SINGAPORE: Teo Ghim Heng, who strangled his pregnant wife and their four-year-old daughter to death two years ago, had gone close to his brother-in-law's face and told him: "Your sister is dead."
Teo's brother-in-law, Mr Gordon Choong Mun Chen, related this to the court on Tuesday (Jul 2) as he described the sequence of events that led to the discovery of his sister's burnt body.
Teo, 43, is contesting two charges of murder. He is accused of killing his 39-year-old wife, Madam Choong Pei Shan, by strangling her on Jan 20, 2017, before murdering their child in the same way.
A third charge concerning the death of the male foetus - then a little more than six months in gestational age - has been stood down for the time being.
Mr Choong had gone to look for his sister after she did not turn up for their usual Chinese New Year festivities and did not respond to phone calls and messages.
There was no response when he rang the doorbell at his sister's Woodlands flat and shouted for her.
When Teo finally opened the door to a group of police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers, he appeared "shocked", said Mr Choong.
During the commotion, Mr Choong said Teo came up close to his face and told him that his sister was dead.
READ: Woodlands double deaths: Man strangled pregnant wife with towel before killing 4-year-old daughter
DECEASED DID NOT TURN UP FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR FESTIVITIES
Dressed in black, Mr Choong told the court that his younger sister did not turn up for the annual family tradition of visiting a temple on the first day of Chinese New Year.
On the morning of Jan 28, 2017, Mr Choong tried to contact his sister and was told by Teo that she was taking a shower.
He asked Teo to let his wife know and to ask her to return his call, but he received no response, he told the court.
When his parents told him that his sister had not called them either, Mr Choong went to her flat and knocked on the windows while calling out to her, but to no avail.
He then asked the neighbours if they had seen his sister and her daughter, but they said they had not, so he returned home.
Later that day, Mr Choong's mother called him to say Teo had called her. Teo said he had "a big fight" with his wife, and that she had driven him out of the house.
Teo purportedly told Mr Choong's mother that the four-year-old girl was at his sister's place. Mr Choong told the court that this was not possible because his sister was very close to her daughter.
"I (told) my mom, 'okay, this thing is not normal, it shouldn't be like this'," said Mr Choong. "My dad called me, he asked me how (I felt) about this whole event. I told my dad this doesn't sound right."
His sister had not attended the reunion dinner, and the family was told that she had stomach cramps and was taken to hospital and then back home. When the family tried to contact her, she did not respond, or the phone line was cut off.
"My dad told me he was very worried, because my sis was pregnant," he said.
He told his dad he would make another trip down to his sister's home to check on her. He headed down to her home with another brother-in-law and found the place to be the same as it was before.
They knocked on the windows and shouted for Mdm Choong and her child, but there was no response.
SMELL CAME FROM FLAT
Mr Choong then pried open one of the window panels on the left side of the door to look inside the unit. He caught a whiff of something he said he could not recognise, but added that the smell stung his nose.
His brother-in-law advised him to call the police. When officers arrived, Mr Choong asked them to check on the smell.
They were told to switch their mobile phones off in case the smell was of gas. After telling the police officers the name of his sister, the group started calling out Mdm Choong's name.
"Suddenly the door opened," said Mr Choong, who was emotional as he spoke, while Teo sat bent over in the dock, not looking up. "The husband was standing behind the gate, so I asked the husband - 'where is my sister?'"
He continued to question Teo, who insisted his wife had gone out. Mr Choong told the court Teo should not have been in the house at the time because he had previously told Mr Choong's mother that he had been chased out by his wife.
He shouted at Teo again, while police and SCDF officers asked him to open the gate. They warned they would cut the lock open if he did not do so.
When Teo opened the gate, Mr Choong shouted at him again. "Where is my sister? Tell me!" he said.
"He came straight, very close to my face, (and) told me 'your sister is dead' and he dashed off."
Teo ran towards the lift lobby, but Mr Choong managed to grab him, and police officers pinned them down.
The acrid smell they had detected came from the master bedroom, where the charred bodies of Mdm Choong and the child were found on a burnt mattress. Their bodies had been laid there for eight days after Teo allegedly strangled the pair on Jan 20, 2017, following a dispute with his wife over finances.
VICTIM HAD LOOKED FORWARD TO BIRTH OF CHILD
Mr Choong said the family was close, and that his sister would always ensure during their monthly family dinners that there were no prawn dishes as Teo was allergic to prawns.
The couple appeared "normal" in the period leading up to the incident, Mr Choong said, and his sister had not confided in him about any problems. He explained that she had always kept to herself and that she had been that way since she was a child.
There was nothing unusual about his sister's behaviour, said Mr Choong.
"She appeared to look forward to the (birth)," he said. "After dinner, sometimes, we would walk around at the shopping mall and she would say, 'next time I need to get this kind of clothing, that kind of clothing'. She would keep talking about it, about the baby that was coming."
Mr Choong had worked briefly with his brother-in-law, the accused, as a property agent. Teo had also handled the sale of Mr Choong's flat, which turned over a profit of S$200,000.
After this, Teo had asked him if he could borrow S$100,000, which Teo claimed was for his own brother's debts, but Mr Choong did not hand over the money.
BODY-WORN CAMERA FOOTAGE PLAYED IN COURT
Earlier on Tuesday, the first responding police officer, Staff Sergeant Nur Farhana Mohamad Nasir, had taken the stand and told the court what she saw that day.
Footage from body-worn police cameras was played in court, depicting the commotion as Teo tried to dash off, and when both Mr Choong and Teo were pinned to the ground by officers.
A charred mass was shown on the bed in the flat, along with another mass on its left.
Teo told SSG Nur Farhana that he had a suicide pact with his wife, as they owed S$70,000 in debts.
Sitting along the corridor, held down by officers and dressed in a shirt and shorts, he told the officers that he had poured thinner on his wife and daughter while they slept and set them on fire.
He was supposed to die along with them in the fire, but backed out at the last minute, the court heard. Instead, he took 100 Panadol pills and lied to his father-in-law to buy time as he wanted to jump down from the flat.
In the footage, Teo could be heard muttering in Mandarin: "I (am) supposed to die also. I ate 100 Panadol. It's not that I don't want to die, it's that I wouldn't die."
The trial continues on Wednesday, with Mr Choong on the stand. If found guilty of murder, Teo faces the death penalty.