FROM RAYMOND, WITH LOVE
SAINT Valentine's Day, as everybody knows, was founded on love, not on murder. Raymond Ng Kin-ming, as everybody was soon to find out, no longer cared about the difference.
Among men, Ng was a weed. A skinny, shy, 160-centimetre-tall, 35-year-old weed. His Castle Peak Road electronics business and his career as an electronics inventor were failures. The brass-plaque certificates and framed university degrees hanging from his office walls were forgeries. His male friends were few. Yet among women he was a bedroom guru and curator of a harem-sized collection of girlfriends. He preyed on Hong Kong's lost women - the plain Janes from public housing estates who had neither money, looks nor education, and had been passed over by men their own age.
Ng would shower his entourage with gifts, weekends at the Grand Hyatt, and romantic dinners a deux. Intoxicate them with his attentions, hints of marriage and the promise that very soon one of his brilliant electronic inventions would revolutionise the world and make them both rich beyond their dreams. He toyed with women as he toyed with the broken radios and televisions that littered his flat. They were things to fix up. Things to absorb his attention until they worked as he wanted. Then, tiring of them, he would lose interest, let them go and move on to his next broken toy.
Naturally, the biggest festival of the year for this sexual Napoleon was St Valentine's Day and in 1991 he was waging campaigns with at least a dozen women. By February 12, his 700-square-foot Kwun Tong flat was a cottage industry dedicated to romance. The broken radios, televisions and piles of electronic equipment that usually choked the second bedroom had given way to stacks of neatly wrapped love gifts, bunches of flowers and boxes of chocolates.
There were almost 20 parcels ready to be divided among Ng's harem. There were chocolates for Chan Woo-hung, the 37-year-old he had promised to marry. There were flowers and chocolates for Patricia Wong, the 25-year-old he had promised to marry. Lau Qi-hing, the 27-year-old he had been dating for 10 years was to get a parcel in the post, as was Lai Lai-ying, the 25-year-old lover he had installed at his company, Keytrone Electronics. But neither they nor the other women on Ng's list would ever receive their gifts.
On February 12, Ng was far too busy lavishing his attention on Anna Cheng, the one woman who had eluded him, the only 'broken toy' he could not fix. When she had dumped him three years earlier, she had said he was 'strange'. Six months earlier, she had married Lam Man-tat, an assistant manager at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile - a man who was younger, handsome and more successful. She refused Ng's calls and did not respond to his letters.
Ng had met her when she was just 19, and for five years he had been her teacher, lover and master. But then she had exposed Raymond the Conqueror as Raymond the Unwanted Weirdo. And Ng did not like reality.
Blind love had become savage obsession. And now, in the bedroom which he painted pink because it was Ms Cheng's favourite colour, Ng put the final touches to the Valentine's Day gift that would top them all. Into a cake tin lined with four soldered batteries and three detonators he poured half a kilogram of gunpowder. Across the top of the gunpowder he spread carpet tacks, steel nails and at least 49 hand-sharpened pieces of shrapnel.
The gruesome package was wrapped in expensive, pastel green gift paper and decorated with two bright red lai see packets containing $100 each and a card.
Ng addressed the card to Ms Cheng's husband. Finally he wrapped the present in brown paper and sent it to the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, Nathan Road, Hong Kong. As soon as his handsome young rival removed the card the gunpowder would detonate - and Ms Cheng would come back to him.
The parcel arrived at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile's crowded lobby at 2.30 pm on February 13. Receptionists, secretaries and clerks gathered around for the 'wahs' traditional to the delivery of a grand Valentine's gift. Mr Lam was touched his wife had gone to such trouble and would have opened it right there had he not been so busy dealing with huge numbers of guests checking in and out. Finally, he had a couple of spare moments and accompanied by 20-year-old Chap Yuk-chu, who wanted to keep the wrapping paper, he went into the computer room behind the lobby to open it.
'I just remember how beautifully it was wrapped,' Ms Chap told the police later. 'I thought it was a beautiful thing to send by post.' Mr Lam removed the brown paper. Ms Chap hooked her long hair behind her ear and peered over his shoulder. Mr Lam tugged the first lai see packet. Deep within the gunpowder the detonator spat out a tiny spark.
A ball of flame burst from the parcel at 133 metres per second. Nails, carpet tacks and shrapnel tore through the lovely green wrapping paper like pellets from a sawn-off shotgun. Mr Lam's face and hands bore the impact of the blast - but Ms Chap was also horrifically burned as the furnace ripped through the lobby, smashing windows, blasting open doors, sending ceiling tiles, office furniture and computers crashing. It travelled through the heating ducts and blasted open doors upstairs. By some miracle, the lethal nails and shrapnel missed the faces of Ms Chap and Mr Lam and wound up buried deep in the ceiling, but both sustained severe and disfiguring injuries.
