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.)
Ritual murders: The Adrian Lim case (1981)
Adrian Lim, a charlatan medium seen by many as the very embodiment of evil, and his two “holy” wives, kidnapped, tortured and killed a pair of children
The first victim was little Agnes Ng - curled up in the fetal position inside a travel bag by the lift landing. She was discovered by a 25-year-old carpenter at the ground floor of Block 11, Toa Payoh Lorong 7, as he headed back home after a night out at the movies on Jan 25, 1981.
“They found the bag, opened the zipper and out popped her head,” said retired police officer S.K. Menon, who was then the officer-in-charge of the CID’s Special Investigation Section.
He did not know it then, but the nine-year-old girl was the first of the two ritual murder victims of Adrian Lim, an unemployed 39-year-old who claimed to be a medium, his wife Catherine Tan Mui Choo and his mistress Hoe Kah Hong.
Agnes was abducted by Hoe at the Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh and taken to Lim’s flat. She was injected with a sedative and then suffocated. She was also sexually assaulted by Lim.
A week after her death, either Tan or Hoe, called Agnes’ mother threatening to “chop” Agnes’ sister up.
But with few clues at the scene where the body was found, cracking the case was difficult, said Mr Menon. The pressure was truly on when the trio’s second victim, Ghazali Marzuki, 10, was found almost two weeks after Agnes.
“He was just lying there on the grass patch,” said Mr Menon, 78, when asked how the body was found, just metres from Lim’s block.
Ghazali had been playing with his cousins in a playground in Clementi the day before when they were approached by Hoe asking for help.
Ghazali was taken to Lim’s flat, where he was drugged, choked then drowned. There were also three burn marks on his back and a puncture on his arm.
This time, there was a trail of blood leading from Ghazali’s body all the way to Lim’s residence at Block 12.
“He did not realise the body was dripping blood from the nose,” said Mr Menon. “The blood, that was his undoing.”
Officers cordoned off the area and searched the block house-to-house. When they got to the seventh floor, they found Lim, dressed in a shirt and pants, seemingly about to make a run for it, said Mr Menon.
“(The house) was very eerie, it was lit with amber light, and right in front when you go in is the altar.”
Officers found various religious items in the flat, and on the altar Mr Menon mentioned, there were crucifixes and Hindu and Chinese idols, some of which were smeared with blood.
Suspicions were aroused further when a drop of blood was spotted on the kitchen floor.
“I asked him about it and he said Chinese New Year was just over and he had been killing chickens in the kitchen,” said Mr Menon, adding that tests later revealed it to be human blood. “He was a class-one con man.”
Officers searched the house thoroughly, and also found vials of blood in the fridge, but the most damning evidence was a single piece of paper.
“We found a slip of paper inside (a telephone book) with both their names, Agnes and Ghazali’s, we knew then that was the man,” said Mr Menon, noting that while the girl’s name had been included in media reports, Ghazali’s body had been found only that morning.
Lim and the two women were arrested and taken into custody. They later confessed that the murders were a malicious act of revenge.
At that point in time, the police were investigating a rape charge against Lim. He was annoyed and angry with the constant questioning and claimed that he was framed. He decided to exact revenge on the police by murdering children, sending Tan and Hoe to hunt for victims.
The court heard details about the depraved lifestyles of Hoe, Tan and Lim, his work as a medium and how he subjected his victims to electroshock therapy. Hoe’s husband Benson Loh was subjected to the torture some years earlier and died. At the time, Hoe told investigators that he had been electrocuted while trying to switch on a broken fan.
The case had so shocked and horrified Singapore that crowds gathered outside the courts to catch a glimpse of the trio and get a first-hand experience of the trial.
On May 23, 1983, all three were sentenced to death. Lim accepted the verdict but Tan and Hoe appealed, claiming mental illness. Both appeals were dismissed.
The trio were hanged on Nov 25, 1988, at Changi Prison and cremated at Mount Vernon Crematorium.
“In all my years as a police officer, I never came across anything else like this,” said Mr Menon. “People were so scared that some of them did not want to send their children to school”.
Victim: Agnes Ng
Agnes Ng Siew Hock was a nine-year-old who went to the Holy Innocent’s Chinese Girl School.
She was the youngest of nine siblings.
She was last seen alive by her sister Pauline and a friend at the Church of Risen Christ in Toa Payoh at about 4pm, on Jan 24, 1981.
