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.)
BODY PARTS IN ORCHARD ROAD (2005)
They were the best of friends, until a dispute over money led to one maid killing another, then gruesomely disposing the body in separate bags
It was on 1.45pm on Friday, Sept 9, 2005, that 41-year-cleaner Maria Yee Marutham found a blue and red oblong sports bag lying at a corner of the mosaic wall near the Orchard MRT station exit. When she unzipped it, she saw a woman’s face.
It was part of a severed head which had been put into a red plastic bag. There were also two other black trash bags.
They contained arms, which had been severed above the elbow, and legs.
At 6.10pm, it was civil servant Alvin Lim Seng Leong’s turn to make a grisly find. He was walking to a bus stop on Lornie Road, when he cut in front of the MacRitchie Reservoir canteen and found a black trolley bag. The police were called.
In the bag was the rest of the dead woman’s body.
In the space of 12 hours, police had a suspect in custody — 29-year-old Filipino maid Guen Garlejo Aguilar. Married with two young sons, she was arrested at her employer’s eighth-floor apartment at the SunGlade condominium at Serangoon Avenue 2. An 18cm cleaver in a red plastic bag was also taken from the flat, where the murder was believed to have taken place.
The victim was her best friend, who also worked as a maid. Her name was Mrs Jane Parangan La Puebla. She was 26, and also married and a mother of a nine-year-old boy. Police had identified her from the fingerprints lifted from the hands found in the sports bag.
By the next day, Aguilar was charged with murder. The big question was why did she kill a woman who was described as being a “sister” to her. Speculation centered around the possibility of a love triangle.
The pair had often been seen at the popular maid hangout next to Orchard MRT station with a local Indian man. The “tall and handsome” man was seeing Aguilar, but the rumours were that the victim was also vying for his affections.
But the truth was far more simple. The reason for the killing was a dispute over money.
Two days before Mrs La Puebla’s remains were found, she and Aguilar were cooking in the kitchen of the condo where the latter worked. They had been chatting about their problems when she mentioned a $2,000 debt Mrs La Puebla owed her.
Half the money came from a third Filipino, who borrowed it from a Singaporean loanshark and was charging Aguilar an interest of 20 per cent. Mrs La Puebla became agitated and raised her voice when Aguilar suggested that she sell her video and digital cameras to pay off the debt.
Aguilar tried to calm her down, but when she mentioned selling the cameras again, they began to fight. They wrestled, pulling each other’s hair and grabbing each other’s necks. Aguilar also bit her friend on the right forearm.
The struggle spilled into the laundry area and into the bedroom, and left Mrs La Puebla’s blood on the floor, mattress and walls. According to Aguilar, she grabbed a cushion from her bed and used it to smother her friend.
After a few seconds, she removed the pillow and started to cry because she thought her friend was dead. Nevertheless, when Mrs La Puebla started moving again, Aguilar strangled her until she stopped breathing.
For the next two days, unbeknownst to her employers, she hid the body in her room, inside a luggage bag. Then on Sept 9, after her employers went to work, she went to Mustafa Shopping Centre in Little India and bought a chopper, an axe and black rubbish bags. She also bought a pair of canvas gloves and another pair made of latex — to wear while dismembering the body, a bolster, two pillowcases and a bedsheet to replace blood-stained bedlinen, and even green wallpaper matching the one used in her employers’ flat.
When she reached the flat some time after 9.30am, she dismembered the body and placed Mrs La Puebla’s head, arms and legs in separate plastic bags, then wrapped them in rubbish bags. She stuffed the body parts and some newspapers into a travel bag.
The torso, clad in brown underwear, was wrapped in newspapers and a black rubbish bag.
This done, she scrubbed the blood traces with water and detergent and used the wall paper to cover up the stains which could not be fully removed.
At about midday, she brought the bag containing Mrs La Puebla’s head and limbs, and took a taxi to Orchard Road. She dumped the bag next to a mural wall at the Orchard MRT Station at about 12.35pm, a stone’s throw from the park where the friends used to meet every Sunday.
Aguilar returned to the flat at 1.25pm. Half an hour later, she put the bag with the torso into a bigger piece of luggage bag and took a taxi to MacRitchie Reservoir. Near the bus stop along Lornie Road, she took the smaller bag out and left it next to the footpath.
Inside the bag was an International Herald Tribune newspaper with a sticker on the front page bearing the name and address of Aguilar’s employers. That led police straight to her.
A ‘TORTURED MIND’
Before her trial began in May 2006, the charges against Aguilar were reduced to manslaughter. This was after defence lawyers had written to the Attorney-General’s Chambers to get the charge reduced on the grounds that the death resulted from grave and sudden provocation, and because Aguilar suffered from a psychiatric condition, later revealed to be depression.
She pleaded guilty.
The court could have sent her to prison for life, but sentenced her to 10 years in jail.
The judge, Justice V.K. Rajah, noted that Aguilar appeared to have recovered from her depression, which was compounded by financial woes, and that family support and counselling would “further diminish any risk of future offences”.
While he described her conduct in dismembering Mrs La Puebla’s body as “grotesque and abominable”, he said Aguilar was hardly trying to conceal her victim’s death.
“By choosing to plant the deceased’s head and torso in two very public places, her behaviour strikes one as nothing short of incoherent and incomprehensible,” he said. Instead, it showed the workings of “a tortured mind”.