Saravana Bhavan, one of the world’s largest food chains, has been sullied by the murder committed by its owner P Rajagopal, who pioneered Chennai’s dine-out culture, and whose fixation with a woman tore a married couple apart.The septuagenarian surrendered in the almost 18-year-old murder case on 9 July, and passed away in a Chennai hospital barely ten days later, on 18 July.Rajagopal’s ObsessionRajagopal was determined to marry Jeevajothi, the daughter of one of his assistant managers, after advice from an astrologer in 1999. He wanted her to become his third wife.Jeevajothi was in love with a teacher, Santhakumar. But Rajagopal didn’t care – from 1999 to 2001, he pursued her relentlessly.On 28 September 2001, an impatient Rajagopal threatened the couple, demanding that they separate within two days.This wasn’t the first time he had set his eyes on an employee’s family member. Rajagopal’s second wife had been married to one of his employees – she said that she had also had resisted him at first, but had then changed her mind.A few days later, Jeevajothi and Santhakumar tried to flee, but before they could, five of Rajagopal’s men kidnapped them and took them to the warehouse of Saravana Bhavan’s outlet in KK Nagar, Chennai.A helpless Jeevajothi sat in a corner as Rajagopal told his men to take Santhakumar to the next room and continue the beating.The couple was locked up by Rajagopal’s men for almost two weeks.On 12 October 2001, Jeevajothi and Santhakumar managed to escape the warehouse, and went to the city police commissioner’s office to lodge a complaint.Six days later, once again, Rajagopal’s employees kidnapped the couple and forcibly separated them.That is when Rajagopal even brandished a photocopy of their police complaint at Jeevajothi and scoffed at it.On 20 October, Jeevajothi and Santhakumar, along with her parents and brother, gave it one last shot – they pleaded with Rajagopal to leave them alone. They went to the Saravana Bhavan headquarters to ask him in person.Upon their arrival, Rajagopal pulled one of his henchmen, Daniel, into a room to interrogate him – Daniel had told Rajagopal that he had already killed Santhakumar by tying him to railway tracks... but his presence proved otherwise.Rajagopal then called Santhakumar into the room and had his henchmen beat him up mercilessly in front of Jeevajothi and her parents.Two days after this, Rajagopal’s men abducted Santhakumar once again. The next time he was seen was on 31 October.Rajagopal Charged With MurderIn the early 2000s, as the expansion of Saravana Bhavan gathered momentum on the one hand, Rajagopal was charged with murder on the other. This was followed by his first time in jail, and he was finally awarded a 10-year jail sentence by a local Chennai court.Cut to 2009, the Madras High Court upgraded his conviction from culpable homicide to murder, enhancing his sentence to life imprisonment.But, for almost 10 years, he evaded arrest on health grounds.In 2019, after Rajagopal’s futile attempt at challenging the Madras High Court decision, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict. In March, he again tried to buy more time to surrender, but the court did not grant him relief.On 9 July, he surrendered before a sessions court in Chennai. Rajagopal was then sent to Puzhal Central Prison but due to his deteriorating health, he was admitted into a state-run hospital and later shifted to a private one.(This story has been updated. With inputs from The New York Times Magazine, The News Minute)Graphic Novel: The Dalai Lama’s Escape to India We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.