After being attacked by a very deadly cobra, an Indian woman died. According to the judge, her death was caused by the bite, but her husband was the real killer. And it wasn’t the first time he’d used a snake as a weapon.
Uthra’s mother discovered her daughter lifeless in bed at the family’s house, her left arm splattered with blood. Her family hurried her to a nearby hospital in Kollam, Kerala, in southern India, but she had already died.
According to court documents, she was bitten by a highly toxic Indian spectacled cobra hours before she died, according to a post-mortem performed on May 7, 2020.
In India, where snake bites are not uncommon, that could have been the end of it. Her family, on the other hand, became suspicious and reported the incident to the authorities.
Uthra’s killer was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison after a trial that made national headlines. The sentencing judge described the crimes as “diabolic and ghastly.”
Kumar, a 27-year-old bank worker, comes from a financially disadvantaged family. Uthra, 25, was afflicted with a learning disability. They married in March 2018 after meeting through a dating service. The couple’s first few months of marriage were “uneventful,” but they welcomed a boy a year later. Kumar married Uthra to gain financially.
Kumar accepted a dowry of 720 grams of gold, a Suzuki sedan, and about $9,300 (500,000 rupees) in cash when the couple married. But it wasn’t long before Kumar’s parents wanted more. They demanded Uthra’s parents pay for household appliances, a car, furniture, renovation work, and admission fees for an MBA course for Kumar’s sister.
Uthra’s father said in court that he complied with all of Kumar’s demands and paid him $150 (8,000 Rupees) per month to look after his daughter. But, according to the verdict, Kumar became “dissatisfied” with Uthra’s learning handicap. As a result, he began to plan her assassination.
Kumar paid $185 (10,000 rupees) for a lethal Russell’s viper from snake handler Chavarukavu Suresh. He left the snake on the house stairwell the next day and requested Uthra get his phone from the first-floor bedroom, thinking it would bite and kill her. But Uthra noticed the snake and raised the alarm.
Kumar caught the snake, put it in a plastic bag, and then tried again the next night, March 2. He slipped sedatives into a delicious bowl of Indian rice pudding before Uthra fell “fast asleep.”
Kumar forced the viper to bite her while she slept, then threw the serpent out of the home to eliminate the evidence. Uthra awoke screaming in “excruciating pain,” Kumar took her to the hospital after some delay, claiming she had been bitten outside while washing clothes at night. However, Uthra contradicted his version of events by claiming that she never washed the laundry after dusk.
Uthra spent 52 days in Pushpagiri Hospital in Thiruvalla, Kerala, recovering from the snake bite. She could not walk when she was finally released to her parent’s care on April 22 last year.
Kumar chose to strike while Uthra was lying in bed, her leg wrapped after skin transplants. He slipped another snake he’d bought from snake handler Chavarukavu Suresh into her parents’ house on May 6, just 15 days after she’d left the hospital. It was a cobra this time.
Kumar offered Uthra a glass of sedative-laced juice before going to bed. Kumar threw the serpent at her while she was sleeping, but the reptile didn’t bite, so he seized its head and drove its teeth deep into her left arm—twice.
Despite his best efforts, various signs pointed to the bites not being natural, ranging from the width of the fang marks and the difficulty of the cobra entering the room on its own.
Experts told the court that the two bite marks on Uthra’s arm were 0.9 and 1.1 inches (2.3 and 2.8 cm) wide, significantly more than the average width of cobra fangs, which is between 0.16 and 0.63 inches (0.4 and 1.6 cm). In addition, the upper mouth of the cobra has been pushed as if it were being milked. The time of day raised suspicions as well.
“Cobras generally do not bite unless they are highly provoked. And after 8 p.m. they’re generally dormant,” said Hari Shankar, an assistant inspector general at Kerala Police, who worked as lead investigator on the case.
Investigators demonstrated their case in court by experimenting to see if a snake might strike a sleeping person. In the video, the same cobra type was thrown on a bed with a dummy at night. The video shows the snake slithering away several times and only biting into a chicken breast tied to a limb when repeatedly provoked.
Experts also questioned how the snake ended up in Uthra’s chamber. The court was told that cobras could only lift themselves vertically to one-third of their length, implying that the 152-centimeter cobra that bit Uthra could only have raised itself to roughly 50 centimeters, not high enough to enter through the windows. Three air holes in the room were also sealed.
Finally, Uthra had slept right through the event, which would have caused excruciating pain for a conscious victim.
Vava Suresh, the expert snake catcher Kumar had watched online, was called to give evidence. He told the court that during his 30-year career, he had been bitten 16 times by Russell’s viper and 340 times by cobra, resulting in “excruciating” and “severe” pain—though only three viper bites and ten cobra bites were “critical,” he said.
He said a snake that bites for self-protection would not strike twice, as the animals spare their venom. And he was sure Uthra would have woken on being bitten—if she hadn’t been sedated.
Kumar stayed up all night after the incident and erased the evidence by washing the glass tumbler and the snake-handling stick. According to the verdict, he also wiped his phone history, which revealed he had contacted the snake handler.
After being proclaimed dead, Vishu, Uthra’s brother, discovered and killed the cobra inside the family home. He buried the serpent at the house, as advised by the police, and marked the spot with a stick, reported 9news.
The snake’s carcass was dug up during the investigation, and a post-mortem study revealed that its abdomen was empty—a pretty important revelation, according to the investigator, Shankar.
“Generally, a snake takes seven days to digest food,” he said. “Which means it had been at least seven days since it had eaten something. A cobra that lives in a natural habitat eats at least twice a day. “So that means the snake that bit Uthra had been kept in confinement.”