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.)
Swimming trunk gang (1975)
Greed proved the downfall of these serial robbers who struck in nothing more than underwear
Their modus operandi was unique, to say the least. They would first meet up dressed normally, take a taxi to their destination, and proceed to strip, leaving nothing but swimming trunks on. Then they would strike, breaking into homes and robbing families at knifepoint. With the loot, they would return to where they had placed their clothes, flag a taxi and flee.
For 30 months in the early 1970s, the gang of four robbers terrorised residents, inflicting injuries in four of their hold-ups.
They were so successful in eluding the police that they were believed to have been responsible for some 500 offences including housebreakings, thefts and armed robberies.
Their total haul, by the time they were arrested, amounted to nearly $500,000.
The figures were reported to have been an all-time record in local criminal history then.
The sentence the four men later received was also believed to have been the highest meted out by a district court at the time.
Appropriately, they were dubbed the “swimming trunk gang”. The reason for wearing just trunks was to allow them to move easily, and to prevent their victims from catching hold of them. Sometimes, they wore masks.
The gang comprised of Suhaymi Harith, 40, Khalil Mohammed Dol, 39, Wassan Sakeebun, 45, and Wagiman Abdullah, 47. Those were their ages when they were finally arrested in 1975.
Unemployed Wagiman was Suhaymi’s uncle and a former secret society fighter. Khalil was a labourer with an engineering firm in Bedok. Wassan, a father of four, was the brains behind the operation. He was a chauffer for a medical professor and claimed to have spiritual powers which could protect the gang from the police.
They specialised in breaking into bungalows, semi-detached and terraced houses, using screwdrivers, spanners, pliers, wire cutters and mini torchlights.
The men started striking homes across Singapore in January 1973. They would usually commit their crimes between 2am and 4.30am. Their favourite entry point was the window.
Wassan was an expert in using the tools to remove window louvres. Khalil, with his small build, would squeeze in and open the back door to let the rest into the house. The stolen items were quickly and cheaply sold to Indonesian illegal immigrants working at construction sites.
In one attack on Dec 21, 1974, the men broke into the house of an Indonesian businessman in Tai Keng Avenue at 3am and woke the family members at knifepoint.
The robbers left with $6,770 in cash and jewellery, after locking the family in a bathroom.
In another robbery on May 16, 1975, the gang broke into a house in Jalan Angklong, off Upper Thomson Road, at about 4am.
Mr Lu Pao Kung, 65, who lived in the house, was then sleeping with his family of five when he was woken by men in swimming trunks beside his bed.
The intruders pointed their knives at family members’ necks and reportedly said: “Do not move. This is a robbery.”
They left after half an hour, making off with $17,280 in valuables.
On June 10, 1975, the barely-clad men struck again at a teacher’s home at Jalan Girang, off Upper Serangoon Road.
They woke Madam Low Ee Lee, 52, and her family at about 3am. The men fled after 30 minutes with $1,920 in cash and valuables.
Their luck almost ran out after breaking into the house of a businessman in Jalan Penchalak, off Bartley Road, at around 4am on June 13, 1975.
They were splitting the $9,370 worth of loot near the Bidadari cemetery, about 1km away from the home, when police detectives on patrol along Upper Aljunied Road spotted them at about 5am and gave chase.
But the men slipped away.
The greed of one of the gang members would prove their downfall.
Suhaymi believed Wassan was not giving out the proceeds fairly. So he took some of the loot to sell on his own.
On July 3rd, 1975, police got a call that a man was selling watches, radios and pens to his colleagues.
They raided the office at River Valley Road, and hauled in Suhaymi, who worked as a driver.
A wristwatch, a gold ring and a ballpoint pen were found on him.
After being grilled for 24 hours, he spilled the beans on his accomplices.
One of the gang’s victims also identified Suhaymi in a line-up.
The police caught up with the rest in pre-dawn raids.
Of the total money and valuables stolen, only $13,000 was recovered.
All four pleaded guilty to 228 charges of housebreaking, robbery and theft committed between Jan 5, 1973, and June 13, 1975.
District Judge E.C. Foenander, who heard the gang’s trial, sentenced the four men to a total of 64 years in jail plus 144 strokes of the cane in late July 1975.
In their mitigation, all four men blamed the high cost of living as their reason for committing the crimes.