1975: The Gold Bar Murderers

Add comment February 28th, 2016 Headsman

On the last day of February in 1975, seven men from among a gang who authored one of Singapore’s signature murders were hanged at Changi Prison.


(cc) image from Bullion Vault.

Four days after Christmas in 1971, the phone rang for Andrew Chou, an Air Vietnam staffer who had been exploiting his security credentials to smuggle gold bars out of Singapore for several crime syndicates.

It was a fresh delivery for the Kee Guan Import-Export Co. for that evening — to be dropped at Chou’s house as usual.

Chou’s cut of these runs was lucrative, of course: hundreds of thousands in cash, out of which the able crook paid off his own muscle as well as the air crew.

But this night, he intended to take a lump sum.

As the couriers counted out the treasure at Chou’s kitchen table, Chou and associates attacked them. Later, Chou would phone his contacts to advise that the goldmen had never arrived that night: in fact, Ngo Cheng Poh, Leong Chin Woo and Ang Boon Chai had been consigned to the industrial muck of a convenient mining pool.

This incident, soon to be known as the Gold Bar Murders, went wrong very quickly but perhaps the judicial punishment visited on its perpetrators only spared them from a similar underworld revenge. An anonymous tipster had seen the bodies being dumped and police pulled them out of the ooze the next day. The smuggling-murder circle was busted immediately; a few gold bars were recovered from the office of Chou’s brother Davis, and the balance from an associate named Catherine Ang, who had received them for safekeeping from the hands of the killers.

There were 10 in this conspiracy. One, Augustine Ang,* saved his own life by giving evidence against his comrades. Two others, Ringo Lee and Stephen Lee, were minors at the time of the murder and escaped the noose on that basis.

The remaining seven — Andrew Chou, David Chou, Peter Lim, Alex Yau, Richard James, Stephen Francis, and Konesekaran Nagalingam — all hanged without their appeals availing any of them the least whiff of judicial or executive mercy.

* There was no blood relationship between the murderer Augustine Ang, the victim Ang Boon Chai, and the fence Catherine Ang.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Infamous,Mass Executions,Murder,Organized Crime,Pelf,Singapore

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2003: Vignes Mourthi, framed in Singapore?

Add comment September 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2003, 23-year-old Malaysian Vignes Mourthi was hanged in Singapore’s Changi Prison as a drug courier, along with his supposed collaborator Moorthy Angappan.

Mourthi vigorously maintained his innocence, and his family has done likewise in the years since, helping turn the young factory worker into a wrongful-execution poster child.

It was a Sgt. Rajkumar who arrested Mourthi by posing as a buyer of his cargo. Rajkumar would later present an undated, unsigned “confession” purporting to show that Mourthi was completely aware that it was heroin he was moving. At first read one might might indeed doubt Mourthi’s insistence that he thought he was carrying “incense stones” … but his compatriot Angappan was indeed an incense dealer and a family friend known to Mourthi as such.

British journalist Alan Shadrake‘s 2010 indictment of Singaporean justice Once a Jolly Hangman (banned in its titular city-state) calls Mourthi’s hanging “arguably one of the most appalling miscarriages of justice in Singapore’s history”.

Rajkumar’s testimony about Mourthi’s confession was instrumental in hanging the young man, but just a couple of days after he arrested Mourthi, Rajkumar himself was arrested (and then released on bail) on a rape accusation. According to the recent book Once a Jolly Hangman, whose denunciations of Singapore’s death penalty system earned its author a prison term in the repressive city-state,

Intense efforts were … made by Rajkumar’s many friends in the CNB and a police friend at Clementi Police Station to persuade ‘J’ to withdraw her statement. The bribes involved large sums of money, which she refused … There were frantic, secret meetings between Rajkumar, his police officer friends and his accuser in shopping malls and fast-food outlets during which he, his family and friends continued to offer large sums of money in exchange for withdrawing her allegations. All this intrigue was going on while Rajkumar was busy getting enough evidence together to ensure Mourthi would be found guilty and hanged.

So. That’s less than ideal.

