In 1995, an escaped British convict named John Martin Scripps became the first Western to be executed in Singapore for murder. He was hanged after confessing to murder of a South African tourist, who Scripps befriended at the airport and murdered in the hotel room the two decided to share. Two days after Scripps left for Thailand, the legs of the South African washed up in a plastic bag next to Singapore's Clifford Pier. His torso and severed thighs washed ashore three days later.

Scripps was arrested with the passport and credit cards of the victim. He also had the passports, travelers checks and a credit card belong to two missing Canadian tourists. Later the body parts of the Canadian tourist were discovered in Phuket, Thailand along with thumbscrews, five sets of handcuffs and a 10,000 volt electric stun device. After being arrested for drug possession in England in 1987, police discovered that Scripps had placed three pounds of heroin in a safe-deposit box in Singapore. Scripps is also believed to have been connected with murders in Cancun, Mexico.

In 2001, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “In recent weeks, Singaporeans had been glued to newspapers to read reports about the murder trial of an ex-army officer and a failed dot-com businessman who recruited a teenager to kill his wife. Anthony Ler was sentenced to death for masterminding, brainwashing and threatening a 15-year-old boy into killing his wife. Like a plot in a TV soap opera, the youth eventually stabbed her at the lobby of her flat. Ler’s company was in bad shape, he needed money desperately and he wanted his wife out of the way so he could sell their flat. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 16, 2001]

In 2002, AFP reported: “A man was killed and two women were wounded in a shooting at a Singaporean university campus, police said, after an apparent domestic dispute. A police statement said the shooting, a rare event in the well-ordered city-state, took place at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, which is on the National University of Singapore campus. Police identified the dead man as a 50-year-old officer of CISCO, Singapore's leading commercial security organisation. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 23, 2002 *]

“The report said the CISCO employee, dressed in blue trousers and a green windbreaker, arrived at the institute at 3:20 pm and police received an emergency call for help about 10 minutes later. "He entered the administration office and approached the work area of his wife and he insisted to speak with her," the statement said. Because he was within a work area, he was advised to speak with his wife in a private room in the administration office, but he refused and walked out. His wife followed him to a pantry located outside the administration office with a female colleague of the wife accompanying them. "A commotion broke out inside the pantry and this was accompanied by sounds of gunfire," the police statement said. *

"Police confirm that the female colleague who had accompanied the two sustained a gunshot wound on her left hand while the wife of the deceased sustained a gunshot wound to her left chest. Deceased sustained a gunshot wound to his head." The two injured were taken to hospital and were in a stable condition. Police would not confirm media speculation that the man's death was a suicide. Police recovered a .38 Smith and Wesson service revolver and investigations were continuing, the statement added. A university researcher told a reporter he had seen the CISCO officer before on campus. Students at the university said the school does not use the services of CISCO. *

Casino’s Blamed for Singapore’s “Epidemic of Corpses”

Thirteen decomposed bodies turned up in the spring and early summer of 2011, including seven in the first week of July. Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “The grisly spate began around mid-April when a decomposed body was found in a luggage bag at the casino resort of Sentosa. A month later, an Indonesian maid’s body was discovered submerged in a rooftop tank that supplies drinking water to nearly 200 residents at Woodlands. Her Bangladeshi boyfriend had been arrested. Police investigators and pathologists – as well as sociologists – are working overtime to probe this epidemic of corpses. Most were believed to be murder or suicide victims. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, July 9, 2011 ==]

“Until a clear picture emerges, people are blaming it on the rapid intake of foreigners, as well as the presence of two casinos, or possibly both. As a result, the second most densely-populated city in the world (next to Monaco) is now also poised to overtake Las Vegas as the second largest gaming destination as well. Families are extremely concerned about the social impact they may bring – including crime, family stress and suicides. ==

