The Sunny Ang murder case

The Sunny Ang murder case was one of the most high-profile crimes in 1960s Singapore. Sunny Ang Soo Suan (also known as Anthony Ang), a one-time Grand Prix driver, was accused of causing the death of his girlfriend, Jenny Cheok Cheng Kid, a former barmaid, so that he could collect on her insurance. The alleged murder took place on 27 August 1963 during a scuba-diving trip in the straits between Sisters’ Islands. Ang was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to death on 18 May 1965, and hanged on 6 February 1967. Cheok’s body was never found.1

Background
Ang came from a middle-class family and obtained his Senior Cambridge (now GCE ‘O’ Levels) Grade One certificate in 1956. He was highly intelligent but had a history of reckless and criminal behaviour. In 1957 he left his teacher-in-training course to train as a pilot under a government scholarship scheme, but his brash behaviour during training, including flouting safety regulations, cost him his chances of becoming a commercial pilot. Ang entered the 1961 Grand Prix in Singapore but was fined shortly after for causing the death of a pedestrian through negligent driving. He was again arrested in 1962 during an attempted burglary, after which he was put on probation. He then began studying law part-time and wanted to go to England for a law degree. However, he was made a bankrupt sometime in 1962.2

Ang met Cheok in mid-1963 when she was a bar waitress at Odeon Bar and Restaurant at North Bridge Road. She was then 22 years old while Ang was 24. Cheok had received primary education up to Standard Three and earned very little. She was separated from her husband whom she had married according to Chinese rites and their two children lived with him. By August 1963, she had left Odeon Bar and was unemployed.3

Shortly after he met Cheok, Ang began buying insurance policies for her where the payouts would go either to his mother or to Cheok’s estate. He also took Cheok to a lawyer to draw up a will leaving her entire estate to his mother, whom she did not know well. At the time of her disappearance, Cheok had an accident coverage amounting to $450,000. One of the policies had expired the day before, but Ang had extended it for five days just three hours before the diving trip.4

The murder
On the afternoon of 27 August 1963, Ang hired a boat to take him and Cheok to Sisters’ Islands. Ang told the boatman Yusuf bin Ahmad (who was to become the prosecution’s principal witness later) that they were going to look for corals. Cheok went underwater on her own twice, and never resurfaced from her second dive. Frogmen from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force Changi Sub-Aqua Club made several search attempts, but her body was never found.5


A flipper worn by Cheok that day was recovered and its heel strap was found to have been severed cleanly at the top and bottom by a sharp instrument such as a knife, a razor blade or a pair of scissors. According to an expert witness at the trial, the loss of a flipper would result in a diver’s loss of equilibrium and would affect the diver’s mobility. As Cheok was an inexperienced diver and the waters near Sisters’ Islands were dangerous because of its strong currents, this would have caused her to panic and inevitably drown. Ang, who was an experienced diver, allegedly made the cuts, as he would have understood the likely outcome of this action and stood to gain from the insurance payouts for Cheok’s death.6

Investigations and legal proceedings
The police reclassified Cheok’s disappearance as murder on 5 September 1963. Their investigations finally led to Ang’s arrest on 21 December 1964 and he was charged with murder the next day.7


When Ang’s case was mentioned in court on 29 December, the magistrate rejected the prosecution’s request for an adjournment to build their case and granted Ang a discharge not amounting to an acquittal. However, Ang was re-arrested an hour later and again charged with the crime on 30 December. The prosecution pressed for a week’s adjournment, citing the seriousness of the alleged offence and the extra time they needed to prepare their case due to the circumstances. This time, the magistrate accepted the prosecution’s application and disallowed bail.8

Following the preliminary inquiry, which lasted from 25 February to 5 March 1965, Ang was tried in the High Court before a seven-man jury between 26 April and 18 May. Justice Buttrose was the presiding judge while Senior Crown Counsel Francis T. Seow led the prosecution. Ang was defended by Punch Coomaraswamy.9

The case was unusual as the victim’s body was never found and the prosecution’s case was based solely on circumstantial evidence, and the connections between the evidence. Among the evidence were the cut flipper, Cheok’s insurance policies and will, Ang’s financial situation and his conduct on the day of the incident and afterwards. Ang never entered the water to look for Cheok that day and did not seem anxious when she failed to resurface or display any urgency in getting help from nearby St John’s Island. Yet fewer than 24 hours after the incident, he had notified the insurance companies of Cheok’s mishap and sought to make full claims.10

On 18 May, the jury delivered a unanimous guilty verdict and Ang was sentenced to death. He appealed against the conviction, arguing that there was a miscarriage of justice on the basis of 18 grounds. These related mostly to the trial judge, whom he alleged had prejudiced his case in a way that denied him a fair trial. After the Federal Court dismissed his petition, Ang sought to take his appeal to the Privy Council but his application for special leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was rejected. In late October 1966, two petitions for clemency were sent to the then President of Singapore, Yusof bin Ishak, one being a personal plea and the other signed by some 3,000 friends, relatives and sympathisers. The President rejected the petitions and Ang was hanged a few days later on 6 February 1967.11

Other developments
Ang’s younger brother Richard was charged with bribing the boatman Yusuf and abetting the latter to give false evidence in court, first by giving him a tin of milk powder worth $5.40 and later by giving him $10. Richard Ang was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal in September 1965.12


In 1979, a Taiwanese production house, Harvesters Film Distribution and Production, announced that it would be producing a Mandarin film based on the events of the Sunny Ang case. The script was written by a director from Hong Kong and the producers planned to feature Taiwanese actors in the leading roles. As a legal precaution, the script featured neither Sunny Ang’s name nor the names of the people involved in the case.13

