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 One-eyed Dragon (2006)
Gangster Tan Chor Jin was so-called because he was blind in one eye. He repeatedly shot a nightclub owner, killing him, before conducting his own defence in court and failing miserably
He burst into the Serangoon flat on the dawn of Feb 15, 2006, armed with a knife and Beretta pistol. It was the home of his long-time friend and nightclub owner Lim Hock Soon. The gunman first ordered Mr Lim to tie up his wife, maid, and teenage daughter. He then aimed his pistol at 41-year-old Lim, firing five shots into his left thigh, left arm, back, right cheek and right temple before fleeing with accomplice Ho Yueh Keong, a Malaysian.
And so began an international manhunt for Tan Chor Jin, dubbed by the media as the One-eyed Dragon because he is blind in his right eye.
It took just 10 days before he was caught after police stormed a room at the five-star Grand Plaza Parkroyal hotel in Kuala Lumpur – launching a murder trial in which Tan conducted his own defence, before being found guilty. He was hanged in 2009 at the age of 42.
Tan, better known as Tony Kia to his associates, was part of the Ang Soon Tong gang which operated in both Malaysia and Singapore.
The gang, which had existed since the 1950s, was known for conducting criminal activities such as gun-smuggling, drugs, illegal moneylending and illegal gambling.
Malaysian police were on Tan’s trail soon after he fled to Johor Baru with Ho in a Proton Wira.
Once the suspects got there, they split up.
Tan got a crew cut, presumably to change his appearance, before calling on a gang lord in the town.
That man was already being watched by Malaysian police. When the police spotted Tan, they started trailing him as well and soon realised that he was the one wanted by Singapore police.
Tan and his gang were clever enough to switch hotels at least once every two days.
But he made a wrong move when, instead of keeping a low profile, he chose to stay in expensive hotels before going into hiding in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
His craving for Hainanese chicken rice played a role in his capture. It was around midnight, when he ordered the dish through room service at the five-star Grand Plaza Parkroyal hotel in Kuala Lumpur, where he went to procure a fake passport.
An undercover Malaysian cop posed as a waiter and delivered the food to Tan’s room on the 13th floor. He used the chance to gather intel, for instance the room’s layout and how many were with Tan – his wife, and two other couples. A listening device was stuck on one of the dishes.
At 2am, the other two couples returned to their beds in adjoining rooms. Two hours later on Feb 25, when nothing but snores could be heard, 12 officers rushed into the three rooms.
Tan’s room was clean. But in the others, police found six guns, 203 bullets, two pairs of handcuffs and 4kg of ketamine, with a street value of nearly $22,000.
Tan, despite his supposed fear of flying, was brought back on March 1 to Singapore on a Singapore Airlines flight, escorted by six Singapore detectives.
RETURN TO THE SCENE
An hour after he was charged on March 3, Tan was bought back to the scene of the crime. That was where he was seen by his victim’s wife, who was next door in her mother-in-law’s flat, for the first time since he pointed a gun at her and her family.
“Give me back my husband!” Madam Kok Pooi Leng, then 33, screamed at the killer. She had been married to Mr Lim for 14 years.
Mr Lim’s elderly mother also yelled in Mandarin: “Go and die!”
Although Tan did not say anything, a slight grin crossed his face.
His original charge of murder was later amended to discharging a firearm, which also carries the death penalty.
Despite the serious nature of the crime, he insisted he did not want any lawyer to represent him even though he could have asked the court to assign him two, pro bono.
Tan defends himself
He was the first man in more than 16 years to conduct his own defence when facing the death penalty in Singapore.
Tan was full of confidence when he began, often seen laughing and joking with the guards, even giving the thumbs-up to his friends seated in the public gallery. When he got a satisfactory answer from a witness, he would wink and smile at his wife, Madam Siau Fang Fang.
But as he went on, he began to be filled with doubts.
He warned Mr Lim’s daughter not to lie about him pointing a gun at her father.
He asked the maid how she could have remembered details of the shooting when she could not even remember which one was his bad eye.
He repeatedly asked Justice Tay Yong Kwang to allow him to smoke in prison, arguing that “a car without petrol cannot go; my mind without cigarettes cannot think”.
He insisted that he had only wanted to scare Mr Lim, whom he believed was plotting to kill him.
He claimed that he and Mr Lim ran an illegal horse racing and football betting ring, in which he accepted bets placed by Mr Lim’s runners.
By April 2004, he said, the runners had chalked up losses of $220,000 but Mr Lim refused to settle the debt. In 2005, he claimed he found out that Mr Lim had sent people to kill him.
He bought a semi-automatic Beretta .22-calibre pistol in Johor for defence.
