This story was first published in July 2015 in an e-book titled Guilty As Charged: 25 Crimes That Have Shaken Singapore Since 1965. A collaboration between The Straits Times and the Singapore Police Force, the e-book appeared in The Straits Times Star E-books app. Read the other crime stories here. (Warning: Some content in these stories may be disturbing for some individuals.)
Yishun triple murder (2008)
A tumultuous love affair ends with a Chinese national viciously killing his lover, her daughter and their flatmate
Being humiliated by his lover for not giving her money to buy crabs for dinner was the last straw for Wang Zhijian.
That night, he got up from bed naked, took a knife and stabbed Ms Zhang Meng, 41, over and over again.
He turned the knife onto her 17-year-old daughter Feng Jianyu, killing her too.
Then he went after another mother-daughter pair who were staying in the rental apartment. Ms Li Meilin, who was 15 at the time, survived the repeated slashings.
Her mother Yang Jie, 36, fell to her death from the sixth-floor kitchen window of the flat in Block 349, Yishun Avenue 11.
She had escaped onto the narrow ledge outside but Wang, who was 42 at the time of the killings, cut her hands which were holding onto the bamboo pole holders.
As if the shocking details were not enough, the perpetual grin Wang had for the cameras during his trial added another layer of menace.
Tattoos on Wang’s body gave an inkling of his tumultuous love-hate relationship with Ms Zhang.
In May 2007, her face and half-body were put on his back, with a rose at the bottom. This, he said, was to express his “sincere” love for her.
Eight months later, he put a snake on his left shoulder to symbolise her viciousness, and a skeleton and heart on the right one. He said: “The skeleton resembled the ‘dead god’ (Ms Zhang) slowly and gradually swallowing my heart.”
They first met in 1996 at a brokerage firm, where Wang went to trade in stocks. The introduction was done by his colleague.
There was hardly any contact between them, even though they lived in Tianjin, where Wang worked as a supervisor at a port. In 2004, he divorced his wife, saying they were just incompatible.
The next year, to his surprise, Ms Zhang called him and asked to meet at a coffee house, where Wang poured his heart out about his ex-wife.
From then on they met once a week. This went up to twice a week. In early 2006, she asked him if he loved her and he said yes. They had sex for the first time on March 17 — a date which Wang clearly recalled.
In June, she revealed she was married.
He said he wanted to break up with her, and then again when he suspected her of having other lovers. “She told me that since the first glance at me, she had fallen in love with me. She wanted to be with me for the rest of her life,” Wang told police.
He described how she used a needle to prick her finger and wrote “I love Wang Zhi” in her blood. Not being able to stand the pain, she asked Wang to continue using his blood and he did, writing “...jian, I want to marry him”. When she asked him to express his love for her, he put “I love her until I die” in blood as well.
In November 2006, her husband Feng Jinqiang called Wang to a meeting and asked his wife to choose between them. She picked Wang.
Soon, Ms Zhang’s family started to harass Wang, who claimed he was beaten and threatened with death. He said they also looked for him at his workplace, so he took early retirement and got 400,000 yuan.
He said that in three months, he spent a quarter of the money on branded clothes and expensive meals for Ms Zhang, who divorced her husband in 2007.
But when her ex-husband suffered a stroke, she decided to stay and take care of him. The affair ended, but only for four months, after which Ms Zhang and her daughter moved in with Wang.
Jianyu then got a place in Northview Secondary School in Singapore and moved here with her mother in December 2007.
A few months later, the couple broke up again. Then Ms Zhang returned during the March school holidays, tracked down Wang and they reunited.
Two months later, she asked him to follow her to Singapore. He told her he did not have the money to support her lavish lifestyle. She promised she would take care of him.
He believed her.
He visited Ms Zhang three times in 2008 on social visit passes and, according to him, was subjected to bizarre and humiliating treatment.
