In early 1981, barely six months after I arrived in Singapore to work, two murders happened one after the other and both victims were children. I was a copyeditor at The Straits Times, and worked on some of the stories that everyone in Singapore was talking about at the time. Parents grabbed hold of their kids tighter, warning them not to talk to strangers. As the facts of the case emerged, people were shocked by all that was revealed about Adrian Lim, who transformed himself from a cable radio station wireman and bill collector into a spirit medium who set up a temple in his Housing Board flat and attracted a stream of clients who paid with cash, valuables and sex to have their fortunes told and their various ailments cured. He was an extraordinary con man, and the case proved sensational in several ways. One victim, Catherine Tan Mui Choo, became his wife. Another, Hoe Kah Hong, became his mistress. All three were hanged in 1988 for the murders. I wrote the book Unholy Trinity, which sold 30,000 copies between 1989 and 1995 and helped raise funds for the Samaritans of Singapore, the suicide helpline. A 2016 edition is out this month, and this time the royalties will go to Pave, the lead specialist agency dealing with family violence. This is the foreword to the new edition.
Thirty-five years have passed since two children were found dead within a fortnight in Singapore’s Toa Payoh housing estate in early 1981. Agnes Ng Siew Heok was just nine years old, Ghazali Marzuki was ten. Their killers were arrested the day Ghazali’s body was found, though nobody could imagine that day what police investigators were about to discover. Singapore has had some sensational murder cases but none has come close in terms of the bizarre revelations that emerged through the course of investigations into the so-called “ritual killings” and the trial of Adrian Lim, his wife Catherine Tan Mui Choo and mistress Hoe Kah Hong. Adrian Lim will be hard to beat as Singapore’s most cruel, perverse charlatan and heartless killer. The case shone a light on a surprising reality of Singapore – that you do not have to scratch deep beneath the shiny surface of this clean, modern city state to discover age-old superstitions alive and thriving.
When Adrian Lim decided to pursue his interest in the occult and learn the practices of spirit mediums and traditional witchdoctors called bomohs, he landed in a goldmine that paid off handsomely. He found no shortage of desperate, naive and gullible people ready to place their faith in a self-styled guru chanting before an altar in his living room and ringing a bell. He called them his “devotees”, and they parted with more than their money, jewellery and other valuables when they turned to him for help. He persuaded numerous teenage girls and young women that they would find everlasting happiness, good health, perpetual beauty and power over the men in their lives if they took off their clothes and had sex with him.
Tan Mui Choo and Hoe Kah Hong were only two of those he tricked. The others included underaged students, bar waitresses and housewives, as well as well-off women complaining of headaches or insomnia, or wanting help to deal with sickness, unhappiness, wavering boyfriends and unfaithful husbands. If he lusted after a physically attractive young woman, he recommended repeat treatments of his altar rituals and regular sex with him. Some became his “holy wives” who stayed at his flat for extended periods; one “holy wife” became a prostitute at his urging and gave him thousands of dollars of her earnings.
Many of Adrian Lim’s antics would be laughable if not for his extreme cruelty towards so many of his victims. Under the cover of being in a so-called trance, he acted out his depravity and subjected the women in his life to harsh physical abuse – beating, slapping and kicking them, pulling their hair and hitting their heads against the wall. Many were tortured with primitive and painful electric shock treatments he devised himself. During one such session, Benson Loh Ngak Hua, a young man married to Hoe Kah Hong, was electrocuted.
Adrian Lim’s clients were persuaded of his powers when they saw him going into a trance before an array of statues and pictures of gods at his altar, professing devotion to a Thai sex god, an Indonesian Old Master and the Hindu goddess Kali. To convince a potential victim of his supernatural powers, he relied on a trick that never failed to leave people astonished and in awe of his abilities. Before a client’s arrival he would insert blackened needles into an egg carefully. Then, during the ritual before his altar, he would chant and rub the egg over the person’s body before breaking it open to reveal the needles. Everyone he duped this way was horrified by the sight, and he would claim dramatically that the needles were the evil he had removed magically from their bodies.
Adrian Lim’s worst crimes of all were the senseless child killings that led to his arrest and that of Tan Mui Choo and Hoe Kah Hong. The unprecedented mix of murder, perverse sex, the occult and outright trickery proved unique in sparking widespread public interest in this case through most of the 1980s – from the day the unholy trinity were arrested in 1981, through their trial and the appeals of the two women, until the morning all three were hanged at Changi Prison in November 1988. Their court appearances drew hundreds of curious people who swarmed the surroundings of the Subordinate Court Complex and the Supreme Court building and waited for hours just for a glimpse of the three murderers.
This book gives a straightforward account of events following the arrest of Adrian Lim, Tan Mui Choo and Hoe Kah Hong. I relied mainly on the evidence produced at the High Court trial in 1983, including the long statements given to the police by the trio. I am grateful to the Registrar of the Supreme Court for providing access to the voluminous court records of the trial. Additional details are from the extensive newspaper reports of the two murders and the trial, especially in The Straits Times. The courtroom revelations needed little embellishment, because Adrian Lim, Tan Mui Choo and Hoe Kah Hong described all that happened in such graphic detail.
The Toa Payoh “ritual killings” of 1981 provided a larger- than-life warning to those too ready to seek supernatural shortcuts to dealing with the unhappy side of life. This book sounds a warning to those who despair over sickness, misery or relationships that sour and are prepared to seek a quick-fix solution from so-called miracle men claiming supernatural powers and rituals or potions that work. Adrian Lim was not the first self-styled healer to get into trouble with the law – and he was not the last. These days, Internet users go online to find help of exactly the sort Adrian Lim offered, and it appears readily available on websites that come complete with testimonials from satisfied customers. Sadly, some things never change.
Cruelty behind closed doors
Domestic violence is a theme that runs through the case of killer Adrian Lim. Behind closed doors, he was most cruel to the people closest to him. His wife and mistress were beaten repeatedly and tortured, and he exercised such total control over them that he made his wife become a prostitute and nightclub stripper, and got his mistress to bring him the child victims they murdered.
Too often, the perpetrators of domestic violence go unchecked because family members, neighbours and even some in positions of authority believe that when a man beats his wife or girlfriend, it is a private matter. I have been associated for some years now with Pave, Singapore’s lead agency working with domestic violence and trying to change attitudes by spreading the message that violence has no place in any relationship, before or after marriage. Pave helps women and children who are victims or witnesses to domestic violence, and counsels men who are perpetrators of that violence. All the author’s royalties from the 2016 edition of Unholy Trinity will go to Pave.
To learn more about Pave and the work it does, please visit http://www.pave.org.sg