Places in Singapore with a dark past

Singaporeans, it seems, are not a superstitious bunch. Flats in the upcoming Bidadari estate drew overwhelming subscriptions in the HDB's launch of new flats in November. Bidadari was formerly a cemetery. The Sunday Times uncovers other sites in Singapore with a dark past

Block 12, Lorong 7, Toa Payoh

An undated picture of the flat (above) during the time when medium Adrian Lim conducted rituals involving blood, drugs and sex.


A three-room flat on the seventh storey of this block is the site of one of the most horrific murders in Singapore's history.

In 1981, medium Adrian Lim, 39, conducted rituals involving blood, drugs and sex in this flat, killing a nine-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy with the help of his wife and his mistress. The trio were said to have also drunk the blood of their victims.

News reports say the girl was drugged, sexually assaulted, strangled and her body dumped in a large bag at the foot of a block. The boy was reportedly drowned and his body was found near a hedge.

A trail of blood led to Lim's flat, which contained crucifixes, blood- stained Hindu and Taoist idols, and a book on witchcraft. Another report said there were also pills and hypodermic syringes, and a newspaper article on human sacrifice.

The trio were found guilty of the murders and hanged on Nov 25, 1988.

In 1987, a Catholic family bought the flat for $28,600 and moved in. They were aware of its dark history, but considered it lucky as they struck 4-D the month they moved in.

One of the family members, Mr Desmond Tan, said in an interview in 1993: "My mum said this house was lucky. Basically, we don't believe in ghosts or things like that."

Property records show the unit changed hands again in 2005. When this reporter visited, no one came to the door.

Mr James Ng, 67, who lives next door, says the current owner had rented the unit out to foreigners in recent years, but it is now vacant.

The retired shipping clerk, who was living there at the time of the murders, says: "Even though we share a wall with the unit, we are not affected by what happened there. What is over is over. Life goes on."

Fortuna Hotel

The collapse of the six-storey Hotel New World building (above) in 1986 killed 33 people. PHOTO: ST FILE

This is the site of Hotel New World, which collapsed on March 15, 1986, and killed 33 people. It was one of the worst tragedies in post-war Singapore.

The six-storey building at the junction of Serangoon Road and Owen Road collapsed due to structural faults and sub-standard construction. The hotel occupied the four upper floors, and a nightclub and a bank were on the lower floors.

News reports say that at about 11am that day, some occupants heard loud sounds and felt a few tremors, but continued going about their business. At about 11.25am, the building fell, shrouding the area in plumes of dust. In less than a minute, it was reduced to rubble and not a single wall was left standing.

A rescue operation with more than 500 staff from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Fire Service and Singapore Armed Forces, as well as foreign experts, lasted four days, and 17 survivors were pulled out from the rubble.

In 1994, the seven-storey Fortuna Hotel opened on the site and still stands today. Its website says it has 104 rooms and houses an Indian restaurant and a branch of Western Union. Previous reports say the hotel was owned by property company Chng Holdings, which is understood to be defunct.

Property checks show that the hotel is now owned by Fortuna City, a hotel operation and management company.

Ms Aisha Naz, 20, who works at Star Tours, which is located in the hotel building, says she knows about the site's dark past, but is not bothered by it.

"It doesn't affect us. Most of our customers are foreigners and don't know what happened."

Bedok Reservoir

Bedok Reservoir. PHOTO: ST FILE

The reservoir saw an unprecedented spate of deaths in 2011 and 2012 and it was labelled online as a "suicide destination".

The first death was reported on June 20, 2011, when the decomposed lower half of Chinese national Lin Xiao, 23, was found.

News reports said the apprentice mechanic was depressed after coming to Singapore and had told his mother he would die by jumping into the river.

On Sept 22 that year, the bodies of Madam Tan Sze Sze, 31, and her three-year-old son Jerald Chin, were found floating there. She was said to be distressed over a custody battle with her estranged husband.

Over the next year, at least five other bodies were reported to have been found in the reservoir.

Representatives from the Inter- Religious Organisation held a prayer session at the reservoir in 2011, initiated by former foreign minister George Yeo, who was a Member of Parliament for the area.

In January 2012, PUB installed four CCTV cameras at the reservoir, which is surrounded by a park. It also stepped up patrols, ensured that the lamps were fully lit throughout the night and installed signboards with helpline information for the Samaritans Of Singapore .

The reservoir is a popular spot for water sports such as wakeboarding, sailing, canoeing and kayaking. It was also a venue for the 28th Sea Games in June last year.

