John Martin Scripps - "The tourist from hell".
John Martin Scripps became the first Westerner to be hanged in
Dubbed the "tourist from hell" by the British tabloids he may well have murdered three people in all.
Scripps was convicted of the murder of Gerrard George Lowe after a trial that began on
Forty six old Lim, a self-styled spirit medium and the two women, Hoe Kah Hong and Tan Mui Choo who were both in their early 30’s, were hanged together in Changi prison in November 1988.
In the Singaporean equivalent of Committal Proceedings, Scripps appeared in court to be formally charged with the murder of 32 year old Lowe, a South African brewery engineer who was on a shopping trip to
The preliminary enquiry saw written
statements from as many as 77 witnesses for the prosecution supporting the
murder charge and 11 other charges ranging from forgery, vandalism and cheating
to possession of weapons and small quantities of controlled drugs. Defence lawyer
Joseph Theseira said, "The prosecution also
wanted to introduce evidence linking the killings in
The trial began with Scripps entering no plea but "claiming trial" which, under
"He was instructed in butchery over a six-week period in March and April 1993. He was trained to bone out fore quarters and hind quarters of beef, sides of bacon, carcasses of pork, and how to portion chicken". Quigley said that Scripps, who was serving a 13-year jail term for drug related offences, had been a quick learner.
Chao Tzee Cheng, a government
pathologist, testified that the manner in which Lowe's body was cut up
indicated that only a doctor, a veterinarian or a butcher could have
Chao told the police, "Look, you are dealing with a serial killer."
Security was heavy throughout the court
session, with Scripps sitting between two uniformed armed police officers in a
glass and metal cage, his legs in irons. He was allowed to speak briefly to his
mother and sister before and after the proceedings. The prosecution alleged
that Scripps, using a false name, had checked into the same
Scripps flew to the Thai island resort of Phuket in
In a confession made public when it was
admitted as evidence, Scripps told the court he met Lowe at Changi airport on
March the 8th and they agreed to share a hotel room. He admitted killing Lowe
in the room after he was awakened by a half naked Lowe, who was smiling and
touching his buttocks.
"I am not a homosexual and at that time it appeared to me Mr. Lowe was a homosexual. I freaked out, I kicked out and started swearing. "I had experience of such things in the past and I was very frightened."
Scripps said he used a three-pound camping hammer, "to hit Lowe several times on the head until he collapsed onto the carpeted floor. "My right hand was covered with blood. Everything happened so quickly," he said.
Lowe was dead, Scripps said he sought the help of a British friend, whom he
refused to name. The friend disposed of the body without telling him how.
Scripps denied that it was he who cut up Lowe's body however. The defence tried to show Scripps did not intend to kill Lowe
and that the killing was an act of manslaughter, which carries a maximum
penalty of life in prison. The prosecution claimed Scripps committed
premeditated murder with the intent to rob Lowe. On the fourth day of the
trial, prosecutor Jennifer Marie said Scripps had practised
forging Lowe's signature, suggesting the killing was premeditated.
She showed the court items seized from Scripps's luggage, including a notebook and tracing paper, filled with practice signatures of Lowe's name.
Marie also produced credit cards, passports and other documents she alleged had been tampered with. His defence lawyer, Edmond Pereira, questioned two police officers trying to show they conducted an inadequate search for blood traces next to the hotel room bed where Scripps claimed that Lowe had fallen and bled to death. Police witnesses said there were no traces of blood in the carpet, only in the bathroom. That, the prosecution argues, supports its contention that the killing was premeditated murder.
The prosecution said that Scripps used Lowe's credit card for a shopping spree and to attend a classical music concert soon after the killing.
They alleged that this undermined his defence that he was "dazed and confused" at the time of the killing. "You were not dazed enough, to think of all this," Jennifer Marie told Scripps during her cross examination. She cited documents showing that he used Lowe's credit card to withdraw
He used the same card to buy a videocassette recorder, hi-fi stereo speakers, and running shoes on March the 9th. The next day he used Lowe's card to buy a S$30 ($21) ticket to attend the Singapore Symphony Orchestra where he heard a programme of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. The used concert ticket and symphony programme were among the items seized after his arrest. "You're not telling us the truth when you say you were walking in a dream world (after killing Lowe)," said Marie. "On the contrary, you were clear in your mind what you were doing." Scripps said that he did not remember buying the concert ticket, and that he did not attend the performance. He told the court he went drinking with a British friend that night. Pressed by the prosecution about his movements between March the 8th and March the 11th, Scripps said his memory was hopeless. "You've got a good memory. I haven't," he said. "I'm dyslexic. I get things mixed up."
