#parent | #kids | ST turns 175: 10 stories that gripped a nation, Singapore News & Top Stories

The Maria Hertogh riots, December 1950


Above: Maria Hertogh, seen here with her adopted mother Che Aminah, grew up in the care of her foster Muslim family in Terengganu. ST FILE PHOTO

The tale of a five-year-old girl caught between her biological family from the Netherlands and the Muslim parents who adopted her, during the time of the Japanese occupation of Java, and the riots that ensued as she was handed back to her birth parents have left an indelible imprint on Singapore history.

Born to a Dutch-Eurasian Roman Catholic family, Maria Hertogh grew up in the care of her foster Muslim family in Terengganu, Malaya, as Nadra binte Ma’arof. At the age of 13, in 1950, she had a nikah gantung or ”truncated marriage” with a 21-year-old teacher, a common practice in those days.


A vehicle set on fire during the riots. ST FILE PHOTO

Her birth parents, meanwhile, began proceedings to take her back and challenged the legality of her marriage. On Dec 2, 1950, the Singapore High court declared that Maria’s marriage was illegal and handed her back to her birth parents. The Muslim community was offended. Riots that broke out between Dec 11 and 13, 1950, left 18 dead and 173 injured and instilled in Singapore the merits of maintaining religious and racial harmony.

Read full story here.


Former President Wee Kim Wee’s interview with Indonesia’s Suharto on Konfrontasi, May 2, 1966

In a story billed as one of the most significant scoops by the paper, former President Wee Kim Wee, then the deputy editor of The Straits Times, interviewed Indonesia’s new leader Suharto and Foreign Minister Adam Malik, on the raging, divisive issue of Konfrontasi (confrontation). This had its origins in Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of the Federation of Malaysia as part of British decolonisation. Singapore was then part of Malaysia.

Wee Kim Wee’s affable nature and his knack of drawing people into conversations saw Lieutenant-General Suharto, then Indonesia’s new emerging leader, say that the country was to end the three-year long confrontation between Indonesia, Malaysia and newly independent Singapore.

The story, published on May 2, 1966, made global headlines as it was the first time that the world got to know of the Indonesian leader’s thinking. Less than a month later, Konfrontasi was over although it took many more years for trust to be restored between the countries.

Read full story here.



The six-storey Hotel New World in Serangoon Road collapsed like a house of cards. A massive rescue operation was started to rescue victims trapped in the rubble of the collapsed hotel.

The Hotel New World disaster, March 15, 1986

A six-storey building owned by the Lian Yak Realty Company in Serangoon Road that housed the 67-room Hotel New World collapsed on March 15, 1986.

One of Singapore’s worst disasters, the collapse that lasted about a minute reduced the entire building to rubble. More than 500 rescue personnel managed to pull out 17 survivors from the debris. Thirty- three people died.

A probe into the collapse said factors responsible included the inadequate structural design of the building, new installations on the roof and persistent cracks in columns and floors before the collapse. Unqualified draughtsmen had drawn the architectural plans.

Read full story here.


The Curry Murder, March 27, 1987

The bizarre killing of a 37-year-old Public Utilities Board caretaker, who was allegedly bludgeoned to death with an iron rod at the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church and his body cooked in a curry sauce, still sends shudders.

The murder of Ayakanno Marimuthu in 1984 came to light three years later after a Criminal Investigation Department detective was tipped-off.

In 1987, his wife and her three brothers were charged with murder, while her mother and sister-in-law were charged with abetting the murder. All were released on lack of evidence. The brothers were re-arrested and freed in June 1991. The victim’s remains, the murder weapon and the pot were never found.

Read full story here.


Nick Leeson and the collapse of Britain’s oldest bank, Feb 26, 1995

In December 1994, Barings Plc futures trader betted heavily against the Nikkei index falling below the 19,000 mark. But an earthquake in Kobe, Japan, saw the index plunging. Nick Leeson launched a futile bid to reduce the loses. But it was too late. Barings discovered the deficit in mid-February 1995. By then, the losses had risen to S$1.9 billion, far in excess of the bank’s capital and reserves.

Leeson fled to Malaysia and was bound for a flight to London but he was arrested while enroute to Frankfurt. He was sentenced to 6½ years in prison in Singapore but released in July 1999 for good behaviour.

