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.)
Mount Vernon murders (1978)
Three friends who wanted to become robbers decided they needed a gun, and killed to get one
The killers of 18-year-old police national serviceman Lee Kim Lai and 60-year-old taxi driver Chew Peng Hin were caught in a remarkably fast time — thanks partly to the alertness of Detective Siew Mun Seng. He was driving home from the Beach Road Police Station to his flat in Geylang Bahru at 3am on April 25, 1978, when he saw two young men behaving suspiciously near some bushes.
They were carrying a parcel, and at that time gangsters used to carry weapons in such bags.
The detective was off duty at the time, but his police instincts kicked in. He decided to approach the pair.
The two men were Yeo Ching Boon, who was unemployed, and labourer Ong Hwee Kuan.
What Detective Siew did not know at the time was that Hwee Kuan had just removed his bloody clothes for fresh ones while in the bushes.
When they saw the plainclothes police officer, they bolted.
But Detective Siew managed to catch Hwee Kuan. Yeo was soon arrested in his house in Kallang Bahru. A third man, labourer Ong Chin Hock turned himself in later that night.
And so unravelled a dastardly plot that began with a plan to steal a revolver to rob with, and ended with the murder of two innocent men.
The three culprits, all aged 21 and who had been friends since primary school, had decided to become robbers to solve their money problems.
But first they needed a gun.
Yeo believed he knew where to get one. Having served at a police reserve unit in Mount Vernon during his national service, he suggested stealing a gun from the sentry there.
Their plan was to abduct the sentry in a taxi.
They decided to commit the deed at night — believing that the sentry will be less alert, and that there will be fewer observers around.
In the early hours of that Tuesday, they hailed a taxi driven by the unsuspecting Mr Chew at Kallang Bahru, and directed him to a deserted stretch of road at Mount Vernon, somewhere behind the police unit.
When the cab stopped, they tied up Mr Chew, stabbing him in the stomach when he resisted.
Yeo and Hwee Kuan pulled him to a drain and threw him inside. Twice the cabby tried to climb out. Each time, he was stabbed.
Mr Chew eventually died.
The trio then drove to the gate of the police reserve unit, where the unfortunate Lee was on sentry duty.
Yeo alighted from the taxi, and flashed his national service card at the sentry.
He then asked Mr Lee to help him carry Hwee Kuan, who was pretending to be heavily intoxicated in the back seat of the cab, into the camp.
When Mr Lee came close, Hwee Kuan surprised him and pulled him inside the taxi.
Thinking that his assailants were robbers, the young sentry offered them the $2 he had on him.
The kidnappers stopped the cab in Kallang Bahru, where they stabbed Mr Lee 15 times, including two fatal strikes to the neck.
They took his revolver and 10 rounds of ammunition, and abandoned the taxi at Geylang Bahru, leaving Mr Lee in the back seat.
What the trio did not realise at the time was that their actions did not go unobserved.
Former national sprinter Heather Marican’s husband Osman was a senior policeman and the couple lived in the camp’s residential quarters. Their home faced the guard house.
While looking out for her husband who had told her he was coming home late, she saw Mr Lee being bundled into the taxi. She told her husband when he returned soon after.
The police were alerted.
By then, Yeo and Chin Hock had gone to the former’s house nearby to get fresh clothing for Hwee Kuan, who was covered in blood.
Chin Hock later decided to go home.
Yeo, who left the gun they had stolen in a drawer, went to deliver the clothes to Hwee Kuan.
That was when Detective Siew discovered them.
Yeo told police they killed the two men because they had struggled.
Hwee Kuan insisted he tried to stop Yeo from stabbing Mr Lee, but his finger was cut in the process.
Chin Hock also denied taking part in the stabbings, claiming he was only the driver. When he surrendered, he thought he would be charged only with robbery, not realising that the two victims had died.
It was later revealed that Chin Hock had pawned his watch to buy the two knives used in the killings.
The three were sentenced to death on May 23, 1979