Scripps told the court he had tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists to escape being hanged. "I believed I was going to be hung," the 35 year old Scripps said on his fifth day in the witness box. "I kept thinking about Lowe and the Filipino lady that got hanged." (Filipino maid Flor Contemplacion was hanged on March 17th, 1995 for two murders.)
Jennifer Marie told the court Scripps tried to cut his wrist with a small, sharp piece of glass in police custody shortly after he was arrested. The prosecution depicted Scripps as a cool, methodical criminal who murdered tourists to steal from them. Scripps agreed with a suggestion by Judge T.S. Sinnathuray that it would take about 5 minutes for a skilled butcher to dismember an animal. Asked by the prosecution whether the same skills could be used to dismember a human, he said: "The bones look similar." But asked whether he dismembered Lowe, Scripps said: "No, I don't have all the skills you mentioned." Scripps disputed the prosecution's assertion that he had ample time and opportunity to chop up Lowe's body, pack the parts in a suitcase, and throw them in the river.
Scripps said he did not report killing Lowe because he feared he would be automatically hanged under
Scripps had earlier alleged that a British
friend staying at a hotel on the nearby resort
Prosecutors alleged that Scripps' story of the friend was a complete fabrication. They also tried to point out discrepancies between his earlier statements to police and his testimony on the witness stand. Marie said Scripps' statement to the police on April the 29th made no mention of attempted homosexual assaults he later told the court he suffered while in prison in 1978 and 1994. "I'm suggesting that this (1994) incident never occurred," said Marie. "It's yet another fabrication of yours." Scripps countered that the assault really happened, but he did not report it to the British prison authorities.
Jennifer Marie told the court in her closing arguments, "The conduct of the accused after the killings suggested that he was cold, callous and calculating a far cry from the confused, dazed man walking in a dream world, the picture he gave of himself". She said Scripps was "a man very much in control of his faculties" when he embarked on a shopping spree using Lowe's credit card, buying a pair of fancy running shoes, a video cassette recorder and a ticket to a symphony orchestra concert.
"He is a man who has no qualms about
lying continuously, consistently and even on the (witness) stand, in any and
every matter," she said. Concluding her case, Jennifer Marie said the
excuse that Scripps killed Lowe because of a homosexual advance was just one of
a "string of lies" to mask a premeditated murder by a greedy serial
killer "who preyed on tourists."
Lowe's widow testified that her husband, who had gone to
In his closing statement for the defence, Edmond Pereira said, "we urge this court to
come to a finding that the accused is not guilty of murder, but is guilty of
culpable homicide not amounting to murder." "The killing occurred in a sudden fight
in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel," he said. "He is not a
man prone to violence."
The trial was adjourned for the judge to consider his verdict after more than a month of evidence.
Scripps, dressed in khaki with a prison style crew cut and standing in a glass cage, was said to be laughing and joking with his guards minutes before the verdict. In court, as he awaited sentence, he said: "Karma is karma. It's in God's hands now." The judge told a packed courtroom: "I'm satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Scripps had intentionally killed Lowe." "After that, he dis-articulated Lowe's body into separate parts, and it was he who subsequently disposed of the body parts by throwing them into the river behind the hotel." Having announced the guilty verdict, Judge T.S. Sinnathuray sentenced Scripps to death by hanging. Scripps showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
His mother and sister, who attended the trial's early days, were not in court to hear the verdict. His mother, Jean Scripps, 58, from Sandown, Isle of Wight, said: "I brought John into this world. I am the only person who has the right to take him out of it. "I cannot believe how my boy could have changed from a kind, human being into the monster described in court."
After the verdict, defence lawyer, Edmond Pereira, told reporters: "Scripps has a right to an appeal, which he can exercise within 14 days and he shall be advised of that right." He declined to make any other comment. A legal source said any such plea would likely be heard by an appeals court early in1996.
The Judge said he was convinced that Scripps killed and dismembered the Damudes, but added that he decided Scripps's guilt independently of the Thai evidence. "On the evidence, I had no difficulty to find that it was Scripps who was concerned with the deaths of Sheila and Darin and for the disposal of their body parts found in different sites in Phuket.".
"The dis-articulation of the body parts of Lowe, Sheila and Darin have the hallmark signs of having been done by the same person." The judge said the Thai evidence was "materially relevant" because it rebutted Scripps's defence that he killed Lowe unintentionally during a sudden fight.