'It was panic. Pure panic,' recalls Stanley Chui, who was working in the hotel lobby that afternoon. 'In the event of fire or emergency it was up to Mr Lam to take control. There was thick, black smoke everywhere, I was searching for Mr Lam when I saw the burnt bodies in the computer room. Their faces were just unrecognisable. It was only when I read the name tags on their clothes that I realised I had found Lam Man-tat.' There was no doubt about it in the minds of the press and television reporters: it was February 13, 1991, and the Gulf War had come to Hong Kong. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's terrorists had set a torch to the most visible American business in Hong Kong, turning the Golden Mile into the Eastern Front.
'It was a media carnival,' Superintendent Bob Youill said. As the press - CNN, the BBC, the Hong Kong crews and photographers - rushed in, many guests, notably the crews of Gulf Air, were checking out. Some 60 police officers were called in to control the scene. Bomb disposal experts were drafted to explode other packages to Mr Lam. An information hotline was set up.
Ignoring intense pressure to view the bombing as terrorist-related, the police quickly and correctly determined it was a domestic matter. A team was dispatched to interview Ms Cheng, who was at her husband's bedside. 'It was a difficult moment,' one of the officers said. 'She had just seen her husband looking like all his features had been shaved off. I can't imagine what she was going through.' Ms Cheng immediately mentioned Ng, recalling his endless turgid letters to her, his pleas for her to come back to him, and his late-night phone calls to Mr Lam and his mother. She said he was strange. 'That was putting it mildly,' the officer said. 'By the time we finished the investigation, everyone pretty much agreed we had never seen a case like it. It was total, absolute, naked obsession.' Sitting in his apartment watching a news bulletin about the explosion, someone else recalled Ng. A detective with the England Private Detective Agency remembered the skinny electronics boffin had paid him to follow Mr Lam and trace his work address. He remembered Ng begging him to pay one of his female agents to seduce Mr Lam and, when he refused, Ng had sent him a cheque for $50,000 requesting he find 'some spiv to break Mr Lam's arms and legs'. He also recalled how, when he sent the cheque back, Ng had said: 'Forget it, I don't need you anyway. I will blow him up myself.' He immediately dialed the police hotline.
Ng was questioned and arrested, but it was only when the police searched his apartment that they discovered just how astonishingly deep was his obsession with Ms Cheng. In the pink-walled bedroom they found a briefcase containing a grisly collection of sexual memorabilia. Along with every letter, birthday, Christmas and, of course, Valentine's card she had ever sent to Ng, they found underwear Ms Cheng had worn more than five years earlier. Stored in a dated envelope they found the condom Ng had used when they made love for the first time and which he had attempted to give to her as some kind of love token in a misguided effort to regain her affections. Ng's obsession had not ended there. After they made love, he would apparently comb his bed for pubic hair, line them on a strip of sticky tape and glue them into a book along with her name and the date.
After discovering his macabre catalogue, police were fairly convinced that Ng, like the old radios littering his home, was out of tune. 'We fully expected all those piles of presents in his flat to be addressed to fictitious women,' one officer said. 'We presumed he was living a fantasy life.' Then something astonishing happened.
'One of the girls appeared, insisting Ng was a wonderful fiance who would not hurt a fly. So we took her to the station to get some statements and while she was being interviewed we got a call saying Ng's girlfriend was downstairs. He had two girlfriends. So we starting interviewing her in another room. Then another girl appeared at the front desk protesting Ng's innocence. At one time we had three or four girls being interviewed at the same time - all insisting they were Ng's only girlfriend and all insisting Ng was wonderful, harmless and innocent.' On April 19, a Supreme Court jury took a different view and after just 50 minutes found Ng guilty of attempted murder. Mr Lam - his face still scarred and his skin-grafted hands protected by black gloves - gave evidence. As did Ms Cheng, pregnant with the couple's second child. As did the detective.
By the end of the trial, prosecutors Jim Dick and Clive Grossman had marshalled a mountain of forensic and circumstantial evidence pointing irrefutably to Ng's obsession and guilt. Ng declined to give evidence and produced no defence. Yet, in the face of all this, the strange, skinny, boffin still had a woman admirer who supported him in court every day. A plain, bespectacled woman in her mid-20s who had visited Ng in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre every day for the past three years, and who would go running after reporters to inform them that Ng was innocent, Ng was wonderful, Ng was a truly romantic man.