Family tragedy led Singaporean to start Crime Library

Deborah Choo

1996. Manila, Philippines.

A 19-year old Filipino, Manuel Louise Ongpin, is kidnapped.

Here in Singapore, a local ex-policeman keenly monitors the case.

Ongpin is from no ordinary family. His family is well-to-do, and he has family members who served in the government of former Filipino president Marco and later on, Marco’s successor Aquino. Connections were made. The FBI was called to assist.

Yet, 14 days after the ransom was paid, Ongpin’s lifeless body is found with a single shot to the head.
The kidnappers were subsequently nabbed and brought to justice.

But this brings little comfort to his family, and to that one lone ex-cop, Singaporean Joseph Tan.

A former policeman who now runs a recycling business, Ongpin was his cousin – his only aunt’s scion from marrying a Filipino man.

Fast forward 16 years, Tan’s volunteer organization – the Singapore chapter of Crime Library – has become the go-to resource for cases involving missing persons.

Set up in 2000 – four years after his cousin’s untimely death – Tan's aim was to help prevent other family members from facing the same devastation his own family suffered.

While various Crime Library sites are available Europe, US and Asia, the Crime Library in Singapore is set up as a volunteer organization and other than the name, has no connection with the rest of the other sites.

 “The purpose for setting up this portal is not to glorify the criminals but to promote awareness and to prevent crimes. Members are encouraged to share their views, post messages, post crime news, information and experience through the crime portal,” Tan told Yahoo! Singapore over an email interview on Monday.

“Back home, I noticed a lot of crime cases being committed -- rape, murder, molest, robberies, child-molestation, drug abuse and kidnapping,” the now 46-year-old said.

But back then, no one knew of his organization.

His big break came in 2004 when the case of little Huang Na gripped the whole of Singapore.

An 8-year-old Chinese national who disappeared on October 10 that year, the Jin Tai Primary school student was last seen at Pasir Panjang wholesale center where her mother used to work at.

Crime Library’s online appeal attracted hundreds of volunteers and the media.

“I decided to organise the volunteers to give out flyers all over Singapore, JB and even Batam…The break-through came when we received a call from the ex-girlfriend, telling us that Took [a Malaysian vegetable seller that Huang Na made friends with at the wholesale center] had already escaped to Malaysia. He was later captured and Huang Na, though dead, was laid to rest in peace.”

“Helpless victims like Huang Na and their families or families whose loved ones have gone missing or are murdered or killed, they suffer great anguish and anxiety. These are the ones whom we believe truly need our help and support, ” he said.

Since then, Tan’s organisation has grown from strength to strength.

Over the years, Crime Library branched out to include cases which involved tracking down missing biological family members to even human trafficking cases.

“Whatever the help seekers share with us, we always find a way to help them. Because of our enthusiasm and fast action, more people came to us over the years, ” he said.

Registered under the Registry of Societies in November 2004, Crime Library now has over 270 registered volunteers, and has dealt with almost 3,000 cases.

Between 2005 to 2010, the organisation partnered with public transport operator SMRT to place missing persons posters up at every bus station.

At the moment, each time a missing persons case is reported to the organization, volunteers all over Singapore are alerted. Posters are printed and distributed over 40 blocks per volunteer. The goal? Blanket coverage of the entire island if possible.

Despite the amount of (physical and mental) energy and tireless dedication needed to keep Crime Library's services going 24-7, 365 days a year,  Tan has no plans to stop because the reward is beyond what money could ever bring.

“Every reunion – when the missing kin is found or there is news about them and the one given away is reunited with his or her biological family. The joy is priceless. The smile on the family members’ faces tells us that the effort is worth it,” he said.

But not all cases end on a happy note.

When 18-year old polytechnic student Wong Dao Jing was fatally assaulted in Chinatown in 2003, Crime Library appealed for witnesses. The search for the five accomplices took long; the first of the five accomplices surfaced in 2007, the second in 2008. But in 2009, a potential lead came in from a member of the public.

However, before the good news could be delivered to the victim’s mother, Mdm Lee, she had killed herself over grief of the murder of her only son a few months earlier.

In other cases, the missing persons are never found.

In the case of businessman Lin Woei Chyan who went missing in Vietnam in 2007, Tan even flew to Vietnam for a few days to meet with the Singapore Consulate, the police and the local media.
Lin remains missing today.

Nonetheless, his 43-year old Chinese wife Lei Sai Man, a permanent resident from Macau, remains grateful to Crime Library.

Likening its army of volunteers to social workers, she said, “They’ve been so helpful.  I’m very touched.”

 “The police is different in such a way whereby you lodge a police report, and then that’s it. After that, you wait at home for any news. But the Crime Library is different because they’ll really show you results of what they’re doing. They will accompany you to different places to locate your kin – it’s action we can see,” she said.

Words, no doubt, that will warm the heart of its founder, Joseph Tan.