A family feud, gruesome ‘kill room’, and pots of ‘human soup’: How the murder of Abby Choi shocked Hong Kong
By all appearances, Abby Choi was living a life that many people only dream of.
In photos and videos posted to her Instagram account this February, the 28-year-old socialite and model poses on a balcony against the Paris skyline, dines with old friends at a luxurious Art Deco restaurant, and is chauffeured to a fashion event where crowds of photographers wait outside the venue.
"From Hong Kong to the cover of L'Officiel Monaco, my journey as a style icon continues," Choi wrote on 14 February, showing herself on the cover of a French fashion magazine. "Grateful for this recognition and the continued support along the way."
Yet back home in Hong Kong, investigators allege, her former husband and two members of his family were already plotting to murder her when she returned.
On 27 February, Hong Kong police charged 28-year-old Alex Kwong with the gruesome murder of his ex-wife, along with his father Kwong Kau, 65, and older brother Anthony Kwong, 31.
Starting in early February, officials claim, the trio rented an apartment in the picturesque coastal village of Lung Mei Tsuen and turned it into a splatter-proof body disposal workshop where parts of Choi's corpse were later found concealed in pots of soup.
"The flat was arranged meticulously by cold-blooded killers," said police superintendent Alan Chung Nga-lun at a press conference on 25 February.
"Tools that are used to dismember human bodies were found in the flat, including meat grinders, chainsaws, long raincoats, gloves, and masks...
"The suspects covered the walls of the flat with a sail, and they put on face shields and raincoats so that they would not get bloodstained by dismembering the body."
Alex Kwong's mother, 63-year-old Jenny Li Sui-heun, was also charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly destroying evidence. All four defendants appeared in court on Tuesday, reportedly without yet making a plea, and were denied bail.
The grisly details of the case have sent shockwaves across a metropolis often regarded as one of the safest in the world, becoming widely discussed on social media in mainland China and Taiwan as well as news media across the planet.
Choi's partner Tam Chuk Kwan, also known as Chris Tam, described her as a "kind-hearted and good person who always wanted to help others".
"She supported me and loved me very much," said Mr Tam through a family friend. "She also brought up four cute and obedient kids. It has been a blessing to be Abby’s family or friend."
Choi's friend Bernard Cheng told the Associated Press: "I haven't imagined that a person who's so good, so full of love, so innocent, a person who doesn't do anything bad, will be killed like this...
"My heart is still heavy. I can't sleep well."
Family dispute over a HK$73m luxury apartment
Abby Choi Tin-fung was the eldest of three daughters, coming from a wealthy family who ran a construction business with dealings in mainland China.
In her interview with French fashion magazine L'Officiel Monaco, she described herself as always "absorbing inspiration and trying new styles", fond of "mixing and combining different looks".
Choi and Alex Kwong were married in 2012, when she was only 18 years old and he was roughly the same age. They had two sons together, the oldest of which is now 10.
The couple divorced some time before 2016, and Choi went on to start a relationship with Tam Chuk Kwan, whose father had founded a well-known casual restaurant chain.
Still, Choi maintained close ties to the Kwongs. Police say that she bought a four-bedroom, 1,820-square-foot luxury apartment for the family and the two children in Hong Kong's exclusive Kandoorie Hill neighbourhood, as well as helping her former brother-in-law buy another home.
According to Singapore newspaperThe Straits Times, she at one point ran a pancake stall with Anthony Kwong, who also served as her personal driver. An Instagram account allegedly belonging to Anthony has several friendly photos featuring Choi, wishing her a happy birthday and referring to her as "sis".
Bernard Cheng even said that she would sometimes go on holiday trips with both Mr Tam and Mr Kwong's families. Mr Cheng's wife told the Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post that the socialite "took great care of everyone, including her husband's family".
Yet police say this relationship began to sour last year, when Choi made plans to sell the Kandoorie Hill apartment. Though paid for by Choi, it had been registered in the name of Alex Kwong's father Kwong Kau, allegedly in order to avoid nearly $8m Hong Kong dollars (US$1m) in stamp duty.