Sadly for the accused, none of this credibility-melting information was ever known during Mourthi’s trial and appeal. After Mourthi’s execution, the bad cop who hanged him went on trial for corruption over his witness-tampering, and eventually served 15 months.

Certainty is never given to mortals. But Mourthi’s father for one has no doubt: “I know he is innocent.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Malaysia,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Wrongful Executions

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1996: John Martin Scripps, British serial killer

3 comments April 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1996, the first westerner hanged for murder in Singapore got his deserts in Changi Prison.

Mild-mannered John Martin Scripps had created a sensation in the city-state for turning South African tourist Gerard Lowe into a sack full of dismembered body parts at Clifford Pier.

“The tourist from hell” argued in defense that it had all been a gay panic after Lowe came onto him. Not a bit of it.

Turns out Scripps, recently absconded from British custody after his latest in a series of drug and theft arrests,* had used the same chop-shop m.o. on a Canadian mother and son in Thailand and, as with Lowe, leached their electronic assets thereafter.

(Ever the jet-setter, Scripps was also a suspect in three other murders — of two Brits in Central America and of an American male prostitute in San Francisco.)

“John disappeared on several trips and went to the United States and South-East Asia,” his Mexican ex-wife said later. “I knew something awful was happening, but I could not believe he had started killing people.”

After conviction, Scripps declined to appeal or petition for clemency, saying he wanted the law to take its course quickly. He was hanged alongside two drug traffickers.

* He’d learned butchery in prison — so well that he’d talked about opening a shop when he got out. Which is sort of what he did.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Serial Killers,Singapore,Volunteers

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1994: Johannes van Damme, heroin smuggler

10 comments September 23rd, 2008 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1994, Dutch citizen Johannes van Damme was hanged at Singapore’s Changi Prison for drug trafficking.

The first westerner hanged under Singapore’s draconian anti-drug law, the engineer had been nabbed at the airport with 4.32 kilos of heroin.

Van Damme, 59 at his death, claimed ignorance of the illicit contents and his case drew appeals from the Dutch government — to no avail.

The city-state’s severe criminal code and comprehensively ordered society — “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” in cyberpunk author William Gibson’s formulation — is somewhat notorious at this point.

But while foreign migrants and guest workers had regularly faced the gallows for similar offenses, van Damme’s hanging marked a significant ramping-up of enforcement. According to Amnesty International, Singapore carried out 54 drug-related hangings in 1994 and another 52 in 1995, after an early-90’s pace of under ten per year. It’s maintained rates in the dozens of executions per annum since then, making it the heaviest per-capita user of the death penalty in the world.

And it doesn’t mind making its visitors sweat about it.

Welcome to Singapore. You’ll also see the warning on your embarkation card.

An intensified pace perhaps came with a new resolve on the part of the former British colony to forswear juridical perks to European offenders — at least to some extent. Van Damme’s fate makes an interesting contrast with that of his countrywoman, Maria Krol-Hmelak (the link is to her scanty Dutch Wikipedia page). Krol-Hmelak had been arrested a few months before van Damme also for possessing enough heroin to be presumed a smuggler and incur an automatic death sentence; at her trial a few months after van Damme’s, she received a surprise acquittal.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Netherlands,Singapore

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2005: Van Tuong Nguyen

3 comments December 2nd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Australian national Van Tuong Nguyen was hanged* in Singapore’s Changi Prison for smuggling heroin.

Three years before, in dire financial straits, Nguyen had agreed to act as a drug courier and been caught attempting to carry 396.2 grams — less than a pound — of heroin through the airport of the notoriously execution-happy city-state. He had no criminal history and cooperated with the authorities, but the quantity of contraband on his person incurred an automatic death sentence.

Nguyen became an international cause celebre and the Australian government appealed for clemency — though some detected tepid public notice for the young man of Vietnamese extraction in comparison with white Australians in similar situations.

His family’s two-year campaign mobilizing worldwide pressure to save him was the profile of a 2006 documentary that laid bare the continuing grief left to Nguyen’s family and friends … and their continuing work against the death penalty in his remembrance. This personal tribute of unidentified provenance captures both:

* By Darshan Singh, whose identity as Singapore’s hangman was exposed on the occasion.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore

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