The case of Mimi Wong (1970)

Guilty As Charged: Dance hostess Mimi Wong murdered her Japanese lover’s wife

She was the first woman to get the death penalty in Singapore. Her husband also went to the gallows for the murder.

After a 26-day trial, Mimi Wong Weng Siu became the first woman to be sent to the gallows after Singapore’s independence. She was hanged on the morning of July 27, 1973, along with her sweeper husband. PHOTO: ST FILE

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.)

The case of Mimi Wong (1970)

The dance hostess was the first woman to get the death penalty in Singapore for murdering her Japanese lover's wife

It was the night of Christmas 1969. Japanese mechanical engineer Hiroshi Watanabe decided it was time for his wife Ayako to meet Mimi Wong Weng Siu, the dance hostess who had been his lover in Singapore for the last three years. Mrs Watanabe, 33, had flown into Singapore with their three young children only two days before, to live with her husband here.

That Christmas night, Mr Watanabe drove his family to Wong's house at Everitt Road.

It took some persuading from the Japanese to convince 31-year-old Wong to meet his wife. She was angry and abused him. But after he spoke to her alone for 30 minutes, she finally relented.

Along with Wong's servant and her daughter by a Hong Kong businessman, they all went out for dinner in his car. Wong also gave her lover's children sweets.

Six days later, on New Year's Eve, Wong even went to a party hosted by the Watanabes at their Jalan Seaview semi-detached house.

But behind the pretence, Wong was writhing in jealousy.

She was convinced that her affair with Mr Watanabe, who had been assigned to Singapore three years earlier to work on a reclamation project in the eastern part of the island, would fizzle out now that his wife was in town.

Her hatred was fuelled by Mrs Watanabe allegedly calling her a prostitute at the New Year's Eve party. On the evening of Jan 6, Wong returned to the Jalan Seaview home, with her estranged husband, 37-year-old Sim Woh Kum, a sweeper in financial difficulty. And they murdered Mrs Watanabe.

The killing was witnessed by her eldest daughter, nine-year-old schoolgirl Chieko.

She was the prosecution's star witness during the trial 10 months later.

'I saw blood on my mother's chest'

That night, Chieko said, her mother had tucked in the three siblings in a first-floor bedroom, which was joined to a large bathroom. Her father was working overtime at the reclamation site at the time.

As she lay awake on bed, Chieko heard voices, then footsteps on the ground floor.

Chieko Watanabe was nine when she saw her mother being murdered. PHOTO: ST FILE

Then she heard screams coming from the bathroom.

"They were screams of pain from my mother."

She went to the bathroom and found her mother sitting on the floor.

"The man was pulling my mother's left hand and Obasan was pulling her right hand." Obasan is Japanese for auntie - a name her father had suggested she call Wong.

"I saw blood on my mother's chest. I cried and Obasan covered my mouth with her hand. I stopped crying and she released me."

Her mother sustained two fatal stab wounds - one gashed the neck and the other penetrated her abdomen.

Chieko went back to the room to wake her six-year-old brother, but he continued to sleep.

Then she saw Wong and Sim run down the stairs.

"My mother stood in the bathroom. She staggered a few paces and fell. I thought she was dead."

Her siblings were soon awake.

"All three of us stood outside the bathroom and cried. We were still crying there when Father got back."

When Mr Watanabe returned to the house, he was greeted by the wails of his children. He ran up and saw them standing outside the bathroom. Inside, he saw his wife, who was wearing a red dress, lying in a pool of blood.

Mr Watanabe asked Chieko what happened.

"My father asked me who did it. I replied: 'Obasan and a man whom I did not know'."

Sim was a stranger to Chieko, but she later picked him out from an identification parade as the man she saw struggling with her mother.

Sim's confession

Sim said that Wong first spoke to him about the plan to murder Mrs Watanabe on Jan 2, and offered him money.

On the night of Jan 6, they took a taxi to the victim's home. Wong had given Sim a tin half-filled with toilet-cleaning liquid. In her bag, she had a pair of gloves and a knife.

When Mrs Watanabe asked what she wanted, Wong told her that she had brought a workman to repair a broken toilet basin.

She let them in.

"I threw the liquid into the eyes of the woman," said Sim. "Wong stabbed her with a knife. The victim shouted - probably in pain - and covered her face with both palms while on the ground."

To keep Mrs Watanabe quiet, Sim covered her mouth but she bit his finger. That was also when Chieko saw him.

"After stabbing her (Mrs Watanabe) to death, Wong ran away. I chased her to the mouth of the road. We got a taxi..."

The next morning, Sim was arrested. Blood was found on a pair of trousers he had. It was found to be Type A, the same as that of the murdered woman.

During the trial, he also revealed his difficult relationship with Wong, with whom he had two sons. A year after their marriage, he said Wong assaulted his mother.

"This led my mother to dub her as 'empress daughter-in-law'",he said.

