Woodlands double-murder trial: Man set fire to pregnant wife, child after strangling them, court told

Property agent Teo Ghim Heng is charged with two counts of murder for killing his wife Choong Pei Shan and daughter Zi Ning (above) on Jan 20, 2017 with the intention of causing death, which carries the mandatory death penalty.
Property agent Teo Ghim Heng is charged with two counts of murder for killing his wife Choong Pei Shan and daughter Zi Ning on Jan 20, 2017 with the intention of causing death, which carries the mandatory death penalty.ST FILE PHOTO
Property agent Teo Ghim Heng is charged with two counts of murder for killing his wife Choong Pei Shan and daughter Zi Ning (above) on Jan 20, 2017 with the intention of causing death, which carries the mandatory death penalty.
Property agent Teo Ghim Heng is charged with two counts of murder for killing his wife Choong Pei Shan and daughter Zi Ning (above) on Jan 20, 2017 with the intention of causing death, which carries the mandatory death penalty.PHOTO: ADE TEO/ FACEBOOK

Details emerge of how debt-ridden man lived with bodies for a week, and a failed suicide bid

A week before Chinese New Year in 2017, debt-ridden property agent Teo Ghim Heng strangled his wife who was six months pregnant and their four-year-old daughter, a court heard.

It was told that Teo slept on the same bed as the bodies for a week in his Woodlands flat, with the air conditioner turned on to delay decomposition. He searched the Internet for ways to commit suicide, leaving the flat only to buy food and air freshener. Then he allegedly set the bodies on fire, claiming he also tried to kill himself in the blaze but aborted the attempt as it was too hot.

The court also heard that he gave excuses when his wife's family asked about her whereabouts, and they eventually called the police on the first day of Chinese New Year.

The details surrounding the tragic deaths of Teo's wife, Choong Pei Shan, 39, her daughter Zi Ning, and an unborn son, emerged yesterday as prosecutors set out their case against him for a double murder on the first day of his trial. Teo, 43, is charged with two counts of murder for killing his wife and daughter on Jan 20, 2017 with the intention of causing death, which carries the mandatory death penalty. A third charge of killing his unborn son has been stood down for now.

The couple married in 2009, and it was the second marriage for both.

The High Court heard that Teo was an avid gambler who racked up debts of at least $120,000 at the end of 2016, but kept his wife in the dark about the extent of his debts. He listed the flat for sale and took on another job as a sales coordinator.

"The accused felt Pei Shan should have contributed to the household income by working. He also never fully forgave her for an affair she had a few years back, and strongly suspected that Zi Ning was not his biological daughter," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Han Ming Kuang.

RESENTMENT TOWARDS WIFE

The accused felt Pei Shan should have contributed to the household income by working. He also never fully forgave her for an affair she had a few years back, and strongly suspected that Zi Ning was not his biological daughter.

DEPUTY PUBLIC PROSECUTOR HAN MING KUANG. The High Court heard that Teo Ghim Heng was an avid gambler who racked up debts of at least $120,000 at the end of 2016, but kept his wife in the dark about the extent of his debts.

According to Teo's statements to the police, he and Madam Choong, a housewife, had an argument on Jan 18, 2017. He told her he owed a total of $70,000 and could not pay their daughter's kindergarten fees.

Two days later, the couple argued about money again while in the master bedroom. Teo told the police that he looped a towel around Madam Choong's neck and pulled both ends for about 15 minutes. He then strangled her with his bare hands until she stopped breathing.

 
 

He claimed that his daughter, who had changed for kindergarten, was in the master bedroom throughout playing with her toys and watching TV. Teo then strangled his daughter.

Teo said he tried various means to take his own life after killing his wife and daughter. This included setting fire to their bodies, then lying on the bed next to them.

On Jan 23, three days after the killings, three of Teo's colleagues went to his flat to look for him as he had not shown up for work. They included Husniyati Omar and her husband Aszrul Mohd Yusoff, who have been jailed for a $1.6 million renovation scam. Teo refused to leave the flat even after a third colleague tripped the main power switch outside to force him to open the door.

He also repeatedly lied to his family and his wife's family to explain their absence at Chinese New Year gatherings. He told them that Madam Choong was ill and used her phone to communicate with her family members and Zi Ning's teachers.

On Jan 28, the first day of Chinese New Year, Madam Choong's brother Gordon knocked on the door but got no response. That same day, Teo used a payphone at the void deck to call his mother-in-law and mother, lying that his wife had kicked him out of the flat, Deputy Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok told the court.

Madam Choong's family became suspicious and returned to the flat. When Mr Choong detected a pungent odour after forcing open a window, he called the police. Just as firefighters were about to force their way in, Teo opened the door. As Mr Choong shouted at him, Teo calmly told him Madam Choong was dead.


Police officers taking away Teo Ghim Heng, who is believed to be the dead woman's husband, in connection with the deaths. Madam Choong (right), who went by the name of Ade Teo on Facebook, with her four-year-old daughter Zi Ning. PHOTOS: SHIN MIN DAILY, FACEBOOK PAGE OF ADE TEO

Footage from the body-worn cameras of four officers was played in court, showing Teo making a dash for it before being caught.

After he was arrested, he claimed that he had made a suicide pact with his wife a few weeks before. She killed their daughter while he killed Madam Choong and he was supposed to kill himself, he said.

He repeated this to the police the next day, but later admitted that he had strangled his wife and daughter. Teo also showed police four suicide notes that he claimed were written by his wife and himself. A handwriting analysis concluded, after comparing the notes with 40 samples of Teo's handwriting, that these were probably written by him.

Forensic pathologist George Paul found bruises on Madam Choong's neck and concluded that she was strangled, while Zi Ning's death was found to be consistent with smothering. The foetus died because of Madam Choong's death.

The trial continues today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Man set fire to pregnant wife, child after strangling them, court told'. Print Edition | Subscribe