Couple admit to causing flatmate’s death through ‘systematic’ abuse

Hannah Teoh
Senior Content Producer
(Photo: Thinkstock)

For eight months, a woman endured violent and unrelenting abuse at the hands of a couple who were her flatmates. The abuse ended when the 26-year-old woman died of her injuries in the couple’s flat in Woodlands.

In a case described by the prosecution as an “escalation of dehumanising behaviour”, Pua Hak Chuan, 38, and Tan Hui Zhen, 33, would assault Annie Ee Yu Lian almost daily for “breaking rules” they had set for her, using objects such as a wooden pole, a dustbin, and a heavy roll of shrink wrap.

The couple pleaded guilty to charges including voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapon and causing grievous hurt in the High Court on Monday (27 November) for the repeated abuse that caused Ee’s death on 13 April 2015. Tan and Pua admitted to four and three charges, respectively, with 18 more charges taken into consideration against them.

The court heard that the victim and Tan had struck up a friendship when they were 13 and 17, respectively. They kept in touch sporadically over the years. When Tan found out that Ee was in a relationship in 2011, she began to “brainwash” her into breaking up with her boyfriend.

Ee, who worked as a waitress, would sometimes stay over at the couple’s flat. In late 2013, Ee asked if she could move in to stay with them. Ee referred to Tan as ‘jie jie’ (older sister in Mandarin) and Pua as ‘jie fu’ (brother in law in Mandarin). She did not pay rent to the couple initially.

About a year after Ee moved in, the couple blamed the victim for a bedbug infestation in the flat and Tan asked her for compensation. The couple began keeping a “book of debts” incurred by Ee. They also asked her to do the housework, and gradually increased the rent they charged her for staying at the flat.

Tan also increased the rent as “punishment” for Ee’s “bad behaviour”, which included lying and being late for work. The couple eventually asked Ee to surrender her entire salary of $1,200, giving her a weekly allowance of $50, which later was reduced to $30.

Unrelenting physical abuse

From August 2014 to April 2015, Tan and Pua physically abused Ee continuously. Tan attacked Ee for various reasons, such as slapping her with bathroom slippers, whipping her with a plastic belt, and banging her head on the wall. When Tan grew tired of assaulting Ee in Pua’s presence, she would instruct her husband to take over the assault, and he complied.

Both had also kicked and stepped on Ee’s chest, causing her to suffer rib fractures. Despite the beatings, which sometimes lasted for as long as two hours, Ee did not fight back or scream for help.

Sometime in March 2015, the couple brought home a roll of shrink wrap weighing about 1.05 kg. Tan began using the shrink wrap to hit Ee. When the couple discovered that Ee was afraid of the shrink wrap, they used it more often to hit her all over her body.

Ee’s colleagues at Hot Tomato, where she worked as a waitress, noticed on several occasions that she would have bruises on her arms, face and neck. Tan later sought to get Ee a job at Ichiban Boshi because she was afraid that Ee’s colleagues at Hot Tomato would enquire about Ee’s injuries.

When Ee was working at Ichiban Boishi, a colleague noticed that Ee was not walking properly but she kept quiet when asked about her condition. A number of customers also told the staff that they observed Ee having difficulty walking.

On 27 March 2015, Ee sought treatment at a clinic for her injuries, accompanied by Tan. The doctor attending to Ee said that she needed treatment at the Emergency Department immediately. But Tan refused to allow an ambulance to be called, and lied that she had to settle a family problem before seeking emergency treatment for Ee.

Events leading to Ee’s death

On 12 April 2015, Pua saw Ee using a pair of scissors to cut her wrist. She told him she was “useless” because she did not do what “jie jie” had told her to do.

Later in the evening, the couple returned home from running errands and found Ee lying in her own urine. When asked, Ee denied that she had urinated, prompting Tan to slap her out of anger.

Tan then brought Ee to the living room to continue questioning her. The couple hit Ee all over her body with the roll of shrink wrap. Pua also took a plastic dustbin and smashed it onto Ee’s head and right shoulder with such force that the dustbin cracked on impact.

Later that night, Ee could not control herself and urinated on the mattress. She was also groaning in pain. The couple measured her blood pressure and after assessing that she was normal, they returned to their room.

On the morning of 13 April 2015, the couple discovered that Ee had died. When Tan called the police, she claimed that Ee had committed suicide. The couple tore two layers of plastic from the shrink wrap and disposed of it so that police would not find their fingerprints.

When asked about Ee’s death, the couple lied to the police, saying that Ee hurt herself because she was clumsy and had landed on her buttocks. Ee, who was assessed to be of low intellectual ability, died from multiple injuries.

Deputy Public Prosecutors April Phang and Claire Poh asked Justice Hoo Sheau Peng to sentence Tan to 15 years in jail, and for Pua to be given 14 years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane.

The prosecution argued that the abuse by the couple was “deliberate, planned and systematic”. In addition to using deceit to cover up their crimes, an aggravating factor was that they deprived Ee of timely medical treatment, the prosecution added.

The couple, who were represented by lawyer Josephus Tan, will be sentenced on Friday (1 December).