Mortgage records reported by the Hong Kong news website HK01 show that Kau bought the flat in July 2019 for nearly HK$73m, and had paid off the entire mortgage by October that year.
Even though Choi promised to find the Kwongs a new home, her plan was met with fierce resistance from Kau, a law enforcement source told the Morning Post.
According to another local newspaper, Oriental Daily News, the feud led Choi to consult a lawyer, who told her that as long as she could prove that she paid for the property, she could still receive money from its sale.
It's not clear whether or not the apartment ever sold. Regardless, police allege that this was the spark for Kwong Kau to begin masterminding a plot against his former daughter in law.
Alleged mastermind was a decorated former police officer
Kwong Kau is a former Hong Kong police sergeant who retired from the force in 2005, having received a medal for long service in 2001.
The Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew Daily alleges that he was forced to resign after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman.
Now, Hong Kong police say that in early February he rented the ground floor flat in a three-storey house in the Lung Mei Tsuen, a seaside village in Hong Kong's scenic Plover Cove that is a popular getaway spot for city-dwellers.
A 47-year-old woman named only as Ms Ng, or Ms Wu in Mandarin Chinese, was also arrested for allegedly helping him rent the property, as well as another flat in the city that would later serve as an alleged hideout for Alex Kwong.
Local media reported that she is a masseuse who has been in a relationship with Kwong Kau for about six months. Oriental Daily News claimed that she had told colleagues there was a "rich old man" who wanted to take care of her, and had rarely come to work recently.
On 21 February, Anthony Kwong allegedly drove to the Kandoorie Hill flat in a seven-seater car to pick up Choi and take her to collect one of her children.
As they were approaching the entrance to the Lion Rock Tunnel, which bores through the mountains north of downtown Hong Kong, the vehicle stopped and was boarded by Choi's ex-husband Alex Kwong, local media said.
Mr Kwong may have his own criminal history. Prosecutors told the court on Tuesday that he had been wanted since 2015 for his alleged role in a HK$5m gold scam, which reportedly involved conning young men on a social media app into making false investments.
It's not clear what happened next, but police say that Choi was reported missing later that day when she did not appear to pick up her child. She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt, white trousers, and white slippers, carrying a purple handbag.
Officers contacted the Kwongs for information, but the two brothers and father allegedly gave false or misleading statements. "They created plenty of lies and smokescreens to mislead us," said Mr Chung, causing investigators to waste time checking surveillance cameras in order to confirm their claims.
It was not until 24 February that police, having analysed and cross-checked the Kwongs' stories, swooped on the house in Lung Mei Tsuen.
Police find grisly butcher’s shop with human remains in soup pots
According to the Morning Post, the village flat contained almost none of the ordinary furnishings of a lived-in home, with both bedrooms empty.
Instead, police discovered a macabre butcher's shop equipped with a meat grinder, an electric saw, two types of chopper, a hammer, face shields, and black raincoats – plus Choi's purple handbag.
In the refrigerator were two dismembered human legs, as well as two pots full of soup, containing carrots, green radishes, and minced meat that investigators suspected to be human remains.
When the soup was fully analysed later at a police facility, a skull and several ribs were also found in it. The back of the skull had a large hole in it, and investigators now believe that this was the blow that killed Choi while she inside the seven-seater vehicle.
Kau, Anthony, and Choi's former mother-in-law Jenny Li were swiftly arrested, but Alex Kwong was nowhere to be found, and a manhunt ensued.
The news electrified Chinese-language social media. Choi's friend Pao Jo-yee offered a reward of HK$2m for information leading to Mr Kwong's arrest, with contributions from Mr Tam's family. A Taiwanese internet celebrity known as Doris added her own HK$1m to the reward.
Police say that Mr Kwong went to ground in a luxury flat in the Arch Sky Tower in central Hong Kong, allegedly rented by Ms Ng.