Wang claimed that he spent his money on food for her and her daughter, cooked for them while he ate their scraps, and hand-washed their clothes, including undergarments.
He said he was forced to stay in the bedroom naked because Ms Zhang did not allow him to leave the room when her daughter and sub-tenants were around. Since there was no toilet there, he had to defecate and urinate into plastic bags and newspapers.
He claimed he did not resist her because he was afraid she would come up with even harsher rules. “She might even bite me,” he said.
For his first trip to Singapore in July, Wang said the 2,800 yuan he brought with him was spent within four days, mostly on food for Ms Zhang. This included $140 for a crab meal at a nearby seafood restaurant.
After he returned to Tianjin, she called him to say her friends said he could get a job at a logistics company and urged him to return as soon as possible.
His second trip was on Aug 3.
She introduced him to agents who quoted various charges to help him get a job, but she refused his request to pay for him first, saying she did not have enough money. They quarrelled more than once before he left on Sept 2.
Ms Zhang then called him to say that Jianyu would be transferred to Raffles Girls’ School and asked him to come to help her arrange the move.
He withdrew 7,000 yuan — nearly all that was left of his life’s savings — and arrived on Sept 9. Within five days, he had spent 2,000 yuan, including $120 for two crabs, which he cooked for mother and daughter. Two pieces were left for him. “But Jianyu told her mother she wanted them for her breakfast. I was left with no crab,” Wang told the police.
On Sept 18, at about 8pm, Ms Zhang came into his room and told him she and Jianyu wanted to have crab again.
“I told her they just ate crab a week ago and reminded her that every time we spend more than $100 on crab,” he said.
An argument broke out, lasting nearly an hour.
"Zhang humiliated and used vulgarities on me. She scolded me poor fellow... I told her I have spent all my savings on her. What does she expect from me? She even said that I was produced by dogs and donkey... On hearing all these, I became very angry.”
NIGHT OF HORROR
After the argument, Ms Zhang went to sleep at about 9pm, wearing only her panties.
Wang, who was naked, laid down on the mattress in the same room but could not fall asleep. He claimed to be in a daze.
“I felt that I couldn’t breathe. My whole body was trembling... My mind was a blank. The blood was gushing to my head, I did not see anything before my eyes, everything was red. I was unable to control my thoughts.”
He thought about how “wicked” she was and how she was spending his money “although she has not been faithful to me”.
After about an hour, he went into the kitchen and remained there for some time. Instead of cooling down, he grabbed a knife. He returned to the bedroom and closed the door. The lights were still off.
“I grasped the knife with my right hand and thrust it 45 degree downwards at Zhang’s abdomen region. At that moment, she screamed and struggled a little as if she wanted to sit up. I thrust her many times with the knife continuously and I could not remember the exact number of times.
"It happened very fast and vaguely I remember she continued to struggle and move her body. I thrust her abdomen region with the knife until she became motionless. My knife went in and out of her body.”
The door to the bedroom opened. It was Jianyu.
“I was near to the doorway and I stepped forward towards that person. I lost my mind and I could not control my emotion. I went forward to stab that person’s abdomen region,” Wang told police.
“I gave that person a few thrusts at the abdomen region with the same knife. That person did not struggle. She staggered forward when I gave her the subsequent stabs. She collapsed on the same mattress, beside Zhang.”
The mother and daughter suffered a total of 98 stab and slash wounds.
Wang claimed that the door to the other bedroom then opened, and he saw two people standing there.
He rushed in to kill them.
But the court found that this was not how it happened, especially since no traces of blood from the other tenants were found on the knife used to kill Madam Zhang.
Instead, he had first gone back to the kitchen to get another weapon, this time settling on a chopper.
That was when he entered the other bedroom to silence Madam Yang and her daughter.
On Nov 22, 2011, Ms Li, who like Jianyu had been in Singapore to study, took the stand against the man who killed her mother and gave a harrowing account of what happened that night.
