The Tragic Murder Of Sister Abhaya

In March of 1992, India was rocked by news of a bizarre murder. A nun had been found in the water well of the St. Pius X convent in Kottayam, in India's southern Kerala state. The 19-year old novice, Sister Abhaya, had sustained several blows to the head, according to The Hinduwhich seemed to rule out suicide. But another nun, Sister Sephy, seemed to think it was exactly that. She testified to a criminal court that she had heard a splash in the well the night before Sister Abhaya's body was discovered, and that she later saw the young novice's slippers and headscarf near the side of the well.

Initially, local police believed Sister Sephy's testimony and ruled Sister Abhaya's death a suicide but a higher court reopened the case the next year (via India Today). Something didn't quite make sense. Sister Abhaya had seemed like a happy young woman. The injuries she had sustained were inconsistent with a fall down a well — they seemed more like trauma inflicted by a heavy weapon. Worse still, people involved peripherally in the case began acting strangely. An investigator from India's Central Bureau of Investigation would retire unexpectedly in 1996, allegedly under pressure to write the case off as a suicide (via The Hindu). 

It got even stranger than that. Sister Sephy, who had reported hearing someone fall into the wall, was alleged to have undergone hymenoplasty surgery after the death of her colleague, according to India Today, to disguise the signs of sexual experience. Strange concern for a celibate nun.

A thief brings the killers to justice

India's courts sat on Sister Abhaya's case for years, unsure of how to proceed. That changed with testimony from, of all people, a convicted burglar. According to India Today, "Adakka" Raju had broken into the St. Pius X convent the night before Sister Abhaya's body was found. He told authorities he had seen something strange: two men, one of whom he would identify as a Catholic priest named Thomas Kottoor. Men were strictly forbidden at the convent.

Armed with the thief's testimony, Indian investigators rounded on Father Kottoor and Sister Sephy. Under pressure, the pair cracked. The true story came out: Father Kottoor and Sister Sephy were engaged in a secret sexual affair. Before dawn on March 28, 1992, the nun let the priest (accompanied to the convent by another male conspirator) into the kitchen for a tryst. The young Sister Abhaya happened to wake up thirsty around 4:00 a.m. and wandered in for a glass of water. Sister Sephy, surprised in the act, seized an ax that was leaned against the wall and bashed the novice's head in with three blows. The two lovers then decided to cover their tracks as best they could.

In December of 2020, a judge found Kottoor and Sephy guilty of murder and evidence tampering. Sephy received a life sentence, as reported by India Today. Kottoor, for his role, was sentenced to two life sentences.