|Born||Wong Swee Chin
Kuala Lumpur, Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia)
|Died||11 June 1981 (age 30)
|Criminal charge||Armed robbery|
|Criminal penalty||Death penalty|
|Criminal status||Sentence fulfilled on 11 June 1981|
Wong Swee Chin who was more well known as Botak Chin was one of the most notorious and dangerous gangsters during the 1960s and 1970s in Malaysia. He was known for conducting armed robberies, which in a few cases involved huge amounts of cash. He was respected by the Chinese community and often regarded as modern-age Robin Hood, as some say he shared the cash from the robberies with the poor. On the evening of 16 February 1976, he was captured by the police, and was sentenced to hang to death in Pudu Prison on 11 June 1981.
Botak Chin was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1951 to a family of 10 siblings. His father was a retiree who worked with Malayan Railways, and as a child he lived at the Malaysian Railway quarters adjacent to the Caltex station on Jalan Ipoh. He studied at a Chinese vernacular primary school and then went on to attend the Methodist Boys' Secondary School in Sentul up to Form 3 (the end of lower secondary school). He dropped out soon after. After withdrawing from school, Botak Chin started working as a fishmonger at the Jalan Tun Ismail (formally Maxwell Road) market. After his mother's death, he often spent time away from home, preferring to spend time with his friends. Without his father's knowledge, he became involved with the local hoodlums who eventually lead him to committing petty crimes. This, in turn, led him to join his first gang; the 360 gang (Sak Pak Lok), and he was impressed by the firearms in possession of the gang members. On 19 April 1969, Botak Chin and two of his friends took part in a robbery for the first time. At the age of 18 (the year 1969) he illegally obtained his first firearm (a .22 calibre revolver); he formed his own gang shortly thereafter and proceeded to engage in robbery sprees.
After forming his own gang and obtaining a firearm, Botak Chin engaged in eight robberies within a month in that same year. This led to his first arrest which was followed by a conviction and a prison sentence of 7 years. However, he was released before fully serving out his sentence. He attempted to retire from gangsterism but was unsuccessful; his income as a grocer was not satisfying.
He then formed a gang with Ng Cheng Wong (aka Ah Wong), Beh Kok Chin (aka Pangkor Chai) and Teh Bok Lay (aka Seh Chai). A month prior to forming this gang, he went to Thailand to purchase some firearms. On 2 June 1975, the gang hit an illegal gambling den in Sentul and stole RM5,800. With the income from that robbery, Botak Chin "reinvested in his business" – he went to Thailand again to and apparently bought another eight firearms and 100 rounds of ammunition. The gang used a vacant tin mine in Kepong as their shooting range, using stray dogs for target practice. There were also reports that Botak Chin used to openly brandish his weapons at the Sentul market but nobody dared to inform the police as they were afraid of being victimised by Botak Chin or his gang. On 20 July 1975, now with even more so-called "tools of trade" (the new firearms), the gang became more ambitious and bellicose. They robbed a bank on Jalan Imbi and fled with RM95,000, and then gunned down several mahjong players inside a Chinese temple in Jalan Kolam Ayer and made off with an additional RM10,000. Using his share from the robberies, he bought an expensive foreign-produced car.
Owing to the growing terror in Kuala Lumpur, the police stepped up their fight against Botak Chin. Deputy Superintendent S. Kulasingam (a much-feared high-ranking police officer at his time, nicknamed the 'Crime Buster of Kuala Lumpur') was assigned to stop Botak Chin. His need for firearms and ammunition grew to conduct more robberies, as well as to conduct gun battles with the police and feuds with rival gangs. Moreover, his gang influence had to expand and his position as a gang leader had to be strengthened. Filled with desperation, he even targeted policemen. In one particular case, he attacked three policemen and confiscated their pistols. Botak Chin made frequent trips to Thailand not only to procure illegal firearms, but also to obtain protective talisman (called tangkal) from Siamese (locally called bomoh Siam or bomoh Thai) black magicians (shamans). It was rumoured that he managed to successfully evade capture, survive and escape from numerous gun battles with the police because the Phra Pidta talisman he obtained from a Siamese shaman yielded supernatural powers.
