Gunbattle straight out of a Hollywood movie

In 1972, Margaret Drive was the stage for a gunbattle between police and Lim Ban Lim - Singapore's most wanted gunman at the time. In his criminal career, Lim got away with at least $2.5 million and left one officer dead. He was killed after he opened fire on the police, who were waiting to ambush him. His case is one of 25 featured in the new Straits Times e-book Guilty As Charged

By 1972, there was a price of $17,000 on Lim's head. He was the most wanted gunman on both sides of the Causeway in the 1960s.
By 1972, there was a price of $17,000 on Lim's head. He was the most wanted gunman on both sides of the Causeway in the 1960s.
By 1972, there was a price of $17,000 on Lim's head. He was the most wanted gunman on both
sides of the Causeway in the 1960s.
By 1972, there was a price of $17,000 on Lim's head. He was the most wanted gunman on both sides of the Causeway in the 1960s.

He had gained so much notoriety that after he was shot to death by the police, 33 inmates escaped from a reformative training centre just to attend his funeral.

Lim Ban Lim, who was the most wanted gunman in Singapore and Malaysia in the 1960s, met his end in Queenstown in 1972, after being on the run for years. He was 32 years old, and was already responsible for the death of one policeman.

Lim had been on the wanted list since 1965, after he shot and wounded a detective in Paya Lebar Road in May that year. Following the incident, the police looked for information on Lim, described to be Hokkien, about 1.65m and of medium build. But he remained at large.

A year later, in September 1966, Lim shot another officer, Detective Allan Lee, who had arrested his friend in the lobby of the Odeon Cinema in North Bridge Road. Detective Lee was wounded in the leg.

On June 23, 1968, Lim killed officer Koh Chong Thye, a 27-year-old corporal. It was believed that he had spotted Lim walking out of a shophouse in Rangoon Road at 1.20pm that day. He and two other officers trailed Lim to a vacant plot of land in Owen Road.

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  • Read more about Lim Ban Lim and other criminals, from ritual killer Adrian Lim to serial murderer John Martin Scripps, in the free e-book Guilty As Charged, a collaboration between The Straits Times and the Singapore Police Force.

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There, Lim suddenly confronted them with a Browning automatic pistol and demanded that the corporal hand over his revolver.

Corporal Koh refused and there was a struggle. The officer broke away and ran behind a parked car. But it was then that he got shot in the chest. Despite being wounded, he drew his revolver and fired back at Lim, but missed. Lim fired a second shot - this time at point-blank range and aimed at the forehead, killing Corporal Koh. This was not the end of the drama.

Constable Cheong Yan Soon of the police's Guard and Escort Unit, which deployed armed guards to banks for instance, picked up the dead officer's revolver and began a running gun duel with Lim. He chased Lim through a maze of back lanes and stalls around Owen Road.

At Serangoon Road, Lim fired at the constable before dashing into Kitchener Road. At this point, another detective turned up and also began firing at Lim, who ran into Verdun Road and then into the adjacent Sam Leong Road. Lim was able to jump into a taxi and force the driver to take him to Lavender Street, where he disappeared.

Police conducted a massive manhunt for Lim and his picture was shown on TV. Doctors and Chinese sinsehs were urged to inform the authorities if a wounded man was seeking medical attention.

During the inquiry into Corporal Koh's death in March 1970, State Coroner Liew Ngik Kee, who returned with a verdict of murder, described the case as a typical "Hollywood-style shooting".

Assistant pathologist Chao Tzee Cheng said that the deceased had three bullet wounds. One struck him in the chest and went through his heart, lungs and stomach. Another hit him in the forehead and brain, and the third, his face.

Soon after the incident, police offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest of Lim. Less than a year later, in March 1969, police doubled the reward to $10,000.

On Nov 24, 1972, police engaged him in a final gunbattle at a pasar malam in Margaret Drive.

Officers from the Rural West Division had a tip-off that Lim, who had returned to Singapore after spending some months in Taiwan and Macau, and his "trusted armed double", Chua Ah Kow, would be visiting the night market.

By then, there was a price of $17,000 on Lim's head. He and Chua were wanted on both sides of the Causeway for a series of armed robberies and murders.

At 7.30pm, six police officers laid an ambush and took up positions in the vicinity of Block 6, near Golden City Theatre. After 45 minutes, they saw Lim and Chua walk to a row of shops across the road. The duo came out of a shop 10 minutes later. Suddenly, they fled in opposite directions, firing at the police.

Officers returned fire, but had to be extra careful as the road was crowded. Eventually, they shot Lim three times in his body. He staggered for about 10m, collapsed and died, still clutching the revolver.

Chua fired two more shots at the police before managing to escape. During a gunbattle at Tank Road three weeks later, he shot himself dead to avoid being arrested.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Gunbattle straight out of a Hollywood movie'. Print Edition | Subscribe