Posted: 10 Dec 2011 11:22 PM PST
This compelling documentary brings to light the truth behind one of Malaysia's most notorious and gruesome murders — that of Canny Ong.
FEW tragedies have inspired the same curiosity, horror and astonishment as Canny Ong's murder. When news of the sadistic attack first surfaced in 2003, a trail of wild, speculative and half-baked conspiracy theories followed in its wake. Almost every Malaysian had an opinion about it.
"She had a chance to escape," people blogged. "She was a black belt in taekwondo, why didn't she call for help?" others asked.
When you get a case where the evidence is just so clear cut, the only question remaining at the end of it is ... why? Why such brutality?
To make sense out of the seemingly senseless crime, people began to come up with answers of their own.
Chris Humphrey, executive producer for AETN All Asia Networks, thinks the "why" question is what made Canny Ong's one of the most-talked-about murders in Malaysia.
"Girl goes to car, girl gets abducted, murdered and then disposed of – all, for absolutely no reason. How can you understand it? You can't right? It's completely senseless," he says.
The stories have come and gone full circle.
Some say the victim knew her abductor and had a personal relationship with him. Others speculate that she was ridden with debt, and her demise was at the hands of a disgruntled loan shark.
Humphrey adds: "The press, of course, look at a story and feel the need to make something of it.
"But when one can't make sense of it, people try to do the understanding for you. And that's when you start to get opinions, non-truths, theories and ideas."
The story of how an attractive 28-year-old IT analyst was abducted, brutally raped, murdered and left to die before her charred remains were discovered three days later in a manhole along Jalan Klang Lama in Kuala Lumpur hasn't just haunted the Malaysian public. Its impact manifested in civilian efforts to initiate anti-rape rallies and calls by the Government for shopping malls to beef up car park security.
But perhaps the most potent after-effect was felt by the family she left behind.
Insensitive rumours and sensational media reports have over the years left Ong's family wary, suspicious and tired of the constant intrusions and "irrelevant" probes into her private life.
This is partly why, after eight years of silence, the decision by Ong's mother Pearly Visvanathan Ong to finally come out and tell her side of the story is of such great interest.
After all these years, an honest, straight forward account, free from sensationalist theories, seems very much in order. Hopefully this will provide closure, not just for her family who have had to endure so much, but also, the memory of Canny Ong.
Setting the record straight
Plain facts, backed by documentation, are what make up the back bone to The Murder Of Canny Ong – a documentary by director Ahmad Yazid, co-directed by Rob Nevis and produced by Lydia Lubon.
The show, commissioned by AETN All Asia Networks exclusively for the Crime and Investigation Network, aims to shed light on the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, and lay to rest the many half truths which continue to circulate around this unfortunate tragedy.
Premiering tomorrow at 10pm, the documentary features exclusive interviews with Ong's family and friends, as well as top investigators directly involved in the case.
It has been eight years since her murder. The night after it happened, Ong was due to return home to a loving husband in America, having travelled to Malaysia to visit her cancer-stricken father who was, ironically, finally on the road to recovery.
Abu Bakar Mustafa was, at the time, the Selangor State Police crime chief.
One of the show's interviewees, Abu Bakar recalls how he put all his best men on the case.
He had, in the past, encountered several other equally brutal cases, but none had been highlighted to such an extent as this. The murder of Ong was of high public interest.
He says: "Speculation abounded. For the public, this was just a guessing game. We had to filter numerous theories, but based on our investigations, we found most of those assumptions carried no weight."
It wasn't an easy ride.
There were twists and turns in the search for the truth, and one of the greatest challenges was staying on track in the face of misleading information.
"No investigation is straightforward," says Abu Bakar, now retired and an intelligence advisor for the Malaysian Crime Prevention Association.
Thanks to the case's top team of investigators, however, the final stack of evidence used to convict 27-year-old aircraft cabin cleaner Ahmad Najib Aris, was about as straightforward as it gets.
Amidon Anan was, at the time, head of Crime Scene Investigation Malaysia. He remembers the Canny Ong murder as a landmark case.
It was the use of a comprehensive forensic science-based approach in documenting and recovering evidence that resulted in a case that was strong enough for conviction.
The team implemented skills gained from overseas training in applied forensic science.
Instead of just one or two persons doing everything, as per a normal investigation, they had an entire team of forensically-trained specialists.
