The Toa Payoh ritual murders

 

Singapore is hardly noted for being a lawless country, in fact quite the opposite, so it is not hard to imagine the public’s shock, followed by fascination with the gruesome murders of two small children in 1981 that would send three people to the gallows seven years later.

 

Background.

The trio comprised Adrian Lim, 46, his wife Catherine Tan Mui Choo 34, and mistress Hoe Kah Hong 33. (ages at time if execution). Click here for photos, from left to right, Lin, Tan & Hoe.
Adrian Lim was born on the 6th of January 1942, the eldest of three children. He attended the Anglo-Chinese School, but dropped out in his later teens. After leaving school he worked for a few months as an Internal Security Department informer, later joining the Rediffusion television company where he would spend the next 14 years, working as a bill collector. He married and had two children with his first wife, who divorced him in 1976 for having an affair with Catherine Tan Mui Choo.  Lim and Tan married in 1977.  Lim became interested in becoming a medium and was given training by a local bomoh known as "Uncle Willie". A bomoh is a spiritualist and faith healer.  Lim appears to have been very successful in luring wealthy clients into his web and was able to give up the day job with Rediffusion and live off his earnings.

 

Catherine Tan Mui Choo was 24 years old when she met Lim, having been referred to him by a fellow bar girl. She was the eldest of four children. Like Lim she was not a great student and as a teenager had been sent to the Catholic charity Marymount Vocational Centre (then a home for troubled juveniles). Tan was largely rejected by her parents and suffered from depression. At the time of their meeting she was grieving the death of her granddad.  She loved the attention Lim gave her, even though he mistreated her, was regularly unfaithful and even prostituted her out.

Hoe Kah Hong was born on the 10th of September 1955, the third of six children who had lost her father when she was eight years old.  Due to financial difficulties she was sent to live with an aunt in Penang in Malaysia. She returned to the family when she was 15 years of age and later worked as a seamstress, factory-hand and a production operator for Hewlett Packard.  In 1978 she married Benson Loh Ngak Hua She met Lim when her mother brought her to him to try and cure her of her bad-temper and constant headaches.  Hoe believed in Lim’s “powers” and allowed him to give her electric shock “treatment”.  He also administered shocks to her husband, with fatal results.  Lim got away with this, claiming that Benson’s death was an accident due to his switching on a faulty fan.  Hoe fell into a deep depression as a result of her husband’s death and attended Woodbridge Hospital for treatment.  She would later claim that Adrian Lim had told her that she was possessed and had given her electric shocks to drive out the devil. She would become Lim’s “holy” wife (always referred to as his mistress by the Singaporean press).

 

A rape.

Lucy Lau sold cosmetics door to door and visited Lim and Tan’s Toa Payoh apartment in the October of 1980.  Lim obviously fancied her and tried to persuade her that she was possessed, offering to cure her with a sex based ritual.  Lucy didn’t fall for this but Lim got his way be mixing a sedative into a glass of milk that he gave her.  Lucy reported the rape to the police and Lim was charged with it, Tan was charged with aiding and abetting.  Both were released on bail.  Lim persuaded Hoe to say she had been present in the apartment and that no rape had taken place. 
Lim was a member of a religious cult that worshipped the Hindu Goddess Kali.  He believed that sacrificing children to her would bring him good luck and get him off the rape charge.  In Singapore rape is typically punished by a lengthy term of imprisonment and caning so it is not hard to see why Lim wanted to avoid a conviction.  Hoe was commissioned by Lim to find suitable victims.

 

The murders.
The body of Chinese born nine year old Agnes Ng Siew Heok was discovered on the 25th of January 1981 stuffed into a suitcase beside a lift in apartment block 11 at Toa Payoh Lorong 7.

Hoe had met the little girl in churchyard on the 24th of January and persuaded her to come to Lim’s apartment.  Once there she was drugged, sexually abused by Lim and then smothered with a pillow.  Her blood had been drunk by the three of them and smeared over a picture of Kali.

On the 7th of February 1981 a second body was discovered between blocks 10 and 11 at Toa Payoh.  It was that of Malaysian born, ten year old Ghazali bin Marzuki.  Again the child had been procured by Hoe and brought to the apartment where he was drowned (in the bath tub), subjected to electric shocks and stabbed.  Lim and Hoe had tried to clean up the blood but had done so very inefficiently, allowing the police to follow the trail of blood straight to the doorway of Lim’s apartment in Block 12 of the flats.  Lim, Tan and Hoe were inside when the police entered and they found blood stains on the kitchen floor.  All three were arrested at the scene and charged two days later with both murders.  A full search of the apartment turned up more forensic evidence and various religious artefacts.

Click here for photos. Agnes is on the left, Ghazali is on the right.

