State Coroner rules open verdict for missing elderly woman with pile of white bones in her rental flat

State Coroner rules open verdict for missing elderly woman with pile of white bones in her rental flat

SINGAPORE — The death of a 73-year-old woman has been classified as an unresolved case by the state coroner after a pile of white bones was found in her rental flat.

State Coroner Adam Nakhoda ruled an open verdict on Thursday (6 Apr) in the death of Madam Cheng Ah Imm, who lived in the fourth-floor unit at Block 15, Toa Payoh Lorong 7, according to Lianhe Zaobao.

In June 2022, Housing Development Board (HDB) officials broke open the locked door of Mdm Cheng’s rental flat and found a pile of bones in the living room, after deciding to reclaim the flat due to unpaid rental of over two years.

The last rental payment for the unit was made in March 2020, according to HDB records, but there is no information on who made the payment.

After sending officials to the unit eight times without success, the HDB decided to reclaim the unit on 16 June 2022.

Mdm Cheng had originally lived with her older brother, Cheng Beng Huat, and started living alone when her brother moved into a nursing home in 2016.

Investigators obtained a DNA sample from an oxygen mask that Cheng Beng Huat used as he has passed away and confirmed a sibling relationship between the sample and the bones.

However, as the sample was not obtained directly from the brother, the identity of the bones cannot be determined absolutely by forensics.

There was no evidence of forced entry into the unit, and Mdm Cheng did not have any other relatives.

The State Coroner notes that the bones are highly likely to belong to Mdm Cheng, although there is no way to identify the deceased definitely.

As the state of the remains made it impossible to determine the cause of death, the State Coroner ruled an open verdict in the case of Mdm Cheng’s death.

The police, however, have ruled out the possibility of homicide.

Netizens question why HDB officials took so long to discover the deceased

Some netizens have questioned why the HDB officials took so long to discover the deceased, given that an elderly person was living in the unit.

One netizen commented on Lianhe Zaobao‘s Facebook post, “This incident raises questions about the efficiency of the HDB and town council officials in managing public housing. Their work processes should be reviewed.”

The second netizen expressed frustration and criticized the HDB for its inefficiency in responding to the situation.

He noted that after multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact the tenant, the HDB officials should have realized that something was amiss and taken immediate action, rather than waiting for two years and finding only skeletal remains after breaking open the door.

“The HDB’s SOP procedures should be reformed, ” another comment wrote.

“I really can’t accept why they could wait for two years to take action despite knowing there was a problem, especially during the pandemic period.”

“It seems like they (HDB officials) only know how to follow procedures and do their own job, without thinking or checking further, and they won’t even make a report to the police.

If the SOP specifies what actions should be taken or if other relevant authorities should be informed in such situations, they will only follow.”

A netizen who commented on the Straits Times‘s Facebook post pointed out that it was only when a party’s interest, in this case, the repossession of the rental HDB flat, was at stake that further action was taken.

The netizen wondered if the officials had noticed any signs or simply went through the motions and questioned whether the authorities bothered to spare the resources to track these markers for the sake of the welfare of people living.

A netizen complained to National Development Minister Desmond Lee, stating that this case has proven how “effective” HDB officers were, “Likely no punishment for those hdb officers involved in this case just like the past. “

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