"We had a photographer, a sketcher, an exhibit collector and an exhibit packager," says Amidon, explaining the latter is crucial to prevent cross-contamination events, which could lead to crucial evidence becoming inadmissible in court.
Thanks to precise details recorded during the first visit to the crime scene, an accurate reconstruction (with the suspect on site) was made possible.
This was key, as it led to the retrieval of important evidence that had been overlooked the first time round – a pair of the victim's earings, for example.
This evidence, combined with DNA samples extracted from Ong's severely charred remains, led to what Amidon describes as an "almost perfect" case.
Had forensic science not been used in approaching the crime scene from the outset, Amidon believes the chances of securing a conviction would have been signficantly reduced.
Still, Ong's murder remains surrounded by questions. Why would anyone murder a complete stranger, and in such a brutal manner? For Amidon, seeing the body was a gruesome experience. He turned to criminal psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat to gain insight into the kind of person capable of such a crime.
Understanding the 'why?'
Initially consulted unofficially, Dr Geshina went on to study the case in detail, based on information furnished by the police reports.
"Based on the symptoms, (Ahmad Najib's) behaviour, mannerisms and relationships with others ... it is typical of people, especially men, in possession of similar characteristics, to behave in a like manner," she says, recounting her findings.
"Sometimes they start small, with sexual harassment, and gradually, they may move on to murder. That is typical."
Ahmad Najib, it was later discovered, had a history of sexual harassment, though this was not played up in the media out of respect for his victims' privacy.
At least three other women had come forward, having recognised his face, according to reports.
This was all truly perplexing for Rosal Azimin Ahmad, who was Ahmad Najib's solicitor and previously the suspect's football coach.
He knew the man and thought him normal, helpful, in fact, and always willing to help out at the mosque.
Beneath this wholesome facade, however, Dr Geshina says she suspects Ahmad Najib suffered from a hyper-sexual dysfunction.
"He had very strong deviant sexual fantasies involving not just the sexual act, but also the destruction of the person."
In cases such as this, perpetrators often tend to see their victims not as people but as objects.
"It is cognitive distortion, (they) justify the act. To him, what he did was not wrong."
Dr Geshina thinks the reason why he risked committing the crime was simple – he thought he could get away with it.
Another question about the case has popped up, time and time again: There were two police officers on crime prevention patrol duty that night. Why did these officers not give a sustained chase afterAhmad Najib, having been stopped by them, sped off with his victim, leaving his and Ong's identity cards behind?
The documentary addresses this question at length through interviews with Abu Bakar and lance corporal S. Ravichandran, one of two police officers on duty that night.
As for the final question, the one at the root of so many half-baked conspiracy theories: why, upon being confronted by the police, did Ong not signal for help? No one will ever know the answer to that question for certain, but the documentary does try to offer some insight.
In fact, it was the experiences of co-director (and researcher) Nevis that may finally have convinced Ong's mother to take part in making this documentary in the first place.
From Sri Lanka, a country replete with historical violence, Nevis was in a good position to explain to her what it was the filmmakers and channel wanted the documentary to portray.
In a strange way, his personal experiences enabled him to empathise with Ong. He was able to superimpose his own feelings of what it means to be completely frozen with fear in that sort of situation.
"In 1998, in Sri Lanka during the Civil War, I was held at gun point for half an hour," he explains. "A handgun on my head, with the safety off. I'll tell you, the fear that you go through – I couldn't speak. And I knew that Canny must have gone through the same thing."
Perhaps there is a hope that this documentary may help people finally understand what it was that caused Ong, when faced with seemingly numerous opportunities to escape, not to move.
Ahmad Najib was sentenced to death for murder in February 2005.
He received a further 20-year jail sentence for the rape of Canny Ong Lay Kian, and lost his final appeal in March 2009 after the Federal Court reached a unanimous decision that there was enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that he, and no one else, was responsible for what happened to Ong that night.
He is inches away from the gallows, and the conclusion of his sentence hangs on a single last resort – the request for a royal pardon. It is only a matter of time before the fate of someone whom everyone once thought to be a helpful, unassuming young man goes down in history.
To catch The Murder Of Canny Ong, tune in to the Crime and Investigation Network (Astro Ch 732) tomorrow night at 10pm.Full content generated by Get Full RSS.
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