SINGAPORE — Heavily mired in debt, a sales coordinator strangled his heavily pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter in the master bedroom of their Woodlands flat in January 2017, a court heard.
Teo Ghim Heng, 43, then spent a week sleeping beside their bodies.
On Chinese New Year, he tried to commit suicide by dousing a blanket in paint thinner and setting it on fire while laying in bed. However, he fled the flat after feeling the heat of the blaze.
The charred bodies of his pregnant wife and daughter were found by the authorities later that day, after Teo’s brother-in-law called the cops when he felt something was amiss.
At the High Court on Tuesday (2 July), Teo went on trial for the murders of his wife and daughter. Both charges of murder with intention carry the mandatory death penalty. He also faces a third charge of killing an unborn child – a six-month-old male foetus.
Gambling debts, marital woes
Teo married Choong Pei Shan, who was two years younger than him, in 2009. It was both parties’ second marriage.
He had been a successful property agent with various companies for a decade. However, from 2015, he experienced a decline in income due to the weakening property market and marital problems.
Teo was an avid gambler who spent several hundred dollars a week on 4D while Choong was a homemaker. By the end of 2016, he had amassed over $120,000 in debts and his flat was listed for sale. Throughout this period, he kept his wife in the dark about his financial woes.
To get a consistent source of income, Teo started working as a sales coordinator with Carpentry Design Works in November 2016. He also worked part-time as a property agent.
“The accused felt that Pei Shan should have contributed to the household income by working. He also never fully forgave her for an affair she had a few years back, and strongly suspected that the child was not his biological daughter,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Han Ming Kuang in the prosecution’s opening address.
Strangled with a towel
On 18 January 2017, the couple quarrelled over money after Teo told Choong that he had $70,000 in debts and could not pay for their child’s kindergarten fees. Their daughter would have turned five that year.
Two days later, on the morning of 20 January, the couple had another argument about the school fees. Teo decided then not to take his daughter to kindergarten as the school had already reminded him about the overdue fees.
Angered by their quarrel, Teo took a towel from the bathroom, looped it around Choong’s neck and pulled both ends to strangle her for about 15 minutes. When he found Choong was still breathing faintly, he proceeded to strangle her with his bare hands instead, killing her.
Throughout the murder, their daughter was playing with her toys and watching television in the master bedroom.
Teo then went over to his child and asked her to sit between his legs with her back facing him. He then looped the same towel around her neck and strangled her for about 10 to 15 minutes till her body went limp. As she was still breathing, he then strangled her with his bare hands till she died.
He later placed both bodies beside each other on the bed and turned on the air-conditioner.
Teo then slept next to the bodies for days, leaving the flat only to buy food and air fresheners. He also spent his time watching videos online, surfing the Internet and sleeping.
Failed suicide attempts
Teo claimed that he tried multiple times to kill himself immediately after the murders, as well over the next few days. A forensic examination of his laptop found suicide-related searches.
He said he cut his wrists several times and consumed Panadol. He also contemplated jumping from his flat but did not dare to follow through.
Teo also claimed that he swallowed pesticide but only got diarrhoea; he had also gone to drown himself in the sea off Sembawang Park but backed out as there were too many people around at the time.
Lied to colleagues, families
On 23 January, three of Teo’s colleagues knocked on the door of his flat but he did not respond.
He also lied to his family members and in-laws to explain his family’s absence from Chinese New Year reunion dinners and Chinese New Year visits.
On 27 January, the eve of Chinese New Year, Teo lied to both his and Choong’s family, saying that Choong had stomach pain and was going to visit the hospital. Pretending to be his wife, he used her mobile phone to message her family members as well as their child’s teachers.
The next day, Choong’s brother, Gordon, visited the flat but got no response. Teo later called his mother and mother-in-law to say that he had not visited them as Choong had kicked him out of the flat. He also told them that he would visit them the next day.
But Gordon became suspicious and, together with his brother-in-law Chris Lam Kwek Fah, went back to the Woodlands flat.
Again, there was no response. Gordon then forced open a small gap in a window and caught a whiff of a pungent odour resembling a gas leak. He then called the police.
Officers who arrived at the scene smelled the same odour and called for firemen to break down the door. But just as they were about to do so, Teo opened the door.
When Gordon asked him where Choong was, Teo told him in a calm and soft voice that she was dead. Teo then tied to run towards the lift lobby but Gordon grabbed hold of his shirt.
At about the same time, firemen told policemen that they had found a charred body on the bed in the master bedroom, which was covered in soot. When a police officer asked Teo what happened, the latter replied in Chinese, “It was my fault.”
He also admitted to setting fire to the corpses of his wife and child. Another police officer then confirmed that there was a second body on the bed and Teo was placed under arrest for murder.
Claimed he made suicide pact
Teo also lied to the police that he had made a suicide pact with his wife a few weeks earlier, and had set his wife and child on fire while they slept in the morning.
He also showed an investigator a handwritten note, saying it was written by Choong to her father. And he showed another three handwritten notes – claiming that they were written by Choong and himself – expressing the couple’s intention to commit suicide.
The notes, however, were all in Teo’s handwriting.
He later also told a police investigator that he had entered into a suicide pact with his wife and that she had killed their child before he killed her. Teo claimed he was supposed to kill himself after that.
He eventually admitted to investigators that he had strangled his wife and child.
A forensic pathologist found Choong and her daughter’s deaths to have arisen from strangulation and smothering, respectively. Meanwhile, their unborn child’s death was due to the death of its mother.
A government psychiatrist found that Teo did not have any mental disorder. While Teo has admitted to the killings, he will be claiming diminished responsibility for his actions.
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