Software solution architect Ranjith Vijayan, 37, who trained at the park thrice a week for last year's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, says: "I run alone, sometimes after midnight. I'm not afraid. I like that it is calm and quiet and I can reflect on my day as I run.

"I'm not scared of ghosts, only of stray dogs."


The graves at Peck San Theng (above) cemetery were exhumed in the 1980s to make way for the development of Bishan New Town. PHOTO: KWONG WAI SIEW PECK SAN THENG

This is one of the most sought-after residential estates, associated with million-dollar HDB flats and some of the top schools in Singapore, including Raffles Institution and Catholic High.

But before the distinctive red-brick housing blocks sprang up, Bishan was the site of a 155ha Chinese cemetery called Peck San Theng (jade hill pavilion in Cantonese), which was founded in 1870as a burial ground for Hakka and Cantonese immigrants.

The graves were exhumed in the 1980s to make way for the development of Bishan New Town. The area now has a bustling shopping centre and is a public transport hub.

Mr Rickson Chng, 45, a bachelor who has lived in Bishan for 31 years and is the director of food company Ally McBean's Food Supply, shrugs off Bishan's past. He says: "I'm not superstitious. If you've done nothing wrong, what's there to fear?

"When I was younger, there were some areas in Bishan that I'd avoid at night. But now I don't. I'm so used to this place already."


The Old Changi Hospital in Halton Road, left vacant since 1997, is reputedly one of Singapore’s most spooky spots. PHOTO: ST FILE

The site of Changi Beach Park is believed to be one of the first massacre sites during Operation Sook Ching, a military operation against those in the Chinese community who were anti- Japanese during the Japanese Occupation.

On Feb 20, 1942, Japanese firing squads killed 66 Chinese male civilians at the water's edge. They were bound by ropes in rows of eight to 12 and instructed to walk towards the sea, according to the National Heritage Board's website.

Japanese soldiers mowed them down with machine guns as they reached the shallow waters. Many died on-site, but some managed to swim away or hide underwater as the ropes binding them loosened.

A memorial plaque has been placed at the site in remembrance of the Chinese massacred in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation.

Changi houses the Old Changi Hospital in Halton Road, which has been named on the Web as one of Singapore's most spooky spots.

Built in 1935, the hospital was used as a prison camp during World War II. The Japanese secret police, or Kempeitai, were rumoured to have used it as a torture chamber.

Left vacant since 1997, the one- time military hospital has long had a reputation for being haunted.

But not every part of Changi has a dark past. The area is home to the world-class Changi Airport, which serves more than 100 international airlines flying to about 250 cities in 60 countries. It has been consistently voted the world's best airport.

The Changi Business Park at Changi South hosts companies, software enterprises, and research and development institutes.

Professor Brian Farrell, 55, head of the history department at the National University of Singapore, says: "Changi has a rich history. It is not surprising that beliefs and folklore have developed around it. In general, a place's dark past has a lingering effect on the present, but it really depends on who you talk to.

"In the case of Changi, a historian can see it as an important site where sad events once took place. But to a young person, it could just mean a nice beach and a ferry ride to Pulau Ubin."

Pulau Tekong

The island is used by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for training. Recruits who have trained there would have heard ghost stories about the island.

One puzzling incident took place on May 24, 1983, when 18-year-old private Tham Wai Keong was found dead after a 16km route march.

A news report said his platoon was at the tail-end of a 136-strong contingent which started its march at 4pm the day before. They returned to camp at 8.10pm and Tham was reported to be missing an hour later.

His body was found the next day about 5km from camp and 20m from the route march track. His full pack and uncapped water bottle were found in a nearby bush. There were no signs of a struggle.

A coroner's report said he had died from a ruptured stomach.

An open verdict was recorded, but investigators did not rule out the possibility that he might have been hit by an object such as an entrenching tool, which was found near the body.

There have been other reports of soldiers dying from causes such as viral infections, during or after military training.

The island houses the Basic Military Training Centre, which was inaugurated in 1996. Comprising four schools, it trains most SAF recruits.

Mr Jonathan Ng, 22, who did 19 weeks of military training on the island in 2013, says he was aware that people had died there in the past, but he did not know the details.

Now a part-time sales adviser, he says: "Personally, I feel it is better for the past to be kept secret as some people might be more sensitive to freaky or unexplainable events and may start imagining things when they are staying on the island. The past may affect them mentally."

Punggol Beach


This quiet beach at the end of Punggol Road, near Punggol jetty, was one of the killing fields during the Japanese Occupation.

