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Woodlands double deaths: Man strangled pregnant wife, 4-year-old daughter after argument over finances

SINGAPORE — Saddled with crippling gambling debts, he could not pay his four-year-old daughter’s kindergarten fees.

Woodlands murder suspect Teo Ghim Heng (second from right) being escorted back to the crime scene on Feb 10, 2017.

Woodlands murder suspect Teo Ghim Heng (second from right) being escorted back to the crime scene on Feb 10, 2017.

SINGAPORE — Saddled with crippling gambling debts, he could not pay his four-year-old daughter’s kindergarten fees.

After arguing with his pregnant wife over the fees on Jan 20, 2017, Teo Ghim Heng was so overwhelmed with anger that he looped a towel around her neck, strangled her with it for 15 minutes, and then finished the job with his bare hands. He then turned his attention to his child and killed her the same way.

The grisly details of the double murders were admitted in the High Court on Tuesday (July 2) at the start of Teo's trial. 

Before their bodies were discovered in their Woodlands flat a week later, Teo repeatedly lied to family members to explain their absence at Chinese New Year reunion dinners and visits, and made himself scarce when his colleagues and family tried to visit the flat.

He also claimed to have tried to take his own life by setting fire to the bodies and lying next to them on the bed in the master bedroom, but then later felt the fire was too hot and left the flat.

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Woodlands double deaths: A timeline of what happened

On Jan 28, 2017, the first day of Chinese New Year, his brother-in-law finally called the authorities after noticing a pungent odour coming from the flat's windows.

When police officers entered the flat, they discovered the charred bodies of Teo’s wife, 39-year-old Choong Pei Shan — who was about six months pregnant with their son at the time — and their young girl on the bed.

The former property agent and sales coordinator has admitted to the killings, but prosecutors said that his lawyers will likely argue for a general exception to murder. A third charge against Teo of causing the death of his unborn child has been stood down.

The prosecution’s psychiatrist will testify that Teo, now 43, did not have major depressive disorder or any mental disorder, and was not of unsound mind at the time.

Murder carries either the death penalty or life imprisonment. 

‘WEAKNESS FOR GAMBLING’

Addressing the court on Tuesday morning, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Han Ming Kuang said that Teo was a successful property agent and the sole breadwinner of the family. However, he was not earning enough when the property market slowed for a few years.

“He also had a weakness for gambling and spent hundreds of dollars a week on 4D (lottery). He lost most of the money. He borrowed from colleagues to sustain his lifestyle,” the prosecutor said.

By 2017, Teo had amassed debts of more than S$70,000. The child’s kindergarten fees were also in arrears.

To pull in extra cash, he began working as a sales coordinator with Carpentry Design Works in October 2016.

DPP Han said: “He felt that (his wife) Pei Shan should have contributed to the household income by working. He also never fully forgave her for an affair she had a few years back, and strongly suspected that the child was not his biological daughter.”

The Chinese New Year festivities meant more expenses, and his debtors were asking for their money back. On Jan 18, 2017, during an argument with Choong over their finances, he told her he was unable to pay their daughter’s school fees.

Two days later, sometime between 8am and 11am, they had a similar fight. The girl was home as well. Teo said that her school had reminded him about the overdue fees and he decided not to take her to class.

After killing Choong, Teo claimed that he went over to the girl, who was in the room playing with her toys and watching television, and strangled her to death.

He placed their bodies side by side on the bed in the master bedroom, turned on the air-conditioner and sealed the windows to delay the decomposition process for as long as possible, DPP Han said.

LIED ABOUT SUICIDE PACT

In his statements to the police, Teo recounted the events leading up to the discovery of the bodies.

On one occasion, three days after the murders, Teo’s bosses and a colleague from Carpentry Design went to his flat after he failed to turn up for work. Teo did not respond and lowered the volume on his television.

His bosses Husniyati Omar and Aszrul Yusoff turned out to be a husband-and-wife team who have since been jailed for cheating homeowners and subcontractors of almost S$1.7 million in a wide-ranging renovation scam.

When the police and firefighters from the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived at the flat on Jan 28, 2017, Teo tried to flee but was apprehended.

DPP Han said that Teo lied to officers at the scene that he had entered into a suicide pact with his wife, saying that she had killed their daughter, and he killed her before he was supposed to kill himself.

He repeated the lie to investigators the next day, before admitting in his later statements that he strangled both of them to death. One of his laptops was found to contain suicide-related Internet searches and website visits.

An autopsy showed that the two victims' deaths were consistent with smothering or strangulation.

The trial continues.

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crime court murder gambling Woodlands family

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