A Tale Of Love & Betrayal: The 1979 Murder Mystery Of M'sian Beauty Queen Jean Perera

A baffling local mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

Cover image via New Straits Times & The Sun Daily

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More than four decades ago, the murder of Jean Perera Sinnappa gripped the nation when the former national beauty queen was found dead with numerous stab wounds on 6 April 1979

As much as her murder was a perplexing mystery to all, it was made into a bigger sensation as elements of deception, a twisted love triangle, and betrayal began surfacing.

As reported by New Straits Times, it all began one fatal night when two Malaysia Airlines employees discovered the lifeless body of 31-year-old Jean Perera.

The ex-beauty queen turned school teacher from Negeri Sembilan was found to have been stabbed over 10 times, sustaining injuries to the abdomen, hands, and chest, while still strapped to the passenger seat of a white Fiat 125.

The car was pulled over at a secluded underpass along the Federal Highway, near what is now the Skypark Terminal at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport.

S Karthigesu, who was driving the vehicle that night, was not found in the seat next to her, but was instead discovered lying face down unconscious beside the car. He was Jean's brother-in-law and alleged lover at the time.

Karthigesu told the police that they were on their way home to Klang, and that he had pulled over at the side of the road to relieve himself, when he was hit on the back of the head by an unknown assailant, knocking him out cold, and erasing his memories of the moments leading up to the murder.

Jean, who at the peak of her career, won a beauty pageant while representing Negeri Sembilan.

Image via Unreserved Media

Initial investigations revealed that Jean Perera was not only widowed, but was also involved in a love triangle

Jean had first married S Sinnappa, the brother of Karthigesu.

Sinnappa, who was a chemist, had died in a car accident in Petaling Jaya on New Year's Eve, a mere four months before Jean's murder. After his death, Jean, who was a mother of three, packed up her family and moved in with her mother-in-law and Karthigesu.

Citing Berita Harian, Southeast Asian magazine Unreserved reported that Karthigesu had been lusting over Jean for some time but had never acted on it due to their happy marriage. However, Karthigesu wasted no time after his brother's death and asked Jean to marry him. The two were known to share a very passionate relationship.

On the surface, there was no way he could have been the person that delivered the final blow to Jean.

That was until mid-investigation, when it was revealed that Jean had been cheating on both men with a Sri Lankan man named Dr Narada Warnasurya. The two began writing love letters when Jean was still married to Sinnappa, and continued even after his death, all of which eventually became known to her lover, Karthigesu.

The police found a total of 19 letters that were exchanged between the two, with one even mentioning marriage. Narada had been tracked down by the authorities but refused to appear in court to give his testimony. It's reported that Jean had met the medical practitioner at a function in 1978.

The existence of the love triangle, however, painted several motives onto Karthigesu. Locals speculated he was either a lover seeking revenge or a man avenging his brother's honour.

Dr Narada Warnasurya from Sri Lanka.

Image via The Sun Daily

Circumstantial evidence began piling high against Karthigesu, and ultimately he was charged and arrested for the murder on 9 May of the same year

As reported by Varnam Malaysia, the 37-year-old psychology lecturer instantly became the first suspect in the murder when forensics failed to discover any traces of urine anywhere within the vicinity of the crime scene.

The police was also suspicious of the fact that Karthigesu was found without any injuries, even though he claimed to have been attacked.

However, the fact that he was found without any blood on his clothing severely worked in his favour, as it would have been impossible to stab a person multiple times and remain spotless.

After four months, the police investigations halted and made way for the start of the murder trial.

38 days and 58 witnesses later, the arrest of Karthigesu made history as the first case in the country to be charged based on circumstantial evidence and an extrajudicial confession.

Karthigesu being escorted by the police in front of the courthouse in 1979.

Image via Varnam Malaysia

Karthigesu was found guilty and spent two years in prison before his sentence was cut short by a man named Bandhulanda Jayathilake, a family friend of the defendant

Out of all the witnesses involved, he was the key witness, and was extremely pertinent to the sentencing of Karthigesu. He testified that the accused had confided in him a while before the murder, claiming that Karthigesu believed that Jean "deserved to die".

Everything changed, however, when he decided to come forward and renounce his prior statement. Bandhulanda, who was then sentenced to 10 years for committing perjury, died two years into his prison term.

This left the case with insufficient evidence, and the court had no choice but to release Karthigesu on 20 May 1981.

After two years and four days behind bars, Karthigesu walked away a free man.

Karthigesu walked out a free man and is said to have settled down somewhere in Klang.

Image via Varnam Malaysia

Four decades later, the murder remains unsolved due to the lack of new leads, suspects, and evidence

The case of Jean Perera remains one of the most sensationalised and puzzling murder mysteries in Malaysia.

The tragic tale has even inspired a book entitled, The Murder Of A Beauty Queen, written by British journalist, Alex Josey.

The book inspired by the local true crime.

Image via Google Books

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