Already 18 then, she testified that both she and her mother were sleeping when she was awakened by the sound of heavy breathing outside her bedroom — as if someone was suffocating.
She then heard Jianyu shouting auntie and uncle in Mandarin, then cutlery falling. She and her mother, who was awake by this time, debated on whether to call the police.
Then, the door swung open and Wang rushed in.
Ms Li screamed, and he started slashing her while her mother rushed out. She put her hands up as she squatted with her back to the wall, but Wang continued using the chopper on her.
Then he left to go after Madam Yang. From outside, he warned Ms Li not to move.
Bleeding heavily, she went to the bedroom door to shut it but Wang burst in again. He pushed her onto the bed and continued to stab and slash her. She kicked him in the thigh and he fell, giving her the chance to run out of the room and into the kitchen toilet.
She closed the foldable plastic door but Wang hacked at it until it collapsed, she said, before slashing her head, face and neck until she fell to the toilet floor.
When he left her, her only thought was: “God, let me die.”
He returned and stabbed her in the lower back, right ear and back of the neck.
When she regained some consciousness, she could hear Wang speaking to police, who eventually rescued her. What she did not realise at the time was that her mother’s body was on the ground floor.
Madam Yang had died from acute haemorrhage due to multiple injuries after landing on her head and left hip. She also had two wounds on her right and left fingers which were not consistent with a fall.
It was the prosecution’s case that Madam Yang had climbed out of the kitchen window to stand on the narrow concrete overhang, holding on to the laundry pole holders right below the window sill.
Worried that she might escape, Wang used the chopper to cut Yang’s fingers, causing her to lose her grip.
Forensic experts did not find Madam Yang’s blood within the flat. Instead, it was found on the exterior wall of the kitchen beside the bamboo pole holders, which proved the prosecution’s case.
‘I DON’T REMEMBER’
Wang stuck to the story that he could not remember how he attacked his four victims, claiming his mind had gone blank from rage. He said he did not know how he had a knife in his hand and why he attacked Ms Zhang and the others.
He said it was only when he was taking a shower after the attack that he realised something had happened.
The prosecution however pointed out that not only did he remember to shower to wash the blood, he also then wore his clothes, put plasters on his injured finger, packed his bag, took his travel documents, and wore his socks and shoes.
He was clearly thinking well enough to realise he had to flee.
Wang disagreed, saying if he had wanted to escape, he would have packed all his things and used a better bag. He also claimed he did not remember putting on socks and shoes after his shower.
“I do not remember” became a mantra for him through the trial.
Interestingly, psychiatric experts for the prosecution and defence agreed that Wang was suffering from an “adjustment disorder”. However, they disagreed on whether it was enough to impair him so much to reduce his responsibility for the attack.
Justice Chan Seng Onn decided that the anger at the way he had been treated had built up in Wang only to explode in a frenzy after that final argument. He was still in that state when Jianyu came into the room.
But after that came a longer series of events – including taking the time to search for a new weapon and having the awareness to warn Ms Li not to run while he searched for her mother – in which Wang could have regained his senses.
And “having killed the very person he was angry with and who had caused him much stress and misery, there ought to have been a considerable degree of release of his bottled up anger and emotions”, the judge said.
He found Wang guilty of culpable homicide in the deaths of his lover and her daughter, but of murder when it came to Madam Yang. Wang was sentenced to death.
In November 2014, Wang, by then 48, failed in his bid to escape the gallows. But it went beyond just losing his appeal against his conviction of murdering Madam Yang. The three-judge court allowed the prosecution’s appeal and found Wang guilty of murder in the cases of Ms Zhang and Jianyu as well.
The judges were not convinced that Wang lost control because of his mental condition.
Instead, he had killed Ms Zhang out of extreme anger to “finish her off so that she would never feature in his life again”. As for Jianyu, he wanted to eliminate her because she was a witness.
Wang showed no emotion when the verdict was read. This time, there was no smile.