The case was also featured in an episode of the locally-produced documentary series True Files. “The Trial of Sunny Ang” was aired on Channel 5 on 6 June 2002.14

Timeline15
27 Aug 1963: Ang charters a boat to Sisters’ Islands at 2:30 pm. Cheok disappears during her second dive at 5 pm.16
22 Dec 1964: Ang is charged with Cheok’s murder.17
29 Dec 1964: Ang is granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal but is re-arrested an hour later.18
30 Dec 1964: Ang is charged again with the same crime.19
26 Apr 1965: Trial begins in the High Court.20
18 May 1965: Ang is found guilty and sentenced to death.21
25 Oct 1965: Appeal hearing in the Federal Court begins.22
4 Nov 1965: The Federal Court reserves judgement.23
19 Nov 1965: The Federal Court dismisses Ang’s appeal.24
Early Oct 1966: Ang’s application for special leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is rejected.25
Late Oct 1966: Two petitions for clemency are sent to President Yusof bin Ishak.26
31 Jan 1967: President Yusof rejects the petitions.27
6 Feb 1967: Ang is hanged.28



Authors

Tettyana Jasli & Valerie Chew



References
1. “Bargirl’s Last Dive – Boatman,” Straits Times, 6 May 1965, 9; “She is Dead and it was Murder to Get $400,000, Jury Told,” Straits Times, 18 May 1965, 11; “Sunny Ang Goes to the Gallows,” Straits Times, 7 February 1967, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
2. T. F. Hwang, “Jenny: Move by Madam Yeo to Presume her ‘Dead’,” Straits Times, 5 March 1965, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Allington Kennard, “The ‘Perfect’ Murder Which Almost Paid Off,” Straits Times, 9 July 1973, 12; “Skin-Dive Bar Girl: Murder Probe Now,” Straits Times, 6 September 1963, 6; Hwang, “Presume her ‘Dead’.” 
4. Hwang, “Presume her ‘Dead’”; Kennard, “’Perfect Murder’”; “Murder to Get $400,000”; “Sunny Found Guilty, to Hang,” Straits Times, 19 May 1965, 1;  “‘Overwhelming’ Evidence of Murder," Straits Times, 20 November 1965, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Evidence of Murder”; “Skin-Dive Bar Girl.”
6. “Evidence of Murder”; “Murder to Get $400,000.”
7. “Discharged Man Re-Arrested on Murder Charge,” Straits Times, 31 December 1964, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Discharged Man Re-Arrested”; “Murder to Get $400,000.”
9. Kennard, “’Perfect Murder’”; “Bargirl’s Last Dive – Boatman”; Chia Poteik, Jackie Sam and T. F. Hwang, “First of the 16 Links: ‘A Powerful Motive…’,”  Straits Times, 19 May 1965, 10; “Sunny Found Guilty”; “Evidence of Murder.”
10. “Evidence of Murder.”
11. “Sunny Ang: Still no Petition,” Straits Times, 28 October 1966, 8; “Sunny Ang: Monday Date with Gallows,” Straits Times, 4 February 1967, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Murder to Get $400,000.”
13. “Sunny Ang Name will be Kept Out of Film,” Straits Times, 7 September 1979, 14; Corinne Tham, “Sunny Ang Story to be Made into Film,” Straits Times, 5 September 1979, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Page 36 Miscellaneous Column 1,” Today, 6 June 2002, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Alex Josey, Cold-Blooded Murders (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 6–16. (Call no: RSING 345.595702523 JOS)
16. “Evidence of Murder.”
17. “Discharged Man Re-Arrested.”
18. “Discharged Man Re-Arrested”; Josey, Cold-Blooded Murders, 18–24.
19. “Discharged Man Re-Arrested.”
20. “Sunny Ang in the Dock in Twin Sisters Case,” Straits Times, 27 April 1965, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Sunny Found Guilty.”
22. “‘Judge Treated Defence Evidence with Scepticism, Scorn’,” Straits Times, 30 October 1965, 10. (From NewspaperSG); Josey, Cold-Blooded Murders, 10.
23. “Evidence of Murder.”
24. “Evidence of Murder.”
25. Kennard, “’Perfect Murder’.”
26. “Monday Date with Gallows”; “Still No Petition.”
27. “Monday Date with Gallows.”
28. “Sunny Ang Goes to the Gallows.”



Further resources
$100,000 Policy, Crash on Same Day, Court Told,” Straits Times, 14 July 1990, 27. (From NewspaperSG)

25 Years Ago,” Straits Times, 13 May 1990, 21. (From NewspaperSG)

25 Years Ago,” Straits Times, 27 May 1990, 23. (From NewspaperSG)

Chia Poteik and Jackie Sam, “Jury Told: Dismiss this Fallacy Completely From Your Minds,” Straits Times, 18 May 1965, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

Harold Soh, “Sunny – Portrait of the Calmest Prisoner in Changi,” Straits Times, 23 May 1965, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

Is Jenny Dead? If So, Can it be Proved How She Died?,” Straits Times, 18 May 1965, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Judge: These Links in the Chain Bind the Accused Tightly,” Straits Times, 19 May 1965, 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Judge to Driver: You're Being Lucky,” Straits Times, 12 August 1964, 12. (From NewspaperSG)

Release for Richard Ang,” Straits Times, 21 September 1965, 11. (from NewspaperSG)

Richard Ang Accused of Suborning a Witness,” Straits Times, 3 August 1965, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Sunny Ang was There when Cheok Made Out her Will, Says Witness,” Straits Times, 28 April 1965, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

T. F. Hwang, “A Smile to the End,” New Paper, 26 July 1990.



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

 

Subject
Crime--Singapore
Events
Murder--Singapore
People and communities>>Social problems>>Crimes and delinquency