McDonald's boys case (1986)

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The 1986 missing persons case was dubbed the McDonald's boys case following the nationwide search effort. Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

On 14 May 1986, two primary 6 students from Owen Primary School went missing. Toh Hong Huat and Keh Chin Ann had failed to show up for their 12.55 pm class and were missing ever since. The police were contacted on the evening of 14 May 1986. The case was dubbed the “McDonald’s boys case” as McDonald’s had offered a hefty reward to propel investigations. As of 2019, the case remains unsolved.

Last seen

Toh Hong Huat (left) and Keh Chin Ann (right). Photo from Crime Library Singapore.

According to their teacher, Keh Chin Ann and Toh Hong Huat were close friends who were generally well-behaved and did not miss classes.[1] No one else had seen the two boys after 12:30 pm on 14 May 1986.

Keh Chin Ann

Chin Ann was last seen at around 12.30 pm on 14 May 1986 when he had left the school grounds to some nearby shops. According to Wang Piwei, a classmate of the missing boys, he had offered to “take care of” Chin Ann’s bag while he was away. Piwei then left Chin Ann’s bag at the school’s tuckshop bench, assuming that Chin Ann would come back to collect it.[2]

Toh Hong Huat

The last person to see Toh Hong Huat was his mother, Madam Tan Geok Guan. Hong Huat had requested to go to school on his own that day as he said that he was meeting a friend. It was assumed that Hong Huat was going to meet Chin Ann. Madam Tan observed that this was unlike Hong Huat as he was usually more timid and liked his mother’s company in public.[3]

Search efforts

Singapore

A 1988 news report covering The Straits Times' attempt at updating the photograph (top right) of the missing Keh Chin Ann. Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

Both families told the police that it was “unlikely that the boys had run away from home”.[4] The police searched the estates surrounding Owen Primary School for days following the disappearance.[5] There were reportedly thousands of missing posters distributed island-wide asking for anyone who had information on the whereabouts of the missing boys.[6]


On 27 August 1986, there was a reported sighting of the missing boys on Pulau Ubin. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) dispatched close to a hundred officers to Pulau Ubin, splitting into 24 sections and smaller teams to scour the offshore island. However, their search yielded nothing.[7][8]


In a May 1988 interview with The Straits Times, about two years after the boys went missing, Inspector Choo Chin Kiam revealed that the team from CID's Specialist Crime Division had interviewed over a 100 people hoping for a lead.[9]


In November 1988, The Straits Times enlisted the help of a US-based company to recreate a photo of Chin Ann as a 14-year-old using facial recognition technology. Chin Ann’s updated photo had been a composite image based on his older sister’s photograph from when she was 14-years-old and Chin Ann’s image as a 12-year-old.[10][11][12]

Overseas

Months after the incident, Madam Tan Geok Guan went to Kuala Lumpur to search for her son, Hong Huat. She reached out to the Malay Mail Afternoon Daily and the Malaysian Chinese Association’s public complaints and services bureau for help.[13]


In 1987, the Singapore police took their search to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand but to no avail.[14] The missing boys’ reports have also been sent to Interpol.[15]

Phone calls

Keh Chin Ann (second from right) pictured with his family in 1985. Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

On the night of 3rd September 1986, Keh Cheng Pan, Chin Ann’s father, received a “nasty” phone call. The stress from the call triggered a stroke the following morning. Keh Cheng Pan remembered becoming “pale, giddy” as his limbs turned weak. However, he could not recollect the call. He was admitted to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) for close to two weeks.[16]


Madam Tan Geok Guan told The Straits Times that she too received a phone call on the same night. According to Madam Tan:

“The caller was a man who spoke in Hokkien. He said I should not hope for my son’s return.”[17]

Rewards

Mdm Tay Mee Na, Chin Ann's mother' pictured with a rewards poster in 1987. Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

Family

The families of Toh Hong Huat and Keh Chin Ann initially offered a S$1,000 reward each[18] to anyone who could provide information about their sons’ whereabouts.[19] Both families raised the reward to S$5,000 in July 1986 which then quadrupled to S$20,000 in September 1986.[20] The families stated that they had no other options but to raise the reward.[21]

McDonald's Singapore charity

During McDonald’s Founder’s Day celebrations in October 1986, Managing Director Robert Kwan announced that the company will be offering a S$100,000 reward for any information on the whereabouts of the 2 missing boys. They had put up missing posters of the boys and publicised the reward at all the McDonalds’ outlets in Singapore.[22]

Missing Toggle series (2016)

The McDonald’s boys case received wide coverage during its time. The police[23] and local media[24] outlets had advertised the case islandwide over many months.[25] In November 1986, the case was featured in the first episode of Crime Watch on Mediacorp’s Channel 5.[26]


