What happened to KotElawAla in prison? | Daily News
Artygalle murder - Final Part

What happened to KotElawAla in prison?

“Death of Francis Artygalle and birth of Uncle-Nephew Politics: Scandalous murder; and the sensational trial 112 years ago” is the true story of emergence of Senanayakes, Kotelawalas and Jayewardenes in Sri Lankan Politics, the source that financed their activities, and also the concealed hostility, enmity and rivalry for preeminence among the three families that formed the upper crust of the United National Party hierarchy for many decades that commenced during the time of this saga and reached its peak in 1952, enduring up to the end of last century.

The first act in his master strategy would be the immediate surrender with the gun at the police station. Piloris alias Pila took no chances; he increased the pace of his brisk walk until he reached the sentry at the gate to the Police Station. The unarmed sentry a Malay cop manning the gate seeing a man rushing in with a gun took to heels screaming for help and warning the other two policemen on night duty. Piloris thought it was unwise for him to carry the gun and walk inside, he left it at the small hut and cried, “Sir, Sir I am Piloris” for two policemen armed with rifles to approach the door, with the third guarding the rear entry. He told them that he had shot someone absolutely unknown to him, and divulged the identity of the men who contracted him, also that he assumed that they planned to bump-off him at a lonely spot en-route which he was asked to follow after the shooting. The police acted fast; SP Colombo Dowbiggin visited the scene and directed investigations.

Francis Dixon Artygalle succumbed to injuries on the following day. The police acted in quick pace to apprehend and arrest the cousins Singhoni Perera and Baron Perera within hours and was taken to the victim in hospital for identification. Francis the dying fatality recognised Baron as the person who spoke to him seconds before the tragedy on the previous night. In a smart move the seriously wounded young Francis summoned an attorney to make his last will. It was a short and sweet statement where he allocated his share of the heritage to two of his sisters, Mrs Leena Jayewardene and younger one Ellen who later became Mrs Senanayake by marriage, and nothing for the eldest sister Alice Kotelawala. Ellen who married a Barrister named F R Senanayake, a brother of DS, the first Prime Minister. FR was the father of RG Senanayake, a Cabinet minister who served in both UNP and SLFP governments. The families of the three brothers-in-law of slain Francis Artygalle formed the upper crust of the United National Party hierarchy inspiring the scribes of the day to coin the soubriquet, Uncle-Nephew-Party in English and in Sinhala, by the leftist elements in politics as Unge-Nedeinge-Pakshaya.

Kotelawala using his extensive police knowledge planned and rehearsed the crime balancing the pros and cons of options available until he and Singhoni were contented with the final strategy. John set sail to Japan on a ‘business engagement’, or was it to be out of the island during the murder and make an excuse for himself is the million dollar question yet remains unanswered. He had sailed to Japan and was out of the island when the tragedy occurred. He had gone there in October to further the interests of the Ceylon-Japan Trading Company. His clerk notified him of this occurrence.

Senanayakes and Jayewardenes

On January 24, the ‘Hitachi Maru’ bringing Kotelawala arrived in the Colombo Port in the early hours of the morning for the CID sleuths to go on board the ship. John Kotelawala was getting dressed to go ashore when J. H. Daniel, Assistant Superintendent of Police after reading out charges arrested John and took him to the Fort Police Station first and from there to the bungalow of the City Police Magistrate, J. F. R. Pereira for the relatives of Kotelawala to respond promptly. They retained Advocates Donald Obeyasekara and G. S. Schneider instructed by Mr. Williams and moved for bail. Bail was refused and Kotelawala was remanded till the 30th; the action of Magistrate from his private bungalow was challenged by Obeysekara, for Dowbiggin to intervene that wherever a Magistrate documented proceedings that place was a court, even if it were an unsheltered open space.

Bail was not granted as there was immense pressure from the Senanayakes and Jayewardenes on authorities sending the ex-policemen brother-in-law to remand prison. (The beginning of enmity) Kotelawala’s popularity as a policeman created a big uproar in the environment. Crowds gathered in hundreds throughout the route to Hulftsdorp from Welikada on February 28, 1907, when he was taken to courts. Being the president of powerful carter’s association the membership gathered to cheer him. When the non-summary recordings were held by Mr. Macleod people assembled in large numbers and it was considered more sensible to hold the proceedings in the premises of Welikade Jail. An Assistant Superintendent appeared in the Court premises and announced to the people that future hearings would be confined to the Welikada Jail.

Kotelawala ‘supporters’ then gathered at Campbell Park until the non-summary proceedings were terminated at the end of the March. From Magistrate’s courts the case was transferred to the Supreme Court, where Kotelawala requested for English speaking Jury. There it was found that John Kotelawala had a strong motive to eliminate his brother-in-law Francis Artygalle for personal reasons. Evidence placed before courts stated that a section of the Kahatagaha mines in Dodangaslande managed by him was once forcefully acquired by Artygalle’s men. Kotelawala visited the place along with a Police party and arrested two men who trespassed his property and from there they proceeded to another mine in Maduragoda.

A large gathering of Artygalle’s men who anticipated his arrival attacked them. The policemen and the others who had followed him ran away leaving Kotelawala and one sergeant. Kotelawala and the sergeant sought protection in a house. Only through the intervention of a mutual friend of both parties Kotelawala and the sergeant managed to flee.

John Kotelawala, the former defiant policemen took this beating seriously. He was in utter shame and anger, a man who always went forward to meet a man and never had hid for fear before in his entire life. As evidence recorded he is said to have observed that Francis Attygalle would not exist long. Kotelawala made an entry at the North Western Province Government Agent F. G. Tyroll’s office of what transpired.

John K was detained at Welikada prison, in fact the same place he earned a special assignment during his early years with police as ‘Prison Teacher’ in recognition of his outstanding performance.

Arrival of Indian Counsel

Influenced by Jayewardenes and Senanayakes, all leading local lawyers refused to defend Kotelawala. Hence the Kotelawala family along with John’s wife Alice, had to hire English lawyers from India. Eardley Norton and his Culcutta colleague, Thornhill arrived by the Tucoryn boat and were residing at Galle Face Hotel. They appeared in Supreme Court in charge of defence of John Kotelawala and Singhoney Perera two of the accused. A large number of people watched their arrival at the jetty, and the gentlemen were met on board by T F Garvin, E R Williams and P G Cooke the accused junior proctors and Martin Kotelawala, John’s brother.

As the hearings continued, especially after Pilla’s evidence the experienced ex-policeman John was convinced that he had little or no chances. As he was prepared well ahead with the connivance of a known jailor, to meet such a situation, the two packets of Arsenic compound was passed on to him. Did John Kotelawala commit suicide or as his relatives believed was he poisoned inside the remand prison by the rest of the Artygalle families, the Jayewardenes and the Senanayakes remains an unsolved mystery.

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