Woodlands killings: Accused only regretted taking 'innocent' daughter's life

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
Teo Ghim Heng (right) is currently on trial for murdering his pregnant wife and child in the family’s Woodlands flat on 20 January 2017. (PHOTO: Eric Teo / Facebook)

SINGAPORE — The man accused of strangling his heavily pregnant wife and their daughter to death told a psychiatrist three days after his arrest that he only regretted taking the life of his “innocent young daughter”.

Teo Ghim Heng, 43, later told another psychiatrist that he killed the four year old in January 2017 to “reunite” his family in death and because he did not want to burden relatives with taking care of the child, the High Court heard on the third day of the trial on Thursday (4 July).

And as the former property agent strangled his daughter after having done so to his wife Choong Pei Shan, who was two years younger than him, Teo told the girl, “Go find your mummy first. Papa will come soon.”

Teo later tried to kill himself multiple times, the court had earlier heard.

‘I owe a lot of money. If you struggle you will suffer’

More details about Teo’s background, financial troubles, and events immediately prior to and after the killings emerged as two doctors testified in court on Thursday.

In Teo’s account of the killings to Institute of Mental Health forensic psychiatrist Derrick Yeo, Teo admitted that he wanted to end the life of his daughter after killing his wife who was more than six months pregnant, and then commit suicide.

As he strangled his wife with a towel, Teo told her in Mandarin, “Shan, you got to let go already, I owe a lot of money. If you struggle, you will suffer. Because I owe outside a lot of money, you will suffer (sic).”

He continued strangling her even after she stopped struggling. After he let go and she slumped onto the bed, he called out to ascertain if she was dead.

But he noticed bubbles at the edge of her mouth and thought she could still be breathing. So he used his hands to constrict her neck and windpipe for another five minutes until he was satisfied that she was dead.

‘Darling, go find mummy already’

Teo then went to the other side of the bed in the master bedroom where his daughter was sitting and watching television. He told her to sit on his lap and reassured her, “Don’t be scared, Papa here”.

Teo similarly strangled the girl with the same towel. As he was doing so, he told her in Mandarin, “Go find your mummy first. Papa will come soon.”

The girl cried softly, and then loudly before making unintelligible sounds as Teo strangled her. After about five minutes, he saw her limbs go limp and bubbles at her mouth. He used his bare hands to strangle her for another five minutes, telling her in Mandarin, “Darling, go find mummy already.”

Dr Yeo, in a 2017 report which was submitted to the court on Thursday, wrote that Teo “reasoned that his parents and parents in-law were all old and he did not think that anyone would be able to care for (his daughter) adequately”.

Teo wanted to kill himself after killing the girl. “He claimed that he had decided at that time ‘the family will be together in death’,” Dr Yeo noted in the report.

Suicide attempts after killings

After killing his wife and child, Teo used a penknife to slash his wrist but did not sever any blood vessels, Dr Yeo noted. He also took 20 Paracetamol or Panadol tablets on the same day of the alleged murders.

Over the next eight days, Teo said he tried to deepen the cut on his wrist while also exploring other ways to end his life. Later, he drank insecticide and also took 100 Paracetamol tablets with two cans of beer, he told Dr Yeo.

Earlier on Thursday, Changi General Hospital’s Dr Melonie Sriranganathan, who was part of the medical team that attended to Teo after his arrest, testified that she had treated him for Panadol overdose. Teo had elevated liver function test readings consistent with such an overdose.

Teo was referred to a psychiatrist at the hospital, Dr Ong Pui Sim, who diagnosed him with “depression with homicidal act and persistent suicidal intent”. But Teo declined antidepressant medication. Dr Ong will be called to the witness stand later in the trial.

However, Dr Yeo told the court that he found Teo not to be suffering from any mental illnesses at the time of the alleged offences. Teo’s actions were “goal oriented” and “premeditated”, Dr Yeo said. And he was cognisant in wanting to end the lives of all in his family.

After the alleged offences, Teo had called his work superior to lie about not being able to work. He also used his wife’s handphone to send messages to relatives to give excuses for not attending family gatherings, noted Dr Yeo.

Teo also left suicide notes, indicating that he was leaving behind two phones with photos and videos of his daughter for his father and father-in-law. In another suicide note, Teo apologised to his parents and parents-in-law for reaching “the end of the road”. And he also asked that the house, car and CPF monies be split equally among both spouses’ parents.

Dr Yeo found, however, that Teo did suffer from another medical condition while in remand called adjustment disorder - but this was only after the deaths of his wife and child. The disorder was caused by the “severe stressors” of killing his wife and child and attempting to end his own life, as well as the possibility of capital punishment. Teo was prescribed antidepressant medication; his mood improved within two weeks.

‘I don’t want people to go after us’

Dr Yeo’s report also contained details of Teo’s account of what transpired immediately prior to the killings. On the morning of 20 January 2017, Teo woke up and saw that Choong had helped change their daughter into her school uniform.

Choong, a homemaker, was smoking in the next door study while the girl was watching television in the master bedroom. Teo deliberately changed the child back into her home clothes. When Choong asked why he had done so, he replied that he had not paid the school fees for the past two months and that their daughter might be chased out of private school.

His wife then mocked and insulted him in front of their child, saying “So useless! I shouldn’t have married (you).” Teo replied, “I really hate you talking about me in front of our daughter. I told you many times not to do that.”

Teo became so angry at Choong for belittling and sneering at him in front of their child that he was convinced he needed to “shut her up”, Dr Yeo noted in his report.

“I wanted her to shut up, to stop nagging me,” Teo recounted. He took a towel, looped it around Choong’s neck, and strangled her for about 10 minutes. But it was only after three minutes into strangling her that he decided he would kill his wife, do the same to their daughter, and then commit suicide to “reunite the family”.

“I decided I wanted to kill the whole family, I don’t want people to go after us,” Teo told Dr Yeo.

The court had earlier heard that Teo had been heavily mired in debt and was an avid gambler. Dr Yeo’s report also detailed Teo’s financial and occupational background. He had amassed over $100,000 in debt to friends, colleagues and a bank.

Teo had been earning about $8,000 to $15,000 a month from 2011 to 2014, but could not manage his finances, including loans on his car and his flat, when his earnings dipped thereafter. In 2015, he earned about $5,000 a month. But the next year, he was earning less than $3,000 a month.

However, he usually spent more than $8,000 a month. He had turned to friends, colleagues and even clients to borrow money and ward off creditors.

After national service, Teo worked at Chinese medicinal chain Hock Hua Tonic, raising up from trainee to manager in eight years. He then worked as a property agent, first at Propnex and later at Savills, where he was a division head and one of the firm’s top performing agents.

The trial continues on Friday with Dr Yeo on the witness stand.

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