SINGAPORE — Teo Ghim Heng was a devoted family man who would leave work at 4.30pm each day to fetch his child from school and have dinner with his family, before returning to work.
While Teo’s family appeared “loving” and close-knit in front of relatives, his colleagues knew that he was heavily mired in debt. This was the picture of the 43-year-old that emerged as various witnesses took the stand at the High Court on Wednesday (3 July).
Teo is currently on trial for murdering his pregnant wife and child in the family’s Woodlands flat on 20 January 2017. After strangling both victims, he spent a week sleeping next to their bodies while repeatedly making failed attempts to commit suicide.
On Tuesday, the court heard that Teo had not forgiven his wife Choong Pei Shan for having an affair a few years before she died and also suspected that their daughter was not his biological child. It was also revealed that Teo had a penchant for gambling.
‘Loving’ family, devoted father
Teo’s younger brother, Nam Thia, and mother, Cheong Goik Keow, told the court on Wednesday that Teo was not one to confide in them about his personal problems.
Both had also been unaware of any cracks in Teo’s marriage, or if he was facing any financial difficulties.
Cheong last saw Teo and his family on 8 January 2017, when they had dinner together. The couple “appeared loving” and there did not seem to be anything amiss, she said.
Nam Thia said that back when Teo was a property agent, he had once borrowed about $300 or $400, saying that he was late in getting his commission. Teo returned the money a week later.
Meanwhile, Teo’s former boss Husniyati Omar told the court that Teo earned $1,500 a month in basic pay, excluding commissions and transport allowance, and began working for her interior design and renovation company in November 2016.
Husniyati is currently serving a jail term for cheating and criminal breach of trust and was brought from prison to testify at the trial.
She said she found Teo to be smart and a fast learner. She also received feedback from clients that he was soft spoken and hardworking.
Speaking as a mother of seven, Husniyati said Teo loved his wife and daughter. He would leave work at 4.30pm to get dinner for his wife and daughter, before returning to work from 6pm until about 9pm or 10pm.
At a party to celebrate Husniyati’s birthday on 25 December 2016, she also saw him running after his daughter to feed her. She also recalled seeing Teo carrying his daughter in one arm and holding on to Choong’s hand with his other hand.
Boss aware of accused’s financial woes
Husniyati said she knew that Teo was having financial difficulties and was an avid gambler. He had asked her for advance payments of his salary and also sought a loan from her.
She said she had given him the money but advised him to stop gambling.
Three other former colleagues also testified that Teo was an avid gambler who would lose as much as $2,000 at mahjong and would spend hundreds of dollars each week on 4D.
Faizahhanim Ahmad, the former principal of the kindergarten that Teo’s daughter attended, told the court that Teo and Choong would send their child to school together and fetch her each day – except for 19 January 2017, when only Teo fetched the child.
Faizahhanim said Teo paid $850 monthly for his daughter’s school fees at Little Tree House in Sembawang Road. Teo had been prompt in making payments until mid-2016, when he started being late or defaulting on them.
The principal would then send text messages to Teo reminding him to pay up.
On one occasion in January 2017, Faizahhanim said she went up to Teo and Choong at the school to remind them that they were two months overdue with their school fees. Later, Teo sent her a text message stating, “pls do not talk abt school fee in front of my wife. Don’t want her to know as she is pregnant and emotional now (sic)”.
‘Look at how useless your father is’
Earlier on Wednesday, the court also heard details about Teo’s interaction with Choong on the morning of her murder.
In a statement that Teo gave to a police investigator, he said that the couple had argued for about 10 to 15 minutes.
When Choong saw that their daughter had changed out of her school uniform, she asked Teo in Mandarin, “Why is she not going to school?”
“I don’t have money to pay her school fees. If she goes to school, she might be asked to leave, which will be very embarrassing,” replied Teo.
According to Teo, Choong then said, “Other families can take care of three kids, you can’t even provide for a family with one child, you are so useless.”
Teo added, “My mind tuned out her nagging at this point and it started to draw a blank. I cannot remember what else she said that day but I can remember thinking that she was being very sarcastic and hurtful with her words.
“As she nagged, I remember the anger building up inside me slowly. The last thing I recall her saying in Mandarin was, ‘(Daughter), look at how useless your father is’.”
The trial continues on Thursday.
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