

In a sensational murder trial the task of the prosecutor becomes very easy. From the time the incident is reported in the newspapers enormous prejudice is caused against the suspects. All the prosecution has to do is to throw in a few nuggets and the jury will be ever ready to convict purely on prejudice. In the words of George Chitty Q.C, who appeared at the trial "the evidence of moral character would have sunk into the minds of the jury even as ink is indelibly absorbed by blotting paper, and would have gravely prejudiced her case".

There is a belief that when an accused is last seen in the company of the victim, the inference (in the absence of an explanation) is that the accused was responsible for the victim’s death, but that certainly is not the degree of proof necessary to warrant a conviction for murder.

The scene of the tragedy was a well at St Rita’s Church, Ratmalana. There was belief among Catholics that the water of the well had healing powers.

Having been in the company of Pauline, for several hours in the morning and afternoon and having left Pauline’s custody could the boy have returned to the well and attempted to draw water from it and accidently fallen in and drowned or was he taken away by some other person, clubbed and made senseless, and dumped in the well on the night of February 7, 1966?

These are all speculative theories but the fact that the boy was not drowned while in the custody of Pauline becomes apparent from the statement of the Sacristan of the Church, Albert Perera, who drew water from the well at about 6.30pm but found no body. The prosecution should have called the Sacristan as a witness. Even if he was not called by the prosecution, court in the interest of justice could have called Albert Perera. It is unfortunate that even the defense did not call him as a witness. The evidence of Albert Perera could have thrown serious doubts as to the culpability of Pauline.

Pauline Ruth de Croos was born to Joseph and Marion de Croos on November 4, 1945. She was a Roman Catholic. She was the second of six children. Joseph de Croos was employed at the Charted Bank. Naturally they had to lead a hand to mouth existence.

After shifting from place to place they relocated to 147, Quarry Road, Dehiwala in the vicinity of the Zoological Gardens. Pauline studied up to SSC (Prep), left school and followed a course in shorthand and typing at the Wellawatte Polytechnic.

Pauline’s love life started at 17-years, and before she was 20 she had tasted the forbidden fruits of love and packed into those three years a sex life and experience of a life time. She had as her paramours all manner of men, many police officers. She seems to have had a penchant for the uniform. These associations helped her for a while to evade arrest. She also kept a lad called Harry Speldewinde on the hop, whilst carrying on with a host of others. Eventually it was her moral reputation that decided her fate with the law. The jury were severely prejudiced and they must have come to the conclusion that she is capable of anything and everything.

She became friends with the officers of the Dehiwala Police and addressed IP Reggie Amarasekera as "Reggie". Early investigations regarding Gotabaya’s death made no headway because of her unusual relationship with officers of the Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia Police Stations. Since no progress was made, the Inspector General of Police was compelled to hand over the investigation to the CID.

two very intelligent officers of the CID were entrusted with the investigation. Heading it was ASP Ana Seneviratne ably assisted by IP Hyde de Silva (HY de Silva). They were both gentlemen of impeccable records. Ana Seneviratne who joined the police as an ASP was a law graduate of the University of Ceylon. It is unfortunate that subsequently, Ana Seneviratne figured as a respondent in the Royal Commission appointed by the then government regarding the killing of Dodampe Mudalali. I believe this was in 1972.

Before this Dodampe Mudalali Royal Commission, evidence was led for the Crown by the late Ian Wikramanayake and the late Tivanka Wickramasinghe. Ana Seneviratne, and other police officers were defended by Eardley Perera PC, Daya Perera PC, Arichu Coomaraswamy (QC in Canada) and Lalith Athulathmudali PC. I was the only counsel defending IP Rahula Silva, then a dreaded police officer. All respondents were exonerated. Ana Seneviratne was later appointed IGP. I was also called upon to defend Rahula when he was charged for assaulting an Inspector General of Police. Rahula was acquitted in this case too.

The murder of Ramdas Gotabaya Kirambakanda was committed on February 7, 1966. At the initial stages the Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia Police were playing ducks and drakes. At the inquest, the coroner returned a verdict of suicide.

Don Bodipala Kirambakanda, son of Elias Appuhamy of Nugegoda, a successful fish supplier was seen driving a Plymouth car EY 2909. In 1948 he met his wife Jessica Fernando, a niece of HV Dharmadasa, the proprietor of "Punchisingho and Company", Jewellers. According to Punchisingho, Jessie was friendly with one Nandasiri who was the caterer at "Sravasti", the MP’s Hostel. Kirambakanda and Nandasiri became friends and he introduced Jessie to Kirambakanda. Kirambakanda married Jessie by special license on May 23, 1950. Jessie had two daughters and son, Ramdas Gotabaya. After shifting from place to place they settled down at 5, Kawdana Broadway, Dehiwala. According to the neighbours when they were living at Chakindarama Road, stones were pelted at their house and human excreta was thrown at it. Bianca, wife of Fred Jansen became a close friend of Jessie and was in the habit of visiting the Kirambakanda household. Bianca and her servant boy figure prominently in the case that is to unfold.

Kirambakanda was a staunch supporter of the UNP, and senior ministers were regular visitors to his house. A deputy general manager of the Bank of Ceylon too was a regular visitor and through him Kirambakanda obtained loans and overdrafts. Kirambakanda’s finances were in a parlous state. Nothing stopped him from issuing cheques without funds in the bank.

Kirambakanda struck up an affair with Pauline in January 1965 and continued even after Gotabaya’s death in February 1966. Though Pauline was not outwardly pretty, she had something that attracted older men. Jessie objected to this association and commenced spying on her husband with the assistance of Bianca Jansen. Jessie insisted that Gotabaya should accompany the father hoping that this would break up his friendship with Pauline. Gotabaya was not a bright child and was mentally retarded. He was certainly no impediment to his father’s love affair.

Proctor Kalpage, the brother of the owner of 5, Kawdana Broadway stated that his sister wanted the house back as an illegal business was conducted in the premises.

(Continued next week)

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