In the past 22 years, he has tried to solve mysteries behind the deaths of more than 10,000 people - including 200 homicide investigations - has carried out autopsies on about 3,500 bodies, and supervised another 7,000 or so cases. But it is difficult to imagine the easygoing and relaxed Dr Philip Beh Swan-lip as one of the brains behind the cracking of the city's most notorious and high-profile killings. And going by the state of his office, perhaps it's a small miracle, too. Inside, there is the ubiquitous microscope, mounds of paperwork, files, and textbooks spread over the tables and cabinets like landfill. Perched atop one heap sits a box of half-finished Merci chocolates. The messiness and amiable politeness remind me of Lieutenant Columbo from the popular US television series in the 1970s, the untidy homicide investigator in a crumpled trenchcoat who was ever polite to the suspects, but always got the confession from even the most cunning murderer. So it seemed with the veteran forensic pathologist and pathology professor at the University of Hong Kong: there's more going on behind his warm smile. Dr Beh does not believe in ghosts - a good thing considering his line of work - nor does he have a religion. However, he strongly believes in 'natural justice' - karma if you like: that people eventually are paid back for what they have done during their lives. 'These days, I no longer feel bad about the unresolved cases - I know I have done my best and tried everything,' he said. It is this attitude that has helped steel him for the often horrific nature of his work. There is also a high-profile side to the job. One such case involved Filipino socialite Maria Coady, who stabbed her Swiss lover, Gregoire Weil, to death in December 1997. The intriguing case attracted extensive media coverage - Coady mingled with Hong Kong's social elite and was photographed with the likes of former governor Chris Patten. But for Dr Beh, the case produced its own peculiar headache. 'The stab wound itself was twice the length of the blade of the knife,' he said. 'The wound actually ended in the victim's liver. So we managed to do a series of experiments to show how much the liver could actually move, either when you breathe or when the body is in different positions. 'We were able to show to the court that, in some cases, the liver could move [inside the body] quite a lot. Every time you breathe in and breathe out, your liver also moves up and down ... We got a few policemen who were the same size as the victim to volunteer in the experiment involving the use of ultrasound.' The case was proved and Coady was convicted. But there are other aspects of the job that require much greater nerve. Dr Beh recalled, without remembering the case details, the murder of a schoolgirl back in the late 1980s as among the most challenging cases of his career. 'It was many year ago. I remembered that she was chopped up and cooked. We were told that some body parts might have been thrown into one of the large rubbish bins at the scene. So we carried out a search of the rubbish bin looking for pieces of bone and other remains - at night. 'We had to empty the huge bin. We found a lot of remains, and enough teeth to identify the victim with the help from dentists at the Prince Philip Dental Hospital. That case took us a long time - months to complete the pathological examinations,' he said. His recollection gives a snapshot of the true nature of his work - not the sanitised world of Lieutenant Columbo - and it's easy to develop an admiration for this mild-mannered gentleman. The pathologist cited as one of his most 'unpleasant' cases the shooting of a Korean passenger in a taxi hijack in Aberdeen. The tragedy happened in the middle of the night on October 13, 1994, when crippled computer engineer Kang Sang-bo, 31, and his 23-year-old captor, Cheung Cho-you, died in a hail of bullets after police cornered the hijacked taxi in Shum Wan Road, Aberdeen. 'We finished an autopsy on the victim and a few days later, his family came to Hong Kong, but we weren't informed. They just showed up at the public mortuary. 'It was a Sunday morning and I was called at home by police. We arranged for the body to be shown to the family and we made sure the body was cleansed and the bullet wound on the victim's head was bandaged before the body was shown to the family - we tried everything we could to help. 'However, we read from the newspaper the next morning that the family were upset about the look of the body and also complained that we did not get permission from them to carry out the autopsy. In fact, we carried out the autopsy with the full knowledge of the Korean consulate. We did not need permission from the family in a case like this one,' he said. These are rare moments of regret, but for Dr Beh, who has two boys, aged nine and 13, the most emotionally draining aspect of his work are the autopsies he has to perform on young children and babies. 'If the deaths were caused by child abuse, it is definitely not a pleasant experience to see all the bruises, bone fractures and sometimes even burns over their bodies,' he said. 'I ask myself what those innocent children had done to deserve this trauma.' For all the above reasons, Dr Beh said it was his principle not to bring his work home, and his mental separation of the two has meant he can maintain a healthy family life. But his work means he is never far from the headlines. Recently, he undertook post-mortem examinations on eight Sars patients and boldly criticised the government for not doing enough autopsies to study how the virus killed 299 people in Hong Kong. The outspoken pathologist complained that Hong Kong owed the world an explanation on how the Sars virus killed. 'It remains unknown the exact mechanism of how the virus kills, is it the virus itself that kills the lungs or is it the overreaction of the defence system of the body which has caused death,' he said. A Malaysian-Chinese, Dr Beh came to Hong Kong for his medical training in 1976, and worked for the government for 13 years before he took up his teaching job at the University of Hong Kong in 1995. He is not the only family members in the profession - his two younger brothers are doctors. He'd originally planned to become an orthopaedic surgeon when he graduated from the University of Hong Kong. 'I enjoyed seeing people have their broken legs and arms fixed and leave the hospital feeling better,' he explained. But he was told in a job interview that vacancies for orthopaedic surgeons in the government's health department had been filled. So he turned to pathology. 'I enjoyed the pathology classes partly because our professor, Dr Frederick Ong, was very humorous and made the subject very interesting. 'Dr Ong talked about the subjects we had never come across in medical school, like hanging, strangulation and rape, and he taught us how to identify them. 'He showed us another aspect of medical knowledge. Instead of simply curing people who are alive, we can use the knowledge to find the truth behind mysterious deaths,' Dr Beh said. But the pathology professor said he never needed to overcome feelings of dread in his work, even though some bodies brought in were decomposed and brutally disfigured. 'Doctors are trained to handle dead bodies in medical school. I do not mind at all working alone in an autopsy theatre. When I carry out my job, what comes to mind is to find out the cause of their death. I am not overwhelmed by personal feelings.'