So many people died there that it was described in the newspapers as "Singapore's slaughter beach".

On Feb 28, 1942, about 400 Chinese civilians were reportedly shot there by Japanese auxiliary military police.

Since then, human remains have occasionally been found on the beach. A 1998 article reported that a skull with two gold teeth, and parts of an arm and leg, were found by a man digging for earthworms to use as fishing bait.

Punggol Beach is on the National Heritage Board's list of historic sites. The area is known for The Punggol Settlement, a two-storey food enclave opened in 2014 that features restaurants such as House of Seafood and White Restaurant.

Mr Francis Tan, 40, owner of Thai restaurant Trunk At Bay at the enclave, says: "As a kid, I came to the beach with my family to look for clams and collect sea-shells. I heard people had died here, but it was only when I became an adult that I understood what had happened.

"I don't let the dark past get to me. I chose this place for my res- taurant because it has a beautiful view of the sea."

Fort Canning Green

This regular concert venue was a burial ground for Europeans here in the 19th century, according to Singapore Infopedia.

Used in the 1820s, the cemetery was located on the lower slopes of Fort Canning Hill.

More than 600 burials - a third were for Chinese Christians - took place there between 1822 and 1865. The last burial was in 1868.

Prominent people buried there included Sir Jose D'Almeida Carvalho, the Portuguese consul- general and one of the earliest European merchants here, and Irish architect George Drumgoole Coleman, who designed many roads and buildings, including the bridge named after him that links Hill Street and New Bridge Road.

In 1953, the Committee for the Preservation of Historic Sites here announced that the cemetery would be turned into a park.

By 1954, most of the gravestones, memorial and inscription plaques were removed and set in the cemetery's walls. A number of the tombstones and statues were set in the garden of St Gregory's Armenian Church nearby.

Today, the area is part of Fort Canning Park and regularly hosts concerts, outdoor film screenings, plays and carnivals.

Orchard Road

The Chinese cemetery in Orchard Road had 25,000 to 30,000 graves which were cleared in the 1950s. PHOTO: ST FILE

Did you know that parts of Singapore's most famous shopping belt sit on former graveyards?

Where Ion Orchard and Ngee Ann City now stand was a cemetery called Tai Shan Ting. In 1845, it was acquired by Ngee Ann Kongsi, an association representing the Teochew community, according to newspaper reports .

Bounded by Orchard, Paterson and Grange roads, the cemetery had 25,000 to 30,000 graves which were cleared in the 1950s.

Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, built in the 1980s, sits on the site of a former Jewish cemetery.

Today, the 2.53km Orchard Road, which got its name from the fruit orchards in the area until the turn of the 20th century, is a major tourist destination and retail hub, boasting glitzy malls.

Ms Lu Minru, 44, managing director of public relations firm 37 Communications, whose office has been in Ngee Ann City for the last six years, says: "I chose this place as it is very convenient to meet clients and media partners, who are mostly located in town.

"I'm not affected by the area's dark past as I'm not superstitious."


Pulau Blakang Mati (above) was the previous name for Sentosa. It meant “behind death” in Malay and could refer to the early piracy and bloodshed nearby. PHOTO: ST FILE

The resort island, one of Singa- pore's star attractions, used to be called Pulau Blakang Mati, which means "behind death" in Malay.

Singapore Infopedia, the National Library Board's electronic encyclopaedia, says the name could refer to the early piracy and bloodshed nearby. Another account says the island was the "paradise of warrior spirits", whose bodies were entombed on an adjacent island.

Serapong Golf Course was previously a beach, where about 300 corpses were washed ashore during the Japanese Occupation, according to newspaper reports.

These were reportedly Chinese civilians hurled into the sea by Japanese soldiers and shot as part of Operation Sook Ching, to eliminate people in the Chinese community who were anti- Japanese.

In the 1970s, the Government started developing the island as a tourist attraction . In 1972, it was renamed Sentosa, which means "peace and tranquillity" in Malay.

It is now home to 17 hotels, two golf courses, a 3.2km-long beach, and attractions such as Fort Siloso, Siloso Beach, Madame Tussauds Singapore and integrated resort Resorts World Sentosa, which runs the theme park Universal Studios Singapore.

In the financial year of 2014/ 2015, a total of 19.4 million people visited the island.

Says businessman Arthur Loh, 47, who has played at Serapong Golf Course for the last eight years: "I know about Sentosa's dark past. But when you are playing golf, which is in the daytime anyway, you are so focused on the game that you don't think about such things."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Places with a dark past'. Print Edition | Subscribe