A UFO mystery, a woman killed by poisoned jam and Hong Kong’s own Robin Hood: 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
A German professor who killed his wife with poisoned jam and an airline pilot passing a hat around to collect funds from passengers to pay for fuel made the headlines four decades ago this week.
July 16, 1978
● Beijing was willing to speak with Kuomintang officials on their differences concerning Taiwan, China’s senior vice-premier Deng Xiaoping said. This was seen as an indication of the Chinese leadership’s growing willingness to discuss Taiwan’s future in light of existing realities such as US involvement with Taipei.
● A growing number of Hong Kong garment manufacturers, battling restrictive overseas quotas, were setting up joint ventures in Sri Lanka. Local businessmen, also hampered by rising labour costs, were turning to the island state, which was still designated as a developing country, and was exempt from such limits.
July 17, 1978
● For the first time, a murder had been committed using cancer as a weapon, a German newspaper reported. After months of suffering, Ingeborg Ruopp died of liver cancer as a result of eating poisoned jam. Her husband, a chemistry professor, was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. For a year, he mixed a cancer-causing poison into the jam she ate with her breakfast every day. The crime was discovered when the killer took a pot of jam, laced with a large dose of the toxic substance, to the hospital for his wife.
July 18, 1978
● A Japanese tour company announced plans to take holidaymakers on day trips around the barren and uninhabited Diaoyu Islands, a disputed chain in the East China Sea claimed by Japan, mainland China and Taiwan. The company, based in Okinawa, planned to offer five-day package tours, including a boat ride around the islands, though visitors would never be able to set foot on them.
● A recent mystery involving unidentified flying objects over Macau may have been solved when four young men on a boating trip came across a grounded weather data-collecting instrument. The object comprised a parachute, a deflated balloon, a metal plate and a mini-transmitter.
July 19, 1978
● The price of rice was expected to drop to five cents a catty (604g) in the coming months. This was because China had reduced the price by between HK$6 and HK$8 per 100 catties. The average retail price was between HK$1.50 and HK$1.75 a catty. The price drop was due to an early crop in Thailand and a drastic decline in consumption due to warmer weather.
● The possibility of one of the world’s longest suspension bridges being built in Hong Kong to link Tsing Yi and the Ma Wan Islands came one step closer to reality with the official signing of a feasibility study. The bridge could span from 1,200 to 1,300 metres and would be the first to be constructed in a typhoon-prone region.
July 20, 1978
● South African police were running short of leg cuffs and made a public appeal seeking 200 additional pairs. The shortage came at a time when prisons and police cells were overcrowded, partly because of a continuing crackdown on black opponents of Pretoria’s apartheid policies. Police said the leg cuffs must have yard-long chains with tamper-proof locks and a spare key.
● The welfare of Hong Kong bus drivers came under scrutiny in the legislature as lawmakers looked into their health, working conditions and wages. The council was told that while the drivers were among the “most highly paid in Hong Kong”, making between HK$1,500 and HK$1,700 per month, this included compensation for many hours of overtime. The basic salary was HK$900.
July 21, 1978
● A locally incorporated company, with substantial financial backing from Canada, bought the well-known Hong Lok Yuen Orchard in Tai Po, with plans to turn it into a HK$500 million luxury housing complex. The development would consist of 900 two-storey houses, to be built in 20 different designs. Houses were expected to cost between HK$500,000 and HK$800,000 each.
● A modern-day Robin Hood, who chose not to ask for legal aid, was told by a Hong Kong judge that he had represented himself far better than a lawyer could have done. The praise was given to Chan Hok-fung, 28, after he told the court he had robbed only wealthy people and had then given money to the poor.
July 22, 1978
● An airline pilot had to organise a cash collection among his passengers when an airport in Peru refused to refuel his plane on credit. Airport officials said the incident happened a week before, when a Boeing 707 belonging to the Societe Antillaise de Transport et de Tourisme was forced to refuel on a Paris-Lima flight after running into strong headwinds. The refuelling cost was US$4,000.
● Vegetables growing on more than 10,000 sq ft of farmland in Tsing Yi were pulled up and burned for fear that they could cause a cholera epidemic. The farmland was then treated with bleaching powder and liquid disinfectant. The unprecedented measures were taken after it was found the land had been fertilised with manure taken from two wooden toilets that had been used by a cholera carrier who died a few days earlier.