Finally, on 25 February, officers learned that Mr Kwong was allegedly planning to escape the city by speedboat, and intercepted him at the Tung Chung Development Pier on Hong Kong's western island of Lantau, near the international airport.
According to the Morning Post, Mr Kwong was arrested with HK$500,000 in cash and several luxury watches worth a total of roughly HK$4m.
That afternoon, about 100 police officers descended on a clifftop graveyard east of the city centre known as Junk Bay Cemetery, which Kau and Anthony are suspected to have visited on 22 February.
Divers from the Hong Kong police force's elite 'Flying Tigers' unit searched the water for Choi's missing body parts, while dog handlers and abseilers scoured the cemetery and the forested crags around it.
’Abby, you were a loving and kind person’
Despite its long history of organised crime, modern Hong Kong has one of the lowest murder rates on earth, with between 0.2 and 0.9 homicides per 100,000 people every year according to the World Bank. By comparison, the United Kingdom has between 0.9 and 1.2 and the United States has between 4.4 and 6.5.
The last murder to seize so many headlines was the 2013 case of Henry Chau Hoi-leung, who killed his parents and stashed their heads in the fridge. He was jailed for life in 2015.
Before that there was the murder of 23-year-old nightclub hostess Fan Man-yee, who was kidnapped by three mobsters, tortured for more than a month, and eventually killed, with her severed head found stuffed inside a Hello Kitty doll. All three men were jailed for life.
Chris Emmett, a former Hong Kong police officer during the days of British rule, told The Independent that the case reminded him of a spree of 1982 murders committed by taxi driver Lam Kor-wan, one of Hong Kong's few known serial killers, who covered his apartment in plastic sheets and dismembered his victims with an electric saw.
In the days after Choi's death, her Instagram page was flooded with tributes, compliments, and condolences, while its follower count swelled by around 20,000 to more than 100,000.
Anthony Kwong's posts, many of which show him dining out at restaurants or lounging on the deck of a yacht, were bombarded with furious comments calling him a "psycho", a "demon", and "cold-blooded".
Many users on Chinese-language social media, as well as some media outlets, compared the case to the 2019 South Korean film Parasite, in which a poor family slowly infiltrates the household of a rich family. According to the Taiwanese China Times, there were at one point around 110 million people discussing the murder on the social network Weibo.
The Abby and Paomes Charitable Organisation, an animal rescue non-profit co-founded by Choi, paid tribute on social media, saying: "You always helped animals, and you were a loving and kind person. Please rest in peace and we will carry on your legacy,"
One member of the charity described how she had once saved a severely injured cat that had been hit by a car and was already attracting flies. "I thought we could not save the cat, but Abby insisted on doing so and the cat eventually survived, which is like a miracle," they reportedly said.
Mr Tam's father Tam Chap Kwan, the founder of the restaurant chain, said Choi was a precious daughter and a responsible mother, the Straits Times reported. Tam Chap Kwan's wife said she was always sure to bring meals to family gatherings and gifts to Mother's Day and birthday celebrations, while not holding herself aloof from the family's employees.
A friend of the Tams said that they and Choi's mother are caring for all four of her children, and that she had told them to avoid all news media and delete news apps from their phones so they could grieve in peace.
The Morning Post also reported that phones will be restricted at the elite international school where one of Ms Choi's children is a pupil, with a therapy team on hand to counsel students needing support.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong officials suggested they would be launching a separate investigation into Kwong Kau after the Post revealed that he had bought a government-subsidised apartment, in theory restricted to owners with assets of less than HK$1.85m, despite already owning the HK$73m Kandoorie Hill flat.
In Lung Mei Tsuen, residents were still deciding on 26 February how to respond to the disturbing and unusual events in their village.
“Some have suggested that we organise a Taoist ceremony to calm the spirit of the deceased," one local told The Straits Times. "But another representative said we should respect the family and contact them first."