Scripps was said to be eager to die, according to a spokeswoman from the British High Commission in
Scripps was being held in solitary confinement on death row at Changi and spent most of his time watching television and reading the High Commission spokeswoman said. A priest visited him weekly, and once a fortnight a consular representative went to check on his welfare and pass on messages from his family. "He's okay. He's generally well. He doesn't really want to see many people at all," the spokeswoman said.
Scripps declined to seek a pardon from President Ong Teng Cheong,
It was announced that Scripps was to be hanged at dawn on Friday, the 19th of April. His lawyer, Mr Edmond Pereira, told The Straits Times newspaper that he had been informed of the execution date by Scripp's relatives in
The Straits Times understood that while
being held on Death Row, Scripps had turned down a request from the
Scripps had spent his last days writing garbled love poems to his former Mexican wife - described as the one true love of his life - from his 8ft. by 6ft. windowless cell, lit 24 hours with a camera monitoring him permanently. There is a hole in the ground lavatory and a straw roll mat to sleep on.
His sister, Janet, and mother, Jean, said goodbye to him 12 hours before his execution. Under Singaporean law, they would not have been allowed to be present at the hanging. Janet said: "How do you say goodbye to your own brother like that? We didn't actually say the word. I just couldn't."
In accordance with Singapore's execution
rules, hangings are carried out in private at 6.00 a.m. on Friday mornings on a
gallows within the prison The measured drop method of hanging is used. It is
normal practice in
For his last meal, he asked for a pizza and
a cup of hot chocolate.
He would have been woken by guards at about and escorted to a waiting room where he and the other two prisoners (two Singaporean drug traffickers) were prepared. He would have been allowed to speak to a priest and a prison chaplain before the execution. It is thought that the 3 men were led to the gallows at around 6.00 a.m. local time with black hoods covering their heads. After being left to hang for 20 minutes or so, the bodies were taken down and released to the families for burial during the morning. At about , his body wrapped in a white sheet, was taken in an undertaker's van to a funeral parlour for cremation prior to his mother and sister taking his ashes back to
Scripps left a final, rambling semi-literate note which read: "One day poor. One day reach. Money filds the pane of huger but what will fill the emteness inside? "I know that love is beyond me. So do I give myself to god. The god that has betrad me. "You may take my life for what it is worth but grant those I love peace and happiness. Can I be a person again. Only time will tell me."
What really upset him, he wrote in prison, was "when you are told every day that you are not a member of the uman rase (sic)".
One of the stories he wrote whilst on death row graphically described a fantasy suicide hanging, but the hanging of which he dreamt was very different from the cold meticulous execution he experienced. In his fantasies, he contemplated suicide at the end of a rope but he survived. He wrote, "I tied the rope around my little neck before I got up on the old creaky chair. I reached down and picked up a handful of earth and put in my mouth. Then I crawled up to the old creaky chair and pulled the rope tighter and tighter still. I was tiptoe, just one more pull, then my feet left the chair knocking it over and darkness embraced me as the heavens opened. "I woke up in darkness and felt a heavy weight on my chest. I cried out 'Mummy, I am here.'”
His former wife, Mexican Maria Arellanos, learnt for the first time that the death
sentence had been carried out on the Friday he was executed. She had married
Scripps at 16 and the couple separated in 1988 but they remained emotionally
attached. She said: "I knew this would happen to John but I didn't know it
would hurt so much. The last memory I have of him is a message he sent
promising we would meet in the next life and that he would never let me go again."
She said Scripps was a deeply religious
man who had become a devotee of the Virgin of Guadaloupe,
Scripps was born in Hertford in December 1959 and his parents moved to
His first adult conviction was for indecent
assault in 1978 and he was fined £40 at Hendon. Thereafter it was a grim
catalogue - burglaries in London followed by jail in Israel for stealing from a
fellow kibbutz worker; jailed again in 1982 for burglary and assault in Surrey
where he absconded to embark on criminal trips through southeast Asia and
America. In 1985, he was jailed again in
His ultimate journey began on
One wonders whether Scripps actually wanted to die for his crimes - few other countries nowadays would have obliged him in this relatively short time scale. It was clear from his own evidence that he knew the penalty for murder in
I am less surprised that he withdrew his appeal and decided not to ask for clemency - he knew that he would lose and that he would just be delaying the inevitable and living in miserable conditions on death row for many more months or even years to come.
It is also interesting to note that the
British government declined to get involved in Scripp's
case - possibly they felt that
But what made a non-violent criminal suddenly turn into a serial killer? A question to which we will never know the answer now but still a very interesting question nonetheless. Unusually for a serial killer, there appears to be no sexual motive behind the murders but merely a greed motive and perhaps an enjoyment of killing.