Assassination of a Prime Minister
Consider the following comparable statistic. Between 1964 and 2008, over 30
technical papers have been published on the forensics of President John F.
Kennedy assassination (on Nov. 22, 1963) that occurred four years after the
assassination of prime minister Solomon Bandaranaike. But, not even one
technical paper has been published on the forensics of Bandaranaike
The only available source of information that can be openly accessed is the book
by Lucian G. Weeramantry entitled Assassination of a Prime Minister: The
Bandaranaike Murder Case (1969, 312 pp). A few demerits have to be noted on
First, Weeramantry was the counsel who defended the fourth accused
and assassin Talduwe Somarama Thero. Thus, a bias may be apparent.
this book was self-published in Geneva, after a lapse of 10 years following the
assassination. Why a mainstream publisher in any country (including Ceylon) had
failed to evince interest (for whatever reason) in this theme has not been
stated by the author. In his preface to the book, had recorded only this much:
�The story of the conspiracy and the assassination is one so extraordinary, so
gripping and so fantastic, that I felt it should be told to the world in an
easy, abbreviated form, which yet preserves its most interesting features. Hence
Forensic Details presented by Weeramantry
I provide below the details presented by Weeramantry in chapter 15 of his book,
entitled �A Foolish Man in Robes� (pp. 93-100). For illustrative purposes, I
also have scanned a sketch of Bandaranaike residence (65, Rosmead Place, Colombo
7) where shooting took place, presented in the book between pages 40 and 41.
(1) Gun shot wounds in Bandaranaike�s body
According to Weeramantry, Dr. W.D.L. Fernando, the judicial medical officer who
had obtained the MRCP in forensic medicine in 1953 and had worked with British
professors Sydney Smith, Glaister and Keith Simpson examined primeminister
Bandaranaike�s injuries. To quote verbatim,
�1. A punctured lacerated wound on the back of the left wrist � an entrance
2. A punctured lacerated wound on the back of the left hand � an exit wound.
Injuries 1 and 2 corresponded and were caused by the same bullet which passed
only skin deep through the hand.
3. A punctured lacerated wound on the right side of the chest � an entrance
4. A circular punctured wound also on the right side of the chest below injury
No. 3 � an entrance wound.
5. A punctured lacerated wound on the left side of the chest below the arm pit �
an exit wound.
6. A circular punctured lacerated wound on the right hip � an entrance wound.
7. A horizontal punctured lacerated wound on the left lower abdomen � the exit
wound of No. 6.�
For illustrative purposes, I have used a human anatomy text book illustration on
dermatomes to indicate the four entrance wounds (1 to 4) in Bandaranaike�s body
as noted by Weeramantry (items 1, 3, 4 and 6).
Weeramantry continues further:
�Dr. Fernando said that the injuries indicated that three bullets had passed
through the body and out of it, including the one that struck the left wrist.
One bullet was found embedded near the region of the ninth rib and was removed.
There were no marks of burning or singeing anywhere on the skin, which indicated
that the muzzle of the weapon had been well over one foot away from the body.
Internally, he found injuries which corresponded to the external injuries
described by him. They were mostly injuries to the liver, stomach, spleen,
intestines and lungs. The injuries were necessarily fatal, and he was of opinion
that there was nothing whatsoever that could have saved his life.
Cross-examined by counsel for Somarama [i.e., Weeramantry, the author of the
book], Dr. Fernando said that a magistrate or an inquirer had the power to order
a postmortem examination, but he did not receive any such order in respect of
the death of the prime minister and so no postmortem was held.�
To recapitulate the details, the prime minister Bandaranaike was shot at 9:45 am
on Sept. 25, 1959 (page 54). He then underwent a five hour operation at the
Colombo General Hospital, from 11:15am to 4:15 pm (page 94). The following day,
on September 26, 1959, Solomon Bandaranaike died at 7:45 am (page 94). And,
no postmortem was held!
The chief surgeon who operated primeminister Bandaranaike was Dr. P.R. Anthonis.
Other doctors who assisted Dr. Anthonis were, �Dr. Umagiliya, the anesthetist;
Dr. Henry Perera, chest surgeon; Dr. Ponnambalam, another chest surgeon and Drs.
Mendis and Yogeswaram, house surgeons.� Unfortunately, excluding Dr. Henry
Perera, Weeramantry do not identify other doctors with their first names or
initials. Another demerit of Weeramantry book was that, a proper index was
I provide below, verbatim, the recorded interactions that transpired between Dr.