Read full story here.


Anthony Ler: The man who lured a 15-year-old to kill his wife, May 2001


Anthony Ler offered a 15-year-old student $100,000 to kill his wife, who had wanted a divorce, and coached him on how to stab her in the neck. ST PHOTO: WANG HUIFEN

Financially troubled Anthony Ler, 34, who was married to 30-year old Annie Leong, masterminded her killing reportedly to keep their $480,000 maisonette and get full custody of their four-year- old daughter.

For this, he approached a group of teenagers, enticing them with a reward of $100,000, if they helped him kill his wife. The youngest of the boys, 15, carried out the stabbing.

In December 2001, the teen was found guilty of murder, but as he was below 18, he was spared the noose and detained. In November 2018, he was released, after his petition for clemency was granted by President Halimah Yacob on the advice of the Cabinet. Ler was hanged in December 2002 for abetment of murder.

Read full story here.


Jemaah Islamiah’s reign of terror, 2001 onwards

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the uneasiness of a terror network existing in Singapore, and the region, became public in early 2002 when officials revealed that 15 terror suspects had been arrested here.

Therein began a chase to identify and nab others involved, bust bomb plots and assassination attempts and work with countries in the region to quash the militant network Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

It was found that JI had links to the Al-Qaeda network behind the 9/11 attacks. Suspects had planned attacks on US and Israeli embassies in Singapore. Videos were found of a JI plot to attack the Yishun MRT station. Amid the hunt, that lasted several years, the leader of a group of Singapore JI members Mas Selamat Kastari, who had plotted to hijack a plane in Bangkok and crash it into Changi Airport, escaped from the Whitley detention centre. On May 8, 2009, The Straits Times broke the news that the fugitive had been captured in Johor.

Read full story here.


The National Kidney Foundation scandal, April 19, 2004


The outer walls of the NKF’s Kim Keat Road headquarters were spray painted red with the words ‘Liar’ in July 2005 after the trial began for the organisation’s past CEO T.T. Durai. ST PHOTO: SIMON KER

A plumber’s revelation of a gold-tap and an expensive toilet bowl he was to install in the National Kidney Foundation’s (NKF) then chief executive’s office bathroom led to an uncovering of malpractices and misuse of donated funds, at the organisation.

His tip-off to The Straits Times came at a time of heightened interest in the affairs of the nation’s leading charity facing accusations of ”invasive” fund-raising. The article was published on April 19, 2004, under the headline The NKF: Controversially ahead of its time? and was written by then Senior Writer Susan Long, who is now this paper’s Life Editor.

That same month, NKF sued Singapore Press Holdings (the publisher of ST) and Ms Long for defamation, claiming damages of S$3.24 million. The trial began in July, 2005. Several other revelations and tales of former chief executive T.T. Durai’s misconduct surfaced. On the second day of the trial, he dropped the law suit against SPH and resigned from NKF a day later.

Read full story here.


The Huang Na murder case, Oct 10, 2004


Huang Na’s parents had to be supported and held back at the Mandai Crematorium as they watched their daughter’s coffin roll into the furnace. The Primary 2 pupil was killed in a storeroom at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Huang Na, an eight-year-old girl from China studying at the Jin Tai Primary School, went missing when her mother was visiting relatives in China. She was eventually found dead, strangled by a man she called uncle, who worked with her mother at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.

Took Leng How, who had previously shared a flat with Huang Na and her mother, admitted to strangling the girl with his bare hands in a storeroom. He was hanged in Changi Prison on Nov 3, 2006.

Read full story here.


The Sunshine empire that duped thousands, August 2006


Sunshine Empire founder James Phang Wah (middle) with his wife Neo Kuan Huay were convicted of multi-level marketing to cheat people. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Fraudster James Phang Wah’s elaborate scheme to swindle over 20,000 people of nearly $190 million is still remembered as Singapore’s biggest Ponzi scheme.

From August 2006 to November 2007, thousands of Singaporeans and retirees bought almost 26,000 ”lifestyle packages” ranging from $240 to $12,000 from the company.

In July 2010, he was sentenced to jail. Of the sum, only $21 million was ever recovered.

Read full story here.


Source: The Straits Times archives, Infopedia – NLB eresources




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