“Several of the bodies had been found in surrounding waters or forested areas, a few having died or been killed some time ago. Among the grotesque finds was the lower half of a decomposed female body which was discovered floating in the Bedok Reservoir, a source of drinking water for many Singaporeans. So far, the phenomenon has not really dented Singapore’s reputation as one of the world’s safest cities, with an average of two murders a month. This works out to 0.5 homicide per 100,000 people, a proportion close to Japan’s and slightly ahead of Hong Kong’s. But suicides here are another matter. Despite its prosperity, the republic ranked 43rd in the world in 2009 with 401 cases; that was before the casinos opened their doors. ==

“At least half were non-Singaporeans, a few of them China mainlanders. In the latest case, a decomposed body was found near the National University of Singapore (NUS). Two days earlier, a couple taking a stroll along the Singapore River were shocked to see the corpse of a Chinese woman floating below the Helix Bridge.

The public is showing a mixture of bafflement, anger and worry about these social ills. “Floating bodies are found everywhere every other day,” said a man who wished to be known as Swift Disaster. “Our crime rate used to be among the lowest, with incidents like these (ones) very rare. “Foreign workers (are now) robbing and killing each other and domestic maids, illegal prostitution is on the rise, our void decks are being terrorised, rubbish bins being scattered. “Our children no longer feel safe in the streets of our home. Our aspiration of becoming a First World standard in everything is taking a toll on our lives. “I hope it’s still not too late for us to make changes where needed and bring back the beautiful Singaporean lifestyle. It (might not have been) perfect but it was beautiful.”

Controversy Over Young American’s Death in Singapore

In June 2012 the body of a young US electronics engineer, Shane Todd, was found hanging in his Singapore apartment by his girlfriend. Police said he killed himself. State counsel presented evidence of links to suicide websites on the 31-year-old’s laptop and suicide letters written to family members and loved ones. Todd’s family believes he was murdered. Shane had feared that a project he was working on was compromising US national security. [Source: Associated Press, May 27, 2013 **]

In May 2013, Associated Press reported: Singapore police who examined the scene of an American’s death admitted on the last day of a coroner’s inquest Monday, May 27, that they deviated from official protocols by not dusting for fingerprints or collecting DNA samples, and by examining the contents of a laptop computer there. Todd’s parents, Rick and Mary Todd, told The Associated Press in March that they believehe may have been murdered over his research in the US into material used to make heat-resistant semiconductors, a technology with both civilian and military applications. TheTodds have received assistance in the case from US senators and the FBI. **

“When asked by government lawyers why police had not ordered a further investigation of the apartment, police Sgt Muhammad Khaldun Bin Sarif said he and his partner had made “a preliminary assessment” that pointed to suicide and determined there were “no signs of foul play.” He said the officers decided as a result “not to perform fingerprint dustings or DNA swabs.” Asked why he had deviated from police protocols by assessing a personal laptop at a crime scene, Khaldun said he had found two notes in Todd’s apartment, one of which contained a password which he used to gain access to the laptop nearby. Khaldun explained that the protocol was only “a guideline which can be deviated from.” He said he and his partner made an “operational decision” to assess Todd’s laptop because the note containing the password “was left there for a reason” and would help police in determining whether there was foul play involved. **

“Todd’s family has asked why police accessed his laptop and cellphone even though such items are supposed to be handed over to forensic technology specialists. The coroner’s inquiry into Todd’s death a day earlier than expected. Lawyers for the Todd family were not present in court because they had been dismissed by Todd’s parents, who left Singapore after withdrawing from the inquest, saying they had no confidence in the city-state’s legal process. **

“The Todds have said that while they were in Singapore, they found a hard drive in their son’s apartment that contained thousands of documents he had backed up from his work computer. After having it analyzed by a computer forensics expert, they found a draft of a project outline between Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics — Shane Todd’s former employer — and Chinese telecom giant Huawei on the development of a device that utilized gallium nitride. The heat-resistant material has civilian uses in products like LED screens and cellphone towers, and military applications in things like radar and satellite systems. Todd had been trained in the US on proprietary equipment that produces the material but is restricted for export because of the potential military applications. Huawei has said it had no cooperation with the Institute of Microelectronics related to gallium nitride. IME has said neither Todd nor the company was involved in any classified research.” **