During a shootout with the police in Segambut Dalam, Botak Chin's car was riddled with multiple bullets. Miraculously, however, he escaped unscathed. This led people to speculate that the talisman he was wearing made him invulnerable to bullets, knives and even poison. Some even believed that he could become invisible at will, gave him superhuman powers, thus escaping unseen. Botak Chin grew more fearless and even more determined to pursue his desire for more power in the underworld. Even when one of his right hand men, Chau Kuan (aka Ah Kuan) was shot dead at a sundry shop at Jalan Kovil Hilir on 25 September 1975, his gang operations were not crippled, nor was he demoralised.
Botak Chin's gang biggest exploit occurred on 26 October 1975, when the gang fled with RM218,000 after gunning down a security guard who was delivering money to a turf club. With his share of approximately RM40,000 from the robbery, he made yet another trip to Thailand to purchase even more weapons: a total of 19 guns, 5 hand grenades and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Although things were getting better for Botak Chin and his men, his rivals became even more envious of his accomplishments, leading to an increase in confrontations between him, rival factions, and competing gangs. To consolidate his power as the supreme gangster in Kuala Lumpur, Botak Chin focused his attention towards gang wars. In one major war at a disused tin mine in Jinjang, one of his rivals, Tua Pui Lek, the head of the Five Finger Mountain gang who had sworn to sabotage Botak Chin and take over his position, failed to achieve his ultimate objective; the most that he managed was to murder Botak Chin's right-hand man, Ah Wong. The police gained some success where one of his trusted lieutenants, Seh Chai, killed himself when he was surrounded by the police on Jalan Alor. Early in 1976, Botak Chin recruited new members into his gang. After the recruitment, his gang conducted 3 robberies and escaped with RM400,000. In spite of the successes, the gang suffered heavy casualties. Seven of his men were shot dead and a few others were caught. The police confiscated 15 firearms, along with ammunition and hand grenades.
Arrest and prosecution
On 16 February 1976, the police captured Botak Chin at the Eng Leong sawmill. He miraculously survived despite being seriously wounded with six gunshot wounds. According to the news report by the New Straits Times, Botak Chin implied that he was set up by his own men, Pang Kok Chye and Ah Keong. Botak Chin told the High Court that on the 16th, he was at the Tiong Nam settlement between 7pm and 8pm when Pang Kok Chye and Ah Keong came to see him. They told him that two people required help and wanted to meet with him. Botak Chin then followed his men by car to the Jalan Ipoh sawmill to meet the two people.
He went into the sawmill and sat on a chair for 15 minutes before asking Pang Kok Chye and Ah Keong regarding the whereabouts of the men they were supposed to meet. He then proceeded to make a telephone call. Afterwards, as he was replacing the receiver, a shootout started outside the mill. He then felt agony all over his body and became weak and giddy. He fell onto the floor before realising that he had been shot. Botak Chin claimed that during the shooting, Pang Kok Chye and Ah Keong ran to the back of the mill. Then, when the shooting stopped, something was thrown into building, filling the room with smoke. He had difficulty breathing and became unconscious. The next time he regained consciousness, he found himself hospitalised. Botak Chin denied being involved in the robberies he had conducted and claimed that other robbers used his name as an alias. However, a senior police officer testified in court that Botak Chin was conscious during his arrest. Botak Chin allegedly told the police officers who arrested him that if he wasn't injured in his arms he would have shot and killed many of them. Botak Chin apparently said, "Kalau saya punya due tangan tidak jem, saya sudah tembak. Lu nasib baik." (If I could shoot, I would have done so. You were just lucky.)
