Eight months of beatings that ended in death

From top: Miss Annie Ee first met Tan Hui Zhen when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013. Investigators ou
Investigators outside the Woodlands flat where Miss Ee's body was found. An autopsy report revealed she had 12 fractured ribs, seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and a body crowded with blisters and bruises.ST PHOTO: NG WUI KUEK
From top: Miss Annie Ee first met Tan Hui Zhen when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013. Investigators ou
Miss Annie Ee (above) first met Tan Hui Zhen when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013.ST PHOTO: NG WUI KUEK
From top: Miss Annie Ee first met Tan Hui Zhen when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013. Investigators ou
Miss Annie Ee first met Tan Hui Zhen (above) when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013.ST PHOTO: NG WUI KUEK
From top: Miss Annie Ee first met Tan Hui Zhen when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013. Investigators ou
Miss Annie Ee first met Tan Hui Zhen when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013. Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and husband Pua Hak Chuan's (above) four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013. ST PHOTO: NG WUI KUEK

The abuse, which increased in intensity, made it difficult for her to walk, stand and breathe

She could barely breathe because of her fractured ribs and was unable to stay awake as she was weak from daily beatings and open wounds, but Miss Annie Ee knew she was in for more punishment.

The weapon - a roll of shrink wrap weighing 1kg that her abusers knew she feared - was placed next to the woman she called "jie jie" (meaning older sister in Chinese).

Her "jie jie", Tan Hui Zhen, and husband Pua Hak Chuan, whom she called "jie fu" (meaning brother-in-law in Chinese), had returned that evening to find Miss Ee, 26, lying in her own urine.

They accused her of urinating on the floor to get attention. While she lay slumped in a chair from exhaustion, the couple decided to punish her for her "bad attitude".

It would be the last round of beatings Miss Ee, who was intellectually disabled, would suffer before dying in her sleep hours later in the early morning of Apr il 13, 2015.

She was hit repeatedly by the shrink wrap and fell to the floor, but even the sight of her on the ground inching towards her room did not stop her abusers. Pua continued to hit her legs, abdomen and buttocks, which already had open wounds and blisters.

SIGNS OF INJURY

Once, she said she had been beaten by a colleague, so I told her to tell her manager or call the police. The other times, she said she fell, but I did wonder how it was possible that she could fall so often.

RETIREE XU WEI JIAN, on asking Miss Ee about the bruises she had around her eyes.

Pua then picked up a plastic dustbin and smashed it down on Miss Ee with such force the bin cracked.

Earlier that day, she had tried to commit suicide by cutting her wrists, having felt "useless" when she could not carry out Tan's instructions.

She was found dead in bed the next day.

Miss Ee first met Tan when they were teenagers and they rekindled their friendship in 2013.

Estranged from her family, Miss Ee moved into Tan and Pua's four-room Woodlands flat in late 2013 and was given housework to do.

Over the eight months of abuse - from August 2014 until her death - Miss Ee started showing up for her waitressing job with bruises on her body, arms, face and neck.

The beatings and their increased intensity over time, with some sessions lasting up to two hours, meant she had difficulty walking, standing and breathing. She also became incontinent.

The couple made Miss Ee surrender her salary of $1,200, from which she was given a weekly allowance of $50. This was later cut to $30.

When The Sunday Times visited Miss Ee's former workplaces, ex-colleagues declined to comment and said they had been told by the police not to share any details.

However, court documents revealed they had noticed that Miss Ee would hide her injuries by applying a thick layer of concealer, letting her hair down and wearing a cap. She would keep mum when questioned, but on one occasion, had told an assistant manager "my family", when asked about the injuries.

An autopsy report revealed the extent of abuse she suffered: 12 fractured ribs, seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and a body crowded with blisters and bruises. The report also said she died of acute fat embolism. She had been beaten so severely that fatty tissue below the skin had separated from the muscle and entered her bloodstream, interfering with blood getting oxygen in the lungs and leading to progressive cardiac and respiratory failure.

On Friday, Tan, 33, was sentenced to 16½ years' jail, and Pua, 38, was given 14 years' jail and 14 strokes of the cane.

They were initially charged with murder, but the counts were amended after police completed investigations and on the basis of forensic pathologist reports.

Tan suffered from depression and borderline personality disorder. Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said she gave this little weight but took into account as a mitigating factor that the couple had come clean in revealing what they had done.

The pair had pleaded guilty on Monday to various charges for the extensive torture of Miss Ee.

A person said to be Miss Ee's younger sister, who did not want to be named, told Channel NewsAsia that her family was concerned that Miss Ee's simple nature could lead to her being "bullied or cheated".

She said Miss Ee felt that the family did not give her the freedom to make her own friends. Miss Ee later moved out to live with Tan and Pua. Her younger sister said Tan had exerted "total control" over Miss Ee.

Miss Ee was said to be the eldest among her brothers and sisters.

Her sibling said her family "will never be able to forgive (the couple) for what they did, especially Tan".

Neighbours The Sunday Times spoke to said the trio did not interact much with others, but the sound of mahjong games could be heard from the third-floor unit at Woodlands Avenue 9.

"I don't remember any shouts or screaming. We were all surprised to find out that such severe abuse was happening right under our nose," said a neighbour who wanted to be known only as Miss Lee, 35, a secretary.

As Miss Ee usually left the flat early around 9am, neighbours did not see her often, said retiree Xu Wei Jian, 70.

They would greet each other as she walked past Mr Xu's flat. He had on at least two occasions asked her why she often had bruises around her eyes.

"Once, she said she had been beaten by a colleague, so I told her to tell her manager or call the police. The other times, she said she fell, but I did wonder how it was possible that she could fall so often," said Mr Xu in Mandarin.

When asked if he regretted not alerting anyone to Miss Ee's injuries, he said: "There's no use regretting, she's gone now. I never expected that the injuries could come from the people she lived with."

•Additional reporting by Selina Lum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Eight months of beatings that ended in death'. Print Edition | Subscribe