Taxi murder (2009)

Guilty As Charged: Man stabs taxi driver to death during robbery attempt, then demands ransom

Robbery ends in death of cabby, but that does not stop Wang Wenfeng from demanding ransom from dead man’s wife

Police at a forested area near Sembawang Beach, where the body of taxi driver Yuen Swee Hong, 58, was found. PHOTO: SHIN MIN 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.)

Taxi murder (2009)

Robbery ends in death of cabby, but that does not stop Wang Wenfeng from demanding ransom from dead man's wife

When 58-year-old Yuen Swee Hong, a cabby of 20 years who preferred the night shift, stopped and reversed his vehicle to pick up a passenger, little did he know that it would lead to his death. In the early hours of April 11, 2009, he saw Chinese national Wang Wenfeng standing alongside Sum Wah Chee Drive. Wang was waiting for a victim to rob.

Chinese national Wang Wenfeng killed Mr Yuen in the morning of April 11, 2009. POLICE FILE PHOTO

The odd-job worker boarded Mr Yuen's taxi and directed it to a nearby restaurant.

On the way, he put on a pair of gloves.

When the taxi arrived, Wang placed a knife over Mr Yuen's chest and demanded money.

A struggle ensued. The cabby was stabbed and started bleeding heavily.

Thinking that Mr Yuen was dead, Wang carried his body into a forested area off Sembawang Road and left it there covered in leaves after taking money from his pocket.

He washed the blood off himself at the seaside, then abandoned the taxi at a multistorey carpark at Canberra Road. He tried to wash the blood off the vehicle as well, but ran out of water.

He also cut the wires of the credit card machine, thinking it was a GPS device.

When Mr Yuen's widow, Madam Chan Oi Lin, called her husband's phone at 9am, Wang answered and demanded $150,000 for her husband's safe release, leading her to believe that he was alive.

Madam Chan's son contacted the police, who found the abandoned cab that very day at about 11.30pm.

By then, Wang had decided to escape to China. He borrowed $300 from a friend but the travel agencies in Chinatown had no available plane tickets for the next day. He went to Changi Airport but the flights offered were too costly.

He was arrested on April 13 at People's Park Complex, where he had just bought an air ticket for the next day to return home.

On April 17, he helped police to find the body, which by then was badly decomposed. Its identity could be confirmed only through DNA testing of Mr Yuen's family members.

Police at a forested area off Sembawang Road where Mr Yuen's body was found. PHOTO: SHIN MIN FILE

Then 10 days later, he brought them to another forested area in Nee Soon Road, and showed where he hid a haversack containing two knives and items such as clothes, gloves, cable ties, adhesive tape and nylon rope.

Senior consultant forensic scientist Dr Tay Ming Kiong found five stab cuts ranging from 7mm to 30mm in the chest area of the cabby's shirt.

Dr Tay said it was likely that Mr Yuen had been stabbed in the chest several times from behind, through the space between the driver's seat and front passenger seat.

Numerous spatter stains of blood on the dashboard, the right side of the windscreen and front doors also indicated that Mr Yuen had put up a struggle.

Chinese national Chen Yongquan, a cook, who shared a room with Wang and four others, testified that on the night of April 10, Wang left their residence on his bicycle.

Mr Chen said that when he asked Wang where he was going, he simply replied: "Robbery."

"I thought he was joking," said Mr Chen.

Wang's wife, Madam Gong Wenying, who worked for an electronics firm in Boon Lay and lived in the workers' quarters there, only meeting him once or twice a month, also took the stand.

Madam Gong Wenying, the wife of Wang, claimed her husband was desperate for money as his mother was suffering from stomach cancer. PHOTO: ZAOBAO FILE

She told the court that Wang, with whom she had a daughter who was living in China, was desperate for money as his mother was suffering from stomach cancer.

Madam Gong said her husband had once told her that he intended to sell his organs to raise money; on another occasion, he said he wanted to kill himself by jumping in front of an MRT train.

Wang told Dr Lee Cheng of the Institute of Mental Health that he was in low spirits before the killing, because of his mother's condition. His work permit had also not been renewed.

He also told the psychiatrist that while in remand, he had heard voices telling him he might as well die. But Dr Lee had no doubts that Wang was fit to stand trial.

Wang, when questioned by prosecutors, insisted he never meant to kill the taxi driver.

He claimed Mr Yuen had suddenly grabbed his hand as he was holding the knife and he held on it as he was afraid the cabby would snatch it away.

"I did not stab him. I only pulled back my arm, and he became motionless. Whether I had stabbed him, I'm not sure, it was very chaotic then."

In 2011, Wang was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

Justice Lee Seiu Kin pointed out that if Wang was trying to make sure the cabby did not take his knife away, it would have been natural for him to draw the knife away from the cabby rather than pull it towards him.

The judge also found that the stab wounds were so deep that Wang could only have pulled the knife with the aim of inflicting injury.

"Not only did he not manifest any remorse for killing (Madam Chan's) husband, he tried to exploit the situation to extract money from her," the judge added, "He thought nothing of prolonging her agony by making her believe that (Mr Yuen's) life was in grave peril and that she could save him only by paying a large sum of money."

However, in 2013, Wang was re-sentenced to life in prison and 24 strokes of the cane, following changes in the law that allowed judges to impose either the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain categories of murder.

This was because the murder was not premeditated.

The ransom attempt

Family members of taxi driver Yuen leaving court: (from left) his brother Yuen Peng Yin), his wife Chan Oi Lin, and son Yuen Zheng Wen. Madam Chan received a call for ransom from Wang even though her husband was already dead. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Worried that her husband had not returned in the morning, Madam Chan Oi Lin called his mobile several times.

She was shocked when it was finally answered at around 9am by someone with a mainland Chinese accent.

When she revealed that she was Mr Yuen Swee Hong's wife, he warned that her husband was going to die unless she came up with $150,000 for his release. "He is going to die. He is now in my hands," he said.

She told him she did not have money and pleaded that he not harm her husband, not realising that he was already dead.

After meeting relatives, her husband's older brother advised her son to call the police.

Wang called again at about 11am. Prompted by the police, she told him she had $80,000. Wang told her to deliver the money to Sengkang MRT station by 3pm.

He called her again at 3pm, but she said she needed more time, and so far had raised $5,000.

The next day, he told her to deliver the money to Marsiling MRT station. He then called again, this time telling her to remit the money to a bank account.

After talking to her brother-in-law, Madam Chan decided not to release the money. The family believed Wang would not release her husband.

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

More Singapore crime stories here.

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