The day he faced a cop killer

Veteran police officer Abd Rahman Khan Gulap Khan, seen with his awards and commendations, was at the front line of several major investigations.
Veteran police officer Abd Rahman Khan Gulap Khan, seen with his awards and commendations, was at the front line of several major investigations. PHOTO: BRYAN VAN DER BEEK

Abd Rahman Khan Gulap Khan, 65, spent 35 years in the police force - most of them in the Criminal Investigation Department

The worst pain I ever felt in my life was on the night that I got shot. Not from the bullet, but from the tetanus jab I had to get later in the hospital. I couldn't sleep on my buttocks for three days.

I was shot by this guy we called the Cop Killer in 1973. He shot and killed a detective over a minor traffic accident and the whole police force was searching for him. The breakthrough came from a robber who told us that among the most notorious robbers at that time, the one most likely to engage with police was this man known as Botak.

We managed to trace him to Cavenagh Road Apartments and used a ruse to get him out.

When he came running out, a colleague put him in a headlock, but Botak had already pulled out a gun. I grabbed hold of the gun, a stolen police revolver, and he fired two rounds which burned my palm. A third shot grazed my stomach. We couldn't subdue him, so my colleague shot him twice in the arm, but Botak still wouldn't drop his weapon.

Then other colleagues rushed in, and one fired a shot that I felt go past my ear, which hit Botak in the head.

Then there was the disaster in 1978, when the Greek tanker Spyros exploded at Jurong Shipyard. We spent one solid week in the mortuary, which had only a few refrigerated compartments in which to keep bodies. But we had 76 bodies, and had to leave them lying around on the floor to decompose.

I remember we were eating nasi briyani at an operating table with bodies on the floor. We had to take our food there as we couldn't leave, as we were waiting for people to come in to identify the bodies, and every hour the body changes because of decomposition.

After that, I had to throw away all the clothes I was wearing, including my undergarments, shoes, everything, because it all stank.

Even a few days after we were done, when I sat in the bus, people were still holding their noses, because the smell sticks to your skin. You bathe with Dettol, you wash your hair, the stink is still there.

I also still remember the Hotel New World collapse in 1986 clearly. A six-storey building was flattened like a biscuit. I couldn't believe it. I was assigned to identify and record all the dead, which turned out to be a total of 33.

That first evening, we switched off all the lights, and asked for total silence - no generators, no engines, not even talking - so rescuers could listen for any signs of life.

The last body taken out was from the basement carpark, about a week later. It was an old man who looked like he was asleep.

The pathologist said the walls that collapsed on him had been whitewashed recently, and the lime had preserved his body.

This is an excerpt from new book Living The Singapore Story: Celebrating Our 50 Years 1965-2015. The book is now in bookshops at $19.65 (GST included).

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