Upon Botak Chin's capture, rumours about his alleged invincibility began circulating. Superstitious individuals believed that the police was able to wound and apprehend Botak Chin because, on that day, he left home without wearing his talisman. Another belief is that the police went to Thailand to obtain the assistance of Botak Chin's shaman so as to defeat him. According to newspaper reports, at the time of capture, Botak Chin carried a green cloth with Siamese writings and a plastic green purse containing a note book. Moreover, he wore 3 talismans – one around his neck and 2 more around his waist. Apparently Botak Chin protested when the police wanted to remove the talismans, saying "Ini saya punya tokong" (This is my temple). A plethora of valuable accessories including a Rolex watch, a gold chain with 2 pendants and a jade gold ring were found on him. His wallet contained RM231, HK$10, 50 pieces of Japanese "banana" notes, some Thai Bahts, and a photograph of two women.
On 12 May 1980, Chin, who was 27 years old at that time, faced 3 charges under the Internal Security Act at the Kuala Lumpur High Court. The News Straits Times reported that he denied possessing firearms or ammunition, as well as ownership of two pouches of bullets which were found in his pockets during the sawmill incident. He claimed that he did not know how they got into his pockets. However, he pleaded guilty to the ISA charges and became the first Malaysian to do so. He was sentenced to death by the High Court in the same year. On 1 January 1981, while on death row, he made an unsuccessful attempt to escape from his cell in Pudu Prison; he stabbed several prison wardens but was seriously injured during the struggle. Botak Chin was finally executed at 3 a.m. on 11 June 1981, in the same prison. Ironically, none of the charges were murder; he was sentenced to death solely for the possession of firearms, a capital offence.
Before Chin's execution, his lawyer appealed to the Privy Council for a retrial. The appeal was accepted, but Chin was still found guilty. He appealed to the Supreme Court and Pardons Board, both of which were constituted under the Federal Constitution, but both organisations rejected the appeals.
Dr. Mahadevan, the former director of Tanjung Rambutan Mental Hospital in Perak, treated Botak Chin for 19 days to determine if he was adequately sane to stand trial. He found Botak Chin to be highly intelligent – but a "misguided genius".
At the mental hospital Botak Chin told Dr. Mahadevan that since he was a young boy he had always wanted to help the poor and down-trodden. He wanted to protect them from corrupt officials and gangsters who extorted money from the poor and weak. Botak Chin revealed that he was once brutally attacked by gangsters who entered his vegetable stall at the market and tried to extort money from him, failing which, they beat him until his collar bone was fractured. This incident changed his life. Botak Chin then started to learn martial arts and joined a gang for protection. He also encouraged people to join his secret society so that they won't be harmed and exploited. Members of his secret society had to swear not to take advantage of the poor, cut their hair short and not take drugs. He further told Dr. Mahadevan that in his hometown people regarded him as Robin Hood because he robbed from the rich and gave a considerable amount of the spoils to the poor. Apparently, part of the loot went to his gang and part of it went to the family of those members who were killed or caught by the police. This possibly explains why he managed, time and time again, to hide and gain refuge in the squatter settlements when pursued by the police – with the goodwill he had with the poor, the community were helping him escape. He was their hero.
Botak Chin was no ordinary gangster. His secret society was guided by his philosophy and governed by strict principles and guidelines. Everyone, including himself, had to comply. To enforce discipline among his troops and keep order in the gang, he had executed henchmen who had breached the rules. He was not a killer, he was their taiko (Cantonese saying, meaning 'big brother') and he was just doing his job, he told Dr. Mahadevan. Having built a reputation of reverence among society as Robin Hood, people, especially the lower classes, treated him as such. During his stay at the hospital, patients offered to wash his clothes and perform chores for him. Although Botak Chin never married, he had plenty of female admirers. Dr Mahadevan said he would get calls from women inquiring about Botak Chin when he was at the hospital. Dr Mahadevan said that Botak Chin was rushed back to Kuala Lumpur when a bullet was found in his high security hospital cell because it appeared that his men were coming to help him escape.
During his final days, he sought solace in various religions. While it was his dying wish was to donate his organs for medical purposes, this request was rejected as he had not signed a written consent.