John Martin Scripps - "The tourist from hell".

John Martin Scripps became the first Westerner to be hanged in Singapore for murder and only the second for any offence. (Dutch born Johannes van Damme was executed for drug trafficking in 1994). He is the last British murderer to be hanged since Britain stopped executions in 1964.

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 October the 2nd, 1995. It was to be Singapore's most sensational murder case since that of Adrian Lim, who with his wife and girlfriend, were convicted in May 1983 of the murder of two children in 1981.

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 30s, were hanged together in Changi prison in November 1988.

September 18th, 1995.
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 Singapore in March 1995. Various parts of what were believed to be Lowe's dismembered body were found floating in black bin bags in Singapore harbour. Scripps, who fled from Britain while on parole, was also a suspect in the murders of Canadian tourist, Sheila Damude and her son, Darin, on the Thai island resort of Phuket and has been linked to murders in San Francisco, Mexico and Belize. When arrested at Changi airport on March 19th, 1995, Scripps was carrying more than US$ 40,000 in cash and traveller's' cheques and the passports, credit cards and other belongings of Lowe and the Damudes. He also had a stun device, handcuffs and a can of mace as well as a hammer and knives. Swabs from the hammer matched bloodstains across the carpet of the Damudes' hotel room.

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 Thailand." Scripps arrived in Singapore on March the 8th from San Francisco and left for Phuket 3 days later. The investigation into Lowe's murder began shortly afterwards when a black plastic bin bag containing a pair of legs was fished out of the water off Singapore's Clifford Pier. A few days later, another bag containing thighs and a naked, headless torso turned up. The skulls, torsos and several limbs belonging to the bodies of the Damudes were found in a deserted tin mine on Phuket between March the19th and 25th. The Damudes are reported to have travelled on the same plane to Phuket as Scripps and checked into a room close to his in the same hotel. Douglas Herda, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is helping coordinate the Singapore and Thai murder investigations, said Thai authorities were waiting for the forensic evidence before deciding whether to file charges.

October 2nd, 1995 - The trial.
The trial began with Scripps entering no plea but "claiming trial" which, under Singapore law, means he was contesting the charges. Singapore does not have jury trials. Evidence of how Lowe's body was skillfully cut up and wrapped in black plastic bin bags before being thrown into the Singapore harbour was presented to the court. On Tuesday the 3rd, James Quigley, a Prison Officer at Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight, told the court he had taught Scripps how to dismember and bone slaughtered animals.
"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 dismembered it.
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 Singapore hotel room as Lowe on March 8th and later killed him.

Scripps flew to the Thai island resort of Phuket in Thailand on March the 15th and was arrested on his return to Singapore's Changi airport on March the 19th. Police witnesses testified that when he was arrested, he was wearing a money belt containing 4 different passports, each with different names but with his own photograph, and that one of the passports belonged to Lowe. Police said he also had passports belonging to Canadians, Sheila and Darin Damude, whose dismembered and mutilated bodies were later found on Phuket island. Thai police had issued a warrant for Scripps's arrest in connection with those murders.

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.

After realising 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.
Pereira implied that if police found no blood traces on the carpet, it could have been because they did not conduct enough tests, and not in the exact spot where Lowe fell. Pereira asked for a one-day adjournment so he could consider new evidence the prosecution wanted to introduce in an attempt to link Scripps with the two murders in Thailand.

October 19th, 1995.
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
Singapore $8,400 in cash from a local bank soon after the killing.
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."

October 24th, 1995.
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.

October 25th, 1995.
Scripps said he did not report killing Lowe because he feared he would be automatically hanged under Singapore's tough laws. In his sixth day on the witness stand, he was asked by prosecutor Jennifer Marie why he did not immediately call a doctor or hotel staff after Lowe collapsed in their room. "Because this man died at my hands, and under Singapore law that is an automatic death sentence," he replied. "That's what I understood at the time."

Scripps had earlier alleged that a British friend staying at a hotel on the nearby resort island of Sentosa, connected to Singapore by a causeway, disposed of Lowe's body. He said he fled to the friend's hotel while the body was being disposed of. He said he had known this man for 8 to 10 years and remembered that he once worked at an abattoir. He refused to name the friend, whom he described as a dangerous man, or describe the hotel in further detail because he said he feared retaliation against his family. Scripps was cautioned by the Judge that his reluctance to give basic information on the friend could harm his defence. "Here you are facing a murder charge, which carries a death penalty in this country," "I have to ask myself, at the end of the day, this question: Did the accused, John Scripps, go to a hotel on Sentosa?" Scripps still declined to describe the hotel.

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.

