Theresa Woo unsolved murder (1958)

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Theresa Woo’s death remains one of Singapore’s unsolved murder cases. On 14 December 1958, the 30-year-old was found dead on her bedroom floor. Her body was discovered at noon and she was clad only in a pair of jeans. Ruling her death as murder, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) launched a nationwide investigation to find and arrest the killer.

Victim profile[edit | edit source]

Theresa Woo as pictured in a 1974 article from The Straits Times. Photo from NewspaperSG.

According to reports, Theresa Woo Yik Mun was an aspiring tourist guide and tour agent. A student of Penang Convent, Theresa had studied journalism in East Lost Angeles City College before studying for two years at Columbia University.[1] She moved to Singapore in May 1957 and worked as a reporter at the now-defunct Singapore Standard for about a year.[2] Following that, she had brief stints as a lecturer in a guide training class at Robinson Road, an insurance agent and a social hostess.[3][4]


Theresa lived at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) hostel in Fort Canning for about 14 months.[5] In September 1958, she moved into a S$300-a-month three-bedroom house at Bournemouth Road. According to her friends, she had planned to open a tourist agency and a hobbies club at her house. She lived alone and had luxuriously furnished her house, complete with a built-in bar.[6]

Lead up to the murder[edit | edit source]

Betty Cheow's visit[edit | edit source]

Betty Cheow was Theresa Woo’s best friend at the time. Betty visited Theresa the night before her alleged murder as she was leaving for Kuala Lumpur and had wanted to say her goodbyes. She initially invited Theresa to go out for a dance but she declined. Betty and her boyfriend stayed for an hour at Theresa’s house. During this time, Betty noted that Theresa received two phone calls to her residence.[7]

Phone calls to Theresa's residence[edit | edit source]

In her statement, Betty recollected the calls that had been made to Theresa's house. During the first call, she noted the following:

“[Cheow] got an impression [Woo] was cancelling an appointment with someone at the Great World”.[8]

On the second call, she noted that:

“[Woo] told the person at the other end that she was willing to go for a ride with him to town”.[9]

Theresa extended the invitation to Betty and her boyfriend but the couple declined. They stayed with Theresa until her date arrived. As they were leaving the house, they saw “a black car with a man at the wheel”. This marked the last time they would see Theresa.[10]

Investigation details[edit | edit source]

A news report of Theresa Woo's death on The Straits Times. Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

Discovery of the body (December 1958)[edit | edit source]

On 14 December 1958, Theresa’s body was found sprawled on the floor next to her bed. She was clad in nothing but a pair of blue jeans, which, according to Betty, was Theresa’s sleepwear attire. Her hands were bound behind her with a cotton brassiere and she was also gagged. Theresa's neck and mouth were bound with a pink house-coat that had been knotted at one end. The cause of her death was strangulation.[11]


Theresa's room showed signs of a violent struggle as clothing, cosmetics and a purse were found strewn all over the floor.[12] There were no signs of forced entry but two panes in one of the bathroom windows were forced out from inside, indicating a possible escape route.[13]

Robbery theory[edit | edit source]

Helmed by the Homicide Squad, the CID worked on Theresa’s murder based on a robbery theory, particularly due to her luxurious house. The police ruled out any involvement from secret societies in her murder.[14][15]


Taking into consideration her background as a social hostess, the police explored the possibility that Theresa’s killer was a “jealous lover”. However, the police found that they lacked sufficient evidence to support this theory and dismissed it.[16]


A week after her body was discovered, the police conducted a list of interrogations on several people. The Homicide Squad investigators had “weeded out the number of suspects to a few people” but no conclusive arrest could be made.[17]


Two months later, a S$5,000 reward was offered for information that could lead to the arrest of Theresa’s killer. However, there continued to be a lack of evidence and no arrest could be made.[18] Moreover, the initial robbery theory did not hold as nothing valuable had been stolen. The police considered that her room was deliberately ransacked so that the killer could remove clues that might point to him.[19]

Coroner's inquest (May 1959)[edit | edit source]

A coroner’s inquest was held in May 1959 to determine the cause and motive of Theresa’s death.

