SINGAPORE: Faced with money issues and a gambling problem, a 41-year-old man wrapped a towel around his pregnant wife's neck and strangled her two years ago, before doing the same to his four-year-old daughter.
Teo Ghim Heng then allegedly tried to kill himself in various ways, failing in all of them. He purportedly placed the bodies side by side and set fire to them, before lying down next to them.
However, he left the flat when he felt the fire was too hot, and allegedly turned on the air-conditioner and sealed the windows to delay the decomposition process.
The charred bodies were found only eight days later, on the first day of Chinese New Year in 2017.
In the eight days before the grisly discovery, Teo slept beside the bodies and surfed the Internet, with suicide searches found in his Internet history. During this time he lied to his family to explain his family's absence at Chinese New Year reunion dinners and visits, and avoided his employer.
Teo, now 43, claimed trial on Tuesday (Jul 2) to two charges of murder, with a third charge involving the unborn six-month-old foetus stood down for the time being.
ACCUSED IN SERIOUS FINANCIAL DEBT
The court heard that Teo and his wife, 39-year-old housewife Choong Pei Shan, were both in their second marriages.
Teo was a long-time property agent, previously working at Savills Residential, SLP Scotia Property Agency, HSR and Propnex Singapore. However, he made a career switch in October 2016, taking up a job as sales coordinator with Carpentry Design Works, as he was not faring well in the trade.
He was in "serious financial debt" of about S$70,000, having borrowed money from his colleagues over the years and racking up credit card debts and overdue kindergarten school fees.
On top of this, he spent several hundred dollars a week on 4D and was being chased for the money he owed. In the period leading up to Chinese New Year, he knew there would be expenses for the festive season.
On the fateful day of Jan 20, 2017, Teo was home with his wife and did not take his child to kindergarten that day as the school had reminded him of the school fees he owed.
Teo began arguing with his wife about the school fees. He had told her two days earlier about his debts and that he could not pay the fees.
Angered by his wife, Teo looped a towel around her neck and strangled her for about 15 minutes. As she was still breathing faintly, he continued the deed with his bare hands until she stopped moving.
After this, he turned to the child, who was in the room with her parents, and killed her in the same way.
SUICIDE ATTEMPTS, LIES AND EXCUSES TO FAMILY, COLLEAGUES
In the days after, Teo claimed he attempted suicide, but failed. He switched off his phone so that he could not be contacted by the people he owed money to, and sent a text message to his daughter's kindergarten teachers to say she was unwell.
To his family and in-laws, Teo gave excuses for not attending Chinese New Year activities, and dodged requests by his wife's family to speak to her.
In the eight days before the bodies were found, Teo claimed that he slept on the same bed as the charred bodies of his wife and daughter, leaving the flat only to buy food and air fresheners.
During the week that followed, his colleagues and brother-in-law visited the Woodlands flat on three occasions and knocked on the door repeatedly to no avail.
READ: Woodlands double deaths – murder suspect taken back to crime scene
VICTIM'S BROTHER GROWS SUSPICIOUS, RETURNS TO FLAT WITH HELP
However, on Jan 28, the first day of Chinese New Year, Madam Choong's brother Gordon Choong visited the flat again.
He found the door and metal gate locked, and the windows closed. He called his sister's name but received no response.
After comparing the lies Teo had told various family members, Mr Choong grew suspicious as he had not heard from his sister for some time.
Mr Choong returned to the flat that evening with his brother-in-law, Mr Chris Lam Kwek Fah, and again knocked on the doors and windows and rang the doorbell, shouting the victims' names.
Mr Choong then forced open one of the windows and noticed a pungent odour, which smelled like a gas leak. He called the police, saying: "There is no respond (sic) from my sister and I can smell gas coming out from the unit."
Officers responded to the call and requested help from the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Just as the firefighters were about to force their way into the flat, Teo opened the door, surprising the police officers as they had been knocking for some time with no response.
Mr Choong demanded to know where his sister was, and Teo lied that she had gone out. The deceased's brother continued shouting at Teo to account for his lies, while the firefighters asked Teo to unlock the gate.
He refused to do so at first, complying only when told that the firefighters would break open the gate if they needed to.
While firefighters were entering the flat, Mr Choong shouted angrily at Teo, asking him where his sister was. Teo then walked very close to his brother-in-law and told him in "a calm and soft voice" that his sister was dead, court documents said.
TEO TRIED TO DASH PAST BROTHER-IN-LAW
Mr Choong shouted at Teo in disbelief, and Teo dashed past him towards the lift lobby, but his brother-in-law grabbed his shirt as he tried to flee.
Police officers and firefighters pinned both men down along the common corridor, just as firefighters from inside the flat said they found a charred body lying on the bed in the master bedroom.
When a police officer asked Teo what had happened, Teo replied in Mandarin: "It was my fault."
He added that he had poured thinner and set his wife and child ablaze as they slept earlier that day, and the officers realised there was a second body. They found the body of the child, with the feet completely burnt, and arrested Teo for murder.
While waiting for officers from the Criminal Investigation Department's Special Investigation Section, Teo lied to the police that he had made a suicide pact with his wife a few weeks before and setting his family on fire was part of this pact.
He later allegedly admitted in statements to the police that he had killed his wife and child by strangling them.
VICTIMS DIED FROM STRANGULATION, SMOTHERING
Autopsies conducted on Mdm Choong and her daughter found bruises on their necks. A forensic pathologist certified Mdm Choong's cause of death as strangulation, with burns to the body inflicted post-mortem.
The cause of death of the foetus, who was a little more than six months in gestational age, was the death of its mother.
The four-year-old child had died due to smothering, with injuries to her lower face and neck indicative of blunt force sufficient to cause death.
A fire investigation report found that the flames originated from the bed in the master bedroom, ruling out fires of electrical origin or from embers from smouldering materials.
A laptop seized from the flat revealed suicide-related searches and website visits, including searches for "commit suicide", "suicide preparation checklist" and "how to cut wrist to commit suicide".
The prosecution will call about 60 witnesses over the course of the trial, which is set to run for the rest of this week and into next week.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Han Ming Kuang, Dillon Kok and Ng Jun Chong said they plan to call a consultant from the Institute of Mental Health who will testify that Teo was examined while remanded and found to have no mental disorder.
However, lead defence lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam told the court that a report from Changi General Hospital, where Teo was warded a day after his arrest, states that the hospital's psychiatric team said Teo had depression with homicidal intent and persistent suicidal intent.
The defence is likely to rely on general exceptions to murder - that there was grave and sudden provocation, a sudden fight or diminished responsibility.
If found guilty of murder, Teo faces the death penalty.