Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article reported that Winnifred Teo was murdered near Bukit Batok Nature Park, when her body was found at Old Holland Road near Bukit Timah Nature Park. The article has been edited to reflect the change.
MSUnsolved: The Cold Case Of Winnifred Teo
Disclaimer: MSUnsolved is a series that hopes to raise awareness of cold cases in Singapore and generate new leads. If you have any information on the cases, reach out to MS News or the police.
Taking a walk in the late evenings or coming back in the wee hours of the morning isn’t seen as that dangerous in Singapore — which is what Winnifred Teo must’ve also been thinking all those years ago.
However, the unthinkable then happened.
On a tragic night in 1985, the beloved daughter, student, and friend to many fell victim to a brutal murder and sexual assault near Bukit Timah Nature Park.
Though her body had been recovered, the murderer was never found.
For a long time after her death, law enforcement and authorities have taken measures to prevent history from repeating itself.
A murder that shocked the nation in 1985
Bukit Timah Nature Park is a beautiful green haven, even back in the 1980s. It’s no wonder that joggers and cyclists frequented the area to immerse themselves in nature while getting that cardio in.
On the evening of 22 May 1985, 18-year-old student Winnifred Teo left her home on Maryland Drive.
She took her usual route that day — one that passed through Old Holland Road, about two kilometres away from her home.
But unlike any other day, she failed to return.
For 14 hours, Winnifred’s mother did not from her daughter or see her. Following this, she took the matter to the police.
It took six hours for the search team to locate the 18-year-old. To her family’s dismay, they found her lifeless body — naked in a bushes along Old Holland Road.
Singapore Monitor also reported that her hands were tied with her T-shirt and brassiere.
Meanwhile, police found her pink shoes, black shorts, and watch nearby.
Winnifred had presumably suffered a gruesome death, as she had stab wounds to the neck and bruises on her face. There were also signs of sexual assault.
The heartbreaking news shook the nation with schools reminding female students not to travel alone.
Additionally, they encouraged them to avoid taking shortcuts when going to school.
Winnifred Teo as remembered by those around her
When the news went public, the public poured out their condolences.
Those who knew of Winnifred described her as a model final-year student at Catholic Junior College who was well-loved.
Then-principal of Catholic Junior College, Brother Joseph Kiely, praised her as being a “natural leader”.
This is unsurprising as Winnifred was the school council’s treasurer — while juggling commitments in volleyball and softball.
According to The Straits Times (ST), her peers also knew her as “the girl with the Haiwaian looks” in reference to her flowing hair and tan complexion.
A fellow jogger also told reporters that Winnifred was a familiar face around the area.
“She always wore pink track shoes with a headband,” said the 16-year-old to ST in 1985.
She was pretty. Her long hair almost touched her waist, and it would swing with each step she took. Sometimes she tied it in pig tails.
At the end of the day, Winnifred was just a regular student and a daughter who was robbed of a promising future ahead.
Theories behind the murder of Winnifred Teo
Following Winnifred’s believed murder, the police worked to bring her killer to justice.
One theory was that she could’ve been killed by her father’s jealous business rivals, reported Singapore Monitor.
“They might have wanted to get back at his family members while he was out on overseas business,” said police sources.
Winnifred was the second daughter of Mr Teo Joo Kim, then a managing director with Kuok Brothers.
At the time of her death, the latter was in Munich for work.
However, Mr Teo had dismissed these allegations and urged newspapers to “check their facts carefully”.
There was also a possibility that the killer might have had one or more accomplices.
Additionally, a senior officer told reporters that they’re working on a theory that she may have been attacked by a “lone sex fiend”.
On 28 May 1985, five days after her body was found, ST reported that there was a manhunt.
Police sources told the newspaper that they were looking for a flasher who had repeatedly exposed himself to passersby.
Though they eventually interrogated him, he was later released as detectives could not find any links to Winnifred’s case.
S$50,000 reward for information but killer’s identity was never found
Despite the police’s efforts — including lengthy interrogations of two suspects — they faced a dead-end.
Forensic technology at the time was also not developed enough to be able to uncover DNA samples left behind.
Winnifred’s family then came forth with a S$50,000 reward on 28 May 1985 as a last-ditch effort.
“Investigations over the past six days have not established any positive motive and with the negative results, the S$50,000 reward may be the last resort bid to get members of the public to come forward and provide badly needed information,” said a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer to Singapore Monitor.
This offer was up until December 1985 since the authorities had difficulties finding leads.
Investigations continued despite no leads being found till 1991 when an announcement was made at a hearing at the coroner’s court that there was no progress made on the case.
Cold cases always have a chance of resurfacing
It is unfortunate, but the killer’s identity remains a mystery to this day.
Winnifred’s case was brought up again when another victim in 2000 was assaulted and raped at Bukit Batok Nature Park.
Many thought that the suspect may have been behind Winnifred’s murder 15 years ago — and that they were dealing with a serial murderer.
However, the autopsy report of this victim showed that the modus operandi, or the method in which this assault was carried out, was not the same. Thus, the theory of it being a serial killing was debunked.
However, a case going cold does not necessarily mean that it’s the end.
In 2021, a man had come forward with new information regarding the rape and murder of 7-year-old Lim Shiow Rong in 1995, another case that had gone cold.
There was also an arrest made during that time for the alleged murder of missing student Felicia Teo Wei Ling, who had gone missing in June 2007 and was presumed dead.
These developments in cases that had long gone cold have sparked interest in other cold cases like Winnifred’s and had given people hope that they might be solved as well.
If you or anyone you know may have valuable information, reach out to MS News or the police to help bring closure to Winnifred’s case.
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