Details of the Death of Young American Engineer in Singapore

Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar wrote in the Financial Times, “Shane had died a week before he was to return to the US. had just wrapped up an 18-month stint with a government research institute known as IME, The police said he had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through the pulley and wrapped it around the toilet several times. He then tethered the strap to his neck and jumped from a chair. Shane, 6ft 1in and nearly 200lb, hanged himself from the bathroom door, the autopsy report said. [Source: Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar, Financial Times, February 15, 2013 ]

“When the apartment where Shane died, his parents “were unnerved by what they didn’t see as they crossed the threshold. The front door was unlocked and there was no sign of an investigation – no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches. “The first thing I did was make a beeline for the bathroom,” Mrs Todd recalled. She wanted to see exactly how Shane had died – and she saw nothing that fitted the police description. The marble bathroom walls had no holes in them. Nor were there any bolts or screws. The toilet was not where the police had said. Beyond the bathroom, Shane’s home looked like a snapshot of a man in the middle of a move. There was laundry in the dryer and dirty washing on the floor. Clean clothes were folded on the couch. Boxes were packed. Shane, in his last hours, had been trying to sell his furniture. He had written out price tags. The Todds found Shane’s airline ticket on the dining table. His laptops and mobile phone were gone – taken and kept by the Singapore police.

“As the Todds looked around the apartment, some of Shane’s friends and co-workers stopped by. The Todds were eager to meet them. No one could quite grasp Shane’s death: his girlfriend said he had been stressed about work, which his parents knew; but some work colleagues said Shane had been particularly upbeat on his last day at IME. A group had met at a steak restaurant and Shane said he had a job lined up in the States. One friend turned on a laptop to show the Todds a video of Shane at a karaoke bar. He was wearing Bermuda shorts and belting out “Susie Q”, “his go-to song”, his brother John said. “Everyone laughed so hard, because it was so Shane,” Mrs Todd said.

On the day of Shane’s death, Shirley Sarmiento, Shane’s girlfriend, went to his apartment when he didn’t answer her texts. “She found the door unlocked and walked into a room dark but for a light under his bedroom door. Shirley opened the door and “got the shock of my life”. Shane was hanging from an adjoining bathroom door. His face was white, his arms dangling. He was wearing a grey T-shirt and black shorts. She pushed the body; it didn’t move. A chair, upright, stood about 5ft away. Shirley screamed and a neighbour came to her aid. The police were called and Shirley recovered enough to type a message into Shane’s Facebook page to alert his family: “This is Shane’s girlfriend. Please give me your number. I really need to call you.”

For more information read the longer article “Death in Singapore” in the Financial Times Financial Times

Sensitive Project the Young American Engineer Was Working on Before His Death

According to information drawn from Todd’s computer IME and Huawei would “co-develop” an amplifier device powered by gallium nitride (GaN), a semiconductor material able to withstand extreme heat and power levels well beyond silicon. Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar wrote in the Financial Times, “GaN devices have commercial use in lighting as well as high-powered transistors for mobile phone base stations. They also have tremendous military potential, and major US defence contractors – including Northrup-Grumman and Raytheon – have pursued significant research and development in GaN for use in radar and satellite communications. Security and technology experts consulted by the FT reviewed the project plan and all noted its civilian and potential military applications. Robert York, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara – a world leader in GaN research and where Shane earned a doctorate in silicon devices – said it would be “unnerving but not surprising” if Huawei were to be trying to advance its GaN technology. The high-powered amplifier has civilian use but “could be used for a number of military applications: high-powered radar, electronic warfare including signal jamming and even potentially some weapons”, Professor York added. [Source: Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar, Financial Times, February 15, 2013 ]

“Shane joined IME in December 2010 and was soon promoted to direct a five-man team focused on GaN devices. Sometime in 2011, according to files found on Shane’s hard drive, he began to work on what was apparently a joint project between IME and Huawei to develop a GaN amplifier. Shane created a folder in September that year that he labelled “Huawei”. Within that was a file entitled “Schedule 1 Huawei GaN Spec 01” and this contained a “Project Plan” that outlined objectives, scope and a timetable for the proposed collaboration between IME and Huawei. Shane was tasked with finding equipment pivotal to GaN research. He determined that Veeco, a publicly traded company in New York, manufactured the equipment they needed. Shane left the warmth of Singapore for winter in the US and was trained at the Veeco offices from January 2 to 13, 2012.