He brought the gun with him to the showdown with Mr Lim to balance the scales since he was half-blind — the result of a 1999 traffic accident when glass pieces flew into his right eye.
He insisted it was Mr Lim who had first attacked him with a chair.
He claimed the gun misfired while he was warding off the blows.
“When I was talking to him, he suddenly grabbed hold of a chair to attack me. I panicked and opened fire,” he had told police.
He added that he had been drinking from the evening before, and was in a blur about events.
But many of his arguments fell flat.
The prosecution noted that Mr Lim would not have been able to lift a bulky chair, since he had been tied up.
Tan asked weapons specialist David Loo from the police’s Armament Branch if the gun, which was found in a canal a day after the shooting, could have gone off on its own.
The answer was a clear no said Mr Loo, since he was able to test-fire the gun without any malfunctions.
Tan urged for more tests be carried out.
The judge asked: “Even if the pistol was to misfire, would it fire more than one bullet?”
Mr Loo said it would not.
Tan had asked for a doctor to testify on how alcohol could have affected his mental state. But he decided not to call on Dr Lim Yun Chin, a consultant psychiatrist in private practice, when he realised the doctor was unable to support Tan’s contention that alcohol had an “overriding effect” on his state of mind at the time.
Tan instead chose to call senior consultant psychiatrist R. Munidasa Winslow as his sole defence witness. But he testified that even though Tan was possibly drunk at the time, it did not affect his mental responsibility for the shooting.
In a surprise move one day, Tan also urged the court to hang him, since his death would protect his wife, whom he claimed was receiving threatening SMS messages.
He said: “I don’t want to fight. I want to surrender. I don’t want to get my wife into trouble.”
Madam Seow even showed reporters the messages later that day. One said: “If your husband doesn’t die, you’ll have to die.”
Deputy Public Prosecutor Chew Chin Yee described Tan’s testimony untruthful, evasive and at times so ludicrous it only reinforced his guilt.
Close to the end of the trial, Tan seemed to realise he had made a foolhardy decision in rejecting proper representation.
When Justice Tay asked Tan if he needed anything to prepare for closing submissions, Tan replied: “If I say I need a lawyer now, how?”
The High Court rejected Tan’s multi-pronged defence: that he had been drunk, that the shots were fired accidentally, and that he had acted in self-defence after Mr Lim threw a chair at him.
Labelling his actions as those of an “assured and accomplished assassin”, he was sentenced to death. Justice Tay dismissed Tan’s claims of an accidental shooting as a “laughable fantasy”, because pulling the trigger required strength and a firm grip.
After the judge read out the sentence, Tan’s first question was: “Will I be hanged tomorrow?” Again, he asked if he could smoke in prison. Veteran criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan represented Tan in his appeal, which was rejected in January 2008.
Before facing the noose on Jan 9, 2009, he requested that his kidneys, liver and cornea be donated.
It is believed that the 42-year-old asked for one of his kidneys to go to retail magnate Tang Wee Sung, the second son of Tangs’ late founder Tang Choon Keng.
On Feb 26, less than two days after the dramatic shooting, Mr Lim’s wake was held at the void deck of the block where he was killed. It drew hundreds of curious onlookers – some of whom simply wanted to catch a glimpse of the hostesses and mamasans who had worked at his popular KTV lounge Las Vegas Nightclub in Havelock Road.
Others wanted to see if secret society members would turn up. During the final rites, Mr Lim’s widow broke down, along with several hostesses.
At the cremation, Madam Kok was too distraught to go inside the viewing hall.
Outside, she fainted and laid on a bench. When she came to, she staggered towards the viewing hall, screaming “Ah Pui!”, but was held back by relatives. She had affectionately called her husband “Fei Lo” or ‘“Ah Pui”. The phrases mean fat man in Cantonese and Hokkien respectively.
Widow, daughter and maid’s testimony
At 6.55am, a man clad in a black short-sleeved round-necked T-shirt and black Armani pants barged into their four-room flat in Serangoon, holding a pistol in his left hand and a short knife in his right.
He had surprised Mr Lim Hock Soon’s teenage daughter while she was at the doorstep putting on her shoes to get ready for school. He barged past the then 13-year-old and declared that he wanted to rob the family.
He kicked Mr Lim, known in secret society circles as “Guni Ter”, or Milk Pig, who was sleeping on the mattress in the living room.
Mr Lim demanded to know what Tan wanted.
“I have a gun. Do you want me to shoot?” came the reply.
Madam Kok Pooi Leng, who was asleep in the master bedroom, was woken up by the family’s Indonesian maid Risa Erawati Ning Tyas, then 22.
She was ordered by Tan to collect all her valuables from the master bedroom and put them in a bag.
The gunman then told Mr Lim to tie up the family members with towels.