P.R. Anthonis and the prime minister, as presented by Weeramantry (pages 93 to
�In the theatre he [i.e., Dr. Anthonis] asked Mr. Bandaranaike, �Sir, what
happened?� He replied, �Doctor, till I saw that black object emerge from the
robe, I did not realize what was happening.� �What robe?� inquired Dr. Anthonis.
�It was a Buddhist monk,� was the reply. Feeling Mr. Bandaranaike�s pulse and
finding it rising rapidly, he decided not to put him any further questions.
After Dr. W.D.L. Fernando, the judicial medical officer, had examined Mr.
Bandaranaike�s injuries, Dr. Anthonis began the operation. Immediately
anesthesia was administered, Mr. Bandaranaike collapsed due to his low
condition. His heart stopped beating and for a moment all seemed lost. Losing no
time, Dr. Henry Perera, the skilful and experienced chest surgeon, stepped in
and proceeded to give the lifeless patient a cardiac massage, while the
attending surgeons and nurses kept casting doubtful glances at one another. But
soon, to the surprise and relief of all, the heart resumed its beat. The prime
minister had revived!
Dr. Anthonis found that there was a very large quantity of free blood inside the
abdominal cavity, with the result that only half the normal quantity of blood
was in circulation. From the patient�s response to anaesthesia, it was clear
that his condition was very serious and the object of the operation was no more
than to endeavour to prolong life. Had the operation not been performed, Mr.
Bandaranaike would have died within half an hour. The operation, which took more
than five hours, was over by 4:15 pm, by which time there was an appreciable
improvement in his condition. In non-technical language, the nature of the
operation was the stoppage of haemorrhage by ligatures and sutures, or, in other
words, the repairing of the perforations and lacerations caused by the bullet
wounds. There was one bullet embedded close to the nineth rib, which was
recovered by Dr. Henry Perera and handed over to the judicial medical officer.
The internal haemorrhage was mostly of the liver, pancreas, spleen, omentum and
intestines. Of the vital organs, it was only the kidney and the heart that had
After the operation, Dr. Anthonis left the hospital but returned at about 6:30m.
He was thereafter almost continuously by the prime minister�s bedside till he
passed away at 7:45 am on September 26th. Although the operation had
succeeded in arresting the bleeding, its immediate object, it had failed to save
Cross-examined by counsel for Somarama, Dr. Anthonis said that after the
operation the prime minister dictated in his presence a message to be delivered
to the nation. He had strongly advised Mr. Bandaranaike against it, but Mr.
Bandaranaike was determined to do so and pressed him to consent. �Then make it
very shrot�, he pleaded, giving his consent with the utmost reluctance. �Doctor,
I am noted for long political speeches. Please do not restrict me�, was the
prompt reply. In the operating theatre stood a man in a surgical mask all ready
to take down the message. Mr. Bandaranaike told the man, �Do not take it down in
shorthand. I want you to do so in long hand and read it back to me.� The
message, which turned out to be a fairly long one, was accordingly dictated and
read back. It was subsequently published in all the newspapers.
Immediately after the message was dictated, the Governor General, Sir Oliver
Goonetilleke, called at the hospital and spoke to the prime minister. Dr.
Anthonis was nearby, but did not hear what the Governor-General said. He,
however, did hear the prime minister say, �Do what you think is best.�
�Speaking of his assailant, did the prime minister tell you at any stage, �He is
a foolish man and I do not know why he shot me�?�
�Yes, he said that about four times before he died. He called him a foolish man
�In other words, the prime minister was not attributing any personal motive to
the man who shot him?�
�Was a post mortem held on the prime minister�s body?�
�Was his dying deposition recorded?�
�Would it be correct to say that, as soon as you saw the prime minister being
brought in by car, it struck you that his dying declaration was important?�
�Yes, it struck me that it was important.�
�Whatever the physical condition of the prime minister may have been at that
stage, he was in full possession of his mental faculties?�
�In fact, he was cracking jokes in the operating theatre?�
�Did he once say, when you requested him to put his tongue out, �It is a long
tongue. We politicians are very tough guys and have plenty of guts�?�
�Yes, that was after the operation.�
Dr. Anthonis emphasized once more that, although there was an improvement in Mr.
Bandaranaike�s condition after the operation, he did not think that he could
have survived. He did not take steps to have his dying deposition recorded,
because any chance of recovery would have been lost had he been allowed to talk.
He was, however, in full possession of his mental faculties to the last.
