Remembering crime buster Kulasingam

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

— Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

When I started my life as a rookie reporter 50 years ago, I befriended some of best detectives in the country.

Thanks to these “frontliners” who risked their lives for society and the nation, many syndicates were smashed and renowned killers were sent to the gallows.

It was my father Datuk Seri JG Ritchie – one of Malaysia’s top Criminal Investigation Department chiefs who influenced me to become an investigative reporter.

A pre-war officer, he was well-versed with the world of Chinese secret societies operating throughout the Malayan community from Singapore to as far as Penang.  

When we were young, my father would come back after a special operation and regale us with stories of close encounters, solving crimes of passion or a kidnap for ransom.

Ipoh-born, my father spoke fluent Hokkien, Cantonese and Thai, and had qualified as a translator, having passed his written Mandarin exams. Unlike the other rough and tough policemen, my father spent much of his time persuading underworld members to give up their life of crime.

My oldest brother Chief Inspector Richard, a quiet and soft-spoken man, joined the police just before my father retired in 1970.

And it was not long after when my sister Cynthia married Inspector Peter Lim, another famous Kuching crime buster.

With three policemen in the family, it was only a matter of time when I joined the bandwagon and was seconded to the New Straits Times’ crime desk.

For the next 10 years, I covered most of Malaysia’s sensational crime stories — the raid of the Japanese Red Army on the American Embassy at the AIA building in Kuala Lumpur and the capture of “Master of Disguise” Lai See Kiaw who committed suicide rather than surrender when trapped in a special operation.

Then there was “Botak Chin” the Robin Hood of Kuala Lumpur who carried a hand grenade and wore special Thai amulets which supposedly could make him “invisible”.

Botak Chin was finally captured in an ambush at an abandoned sawmill after all his men were killed and he was incapacitated because he was shot in both his arms.  

In the early 1970s the city’s CID chiefs comprised tough Indians — Govindasamy, Balasundram and S. Kulasingam or “Kula”, a Ceylonese Tamil.

At that time the CID headquarters was at High Street (now Jalan Bandar) which was like a second home to us crime reporters.

As a young gungho reporter, High Street was the place which was our regular “source of information”, the other being the General Hospital mortuary.

Once when I delivered the early morning newspapers to Paul the mortuary attendant, he invited me to the premises’ “cold storage” where corpses were kept.

On a good day, Paul who had a morbid sense of humour, would show me the latest arrival pulling open one compartment containing a corpse and then explained how he had died.

Back at High Street, I befriended Kula, a policeman who initially served as a commander with the Police Field Force “jungle squad” at the height of the communist insurgency.

Tall, tough and ruthless he feared nothing and was worshipped by his fellow Iban subordinates who were prepared to die for him in battle.

I had respect for Kula because behind the apparently heartless man was a kind soul.

Kula and I became close friends after I cooperated with him by withholding the story of a four-year-old girl Premalatta who had been kidnapped for ransom.

The captors had threatened to kill the girl if the news of her kidnap appeared in the media.

Since I was the only reporter who knew about her case, Kula appealed to me to hold the story to save her life.

I kept my part of the bargain and hours after Premalatta was rescued, Kula kept his promise and gave me a “scoop” — the full story of her kidnap and rescue which was headlined in the Malay Mail the following day.

Kula went on to serve in the CID with distinction — he was badly injured when Botak Chin ambushed him when he was driving alone at Jalan Ampang.

Despite being shot in the abdomen, he managed to drive to the General Hospital where he underwent an urgent operation which saved his life.

A year later he was back in action with his comrade in arms Gui Poh Choon, dashing up the steps of a hotel and kicking down the door of a room where a top gangster was holed up.

In that incident he was shot again in the chest, and again lived to tell his tale.

Kula went on to win the PGB — Malaysia’s second highest award for bravery — and rose to the rank of assistant commissioner and lived a quiet bachelor’s life in Johor.

He died several years ago and was buried without much fanfare, one of the country’s handful of warriors we must not forget.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.