“The Veeco tool sought by IME is known, in the parlance of international safeguards, as “dual-use”. It can be used in commercial and in military applications. To sell this to IME, Veeco needed an export licence from the US Commerce Department, company spokeswoman Debra Wasser confirmed. Veeco would not release a copy of the licence – and the document is not a public record – but Shane had retained a file labelled “Export License – IME – Completed” on his hard drive. In that file, IME states that the “end use will be developing recipes for growing [gallium nitride on silicon] for power electronic devices that support industrial partners in Singapore”. On the same form, IME defines the nature of the research as “commercial applications”.

“The situation is complicated. Any potential connection with Huawei would be problematic for Veeco and for IME because Huawei has been deemed a security risk by powerful US lawmakers. The House of Representatives intelligence committee last year warned, after an 11-month investigation, that it suspected communicationsequipment made by Huawei could be used for spying. It recommended the US government not use components made by Huawei, or its rival ZTE, because neither could be “trusted to be free of foreign state influence”. Huawei, in turn, denied the suspicions and decried “China bashing”. Other western countries are not so sure. Australia has banned Huawei from participating in its national broadband network.

“Professor Sir Colin Humphreys is the director of research at the Cambridge University Centre for Gallium Nitride, one of the most renowned in the world for the cutting-edge technology. In October he was invited to Singapore to review some of IME’s GaN efforts and noted that IME “had a good team”. Sir Colin reviewed the “Huawei” project on Shane’s hard drive for the FT and said it was a plan for a GaN-based high-electron mobility transistor – an amplifier with commercial and military applications. He said: “You can’t say it is 100 percent for military use. There are many civilian uses.” He added: “You would be foolish not to think of military uses because there is a huge market for it.” Sir Colin pointed out, however, that the Chinese government has a substantial interest in commercial use of GaN. China has subsidised the purchase of GaN-growth systems – from Veeco and other companies – for the production of LEDs, part of an effort to reduce China’s electricity usage, he said.

“Steven Huettner, who has worked on defence projects for more than 30 years in the US, much of that at Raytheon Missile Systems, also reviewed the “Huawei” project plan, and described it as ―“disturbing”. The project could be aimed at producing high-powered transmitters for mobile phone towers, he acknowledged, but the specifications “jump out at you”. The project “absolutely has military potential”. Huettner said, in his opinion, “an obvious use would be for high-powered radar that could enhance … military capability”. . . . Within weeks of returning from Veeco, Shane Todd seemed increasingly stressed. Until then, Shane “was a typical Californian. He loved life,” said one friend. But in February 2012, friends and Shane’s parents heard that he was uneasy about a work project. In his long, weekly calls through Skype to his parents, Shane said he was collaborating with a Chinese company at IME and felt that representatives asked technical questions and then spoke in Mandarin to exclude him. “I am being asked to do things with a Chinese company that make me uncomfortable,” Mrs Todd recalled him saying. “He said he felt he was being asked to compromise American security.”