In 2016, Mediacorp revisited the 1986 case in a Toggle series called Missing. The first episode detailed the story of the missing boys and discussed various speculations about the case. According to the show, there are two generally accepted theories.[27][28]

Theories

One theory speculates that the boys are residing in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. It was rumoured that Hong Huat’s estranged father had taken them there and the two have since grown up to be hooligans.[29] Hong Huat's parents were separated at the time of the incident.[30]


Another theory speculated that the boys had been abducted by a human trafficking syndicate and taken to Thailand.[31] However, the Singapore police had refuted some public speculations such as drowning, human trafficking and murder. They have since dubbed this missing persons case as “puzzling”.[32]

References/ Citations

  1. Boy who was last person to see Chin Ann”. The Straits Times. September, 28, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  2. Boy who was last person to see Chin Ann”. The Straits Times. September, 28, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  3. Yeo, Kim Seng. “Two boys missing for six days”. The Straits Times. May 20, 1986. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  4. “Family of missing boy offers reward”. The Straits Times. June 1, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from: NewspaperSG.
  5. Police combs housing estates for missing schoolboys”. May 21, 1986. The Straits Times. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  6. Missing boys: Leaflets go out”. The Straits Times. July 17, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  7. “Police step up efforts to trace missing boys”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  8. Hedwig, Alfred. “Police baffled by May 14 Incident”. The Straits Times. September 28, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  9. Tan, Sukimon. “Police press on with search for two missing schoolboys.The Straits Times. May 14, 1988. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  10. “Boy who went missing: What would he look like now?”. The Straits Times. November 6, 1988. Accessed on 11 October 2019.
  11. “Picture of missing boy updated with help of computer”. The Straits Times. November 6, 1988. Accessed on 5 October 2019.
  12. “Sister's photo used with boy's to produce his older image”. The Straits Times. November 6, 1988. Accessed on 5 November 2019.
  13. “Woman goes to KL to continue search for her son”. The Straits Times. June 15, 1990. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from: https://uncledicko.blogspot.com/2009/08/perhaps-greatest-unsolved-mystery-in.html
  14. Tan, Sukimon. “Police press on with search for two missing schoolboys.” The Straits Times. May 14, 1988. Accessed october 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  15. “Nair, Suresh. “Missing boys hunt goes to Indonesian, Thailand”. The Straits Time. February 18, 1987. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from NewspapersSG.
  16. Missing boy’s father suffers stroke”. The Straits Times. September 19, 2019. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  17. Missing boy’s father suffers stroke”. The Straits Times. September 19, 2019. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  18. Mum of second missing boy puts up reward too”. The Straits Times. June 4, 1986. Accessed October, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  19. “Family of missing boy offers reward”. The Straits Times. June 1, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from: NewspaperSG.
  20. “Parents of missing boys raise reward offer.” The Straits Times. July 3, 1986. Accessed 30 October, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  21. “Rewards for missing boys doubled to $20,000”. The Straits Times. September 25, 1986. Accessed September 22, 1986. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  22. “McDonald’s offers $100,000 for info on missing schoolboys”. The Straits Times. October 4, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved form: NewspaperSG.
  23. “Police hotline: Missing boys mystery still unsolved”. The Straits Times. June 2, 1986. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  24. Case of 2 missing boys on TV tomorrow”. The Straits Times. November 29, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  25. “Missing boys: papers to distribute police leaflets”. The Straits Times. July 16, 1986. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  26. “Case of 2 missing boys on TV tomorrow”. The Straits Times. November 29, 1986. Accessed October 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  27. “MISSING Episode 1” Toggle. December 14, 2016. Accessed October 30, 3019. Retrieved from: https://video.toggle.sg/en/series/missing-s1/ep1/461845
  28. Crime Library Singapore. “Missing: McDonald’s Boys Case (1986)” Facebook. January 21, 2018. Accessed 29 October, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/Crimelibrarysingapore/posts/missing-mcdonalds-boys-case-1986this-is-probably-singapores-most-mind-boggling-m/1855820931117296/
  29. “MISSING Episode 1” Toggle. December 14, 2016. Accessed October 30, 3019. Retrieved from: https://video.toggle.sg/en/series/missing-s1/ep1/461845
  30. Missing Schoolboys’ parents battle despair”. The Straits Times. December 28, 1986. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  31. “Missing Boys from Owen Primary School Singapore - The Mystery Still Remains”. Owen primary wordpress. January 9, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2019. Retrieved from: https://owenprimary.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/missing-boys-from-owen-primary-school-singapore-the-mystery-still-remains/
  32. Tan, Sukimon. “Police press on with search for two missing schoolboys.The Straits Times. May 14, 1988. Accessed october 29, 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.