Hong Kong is a former British colony where many of its citizens enjoy a certain degree of Democracy. In recent years, the rapid influx of mainlanders and various directives passed down by Beijing resulted in resentment and waves of protests. Ironically, human rights and transparency were sometimes even less respected under British rule.
The day was 26 February 1973. The location was a luxury apartment housing high ranking British civil servants. One of the units was occupied by the McLeans. Mr McLean was the chief of the Land Registry. The McLeans employed a part-time servant by the name of Wong Yoke Lin. Ms Wong was a young woman only 18 of age. She had been with them for 6 months and her normal working hours were from 0630 to 1830. On that day, Wong was asked to start work at 1300. Mr McLean was then away in England, leaving Mrs McLean who asked Miss Wong to tidy up the place in the afternoon and prepare dinner as she would be back in the evening.
Ms Wong arrived at the empty apartment punctually at 1300. The security guard saw her open the door and enter the unit. The next time he saw her, she was carried out on a stretcher…
Mrs McLean returned home at about 1800, expecting dinner to be ready. Instead, she saw a packet of meat and some provisions left at the door. She rang the door bell. There was no answer. She reached for her keys and opened the door. The apartment seemed empty. She called out for Miss Wong. There was no reply. Sensing that something was seriously amiss, she went outside the apartment and called for help.
Her neighbour Mr Mills, entered the unit with her and began searching the apartment. They entered the bedroom and saw a pool of blood. Lying on the floor, was the dead body of Miss Wong Yoke Lin coiled with a piece of rope and soaked in blood. They called the police.
Ms Wong’s body was supine. One arm was raised above her head while the other was down. The handles of two knives protruded from her throat. The weapons came from the kitchen. One of the knives was a blunt cake cutting knife. It must have been stabbed with great force to have been able to penetrate her throat. As for the rope that was coiled around her hands and neck, they couldn’t have restrained her in any way as the rope was too loosely tied. Autopsy revealed that Ms Wong’s time of death was between 1300 and 1500. However, she was not killed by the knives. She had been strangulated and the stabbing occurred after she had died.
When the police questioned the occupants at the apartment, it was revealed that the last known person to have seen Miss Wong alive was not the security guard. It was another Ms Wong (not related), a servant working in another unit in the same apartment. The second Ms Wong told police that she had a chat with the deceased for about 20 minutes, after which they continued with their chores. At about 1440, the living Ms Wong went over to Wong Yoke Lin’s unit to borrow an iron. When she knocked on the door, there was no reply. Given Ms Wong’s testimony, the time of Wong Yoke Lin’s death was narrowed down to between 1320 and 1440.
At 1600, the delivery man who received an order for a piece of meat and some provisions knocked on the door and received no reply. He left the stuff at the door and departed. The police interviewed almost every person working in the neighbourhood but to no avail. The closest they came to a credible suspect was a sweeper by the name of Chan Hon Tong who worked about 100 yards from the scene of the crime. He was spotted hanging around the vicinity of the crime at 1700 by witnesses.
When asked where he was on that day, Chan said that he had finished work and arrived home at 1100 to cook lunch and pick his daughter up from the babysitter. He also claimed to have watched a movie in the evening at about 1900. For some reason, the police decided to probe deeper. They interviewed the babysitter who said that Chan would normally pick his daughter up at 1630 every day and on the day of the crime, he did the same! The police also discovered that he had told his neighbours to tell the police that they had seen him that afternoon even when they didn’t. When asked him to elaborate on the movie he watched that evening, police discovered that he had lied about watching the movie too.
One month after the murder, Chan was officially arrested and his home was thoroughly searched. The police seized garments from his home and before long, they came up with what appeared to be incriminating evidence. Among the clothes in Chan’s possession, a woman’s sweater had loose fibres which matched the sweater which Miss Wong was wearing! In turn, the victim’s sweater also had loose fibres from the sweater in Chan’s possession. Chan was tried in court and the jury unanimously found him guilty of murder. He was sentenced to death.
This would have been a fitting conclusion for some fictional detective story, but the press at that time only gave very sketchy reports on the case. In later years, when there was more press and speech freedom in Hong Kong, members of the legal profession have discussed the case and found many doubtful points.
First of all, identifying fibres from clothing was a “trendy” technology in those days. That explains why the police was so eager to seize clothing from Chan’s home. But logically speaking, finding matching fibres does not prove with certainty that the alleged murderer had committed the crime. It merely proves that the two pieces of garment had been in close contact.
Why did Chan Hon Tong pull on an undersized woman’s sweater to commit the crime? Furthermore, Wong Yoke Lin’s body was soaked in blood. If there had been close contact between the two garments, Chan would have had to escape the scene of the crime with a blood-soaked woman’s sweater, gone home to change out of it, only to return to be spotted at the vicinity of the crime at 1600. It clearly didn’t make any sense.
What if the old sweater had been a garment which Wong Yoke Lin discarded and Chan the sweeper picked it up and kept it without knowing that it had belonged to her? The presence of fibres in both sweaters could be far more neatly explained if Wong had kept the two sweaters in close contact and washed them together.
People tell lies for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there was no need for Chan to lie about watching the movie at 1900 if he had known Miss Wong’s time of murder. It was also not mentioned that the babysitter was so muddle-headed that she didn’t even know that Chan habitually returned home at 1100 and not 1630. She was not a reliable witness, but that didn’t bother the prosecution. It is thus very likely that Chan was afraid that his neighbours might say the wrong thing and fail to give him an alibi. But in rehearsing them on what to say to the police, he had aroused suspicion. In trying to stay out of trouble, he had dug a hole for himself instead. If we look at it this way, lying and getting his neighbours to lie were not proof of his guilt. Being the prime suspect, he could just be afraid and ended up overdoing things.
Let’s return to the scene of the crime. It was a luxury apartment housing top British civil servants – a high profile location with a low tolerance for bad press. The weapons were not brought in by the murderer. They belonged in the apartment. There were no signs of struggle and nothing was stolen. The door was locked and never broken. Chan would have had to climb in through the window and escape from it too. Strangely, no attempts were made by experts to reconstruct the whole crime. All that convicted Chan were the fibres on an old sweater which happened to be in his possession.
Now let’s take a look at the body. Why was the rope coiled in a such a way that it wouldn’t have restrained the victim? Perhaps it was a decoy put in place after she was murdered. Wong died from strangulation. The two stabs in her neck were clearly the murderer’s desperate attempt to made sure she died after she had passed out from strangulation. Why would a robber not known to victim bother to do that? Perhaps the young servant girl had accidentally stumbled upon a deadly secret …
Chan may have been convicted and executed, but there are doubts that remain till this day. Perhaps with better technology in the future, some enthusiastic maverick not afraid of embarrassing the authorities may come up with the truth. You may want to think twice before picking up discarded stuff.
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