For more information read the longer article “Death in Singapore” in the Financial Times Financial Times

Autopsy and Investigation Into the Death of the Young American Engineer

Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar wrote in the Financial Times, Shane Todd’s family “were ushered into an office where they met Detective Muhammad Khaldun. He read aloud a police description of how Shane had hanged himself then handed over two printouts of suicide notes, which the detective said were found on Shane’s computer. One was addressed “Dear everyone”, another “Dear Mom and Dad”, and there were three brief ones to his girlfriend, his brothers, and “friends”. The police told the Todds that they had Shane’s computer, mobile phone and appointment book, all found in the apartment. Mrs Todd read the notes and handed them back to the detective. “My son might have killed himself, but he did not write this,” she said with some calm. [Source: Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar, Financial Times, February 15, 2013 ]

The notes were surprising, she said later. One praised IME and its management. Another apologised for being a burden to his family. Neither sounded like Shane. One, Shane had never been a burden – “he had excelled at everything he put his mind to,” Mrs Todd said. Two, “he hated the way IME was run and the way top management treated people.” Shane’s girlfriend later said she was sure Shane’s last moments were not spent lauding IME. “He hated his job,” she said.

“Before the Todds buried Shane in Pomona, California, they looked hard at his body – at a small bump on his forehead, bruises on his hands, and the trauma around his neck. They read the official autopsy report supplied by the Singapore police. No drugs or alcohol in Shane’s blood. Cause of death: “Asphyxia due to hanging”. Still, the Todds simply couldn’t believe that Shane took his own life.

“The Todds therefore asked the mortuary to photograph Shane’s body, in the coffin, and they sent those snapshots to a pathologist recommended by a family member. Dr Edward H. Adelstein, chief of pathology at the Harry S. Truman Veterans Hospital in Missouri, examined the photos and autopsy report and wrote a review that stoked the Todds’ suspicions. Adelstein said Shane’s deeply bruised knuckles and hands should have been listed in the original autopsy. He also said the neck wounds did not look like injuries from a suicide but indicated a rapid death. He suggested a scenario far different to that outlined by the Singapore authorities: Shane fought an attacker and died by a garrotting.

“The Todds sent the assessment to Detective Khaldun, who consulted the Singapore pathologist. The latter sent back a detailed dismissal of Adelstein’s review. The hands bore evidence of post-mortem pooling of blood, he wrote. Dr Adelstein had not seen the body and he did not know the difference between “findings of hanging as opposed to … garrotting”. The Todds were left unconvinced.

Tampering with the Computer of the Dead American Engineer

Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar wrote in the Financial Times, “ Shane’s father made an unexpected discovery. Two weeks after Shane’s funeral, he looked at the small “speaker” taken from Shane’s home and realised it was an external hard drive. He sent it to a computer analyst recommended by Mrs Todd’s brother. Ashraf Massoud works at Datachasers, a data recovery firm in Riverside, California, and he made several discoveries, which he explained to the FT. Massoud said he could determine that on June 22 – Shane’s last day at IME – thousands of work files were transferred to the hard drive between 11am and 5.09pm. It was reasonable to think that Shane was creating a back-up from his computer, he said. Hours later, in the middle of the night, someone went into Shane’s hard drive and accessed five folders, all labelled IME. That happened quickly, between 3.40am and 3.42am on Saturday, June 23. Since the time of Shane’s death is uncertain, Massoud could not say who looked at the IME files. [Source: Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar, Financial Times, February 15, 2013 ]

“But Massoud found activity, again, on several more IME files on the night of June 27, three days after Shane’s body was found. He said someone looked at IME folders – including one labelled “Supervisor” and one labelled “Goal Setting” – between 8.38pm and 8.40pm that Wednesday. One file in particular was opened and closed but closed improperly so that a “shadow” file was created. That shadow file was then deleted by the same person. Massoud located the original file on the drive – it was a PowerPoint presentation of the “Layer structure and summary of Veeco grown HEMT wafer”. This contains the scientific formula – a specific recipe – for enhancing a GaN chip. Massoud said his forensic findings “cannot be 100 percent conclusive” without reviewing Shane’s computer – which the police retain. But he told the FT: “In that two-minute window, someone is perusing. Something is happening. And it’s not automated, it’s a person.”

