Gardens by the Bay murder: Victim's body might have been burned as if it was cremated, says expert witness

Gardens by the Bay murder: Married man burnt lover’s body over 3 days after strangling her
Gardens by the Bay murder: Married man burnt lover’s body over 3 days after strangling her

The body of the woman who was allegedly strangled by her married lover at Gardens by the Bay was burned to the extent that it was similar to a cremation process, according to a prosecution witness who testified on Wednesday (13 March).

The alleged burning of the body of 31-year-old senior engineer Cui Yajie over three days at Lim Chu Kang Lane 8 was so thorough that only some fabric, strands of hair and a brassiere hook were left behind.

Her killer, Leslie Khoo Kwee Hock, 50, is contesting the charge of strangling Cui on 14 July 2016. Khoo is said to have committed the offence of murder after his lover threatened to expose his past affairs and lies about his employment background. He purportedly proceeded to burn Cui’s body using charcoal and kerosene.

On the second day of the trial, a Health Sciences Authority forensic pathologist, Dr Lee Chin Thye, told the High Court that it was possible that no human remains were found at the scene if a combination of charcoal and kerosene were to burn at a very high temperature such that it could cremate a body.

Dr Lee said that a typical cremation occurring at about 800 degrees celsius in an enclosed space would be completed between an hour and a half and two hours.

The prosecution witness was called to the scene on 20 July 2016.

“I was told to look for any signs of human remains on just inspection but there were none that I could see,” said the pathologist, who only found some hair and debris. He came across three piles comprising mainly twigs, small branches with leaves, and pieces of charcoal.

Given that Khoo had taken three days to burn the body, the pathologist added that there was “sufficient time for cremation to occur”, depending on the environment.

Khoo denied affair with Cui

Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist Kenneth Koh testified on the interview that he conducted with Khoo in August 2016.

Khoo, who is married with a son, denied having an affair with Cui during the interview. He told Dr Koh that he met Cui after she had caused a “commotion” outside his neighbour’s unit.

After befriending Cui, Khoo claimed that he would buy her presents, birthday cakes and flowers. He also said that he went on a fishing trip with Cui, after the woman “pestered” him to go, according to the witness.

“I then asked directly if he had been having affair, and he said that she wasn’t his type and they weren’t having an extramarital relationship,” said Dr Koh.

When asked about the day of the alleged murder, Khoo described Cui, who was in the passenger’s seat, as “agitated”. Cui kept cursing and threatening him with the Mandarin words “si lu si lu“, which meant “end of the road”.

“I sympathised with her too much, that was my mistake,” Khoo told Dr Koh.

Khoo claimed that he was unable to control himself in the ensuing struggle. After Cui hit him on the right forearm, Khoo grabbed her by the neck and pushed her away from him, he added.

“I had already told her before she can open her mouth but she cannot use physical force,” Khoo recounted.

After Cui did not show any movement, Khoo “hit her chest” and claimed that he did not dare to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her, according to the psychiatrist.

Khoo may have mental disorder: lawyer

During the trial on Wednesday, Dr Koh also gave evidence on whether the accused was suffering from a psychiatric disorder at the time of the offence.

Khoo’s lawyer, Mervyn Cheong, had submitted a report by a psychiatrist who had diagnosed Khoo with intermittent explosive disorder (IED). A person who has IED would behave in an impulsive and violent manner or display anger through verbal outbursts in which the reaction is very disproportionate for a given situation.

Dr Koh testified that Khoo did not fulfil the criteria of suffering from IED. According to Khoo’s wife, the accused might have been showing signs of IED some time in 2002, when the couple were married and facing marital problems.

Khoo’s aggressive behaviour had spurred his wife to take out a personal protection order against him.

Thereafter, his violent outbursts were reduced to one to two times a month, she told Dr Koh during an interview earlier this year. She also asked him if Khoo were diagnosed to have IED, it would help him in his court case.

A day after the interview, however, the wife emailed Dr Koh to say Khoo’s outbursts were frequent and that she and her son were afraid of him.

On a number of occasions, her husband would rush home in anger after receiving her texts. He would use violence on her, such as pulling her legs and pushing her body while she was on the bed, and verbally abused her, the wife said in the email.

Cui’s 63-year-old parents had flown to Singapore from China to attend the trial. The victim’s mother, Liu Ruiping, testified on Wednesday that she had transferred 100,000 Chinese renminbi (S$20,200) to Cui as her daughter wanted the money for investments in Singapore.

The trial will resume on Thursday.

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Gardens by the Bay murder: Married man burnt lover’s body over 3 days after strangling her