Kirat Rai's statement[edit | edit source]

Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

A Raffles Place merchant, Kirat Rai identified himself as a “fairly good friend” of Theresa’s having known her for two years. The police identified him as the second caller on the night of her alleged murder.[20]


According to Rai, Theresa had asked him for his plans that night. When he said that he had to deliver some suits to a ship, Theresa asked if she could come along. Rai agreed and picked her up at 9 pm. He met Betty Cheow and her boyfriend upon reaching Theresa’s house. After a drink, Rai and Theresa left the house 15 minutes later. Returning at around 12.30 am, Rai had dropped Theresa off at the gate of her house.[21]


Rai stated that he did not know about the cancellation of an appointment - relating to the first caller - nor did Theresa explain why she had asked him to take her along with him on his errands.[22]

Leon Francis Comber's statement[edit | edit source]

Screengrab from NewspaperSG.

Comber, an Adult Education Officer at Canning Rise, was the man who found Theresa’s body. He had gone over to her house for a lunch appointment.[23]


Comber went over to Theresa’s house after swimming and sunbathing at Tanah Merah Besar. Upon arriving, he noticed that the front door was open. After knocking on the door several times and calling out Theresa’s name, Comber stepped into the house. After a shower, Comber changed into fresh clothes from one of her spare rooms. Following that, he waited in the lounge room when he noticed that the door of the second spare bedroom was open. Entering the bedroom, he then went into the adjoining bathroom from which he could look into Theresa’s bedroom.[24]


Comber saw that her room was in a state of disarray. Upon seeing Theresa lying on the floor, stripped to her waist and clad only in a pair of jeans, Comber left immediately to make a police report at the Joo Chiat police station, which was close to Theresa’s house. He later returned with an inspector.[25]


Upon further questioning, Comber stated that he had noticed some glass panes missing from the bathroom window but he took no notice of it while he was bathing. Comber stated that did not make a full statement to the police until a few days after the murder because he “wanted to concentrate on giving a description relating to his finding of the body”.[26]

Dr A. O. Aaron's statement[edit | edit source]

Dr Aaron was the assistant pathologist for the murder investigation. He announced that Theresa’s death was caused by asphyxia from strangulation. Based on her injuries, he noted that “there was a manual attempt at strangulation and that (Woo) did put up a struggle”. Post-mortem indicated that “the strangulation pressure came from the cloth tied to her neck”.[27]

Coroner's verdict[edit | edit source]

At the close of the inquest, coroner Giam Chong Him ruled that the police did not have enough evidence to apprehend anyone nor determine the exact motive of Theresa’s murder. He said that although fingerprints were found on the property, “ they were not conclusive evidence themselves”. Furthermore, no fingerprints were found on Theresa’s body. Hence, there was no evidence on the identity of Theresa’s killer or killers.[28][29]

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  2. “The midnight caller strikes”. The Straits Times. November 24, 1974. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  3. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  4. “Theresa: All CID branches aid in the inquiry”. The Straits Times. December 18, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  5. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  6. Ee Boon Lee. “Murder riddle of girl in jeans”. The Straits Times. December 16, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  7. “Theresa murder: the broken date riddle”. The Straits Times. May 28, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  8. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  9. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  10. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  11. “Comber: I found her body”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  12. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  13. Ee Boon Lee. “Was Theresa slain after she went to bed in only her jeans?”. The Straits Times. December 16, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  14. “Slain girl: Medical report soon”. The Singapore Free Press. December 16, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  15. “Half-naked woman found slain in bedroom”. The Straits Times. December 15, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  16. “Theresa: Quarrels lead police to a new theory”. The Straits Times. December 19, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  17. “Theresa: Police expect to make arrest soon”. The Straits Times. December 21, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  18. “Theresa: Police expect to make arrest soon”. The Straits Times. December 21, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  19. “Theresa: Quarrels lead police to a new theory”. The Straits Times. December 19, 1958. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  20. “Theresa murder: the broken date riddle”. The Straits Times. May 28, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  21. “Theresa murder: the broken date riddle”. The Straits Times. May 28, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  22. “Theresa murder: the broken date riddle”. The Straits Times. May 28, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  23. “Comber: I found her body”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  24. “Comber: I found her body”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  25. “Comber: I found her body”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  26. “Comber: I found her body”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  27. “Theresa murder: the broken date riddle”. The Straits Times. May 28, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  28. “Comber: I found her body”. The Straits Times. May 29, 1959. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  29. “The midnight caller strikes”. The Straits Times. November 24, 1974. Accessed 10 October 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.