Sim never dared start a quarrel because "Wong would attempt to strike me".

"When I saw her in an aggressive mood, taking up a knife or stick, I would run for safety."

The one occasion when he was hit with a breadknife left a scar.

Their youngest son was less than two years old when Wong left him in 1963, before becoming a bar waitress. He said she would strut with her boyfriends in front of him.

"I advised her to refrain from such an action. I was hoping she would return to me."

'He killed her'

Wong put the blame for the death of Mrs Watanabe on her "greedy" husband.

After spending the morning and evening drinking, she said she went to the victim's home "just to slap her". It was not only because of what Mrs Watanabe had said about her, but also to give the woman another reason to complain to her husband. Wong said she wanted Mr Watanabe to end the affair.

She brought Sim along as protection, even though she hated him, because Mr Watanabe had told her most Japanese knew judo. She was afraid that this was true of Mrs Watanabe.

KILLERS: Mimi Wong (left) claimed it was her husband who killed Mrs Watanabe. Sim Woh Kum pretended to be a workman when he and his wife went to the victim's home. PHOTOS: ST FILE

At the doorway of the children's bedroom, she slapped Mrs Watanabe. They were fighting in the bathroom when she claimed Sim threw the liquid at them.

"I asked Sim to run away but he refused."

She decided to leave and tripped down the stairs. It was only when she was outside that Sim joined her.

"If I had not been drinking that day, this incident would never have arisen," she said, insisting there was no way she could have stabbed Mrs Watanabe.

"I am only a woman and have also not the strength to stab her especially when she was biting my left finger and grabbing and scratching my right hand."

Wong also denied being a member of an all-woman secret society known as the Red Butterfly Gang - an accusation which had been made by Sim.

Psychiatrist Dr Wong Yip Chong testified for the defence at the trial. PHOTO: ST FILE

Testifying for the defence, psychiatrist Dr Wong Yip Chong said Wong had seemed prepared to be the "subordinate woman" in Mr Watanabe's life.

He said she tried to be nice to Mrs Watanabe, even sending her presents through Mr Watanabe.
But the wife "was not only downright ungrateful, but also insulting and humiliating to Wong", said the doctor.

This affected Wong, whom he said could have been suffering from a viral brain infection. She could have caught the Japanese encephalitis virus from Mr Watanabe, he added.

Worried husband

In court, Mr Watanabe described his lover as a "lady with a forceful temperament" and a "strong drinker who could hold her drinks".

While his wife disapproved of the affair, he said he could not end it suddenly.

Mr Watanabe was afraid of what his mistress would do if he ended the affair. PHOTO: ST FILE

"Wong had hinted to me on several occasions in angry tones that if I were to sever my ties with her, something drastic would befall me or any member of my family."

He admitted he was thinking of leaving her, and that she suspected this.

On the day of the murder, Mr Watanabe had dinner with Wong at their Everitt Road place at 7.30pm.

She asked him if he would be staying the night. He spurned her, saying he would be going home to his family.

He also said that after his wife's death, Wong, who had a flair for hysterics, saw him at the Criminal Investigation Department.

She knelt on the floor.

"She told me in English: 'I am sorry. Give me see your wife, can or not? That night I drunk. I love you true. You told me everything finished."

The verdict

After a trial lasting 26 days, Wong and Sim were convicted of murder and sentenced to death on Dec 7, 1970.

Wong became the first woman to receive the capital punishment from a Singapore court. Both showed no emotion.

After unsuccessful appeals - including one to President Benjamin Sheares - both went to the gallows at Changi Prison on Jul 27, 1973.

They were buried side by side.

Who was Mimi Wong?

Police found that she was the daughter of her father's second wife. She was just 11 months old when he died.

At 14, she was already working as a packer.

She was 17 when she met Sim Woh Kum at a picnic. In 1958, when she was 19, they married.

A year later she gave birth to a son. In 1962, another son came.

Money was tight, and she had to do odd jobs in restaurants. Her husband lost his job after he was caught gambling.

She left him and became a dance hostess.

In 1966, she met Mr Hiroshi Watanabe. She claimed she got pregnant and he refused to give her money for an abortion, saying he had none. After she went to Penang for an abortion, Mr Watanabe continued the relationship.

During their affair, she met a Hong Kong businessman and fell head over heels for him. He took her to Hong Kong. Even so, she still continued to send Mr Watanabe love letters. When she got pregnant, her Hong Kong lover kicked her out.

She returned to Singapore and gave birth to a daughter. Mr Watanabe continued to visit her.

She worked as a social escort for a time to make ends meet.

In the middle of 1969, she became Mr Watanabe's mistress. He gave her $200 a month, and rented a room at Alexandra Road for her. A few months later, they moved to Everitt Road. She even hired a servant.

Read other stories from Guilty As Charged: 25 Crimes That Have Shaken Singapore Since 1965 here.

More Singapore crime stories here.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.