He made all of them go into the study, where Mr Lim was forced to open the safe.
Jewellery and cash in five different currencies also went into the bag.
Madam Kok was told to tie up her husband’s hands with TV cable wire. She used her teeth to tie the knots as her own hands were bound.
Then she and her daughter were told to go the the master bedroom.
In the study, Tan pointed his gun at the maid’s forehead.
“Uncle, please don’t kill me. I here working,” she pleaded.
Mr Lim told the gunman not to do anything to her. According to the maid, this was when Tan pointed the gun at him.\
“Sir knelt down and begged the gunman not to kill him,” she testified.
Ms Risa was then moved into the girl’s bedroom, but she was able to peek into the study.
“The gunman fired one shot at Sir’s face. Sir cried out in pain. I saw Sir fall backwards, I saw Sir’s body hitting against the black chair behind him.”
More shots followed.
Tan then went to the master bedroom where he told Madam Kok in Mandarin: “It is your husband who went too far.” Before fleeing he warned Madam Kok: “I give you your life. Don’t identify me or else I will kill your whole family.”
How it all unfolded
Feb 15, 2006: Nightclub owner Lim Hock Soon, 41, is shot dead in his Serangoon Avenue 4 flat by a gunman. Mr Lim’s daughter, wife and maid are tied up and put in the other rooms. The gunman, who was dressed in black, flees from the scene with cash and jewellery.
Feb 16,2006: Lim Choon Chwee, 38, the man believed to have driven the gunman to the flat, surrenders to the police. The police identify two other men in connection with the case: Tan Chor Jin and Malaysian Ho Yueh Keong. International police are put on alert. The gun used in the shooting is found in a canal in Sengkang.
Feb 21, 2006: Mr Lim, the victim, is cremated after a five-day wake.
Feb 25, 2006: Tan is arrested in Kuala Lumpur in the five-star Grand Plaza Parkroyal hotel. Tan’s wife, Madam Siau Fang Fang, 25, is arrested with him.
March 1, 2006: Tan is extradited back to Singapore and charged with murder. In August, the charge is amended to discharging a firearm with intent to cause physical injury, which also carries the death penalty.
Jan 22, 2007: The first day of Tan’s trial in High Court.
May 22, 2007: Tan is found guilty and sentenced to death.
Jan 30, 2008: His appeal fails.
Jan 5, 2009: It is revealed that his application for clemency was denied by the President.
Jan 9, 2009: He is hanged at dawn.
The gangster’s two “wives”
When he was in prison after being caught, he told his wife he had a mistress, with whom he had a daughter and was expecting a son.
“He told me to tell her to look after their two children well. I was angry and shocked. But at that time, I was too much at a loss to know what to do,” said Madam Siau, who married Tan in 2001 before they settled in her parent’s bungalow in Muar, during an interview with The Straits Times.
The “second wife”, 28-year-old Yi Hua found out about his arrest from watching Malaysian television news.
He called her, urging her to contact Madam Siau.
Madam Yi, whom he set up in an apartment in Johor Baru, said: “There was a lot of tension when we first met.
"But we talked and conceded that being angry was also no use. We were both in the same boat.”
He shuttled between his two homes, making time in between to run his business, a chain of four Chinese medicinal shops in Johor Baru, Muar and Skudai that also dabbled in the antique trade.
Both his women received an allowance of at least $2,000 a month.
An accomplice turns prosecution witness
At about 3am, childhood friend and his secret society underling Lim Choon Chwee drove Tan Chor Jin to Mr Lim Hock Soon’s home at Block 223, Serangoon Avenue 4.
Lim did not know that the black leather clutch bag Tan had with him contained a loaded Beretta pistol, some spare rounds and a small knife.
Lim waited in the car.
Ten minutes later, Tan returned, and as they left, he asked Lim where he could steal a Rolex watch.
Tan confided in Lim that he was down on his luck and had money problems.
The two spent about two hours watching football at a friend’s house.
At about 6am, Tan again asked Lim to drive him back to Mr Lim’s place. Tan told him to wait in front of Peicai Secondary School.
About half an hour later, Tan returned appearing flustered. Lim saw that he was also carrying a white plastic bag which appeared to be full. It was later revealed that the bag contained about $170,000 in cash and property, including assorted jewellery, four Rolex watches and stacks of foreign currencies.
Tan then told Lim to drive to a canal in Sengkang, where Tan got rid of the pistol and the bullets.
They then returned to the friend’s flat and called up a man called Ho Yuen Kong.
Tan, Ho and Lim returned to the carpark, where Lim saw Tan transfer the white bag to a Malaysian-registered car. Tan and Ho then left for Malaysia.
Lim was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for abetment of murder, and was sentenced to six months’ jail for failing to report a robbery.