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.)
Andrew Road murders (1983)
Sek Kim Wah killed a retired businessman, his wife and their maid during a robbery, and would have killed two more if not for his reluctant accomplice
When sentenced to death for killing five people, Sek Kim Wah smiled, and said in Cantonese that it would be “thrilling” to be hanged. The same kind of thrill he felt when he strangled his victims in 1983 after robbing them. Sek was just 19 and a full-time national serviceman driver when he turned into a serial murderer.
He first took the lives of Mr Lim Khee Sin, 42, an illegal bookmaker, and 32-year-old bar hostess Ong Ah Hong in June 1983, in Marine Parade.
Their bodies were discovered at a Seletar Reservoir dirt track.
It was after he killed three more people a month later, in what is known as the “Andrew Road murders”, that he was caught in a massive police swoop on July 29, 1983.
He was arrested at his sister’s home in Alexandra Road.
The horrifying details of how he went about killing 61-year-old Robert Tay Bak Hong, a retired businessman, his wife Annie Tay, 45, and their Filipina maid Jovita S. Virador, 27, were revealed in his 1985 trial.
THE TRIPLE MURDER
He committed the triple killing in a split-level bungalow on Andrew Road.
One of the first witnesses to take the stand was Mr Tay’s 12-year-old daughter Dawn. She was 10 the day she was orphaned.
She had been roller-skating outside her home in the morning, waiting for her tutor, when she noticed two young men — one of whom was Malaysian Nyu Kok Meng — next to a motorcycle two houses away. She thought they were repairing the vehicle.
After her Mandarin tutor, Madam Tang So Ha, arrived in a car, Dawn practised her spelling and dictation until she needed to go to the toilet.
That was when she saw the men — one with a long gun and the other armed with a knife — accosting the maid who had been sweeping the bungalow’s front porch. They pushed her through the front door.
One of them asked: “Where is Robert?”
They tied up the hands of all those present.
Mrs Tay was forced into telling Sek where she kept her jewellery. One of the men also got her to sign a cheque for $5,000, which Sek immediately left to cash.
Nyu, who was also 19, guarded the rest of them with a rifle which Sek had stolen from an armoury at Nee Soon Camp in 1982.
When Sek returned, he was far from satisfied with the loot. He made Mr Tay follow him to an OCBC and a POSB branch to withdraw $7,000 in total.
While Sek was out with Mr Tay, Nyu told Mrs Tay that it was his first robbery and he never intended to harm them. Mrs Tay made him shake hands with Dawn. “Probably to seal the promise that I would not harm them,” he said in court.
When Sek and Mr Tay returned to the bungalow, the pair of robbers gagged their victims and continued ransacking the home.
Then Sek led Mr Tay into a room where he tried to strangle him with raffia string. When he failed, he used a heavy wooden stool to repeatedly strike Mr Tay, fracturing his skull.
He then led Mrs Tay and Ms Virador into the master bedroom. He struck Mrs Tay several times with a wooden stool. Both women were also strangled with a lot of force.
Nyu went to investigate the thumping he heard. When he realised that Sek was determined to eliminate all witnesses, he decided to save those he could.
“Suddenly, the male Chinese who was holding the long gun rushed into our room and locked the door behind him,” said Dawn.
Nyu refused to let Sek into the room. Sek then decided to leave the house in Mr Tay’s Mercedes car. Nyu handed over his identity card to Madam Tang, and asked her to convey a message to his parents to buy a coffin for him, as he planned to commit suicide after releasing her and Dawn.
He unlocked the door and told them to make a run for it.
As Dawn left with her tutor, she saw her father’s body in one room and that of her mother and maid in another. The bodies had shorts placed on their heads.
“My tuition teacher pulled me away and screamed,” said Dawn.
They ran to the neighbour’s house for help.
Nyu failed to kill himself as he did not know how to operate the rifle. “I pressed the trigger but nothing happened...” he testified. “Frustrated, I put the rifle down.”
He left on Sek’s motorcycle.
They met that afternoon to split the loot and went shopping at Shaw Towers with lounge hostess Lily Tay, who had met Sek earlier that month.
Sek asked Nyu why he left the rifle behind. He replied that he was worried more people would be killed.
Sek called Nyu “stupid” for letting the girl and tutor go free.
Sek also told him that had he opened the bedroom door, he would have killed all of them, including Nyu.
That night Nyu fled to Malaysia using his friend’s passport.
Nyu eventually surrendered, and was brought to Singapore. He was acquitted of the murder charges against him, but was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment and six strokes of the cane.
About a month before the triple murder, Sek strangled two people to death sometime between 11.10pm on June 29 and 1.30pm on June 30.
"I wanted to try everything. The more I tried everything, the more thrilling.’
