Aug 20, 2011

When Indian Curry was a Recipe for Murder

In what was apparently a dispute seven years ago between a PRC family and their Singaporean Indian neighbour over the cooking of curry, some netizens rose to the occasion and organized a 'Cook A Pot of Curry' event on Facebook to share our love of curry with foreigners. Ostentatiously an international gastronomic drive in the name of multiculturalism, it was perceived in some quarters as being overly xenophobic. To my horror, as many as 55,000 people pledged, at least on paper (facebook that is), to cook/buy/eat curry this Sunday. Will the Community Mediation Centre be forced to work overtime in the upcoming weeks?

While Indian curry does not top my list of favorite food, neither do I dislike it. Interestingly what is so "memorable" about curry, especially Indian ones, is not the smell but a murder case I remember happening in the 1980s. It certainly left an impression on my young mind back then, a mixture of fear and curiosity, for many years after that, I would pay extra attention whenever my vehicle went past Dhoby Ghaut, to look out for a church which I have always associated with a macabre history. The area has no lack of such landmarks, with the old YMCA building (demolished and replaced) that once housed the infamous Kempeitai interrogation center located, incidentally, just next to the church. That the murder took place in the caretaker's quarters made it more intriguing; every time I caught a glimpse of the white-washed church from the window of my car or bus, I would try to spot the caretaker's quarters but always failed. You see, the problem was that I did not know where was the caretaker's quarters inside Orchard Road Presbyterian Church!

Orchard Road Presbyterian Church
Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, the church I have always associated with a macabre history.

Last Sunday, I happened to have an appointment in the church and the opportunity presented itself. After the morning service, you can expect the usual crowd gathering in the premise for chit-chat and refreshments. These people give a hint where are the loci of activities in the church compound. I think it is safe to work on the assumption a caretaker's quarters would not be a place for fellowship on a Sunday morning?

I entered the church from the side, where I took the above photo. Behind the gate there was this inconspicuous house, small, and yet it stood out from the crowd, quite literally only because there was no crowd around it. You couldn't even park your car on the road in front. I spotted a pair of slippers, and only one pair, which means there was no group having fellowship inside. Doors closed and windows blackened, there was an air of mystery around it and the silence seemed to beckon me to go over to open its door. What would I find inside? I never got to find out. I figured it would be safer to join the crowd in another building for some refreshments.

The Caretaker's House
The small house at the side of the church, quite devoid of life on a Sunday morning. Could this be somebody's living quarters? There is something not quite right about this building, hmm ...

Back home I checked up on the facts of  the case. You can read a summary of the curry murder in  Infopedia. What made the case truly bizarre compared to murder cases in recent years is that:
  1. The police only knew about the case in 1987, three years after the alleged murder happened.
  2. Because of the time gap, there was little hope of finding conclusive evidence to prove a murder charge. Indeed, the cooking pot where the body parts - the victim was dismembered - were allegedly cooked was never found.
  3. Not surprisingly, the suspects - the widow of the victim and her brothers - were charged for murder but due to lack of evidence, they were then unconditionally released (though not amount to acquittal).
  4. The four suspects might be still residing in Singapore today. Regardless whether they committed the savage act, the real murderer would be still-at-large and likely still alive today.

The Straits Times - 27 March 1987
The curry murder horror made it to the front page news of the Straits Times on 27 March 1987 (source: NLB).

ST - Curry Murder TCS Serial
It was big news then and in 1995 TCS included the plot in their new serial Doctor Justice, starring Aileen Tan and Collin Chee.

So where did victim Ayakannu Marithamuthu meet his death? Where was Muthu reportedly bludgeoned, chopped, and his body parts cooked in that big pot of curry that would have required a lot of spice and flavors to mask the stench? Later the cooked remains were packed in black plastic bags and dumped in dustbins across the island, could this whole story be true?

We do not know the answer to these questions but at least we can try to pin-point the caretaker's quarters, the suspected site of the curry murder. Look at the remaining photos below, do you think my hunch is right?

Orchard Road Presbyterian Church - 1976
A 1976 photo of Orchard Road Presbyterian Church (source: NAS). The murder happened in 1984. The church was extended over the years, most noticeably on the left side of this photo. The suspected caretaker's quarters is the rightmost building, in the same orientation as the main sanctuary.

ST - Curry Murder Church
This 2003 Straits Times article is even more telling. The site of the curry murder!


Anonymous said...

so it is that house?

next time i'll pay attention about that house...everytime go the church i never realize there's such a house