She was there waiting for her sister to finish classes before returning home together.
Her body was found in a brown vinyl bag on Jan 25, at about 2.20am near a staircase at Block 11 Toa Payoh by a man returning from a midnight show. Adrian Lim’s flat was at Block 12.
Her home at Block 233 was not far away from where she was found.
She had been sexually assaulted and suffocated — it seems by a hand covering her nose and mouth.
According to a forensic expert during the trial, it would have taken her 10 minutes to die.
Victim: Ghazali Marzuki
Ghazali Marzuki, who studied in Henry Park Primary School, was 10.
He was staying with his grandmother at Block 344, Clementi Avenue 5, on Feb 6 for the Chinese New Year holidays.
While at a playground with two cousins, a woman approached them.
She asked for help to collect some things from a friend’s house.
Ghazali agreed to help, and followed her into a taxi.
That was the last time he was seen alive.
In the early hours of Feb 7, Mr Fung Joon Yong, who lived at Block 12 in Toa Payoh, saw Catherine Tan stepping out of a lift, carrying a child over her shoulder. Adrian Lim was with her.
They went in the direction of Blocks 10 and 11.
Later that morning, Ghazali’s body was found near a hedge just in front of Block 10. The boy had been drugged with a sedative and drowned — his head pushed into a tub of water.
Burn marks were also found, but these were believed to have been caused by electrocution after he died.
The mastermind: Adrian Lim
He was born on Jan 6, 1942 and was the eldest of three children.
He dropped out of Anglo-Chinese School after Secondary One, and was involved a myriad of jobs — from an informer for the Internal Security Department to a bill collector.
He spent 14 years with broadcasting company Rediffusion, but had always been obsessed with the supernatural.
After learning Malay and Thai spells from a bomoh named Uncle Willie, he quit to become a self-proclaimed medium — claiming to have powers to heal. He would speak in different languages when in a trance, and persuaded women to sleep with him in order to cleanse the “evil” in them.
According to his doctor, Lim went to his clinic at least 40 times for hormone injections to increase his sexual potency.
Lim told the police that most of his “abilities” such as fortune reading were mere tricks to get young women to sleep with him because he believed it would prolong his life. He had two children with his first wife.
The mastermind's “holy” wife 1: Catherine Tan
Neglected by her parents for her brothers, Tan grew up longing for attention.
At 17, she left home after the death of her grandmother, with whom she shared a close relationship, and became a bar girl.
She was just 20 when she went to see Lim in 1974 for treatment on the advice of her nightclub friends. And fell under his influence.
She moved into his flat - a situation that Lim’s legal wife could not accept. Within days, she took their kids and moved out.
In front of an altar of Chinese and Indian deities, Tan was made his “holy wife”. They married officially in 1977, after Lim’s divorce.
He beat her up and convinced her into prostutition and to work as a striptease performer.
He also got her to convince other women to sleep with him as part of their “treatment”, and to prostitute themselves as well.
The mastermind's “holy” wife 2: Hoe Kah Hong
Her own mother took her to see Lim. The factory worker became a true believer in Lim’s powers, despite being subjected to electric shocks. He convinced her that she was an illegitimate child, and that her problems were caused by her husband Benson Loh Ngak Hua, a welder.
During a “treatment” session on Jan 7, 1980, Mr Loh died of electrocution at the hands of Lim. Hoe told police he died while switching on a faulty fan.
The trail of blood
In a search of the area where Ghazali was found, police were led to the lift at Blk 12 where a resident had seen Catherine Tan with the boy. A bloodstain was found in the vicinity.
Police decided to search the higher floors.
More blood stains were found between the fifth and sixth storey staircase and the staircase leading to the seventh storey.
They decided to check the units on the seventh storey, the first of which was Adrian Lim’s. He was in the corridor. They spoke and Lim agreed to a search of his home.
It was very messy inside. In the kitchen, police found what seemed to be a bloodstain on the floor.
More police were called in to conduct a thorough search.
Tan and Hoe Kah Hong had returned by this time. Lim called them his wife and girlfriend, and told police they lived together.
A pair of slippers, shorts and a handkerchief — all stained were blood — were discovered. They belonged to Lim. A bloodstained blouse belonging to Hoe was found in a pail.
Pills containing the drug found in Ghazali were seized, along with a syringe believed to contain his blood. Strands of hair that seemed like Ghazali’s were found under a carpet and under a sofa.
