Remember A Day

A millionaire corpse collector, a daring rescue operation and a KGB assassination plot: headlines from four decades ago

A journey back through time to look at significant news and events reported by the South China Morning Post from this week in history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 9:57pm

Grabbing headlines four decades ago this week was news about Indonesian police hunting for a local millionaire who collected corpses as a hobby, and a daring James Bond-style operation carried out by an Australian journalist to sneak his lover out of Laos.

June 4, 1978

• KGB agents allegedly killed former UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold in a 1961 plane crash, according to a Penthouse magazine article to be published in August that year.

The article, which quoted a secret CIA report, said Hammarskjold was assassinated because he had refused to inaugurate a three-man leadership system at the world body. The document claimed a Soviet-designed explosive device had been placed on the aircraft carrying him.

• Argentina, which had just signed a trade agreement with China, planned to use Hong Kong as the centre of its trade thrust into Asia and had already set up a trade commission in the city.

June 5, 1978

• Chinese gangs operating in San Francisco were milking visiting Cantonese opera groups from Hong Kong dry with demands for protection money. The latest victim of the extortion racket was the Chor Fung Ming group, one of the most successful Cantonese opera troupes in Hong Kong. Demands from the gangs ranged from a token US$500 to US$5,000, depending on the popularity of the visiting artists.

June 6, 1978

• Queen Elizabeth turned down a petition from the Hong Kong Heritage Society to save the former Tsim Sha Tsui terminal of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. However, the station’s clock tower would be preserved and integrated into the design of the new cultural complex replacing it.

• A Polish surgeon’s assistant was fired for opening up his wife’s body at the hospital he worked at in Warsaw to check whether an operation performed before her death had been botched, leading to her demise.

June 7, 1978

• Racing was providing the man in the street with a “painless” way of paying his taxes, according to Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club general manager Bernard Penfold, who said taxes on individuals would be much higher if not for the contributions made by the Jockey Club through betting on each race day, as well as the commission paid by the club for the Mark Six lottery.

• Orders were given to arrest an Australian journalist and his Laotian fiancée after the couple escaped from Laos. John Everingham, 28, swam the Mekong River in scuba gear 10 days earlier to rescue his Laotian sweetheart, Keo Srisomphone, from under the noses of local soldiers.

June 8, 1978

• British prime minister James Callaghan warned there was a danger of a new cold war emerging between East and West and described Europe as a “powder keg”. He elaborated that this was “because of Russia’s attitude on human rights, Cuban intervention in Africa and the build-up in Europe of Soviet forces”.

June 9, 1978

• Substantial buy orders from Britain and sustained interest by local investors helped the Hang Seng Index breach the psychological 500 barrier as it soared to 505.28, the highest in more than four years.

• Vietnam accused ethnic Chinese groups, who had since left the country, of plundering its border villages with help from Chinese soldiers. The Vietnam News Agency said about 40 Chinese people crossed a border river in Mong Cai district, northeast of Hanoi, and stole animals and other property, while another group dismantled a generator at the Po Hen hydroelectric power station.

June 10, 1978

• Police in Jakarta were on the trail of a mystery local millionaire who had the unusual and disturbing hobby of collecting corpses. An informer told police the man was prepared to pay up to HK$4,500 for well-preserved bodies – the older the better.

• The establishment of a transit centre was being considered as an option to help deal with the influx of Vietnamese refugees into Hong Kong. The centre would make life a lot easier for the refugees, some of whom had to wait two days before their applications for temporary Hong Kong stay were processed.

Remember A Day looks at significant news and events reported by the Post during this week in history