Botak Chin and ‘Hero’ Kulasingam

Journalism is the protection between people and any sort of totalitarian rule. That’s why my hero, admittedly a flawed one, is a journalist.

— Andrew Vachss, American author

I started out as an avid enthusiast when I joined the NST as a crime reporter in 1973.

Together with BeritaHarian crime reporter Mohamed Nor Khalid@Datuk Lat, we scoured the streets of Kuala Lumpur — Lat on a 1,000cc ‘Matchless’ and I on a BSA 250cc.

Once during the student protest led by (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim, Lat and I rode up to Kampung Kecinci for a first-hand view of the riots.

It was part of the job and all in a day’s work.

In the old days, crime reporters were also sent for “training” at the General Hospital.

As rookies in the Crime Desk under former Police Inspector Rudy Beltran, we were bullied like recruits.

We worked on shifts and my hospital contact was Paul, the mortuary attendant.

If he was in a good mood, he would take me into the “cold storage” to view the collection of victims whose bodies were intact.

On a bad day, he would let us have a view of a victim of a macabre lorry accident minus his head which had been squashed to bits.

After I got used to Paul’s antics, I would ask him about the “ghosts” in the mortuary.

I got so used to visiting the mortuary that you could tell if there was a drowning case, 100 yards away from the mortuary.

Another of my Kuala Lumpur haunts was the “High Street” where my older brother Inspector Richard “Dicky” had served as a CID officer during the May 13 riots.

My soft-spoken brother was a “hero” of sorts, like my father who was best known for containing the secret society gangsters in Penang.

I was so taken by their exploits that I wrote a series entitled “World of Thugs” in 1975, glorifying the gangsters.

The most interesting criminal was Lai See Kiaw, a master of disguise. The armed robber was once trapped in a high-rise apartment by policemen, but he shaved his head and posing as a Buddhist monk, evaded arrest.

His end came after a stand-off with a CID squad. Left with a single bullet, he used it to end his life rather than be captured.

Another famous front-page story was the kidnap for ransom of four-year old Premalatta who was rescued by CID chief Assistant Commissioner S Kulasingam.

A non-nonsense and born fighter, “Tuan Kula” who was of “Tamil Tiger” origin, was a battalion commander with Sarawak PFF.

He was tough but worshipped by his men, especially the Border Scouts.

At the height of gangsterism in Kuala Lumpur, Kula was seconded to the CID section in High Street, another of my haunts.

During the kidnap of Premalatta, he warned me not to use the story as it would endanger her life.

Said Kula: “We are close to catching the crooks and saving the girl. Give me till midnight and I will give you the full story.”

I kept my part of the bargain, and Malay Mail published the heroic actions of Kula and his CID men who saved the little girl and detained her captors.

His archenemy was the notorious “Botak Chin” whose gang set up an ambush at the traffic lights at Jalan Ampang.

The gang in an adjoining car, opened fire on Kula who fought back. Badly wounded in the stomach, he drove to the hospital and was admitted.

After months of recuperating, he was back in action and involved in a second encounter with the infamous “Luku” gang in Petaling Jaya.

Together with his assistant ASP Gui Poh Choon, he rushed up a staircase and kicked down the door to the gangsters’ room and was shot again.

But not before Kula and Gui finished off the gang. Seriously wounded, Kula eventually recovered and retired after receiving the illustrious award Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) for his valour in the face of duty.

Sadly, one of my biggest stories was the unsolved 1974 assassination of IGP Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim, whose son Najib Rahman was at the scene of the killing.

The biggest surprise was when I received a RM50 voucher for breaking the story of the demise of the Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ismail Abdul Rahman in 1973.

In 1977, I was sent to Seremban to become branch manager-cum-reporter, but I spent more time on the crime beat.

One unsolved case in Seremban was the kidnap for ransom and killing of millionaire Tan Kar Lay in Seremban which also made the NST and Malay Mail headlines.

In Seremban, my “strongman” was a stringer Frankie D’Cruz who learnt the ropes from a “boss” (me) he called a bully.

To prove I could walk the talk, I posed as a drug addict, entered the military police headquarters at Port Dickson and purchased several sticks of ganja in 1978.

When we were questioned by the chief of police Tan Sri Zaman Khan, he was told we disposed of the substance.

Frankie went on to work full time with the Malay Mail and became an award-winning journalist before retiring as Editor Emeritus of the paper.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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