SINGAPORE: It is a nondescript unit in a nondescript block of flats in Woodlands.
At the void deck, bicycles are parked neatly in the designated parking area, sharing space with the laundry racks residents have placed there. Shouts of excitement come from a nearby court, where teenagers are enjoying an informal game of football.
There is no indication that more than two years ago, this was the place where a 26-year-old intellectually disabled woman was abused – physically and mentally – by people she regarded as her family. Waitress Annie Ee Yu Lian was found dead in her bed on Apr 13, 2015. She had 12 fractured ribs, seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and a body crowded with blisters and bruises.
Ms Ee's longtime friend, Tan Hui Zhen, and Tan’s husband, Pua Hak Chuan, pleaded guilty on Monday (Nov 27) to four and three charges, respectively, of abusing her over eight months. Tan was sentenced on Friday to 16-and-a-half years' jail, while Pua received a sentence of 14 years' jail and 14 strokes of the cane.
Besides slapping and punching her with their bare hands, the couple’s weapons included a pair of bedroom slippers, a red plastic belt, a bamboo stick, a plastic dustbin and a large, heavy roll of shrink wrap. Ms Ee was also forced to hand over her entire paycheck of S$1,200 to Tan, who gave her a weekly allowance of S$50, which she later reduced to S$30.
One resident, who wished to be known only as Mr Lee, remembers them all, and not without a tinge of regret.
“I knew Annie, but she didn’t talk much to us,” he said. “She talked to my wife a few times, and sometimes, they used to meet and go to work together.
“I also knew the couple, but they kept to themselves,” he added. “If they passed by our flat and saw us, they would greet us. But the girl (Annie) never did.”
Mr Lee also spoke of times when he had seen Ms Ee with visible injuries on her face and body. “Sometimes, she had swollen eyes, or a swollen face,” he said. “I saw the bruises, and suspected it was because of the couple, but I didn’t want to ask too much about it.
“Because the couple ... they had so many tattoos and were like gangsters,” he added. “But we had no evidence, and even their direct neighbour did not notice anything wrong.”
Sounds of the abuse may not have been evident to neighbours, as according to court documents, Ms Ee did not scream or shout during the assaults, but would instead control or muffle her pain. When she could not control her pain and shouted, she would be scolded by Tan.
But when asked if he regretted not speaking up or probing further on the basis of his suspicions, Mr Lee nodded sombrely.
“I’m quite sad now that I know all this happened to her,” he said. “She was just a young girl.
“And if I had approached her then and asked about it, maybe we could have done something to help.”
NEW TENANT SAYS IT DOES NOT BOTHER HER
Today, the corridor unit where the abuse took place is brightly lit and filled with the sounds of young children. There is no sign that beatings and assaults once took place here on an almost daily basis.
It is now home to a new tenant – who wished to be known only as Madam Lakshmi – and her young children. Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, she said she moved into the four-room flat slightly over a month ago.
“When we rented the house, we were informed that the owners of this place are in jail,” she said. “We just know that an incident happened here, and saw it online.”
When asked if it bothered her knowing that Ms Ee had died in the house, she shook her head, smiling. “It happened a long time ago,” she said.
Indeed, it appears that while most neighbours approached by Channel NewsAsia generally knew what had happened, the overwhelming sense was that they have taken it in their stride.
“It was significant to us back then because it happened here, but I think after a while, the memories have faded,” said Ms Hazira, who lives in a ground-floor unit. “And the case was handled professionally, so I don’t really think it matters to us anymore.”
Another resident, Mr Abu Bakar, who lives in a unit a floor above, says he remembers seeing the police cars and CID officers at the foot of his block the day Ms Ee was found.
“I know which unit it was, and that it was two years back, but I can’t recall much anymore,” he said. “Anyway, I’ve lived here so long, and it’s okay. I know nothing about what happened, and I don’t really want to know.”