Uthra’s mother found her daughter lying motionless in bed at the family home, her left arm dotted with blood.
Her family rushed her to the local Kollam hospital in the southern Indian state of Kerala, but the 25-year-old was already dead.
A post-mortem on May 7, 2020, confirmed she’d been bitten hours earlier by a highly venomous Indian spectacled cobra, according to court documents.
In India, where snake bites are not uncommon, that could have been the end of it. But her family grew suspicious and filed a complaint with police.
After a trial that made national headlines, Uthra’s killer was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for crimes the sentencing judge called “diabolic and ghastly.”
The judge found Uthra’s death was caused by the cobra — but the real killer was her husband.
And it wasn’t the first time he’d used a snake as a weapon.
A broken love story
Suraj Kumar and Uthra, who went only by her first name, met through a matchmaking service and married in March 2018.
“We wanted to find someone who would make her happy,” said Uthra’s brother, Vishu, who also only uses one name. “She was a girl who was a little different. She had a learning disability. We wanted a man who could take care of her.”
Kumar, a 27-year-old bank clerk, did not come from a financially stable background. His father was an auto-rickshaw driver, and his mother, a housewife.
According to the judgment, Kumar married Uthra “with the object of financial gain.”
When the couple married, Kumar accepted a dowry of 720 grams of gold, a Suzuki sedan and 500,000 rupees (about $6,700) in cash.
The first few months of married life seemed “uneventful” and within a year they had a son, the judgment said. But it wasn’t long before Kumar’s parents wanted more.
According to the judgment, Kumar’s parents 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 was someone who never saw bad in anyone,” Vishu said. “Her learning disability meant she didn’t have the means to see that she was being used.”
Uthra’s father told the court he met all of Kumar’s demands and also paid him 8,000 rupees ($107) per month to take care of his daughter.
But Kumar grew “dissatisfied” with Uthra’s learning disability, according to the judgment.
He began to plot her death.
Failed murder attempt
In late 2019, Kumar appeared to develop an obsession with snakes. He spent hours on the internet, watching YouTube videos, including episodes of “Snake Master,” featuring renowned snake expert Vava Suresh.
Suresh’s YouTube channel, which has more than 270,000 subscribers, shows him calmly interacting with snakes, including the highly potent Russell’s viper, one of the most aggressive snakes in Asia.