�Then, why did you not insist that he should not dictate this message to the
�I did insist many times, but he said, �Doctor, please allow me to do this.� It
was only humane for me to permit him to do so in the circumstances.�
�Was he not disposed to make a dying deposition?�
�I do not think that the question of dying ever entered his mind.�
�Were you aware that a C.I.D. officer, who was anxious to record his dying
deposition, came to the hospital before he died?�
Dr. Anthonis attributed the cause of death to surgical shock and haemorrhage due
to multiple gunshot injuries.�
(2) Gun shot wounds in assassin Somarama Thero�s body
It should not be forgotten that the assassin Somarama Thero also suffered gun
shot wounds. He was shot by the police sentry (constable Samarakone, aged 54)
who was on duty at the entrance of Bandaranaike residence between 9:00am and
12:00 noon on September 25, 1959. The description provided by Weeramantry, in
his book (pp. 54-55), is as follows:
�Constable Samarakone said that at about 9:45 am he heard two shots from the
direction of the house. He first mistook the sound for that of bursting
firecrackers. As he turned towards the house, he heard two or three more shots.
He heard all these shots in the space of a minute. He immediately loaded his
rifle and ran in the direction of the verandah. He had not reached the verandah,
when an elderly gentleman came running up to him and told him that the
primeminister was being shot. As he stepped on to the verandah, he saw a
Buddhist monk in the corridor.
�The elderly gentleman pointed out the monk to you?�
�And told you something?�
�What happened then?�
�The monk turned towards me and attempted to run in my direction. I feared that
I too might be shot.�
�But did you see a revolver or any other weapon in his hands?�
�I did not.�
�The monk had his outer robe raised. His hands were concealed and I did not
notice him having a revolver. But fearing that he may be armed and may shoot me,
I fired at him with my rifle and he was injured. I identify the monk I shot at
as Somarama, the fourth accused.�
According to the descriptions presented by Weeramantry, assassin Somarama Thero
was examined by forensic doctor W.D.L. Fernando, after (emphasis mine)
the death of prime minister at 1 pm on September 26th. He was
operated by Dr. Austin (again, first name or initials were missing for this
doctor.) To quote Weeramantry (pages 98-99):
�Somarama was in the operating theatre adjoining that of the prime minister. The
following were the details of his gunshot wounds:
1. Circular punctured lacerated wound on the back of the right side of the right
2. Lacerated wound on the back of the inner side of the right thigh, slightly
higher than injury 1.
3. Laceration of the scrotum with injury to the right testicle.
4. Lacerated wound on the inner side of the back of the right thigh at the same
level as the injury to the scrotum.
Injury 1 was an entrance wound and 2 was the corresponding exit wound. Injury 1
was consistent with an injury caused by a rifle bullet. Its position indicated
that the fourth accused was shot from a side. Injuries 3 and 4 were caused by
the same bullet which caused injuries 1 and 2. That meant that the bullet,
having entered through the back of the right thigh on the outer side, would have
emerged from the inner side, grazing the scrotum and the left thigh when making
�Could these injuries have been caused if the assailant stooped down and shot at
the injured man while he lay fallen?�
�Yes, if the assailant and the injured man had both been on the same level at
the time of firing.�
In addition to these injuries, Somarama had a lacerated wound on his forehead
suggestive of a fall or an assault with a rough object, contusions on his head
and face suggestive of fist blows, contusions on his chest suggestive of blows
with clubs, and a bite mark on his back which turned out to be a grievous
Dr. Austin, who operated on Somarama, found it necessary to remove one of his
(1) As per Solomon Bandaranaike cracking jokes in the operating theatre, that he
had �a long tongue and plenty of guts�, provided by Dr. P.A.Anthonis (who
attended on Solomon Bandaranaike), one may note that the SLFP�s founder-leader
did possess some sense of humor. And that, he insisted on delivering a public
message to the nation (even at his critical hour) proves that Bandaranaike was a
supreme politician of a kind.
(2) That the two life threatening gun shot wounds in prime minister
Bandaranaike�s body were on his right side (thus missing the heart), and none
were above neck, it may be postulated that his assassin Somarama may have been
misdirected by the movement of his target or that he simply misjudged the right
from the left.
(3) The identified gun shot wounds in assassin Somarama Thero�s body indicates
that constable Samarakone had primarily aimed at the below-waist region to
immobilize his threatening target.
(4) On the issue of having a proper postmortem done to prominent victims of
assassinations, one may wonder why Sri Lankans are so allergic. Precedence may
have been set with primeminister Solomon Bandaranaike�s murder. It was revealed
that in last May, no postmortem was done on the LTTE leader Prabhakaran�s body.
Even no postmortem findings were released either after JVP leader Rohana
Wijeweera�s death in 1989 or on President Ranasinghe Premadasa�s death in 1993.