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Kok Chee Kheong recalls a sensational murder trial from the 1960s

Sunny Ang Soo Suan came from a middle-class family. He was a flamboyant character. Not only was he a competent scuba-diver, he was also a race-car driver of some note, having secured a top-10 placing in the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 1961.

Ang was less successful in establishing a career, having failed to complete his teacher's training course and a pilot training course. Ang was also a part-time law student and wanted to further his studies in England. Ang was made bankrupt in 1962 after he failed to satisfy a judgment debt of about $2,000-00.

Jenny Cheok Cheng Kid worked as a waitress at the Odeon Bar and Restaurant, earning $90 per month plus tips of about $10 per day. Cheok was estranged from her husband and had 2 young children who lived with their father.

Ang met Cheok in the middle of 1963 and shortly thereafter, they became romantically involved.


On 27 August 1963, Ang hired a boat from Yusof bin Ahmad to take Cheok and him scuba diving and to collect corals. The boat left Jardine Steps at around 2.30 p.m. and headed for Pulau Dua (Sisters Islands).

The boat dropped anchor in the waters between the Sisters Islands about an hour later. Cheok made two dives alone, surfacing after the first to change her air cylinder tank. She did not surface from her second dive.

After unsuccessful attempts to find Cheok by tugging at the guide-line and looking for tell-tale signs of bubbles on the water surface to pin-point her location underwater, Ang and Yusof went to the nearby St John's Island to seek help. The divers who accompanied them back to the vicinity of Sisters Islands could not find Cheok.

Cheok's body was never found despite search attempts by divers from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force Changi Sub-Aqua Club.


Ang was charged with the murder of Cheok on 29 December 1964. He had earlier been charged with the same offence but had been given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on a technical ground.

The trial before High Court Judge, Buttrose J and a seven-man jury began on 26 April 1965.

The boatman's evidence

Yusof, the boatman, testified that Ang did not dive underwater to look for Cheok even though their attempts to locate her from the water surface were unsuccessful.

He further testified that Ang did not appear to act with any urgency even when they sought help at St. John's Island. According to the boatman, Ang was calm enough to change from his swimming trunks into his street clothes during the trip to St. John's Island to seek help.

Yusof further testified that Ang did not join the divers from St. John's Island to look for Cheok when they returned to the vicinity of Sisters Islands.

A novice in dangerous waters

Evidence suggested that Cheok was a novice diver, having only taken up the sport after she became acquainted with Ang. Although Ang admitted that Cheok could barely float in the water when he first met her, he claimed that he had given her about a dozen lessons and that she had made good progress under his tutelage.

Expert witnesses testified that the waters around Sisters Islands were dangerous due to strong undercurrents and that it was unsafe for a novice to dive in those waters alone.

The flipper

One of the flippers worn by Cheok on 27 August 1963 was recovered on 3 September 1963 not far from the spot where she had gone missing.

The heel strap of the flipper had been severed by 2 clean cuts. According to the Government chemist, Phang Sin Eng, the cuts were made by a sharp instrument, such as a razor blade, knife or a pair of scissors. He was emphatic that the cuts could not have been caused by corals.

Another expert witness testified that the loss of a flipper could impair the mobility of a diver and could lead to panic, particularly in the case of a novice diver.

The insurance policies

Witnesses from several insurance companies testified that Cheok had personal accident policies for $450,000-00, a substantial amount in the 1960s. The policies were taken within 3 weeks after Ang's first meeting with Cheok. The beneficiaries named in those policies were either Ang's mother, Yeo Bee Neo, or Cheok's estate.

One of the insurance policies for the sum of $150,000-00 had lapsed on 26 August 1963 but had been extended on the morning of 27 August 1963 for a further period of 5 days. Evidence was also produced that Ang did not renew or extend his own accident policy which had been taken out at the same time.

Another of Cheok's accident policies for a sum of $100,000-00 was due to expire on 28 August 1963.

It also transpired that Cheok had drawn up a will on 7 August 1963 at Braddell Brothers, a law firm, and that she had been accompanied by Ang at the material time. Ang's mother was named as the sole beneficiary in Cheok's will.

The representatives from the insurance companies also testified that Ang had filed claims with their companies on Cheok's insurance policies barely 24 hours after the disappearance of his girlfriend.


The trial concluded after 13 days. After deliberating on the evidence for 2 hours, the jury unanimously found Ang guilty of the murder of Cheok on 18 May 1965. Ang was sentenced to death by the trial judge.


Ang's appeal on grounds that the trial judge was biased and had failed to provide adequate directions to the jury on the dangers of convicting an accused person on circumstantial evidence were dismissed by the Federal Court (see [1966] 2 MLJ 195). On the question of bias, the Federal Court was satisfied that although the judge had expressed strong views on certain matters, he had made it clear to the members of the jury that they were the sole judges of the facts in the case.

The Federal Court was satisfied that the trial judge had on two occasions during summing-up, given adequate directions to the jury on the requirements for a conviction based on circumstantial evidence.

Ang's application for special leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was refused on 4 October 1966. His petitions for clemency to the President of Singapore, Yusof bin Ishak, were rejected on 31 January 1967.

Having exhausted all avenues to avoid the inevitable, Ang was sent to the gallows on 6 February 1967.


The significance of Sunny Ang lies not in the fact that it captured the attention of the public. Rather, its' significance can be found in the opening address of Francis Seow, the Senior Crown Counsel at Ang's trial:

"This is an unusual case insofar as Singapore, or for that matter Malaysia, is concerned. This is the first case of its kind to be tried in our courts in that there is no body."

What Senior Crown Counsel meant was that Sunny Ang was the first case in Singapore and Malaysia where an accused would be tried for murder based on circumstantial evidence. Unlike direct evidence where the truth of an assertion is established by the evidence itself, circumstantial evidence by itself does not, but requires an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact.

The burden to be discharged by the prosecution when it relies on circumstantial evidence to prove its case is aptly put by the trial judge in his summing-up to the jury:

"(O)ne of the points about circumstantial evidence is its cumulative effect. Any one of these points taken alone might ... be capable of explanation. The question for you is: where does the totality of them, the total effect of them, lead you to? Adding them together, considering them, not merely each one in itself, but altogether, does it ... lead you to the irresistible inference and conclusion that the accused committed this crime?"

In Sunny Ang, this question was answered unequivocally in the affirmative by the jury. Notwithstanding the absence of the body of the victim, the jury was satisfied that the body of evidence taken as a whole led only to one conclusion: that Ang had murdered Cheok.

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