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.)
Tourist from Hell: The John Martin Scripps case (1996)
John Martin Scripps befriended unknowing tourists, then butchered them and drained their bank accounts
He was the “tourist from hell”, and in his bag he carried knives, and one each of a hammer, can of mace and electric stun gun – tools he used to butcher his victims.
In 1996, Briton John Martin Scripps, 36, was the first Westerner to be hanged for murder in Singapore.
A year earlier, Scripps had killed and dismembered South African tourist Gerard George Lowe in the River View Hotel.
He put the parts into black plastic bags — three of which were later fished out of the waters around Clifford Pier. Mr Lowe’s head and arms were never found.
Mr Lowe, a brewery engineer, had arrived at Changi Airport on the morning of March 8 to buy cheap electronics.
But while he was at the airport, he was approached by a smiling and charming Scripps, who asked if he was willing to share a room.
Mr Lowe agreed.
The duo checked into Room 1511 in the River View Hotel that same day.
Scripps, who admitted to killing the 32-year-old, had told police he was awakened by a half-naked Lowe that night in the hotel room.
Mr Lowe, he claimed, was smiling and touching his buttocks.
Scripps said he was not a homosexual and Mr Lowe’s actions frightened him.
He used his 1.5kg camping hammer “to hit Lowe several times on the head until he collapsed onto the carpeted floor”.
The next morning, Scripps asked a hotel receptionist to delete Mr Lowe’s name from the room registration system, saying that he had kicked him out the previous night.
Records showed that Scripps then went on a shopping spree.
He used Mr Lowe’s credit cards to withdraw $8,775 in cash and buy a $499 videocassette recorder.
He also attended a Singapore Symphony Orchestra performance on March 10.
On March 11, he checked-out and flew to Bangkok.
Days later, the first bag containing Mr Lowe’s grisly remains were found in the Singapore River.
On a flight to Phuket on March 15, Scripps befriended his next two victims, Canadian mother-and-son Sheila and Darin Damudes.
They checked into adjacent rooms at a hotel facing the popular tourist-haunt Patong Beach. The Damudes were not seen again after they ate breakfast the next morning.
Scripps later told the receptionist that the Damudes had left and that he would pay their bill.
On March 19, Scripps returned to Singapore and was arrested at the airport. He was found with his tools of death — the stun gun was used to incapicitate his victims first, as well as US$40,000 in cash and traveller’s cheques, and the passports, credit cards and belongings of Mr Lowe and the Damudes.
On that same day, the skulls of the Damudes were found in a disused tin mine in Phuket’s Kathu district. A torso and a pair of arms and legs were also found along a road five days later.
Scripps, who was born in Hertfordshire, had learnt his butchery skills while in prison in Britain.
Since the age of 15, the teenage delinquent, who as a 10-year-old discovered his lorry driver father’s body after he had committed suicide, had been shuttling in and out of prison for offences ranging from drug trafficking to assault.
But his skills with a knife, he learnt in 1993 while in the Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight for trafficking heroin. A prison officer who prepared him for a career as a butcher during the six-week course would later recall how Scripps was a natural at dismembering and deboning animals.
He also had a penchant of absconding from British prisons after being granted home leave. This happened in 1982, 1990, and also 1994, when he was serving two six-year sentences for heroin trafficking and was allowed to visit his mother and sister. This was despite his mother begging authorities to not release him, warning that he would again run away.
While in custody in Singapore, Scripps was linked to several disappearances, included that of two British men. One went missing in Belize in 1995. His body was later found cut into pieces and thrown into a crocodile-infested river. The other disappeared a year before in Cancun, Mexico. Money from their accounts were traced to Scripps.
He was also wanted by the American authorities for the murder of a homosexual prostitute in 1994. The body was found in a dumpster, chopped into pieces.
During his trial, Scripps claimed that while he had killed Mr Lowe, a “British friend” had disposed of his body. He insisted he could not reveal this man’s identity or his family would be harmed back in Britain.
But judge T.S. Sinnathuray rubbished this.
“I’m satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin had intentionally killed Lowe. After that, he disarticulated Lowe’s body into separate parts, and it was he who subsequently disposed of the body parts by throwing them into the river behind the hotel,” said the judge.
He also added that the manner of “the disarticulation of the body parts of Lowe, Sheila and Darin have the hallmark signs of having been done by the same person”.
While awaiting sentencing, Scripps had famously said: “Karma is karma. It’s in God’s hands now.”
After a last meal of pizza and hot chocolate, he was hanged on April 19, 1996. And with his death, Canadian and Thai police closed the file on the deaths of the Damudes.