SINGAPORE: A coroner’s court on Monday (Aug 14) confirmed the identity of a woman who was found dead in the kitchen toilet of her Housing Board (HDB) flat, using circumstantial evidence after her fingerprints, DNA samples and dental records yielded dead ends.
Madam Tham Yoke Hing, 66, had no children or spouse and lived alone in a flat on the fourth floor at 48 Teban Gardens Road.
On Apr 21 this year, a neighbour living directly below her noticed water leaking from his ceiling and sought help from HDB officers to contact Mdm Tham.
Mdm Tham’s niece went down to the flat on Apr 23, after her uncle was notified of the issue, but was unable to get a response by knocking on the door.
She called the police for help that evening. Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force broke the door lock to gain entry with the permission of Mdm Tham’s family.
SCDF BREAKS INTO UNIT
They found Mdm Tham’s body lying in the kitchen toilet in a state of advanced decomposition.
The investigating officer on the case, Inspector Benjamin Sim, said he observed the floor to be wet and slimy when he went down to the scene.
Mdm Tham’s facial features were also “beyond recognition”, he said. There were no signs of ransack, forced entry or struggle, and valuables were intact in the unit.
“The police do not suspect any foul play, but due to the decomposed state of her body, the identity of the body needs to be ascertained,” he said.
Forensic specialists tried twice to lift thumbprints from the body, but were unable to because of the advanced state of decomposition.
Next, DNA was extracted from bone marrow taken from the body, and Mdm Tham’s older brother’s DNA samples were sent for DNA profiling.
However, the results showed that the pair were not biologically related, said INSP Sim. The DNA results did not match any existing DNA profiles in the system.
Mr Tham was interviewed and revealed that his sister was adopted.
A forensic pathologist from the Health Sciences Authority was consulted on using dental means to identify the body, but this was also a futile search as there were no teeth in the mouth and Mdm Tham had no dental records.
As the three primary means of identification – fingerprinting, DNA and dental records – were unsuccessful, INSP Sim said he had to rely on circumstantial evidence and accounts.
ACCOUNTS FROM NIECE AND NEIGHBOURS
Mdm Tham was last seen alive by neighbours about two to three weeks before her body was found.
One neighbour said he used to see her around 9am in the mornings when she went to the market.
Another neighbour said she had not seen Mdm Tham for over a month.
They said Mdm Tham lived alone in her flat and had no relatives or friends to visit her often.
Mdm Tham also did not like visitors because “of the state of her house”, INSP Sim noted.
Mdm Tham’s niece said the older woman usually wore a jade bangle and a metallic watch on her wrist, and the body found in the toilet bore these items, also on the wrist.
Medical records showed that Mdm Tham had chronic conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and osteoporosis.
Her cause of death was ascertained to be hypertensive heart disease, a natural disease process.
State Coroner Adam Nakhoda found that she had died of natural causes.
He added that Mdm Tham had not rented her flat to any tenants, nor did she have visitors. Thus, the body found in the flat could not have belonged to an unknown person, he said.
He confirmed that she was the person found dead in the unit, and extended his condolences to her next-of-kin.