SEK KIM WAH, on why he tried to electrocute one of his victims
Mr Lim and Ms Ong, his victims, happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
That day, after aborting an attempt to rob a petrol kiosk and its owner, he took a taxi to a hawker centre in Marine Parade and waited for victims. He saw a couple in a Honda Accord but the vehicle left before he could rob them. He was about to leave when a red Mitsubishi Lancer arrived.
Sek sneaked into the car, threatened Mr Lim with the rifle he had stolen, robbed them, and eventually strangled his victims with raffia string.
He told the court that he killed them because he did not want to be identified. Another thing on his mind was how serious an offence it was for him to have the AR-15 assault rifle in his possession.
“I gave it plenty of thought and finally decided to kill them so that they would not be able to make a report against me and then identify me.”
After he killed the couple, he loaded their bodies into the Lancer’s boot, returned to his rental flat at Jalan Geok Siang Nng, off Upper Bukit Timah Road, took a nap, then dumped the bodies at Seletar Reservoir.
When asked how he felt when strangling Mrs Tay, Sek brought up an incident when he was nearly strangled by someone at the Singapore Boys’ Home until he blacked out.
Sek said: “At first I felt discomfort. Then it was very thrilling... as if the lights were being switched on and off.”
His life of crime started early.
Coming from a broken family, he dropped out of school when he was in Primary 4, then joined a secret society when he was about 13. Claiming that it was his father who taught him to steal, he was arrested for theft and sent to the Home in 1980, when he was 16.
When Sek was on a day-release scheme, he worked part-time as a gardener for Mr Tay.
As he and the businessman were driving to the banks in the Mercedes during the robbery, the older man said he recognised Sek’s voice and name.
That was the moment Sek realised he needed to eliminate every witness. He was also reminded of his previous killings and the thrill he had felt. Asked by the judge if he enjoyed strangling others, Sek replied: “Yes.”
But first he tried to electrocute Mrs Tay by placing two live wires on her tongue. He laughed in court as he remembered how he forgot to turn the power on. He then put the wires on the sole of her feet. Nothing happened so he found the family’s pet goldfish and poured them into a tub. He placed the live wires inside, and killed the fish.
Asked why he experimented with electrocution, Sek said: “I wanted to try everything. The more I tried everything, the more thrilling.”
The defence, which tried to paint Sek as a psychotic, brought up a one-sided love affair which supposedly pushed him over the edge.
Sek said he was in love with a coffeeshop owner’s daughter. Even though she saw him only as a friend, she would scold him when he did something wrong. Around three days before his first killings, she sent him a letter which led him to believe she had rejected his love.
“After receiving the letter I had the impression that there was no one to supervise me and I could do whatever I liked.
“I was frustrated. I like someone to exercise control over me, to care and look after me.
“But all they are interested in is money. Since everybody is busy about money, I would get it by hook or by crook and the more the merrier.”
After a 17-day trial, Justice Lai Kew Chai and Justice Wahab Ghows found that Sek was not suffering from a mental abnormality. Instead, he was labelled a cruel and cold-blooded killer. When told he would hang, Sek thanked the court for the sentence, saying that he had always wanted to die on the gallows, which he did on Dec 9, 1988.
The stolen rifle
In November 1982, while at the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute in Jurong for a live-firing exercise, Sek Kim Wah stole 17 live bullets by hidding them in his boots.
When he returned to Nee Soon Camp, where he was serving his Basic Military Training, he transferred them into a torchlight.
The next month, he stole a rifle from the armoury.
He brought it to the barracks, where he dismantled it into four parts, wrapped them in newspaper and put them in a plastic bag which he locked in a cupboard.
Later that night, he hid the dismantled parts under a tree.
A few days later, he sneaked into the camp, and took the rifle parts.
When asked during the trial why he did not use the rifle on his victims, he said he was saving the bullets for a confrontation against people who had guns.
“I won’t waste the bullets so easily.”
Lounge hostess Lily Tan first met Sek Kim Wah, known to her as Allan, less than two weeks before the triple murder.
But not long after, he was confessing to her about the Seletar and Andrew Road murders. He also vowed to kill 20 more people – 15 of them police, because he hated them.
“By that time, the value of his life would be $100,000. He said that at present his life was valued at about $30,000. I understood that to mean that the police would offer this amount of money to arrest him,” she said.
She added that Sek boasted that he was better than notorious gangster Lim Ban Lim, who was gunned down by police in 1972.
Miss Tay told the court she never led Sek on, and treated him as a customer.
On July 27, Ms Tan was told by a friend that Sek was angry after he found out that she had a boyfriend. Sek went to the lounge in Golden Sultan where she worked and confronted her. He had a knife in the bag he brought.
He threatened to kill himself in front of her if she did not tell him the truth. Two days later, Sek was arrested.