Lim, Tan and Hoe were arrested and the next day, charged with murder.
‘We decided to kill small children to get even with the whole world’
During the trial, it was revealed that Adrian Lim killed the two children as revenge after being allegedly framed for rape by cosmetics seller Lucy Lau Kok Huang — another whom Lim claimed as a “holy wife”.
On Nov 7, 1980, Ms Lau went to police to report that Lim had raped her. He was charged and had to report to police each time he extended his bail. He described this as an inconvenience to him and his holy wives. He later told the court that he could not accept that as a “ladies man” whom women fell for, he had been accused of rape. He claimed Ms Lau was jealous of his other “holy wives” and tried to get revenge after he refused to get rid of them.
“I felt that I had been framed and that the police had been blind. We (with Tan and Hoe) wanted revenge and had a meeting. At the meeting, we decided to kill small children,” Lim said.
On the stand, he later testified that his main reason for killing the children was to offer them as sacrifice to the deity Kali, who would help him escape the rape charge and solve other problems.
The needle-in-egg trick
Adrian Lim used the trick to convince people of his abilities. He admitted in court that it was nothing but a scam. He first heated a needle, turning it black. When the needle was hot, it would easily penetrate an egg as the heat softened the shell. Powder will then be used to cover the hole where the needle went in.
Hoe's shocking testimony
She told police how she first met Adrian Lim. Her mother took her and her sisters to him for help. One of her sisters, she said, had become unstable after being jilted.
She was amazed when Lim rubbed eggs on her sister and broke them to reveal black needles.
On another visit, she said Lim had pointed a snake at her and her sister, making them vomit. He then covered their faces with black cloth and immersed their legs in a tub of water for electricshock treatment. “Suddenly I trembled all over and saw light everywhere although my face was covered by black cloth. After the treatment, he said I was prettier than before.”
She went to stay with Lim a few days later. She said she was made to drink their urine to ward off evil spirits. She said in the days that followed she was brainwashed into believing that her parents had cast evil spirits into her. A mock wedding was held for her and Lim in front of an altar. He told her to collect her things from her home and move in with him. When she returned with her mother, Lim made her beat her mother with a broom.
“Whenever Lim wanted me to do something, he would say that the old master had entered him and had instructed that he pass the message to me. I would then do his bidding.”
Hoe said her husband Benson Loh went on to spend the weekends in Lim’s flat, at Lim’s behest. On the day of his death, Loh and Hoe were tied together for electricshock therapy. All of a sudden she lost consciousness, she said. When she came to, she saw Lim and Tan trying to revive her husband. She was convinced by Lim to tell police that her husband was accidentally electrocuted.
When Lim took the stand, he admitted to murdering Loh. He said Loh’s presence stopped him from having sex with Hoe.
After Lim’s arrest for rape, he spoke of his plan to kill children.
In Dec 1980, he told Hoe to get the “fish” — the code for children.
She got a girl aged 10 to follow her from Toa Payoh Central. But Lim rejected the girl because she was Indian and the deity he worshipped, called Kaliammam, was Hindu.
Hoe picked up another girl from Clementi. She was Chinese. But Lim said she was too skinny.
The third girl she brought back made Lim panic when she called her friend on the phone, and told Lim that the friend had seen her being led away by a woman.
Agnes Ng was the fourth girl. Hoe said they pricked her finger and each of them took a sip. When Agnes went to the toilet, they killed her there. “I immersed her head in the tub of water. Lim stepped on Agnes’ body while Catherine held her legs,” said Hoe.
Lim then told her that he wanted a boy next, and to find someone with money so he could collect ransom before the murder.
Hoe said she chose Ghazali Marzuki because he looked like her dead husband. They consumed his blood too, before drowning him, she said.
After a 41-day trial, Lim, Tan and Hoe were all sentenced to hang.
Arguments that the trio were suffering from mental illness were rejected.
Justice T.S. Sinnathuray said Lim was “purposeful in his pursuits, patient in his planning and persuasive in his performance for personal power and pleasure”.
“We are revulsed by his abominable and depraved conduct.”
The judge called Tan an “artful and wicked person” who was always a “willing party to Lim’s loathsome and nefarious acts”.
In contrast, Hoe was a “simple person who can be easily influenced”.
When three police vans took the three back to jail, some in the crowd gathered in the streets booed.