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Open verdict declared in death of missing woman whose remains were later found in forest

Open verdict declared in death of missing woman whose remains were later found in forest

File photo of the State Courts in Singapore. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

SINGAPORE: An open verdict was declared on Monday (May 6) in the death of a middle-aged woman whose remains were found in a forested area in Upper Bukit Timah Road last March - one year after she went missing. 

The State Coroner said the death of Madam Tan Guek Beng, who was in her 40s to 50s and suffered from schizophrenia as well as other conditions, was "unascertained". 

She was discovered missing by a pastoral counsellor from her church on Jan 17, 2017, after the counsellor visited her home to give her some financial aid cheques, only to find her gate and main door unlocked. 

She left the cheques on the floor and closed the door, returning the next day with a colleague. When they could not find Mdm Tan, the counsellor lodged a missing persons report. 

Mdm Tan's whereabouts remained unknown for more than a year until the night of Mar 4, 2018, when a man found her remains in a forested area off Bukit Batok Nature Park, along Upper Bukit Timah Road.

They were discovered about 40m from the main road, the court heard, along with some clothes.

CLOTHES, DNA MATCHED MDM TAN'S

Police searched her home later and found several shirts matching the one on the body. A forensic pathologist found that the bones belonged to a middle-aged woman in her 40s to late 50s, certifying her cause of death as unascertained.

He observed no injuries to the body or any remnant organs or overt disease to suggest a cause of death. He also found that the remains were not ancient and estimated the time of death to be some months before the autopsy.

Mdm Tan's DNA profile extracted from her toothbrush matched the ones drawn from the teeth of the remains in the forested area.

Further examinations found that Mdm Tan had last made phone calls in December 2016, withdrawn S$300 from her bank account on Jan 14, 2017, and written in her diary on Dec 24, 2016, with the last date struck off on her calendar being Jan 10, 2017.

Mdm Tan suffered from several conditions including schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, cataracts, as well as persecutory and somatic delusions. 

She had visited a few institutions for treatment including the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Singapore General Hospital and Singapore National Eye Centre.

During the inquiry, Mdm Tan's sister said she was not close to Mdm Tan and would meet only once every two years as Mdm Tan had been given up for adoption when she was little.

Mdm Tan's sister added that her father and four other siblings had committed suicide as they were depressed, and stated her belief that her family had a history of mental illness.

MDM TAN GOT BY ON FINANCIAL AID

Mdm Tan's nephew told the court that his aunt could not hold down a job as she could not get along with her colleagues and eventually stopped working altogether, relying on savings left behind by her late mother, insurance policy withdrawals and help from her relatives.

The court heard that Mdm Tan received financial aid of S$300 a month after the pastoral counsellor helped her apply for it.

The counsellor told the court that she had known Mdm Tan from 2013 and believed that Mdm Tan suffered from depression as she could not cope with her mother's death, and had previously expressed suicidal thoughts.

Mdm Tan's rehabilitation counsellor said Mdm Tan was unable to do basic household chores and appeared stressed most of the time, and seemed unable to trust anyone.

A neighbour who lived two doors down from Mdm Tan said she lived alone and usually kept to herself, but would occasionally scream or bang her door in the middle of the night.

State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam on Monday said there was no basis to suspect foul play, and that Mdm Tan had been "delusional and irrational" before she went missing, based on witness accounts.

"It was commented by Mdm Tan's psychiatrist that if Mdm Tan had suffered a relapse, she is likely to behave in an illogical and possibly bizarre manner, which may include wandering to unfamiliar places, and not taking sufficient care of herself," said the coroner. 

"In the circumstances, as Mdm Tan's death is unascertained, I am constrained to give an open verdict."

She extended her condolences to Mdm Tan's family.

Where to get help:

Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222

Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444

Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019

Source: CNA/ll(hs)

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