November 6th, 1995.
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 Singapore on a shopping holiday, was not a homosexual.

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." Pereira also urged Judge T.S. Sinnathuray to ignore information from Thailand. "There is no evidence to suggest that the accused is responsible for the deaths of the two Canadians," he said, calling the Thai information "nothing more than circumstantial" and "prejudicial."

November 7th, 1995.
The trial was adjourned for the judge to consider his verdict after more than a month of evidence.

November 10th, 1995.
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.

January 4th, 1996.
On the 4th of January 1996, Scripps withdrew his appeal which was scheduled to be heard on January the 8th. His lawyer, Edmond Pereira, declined to comment on why Scripps had decided against appealing. "He has written with his own hand to the prison authorities that he does not wish to pursue the appeal," the lawyer said. Pereira said Scripps could still ask for clemency. "It would appear to me that it's the last avenue open, but we have no instructions (from Scripps)," he said. Prison authorities have yet to inform him of his deadline for filing a clemency plea, said Pereira. There is usually a 6 to 8 week period in which a prisoner may file. Pereira described Scripp's mood as "sad" during their last prison visit. "We were talking about his concerns for his family. I can't say he's worried, because he would have known the consequences of not pursuing the appeal."

February 14th, 1996.
Scripps was said to be eager to die, according to a spokeswoman from the British High Commission in Singapore. "He won't be putting in an appeal. He's eager to get it over and done with. He's just waiting for the day," she said. His lawyer, Edmond Pereira, said he was surprised by the High Commission's remarks. "There are some instructions Scripps has given me, but I'm not at liberty at this stage to make any comment because the matter has not been finalised," he said. He also said that even if a prisoner refused to petition for clemency, the matter still had to go before the president but added: "If you don't request clemency, they won't exercise clemency."

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.

March 10th, 1996.
Scripps declined to seek a pardon from President Ong Teng Cheong, Singapore's Sunday Times newspaper reported. The newspaper quoted Edmond Pereira as saying he had received a letter from Scripps during a prison visit last month. "His instruction to us was that he did not want to petition for clemency from the President," Pereira said. "It was his wish to let the law take its course."

April 15th, 1996.
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 London. The British Foreign Office in London had also issued a similar statement to the press, adding that the British government had considered the case and had decided not to submit a plea for clemency.

The Straits Times understood that while being held on Death Row, Scripps had turned down a request from the London's Scotland Yard to interview him. British police detectives believe that he is linked to the disappearance of management consultant, Timothy McDowell, 28, who went missing while holidaying in Belize in Central America. Scotland Yard suspects that Mr McDowell was possibly murdered and his body, which was never found, dumped into a crocodile infested river by Scripps. They found a substantial amount of money transferred from Mr McDowell's bank account to Scripps's account in Britain after his arrest in Singapore. This sum of money was later moved to another account, also under Scripps's name, in the United States.

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.

April 19th, 1996 - The execution.
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 Singapore to hang several prisoners simultaneously, although no details of the executions are released to the media.

For his last meal, he asked for a pizza and a cup of hot chocolate.
He would have been woken by guards at about
3.30 a.m. 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 10.30 a.m., 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 Britain.

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, Mexico's patron saint. Although their relationship ended in recrimination over his criminal ways and his womanising, he was never violent towards her and she remained in love with him.

Scripps was born in Hertford in December 1959 and his parents moved to London when he was young. His father, a lorry driver, committed suicide. At 14, he disappeared in France from a cadet training camp. A year later, he was in juvenile court for burglary and theft.

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 Surrey for burglary (he absconded again to smuggle drugs through various countries). 1987 - jailed in London for heroin offences (absconded June 1990). August 1990 - detained carrying heroin at Heathrow. November 1990 - arrested again, carrying heroin and jailed at Winchester - absconding from Mount prison in October 1994, then traveling via Holland, Belgium, Paris and Spain to reach Mexico in November

His ultimate journey began on October 28th, 1994 when he failed to return to the Mount Prison in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, after 4 days leave. The Mount governor, Ms. Margaret Donnelly, said: "He was no longer considered a risk. He had no history of violence. He was quiet and reserved." However, his mother says the authorities should have realised the risk because he had been selling his possessions openly to raise money.

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 Singapore. One wonders why he chose to commit one of the murders there and then return a few days later.

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.

Singapore hanged over 260 people (including several women) between 1975 and 1996 for drug trafficking and murder and reprieves are extremely rare.

It is also interesting to note that the British government declined to get involved in Scripp's case - possibly they felt that Singapore had done the rest of the world a favour. They are normally resolutely anti-death penalty.

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.

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