FBI’s Interest in the Case of the Dead American Engineer

Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar wrote in the Financial Times, “The Todds met embassy consul Craig Bryant, and raised their suspicions about police handling of the case. “Are you saying the Singapore police are corrupt?” Bryant asked. “That’s a serious charge.” “Well, my son’s death is serious,” Mrs Todd replied, surprised by his tone. Mr Todd said he wasn’t accusing the police of corruption; he was accusing them of mishandling the investigation. Two days later, the Todds had a one-and-a-half-hour meeting with US ambassador David Adelman – at one point, Mr Todd broke down in tears. Adelman, a lawyer, said he had trouble believing the police were at fault but expressed surprise when told that they had not searched for fingerprints nor taken photographs of Shane’s apartment that night. [Source: Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar, Financial Times, February 15, 2013 ]

“The ambassador offered some information that, in turn, surprised the Todds. He said the FBI in Singapore had pushed hard to investigate. He said the FBI offered its assistance, notably in forensics, twice but the Singapore police refused it. The FBI in Washington confirmed that the agency had tried to help. “The United States has offered FBI assistance to the Government of Singapore on the Shane Todd case and has engaged in frequent discussions with the Government of Singapore regarding Shane’s death,” read a statement sent to the FT.

“The Todds’ last meeting was at the IME headquarters, and they laid out what happened in an interview with the FT immediately after. No one else involved would comment. The Todds said IME deputy director Guo-Qiang Lo was present. So was Detective Kahldun. Another police officer was there plus a lawyer, a public relations representative and a human resources liaison from IME. “We think our son was murdered,” Mr Todd began. No one responded. He then read prepared questions from his laptop and typed in the answers. “When did Shane first meet with Huawei?” Mr Todd asked. “When was his last meeting? Do you know the names of the attendees?” “I can’t comment at this time,” the institute’s lawyer said. “Because of the police investigation.” “Have the FBI contacted you about the transfer of sensitive technology to China?” “I have no information,” the lawyer said. “Did anybody from IME forbid employees to talk about Shane?” Mr Todd asked. “You can’t police these things,” the lawyer said. The meeting was over. The IME lawyer made a final comment that stunned the Todds. “You are not to contact IME again,” Mrs Todd recalls the lawyer saying. “There will be no further contact, no more meetings, no more emails.”

American’s Death in Singapore Ruled a Suicide

In June 2013, AFP reported: Lawyers for the Singapore government told a coroner’s inquest on Monday that an American scientist found hanged in the city-state last year killed himself and was not murdered as his family claims. Summing up state agencies’ findings on the death of electronics engineer Shane Todd in June 2012, they said “it is clear from the medical forensic evidence that the medical cause of Shane’s death was asphyxia due to hanging.” The coroner’s verdict cannot be appealed. [Source: Agence France-Presse, June 17, 2013 ++]

“Todd’s family stormed out of the hearings on May 21, saying they had “lost faith” in the proceedings and describing it as one-sided. They later said they may have the body exhumed in California for further tests. “The conspicuous absence of any evidence to support the next-of-kin’s homicide theory must be viewed in juxtaposition with the overwhelming evidence pointing inexorably towards suicide,” said a summary read in court by senior state counsel Tai Wei Shyong. He concluded by saying that the “homicide case theory is entirely misplaced and unfounded, and that Shane’s death was a suicide.” ++

“In statements to the inquest, Todd’s parents said he feared he was being made to compromise US national security in a secret project involving a Chinese telecom firm accused of international espionage and a state-linked Singapore institute that employed their son. The two firms they implicated— the Institute of Microelectronics and China’s Huawei Technologies— said they only held preliminary talks on a potential project with commercial applications, but did not proceed. A US congressional committee last year labelled Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom firm, as potential security threats that should be excluded from US government contracts and barred from acquiring US firms.

During the hearings, the Todd family’s star witness, US pathologist Edward Adelstein, recanted an earlier theory that Todd was garroted with a cord in his own apartment. He presented a new theory: Todd was killed by assassins who used a stun gun before choking his neck and then hanging him to make it look like a suicide. But Adelstein presented no evidence and two other US pathologists testified in support of Singapore police findings that Todd hanged himself from his bathroom door. Witnesses also testified that Todd showed signs of heavy stress in the days before his body was discovered by his girlfriend.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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