 

Trial.

A preliminary hearing in the Subordinate Court was held on the 16th and 17th of September 1982.  Lim entered a guilty plea and insisted that he alone was responsible for the crime.  Tan and Hoe both pleaded not guilty. In view of the evidence against the two women, all three were committed for trial at the Supreme Court on the 25th of March 1983.  This took place before Justices T. S. Sinnathuray and F. A. Chua who sat without a jury as is normal practice in Singapore.

Deputy Public Prosecutor, Glenn Knight, led the prosecution while Howard Cashin, J. B. Jeyaretnam, and Nathan Isaac defended Lim, Tan and Hoe respectively.  Lim’s guilty plea was not accepted by the court.  The trial lasted 41 days, the second longest in Singaporean history.  Lim refused to cooperate with his defence counsel.

Tan and Hoe both mounted a defence of diminished responsibility by virtue of being under Lim’s total control.  Psychiatrists were called by both sides to support and rebut this defence.  Cashin also called a psychiatrist, Dr Wong Yip Chong, to testify that Lim was mentally ill.

The trial ended on the 25th of May. Justice Sinnathuray spent just 15 minutes delivering the guilty verdicts.  He described Lim as being “abominable and depraved”, Tan as “artful and wicked” and Hoe to be “simple and easily influenced”.  Each defendant was then sentenced to death by hanging.  Lim smiled and thanked the judge, Tan and Hoe showed little reaction.

 

Appeals.

Although Lim didn’t appeal, Tan and Hoe went through the entire appeals process permitted under Singaporean law.  Their first stage was the Appeals Court where the case was heard before three judges, Lai Kew Chai, Wee Chong Jin, and LP Thean.  They dismissed the appeal on the 4th of August 1986.  Their findings were as follows :
In Tan’s case “We find that there is evidence that when she lived with (Adrian Lim), there were occasions when she suffered from depression. But, on a balance of probabilities, we find that at the time, when (she) took part in the two murders, she was not suffering from reactive depressive psychosis. That which weighs heavy in our minds is that we had the benefit of hearing and seeing her give evidence in the witness box. The opinion we have of her is that she is an artful and wicked person. In conspiracy with (Adrian Lim), she was at all times a willing party to his loathsome and nefarious acts. We have also considered her case on the footing that she was suffering from mental disease postulated by Dr Nagulendran. Even if she was suffering from abnormality of mind, we find that the abnormality was not such as substantially impaired her mental responsibility for her acts in the two killings.”

In the case of the first appellant (Tan) we are of the opinion that, having regard to all the evidence adduced at the trial, the learned trial judges were entitled to conclude that on a balance of probabilities the plea of diminished responsibility had not been established.

We now turn to consider the case of the second appellant, Hoe : “In contrast to the first appellant the second appellant is a simple person who can be easily influenced. It is claimed that (she) is suffering from schizophrenia. Admittedly, there is a history of schizophrenia in her family. There is also evidence that she was in Woodbridge Hospital from about the end of May to the first week of July 1980. That diagnosis is in issue between the psychiatrists. On the evidence before us, it appears that there are grounds for disagreement. However, what comes out clearly in the evidence is that since her discharge from the hospital, some six months before the commission of the offences, she was thereafter at all times in a state of remission. We accordingly have no difficulty in finding that even if the (second appellant) had suffered from schizophrenia, at the time of the commission of the offences she was not suffering from abnormality of mind as substantially impaired her mental responsibility for the two killings.

Tan and Hoe next appealed to the Privy Council in London, who similarly rejected them.  Their last hope was to request clemency from President Wee Kim Wee which was denied.

 

Execution.

On death row in Changi jail all three were counselled and comforted by Catholic priests and nuns.  Father Brian Doro looked after Lim’s spiritual well being and found him to be a “rather friendly person”.  Tan and Hoe were tended by Sister Gerard Fernandez.  According to the Straits Times newspaper, all three took Holy Communion before their execution and on the eve of their hangings were allowed to bathe and then have cakes and drinks of their choice.  At 6.00 am. their hands were handcuffed behind their backs and they were led the few paces to the gallows.  Lim smiled as he went, Tan and Hoe were described as calm and relaxed.  Once on the trap doors their legs were pinioned and black hoods placed over their heads followed by leather covered British style nooses.  Hangman Darshan Singh, as was his custom, told them “he was sending them to a better place” before he pulled the lever just after 6 am. on Friday the 25th of November 1988.  Fr. Doro held a burial service for them and all three were cremated later in the day.  Only two other women had been hanged in Singapore prior to Tan and Hoe.  They were Mimi Sim for murder in 1973 and Loh Han Eng for drug trafficking in 1981.

 

Back to Contents Page