When undergarments kept mysteriously disappearing from the laundry rack outside their home over the past year, the couple grew suspicious.
So they installed a CCTV camera outside their flat.
The culprit turned out to be their neighbour of more than 15 years, Seah Cheng Chuan, 49.
At the State Courts yesterday, Seah pleaded guilty to one count of theft of his neighbour's blouse and bra. Another charge of theft of a dress was taken into consideration.
The unemployed man remained silent while the facts of the case were read out to him.
On July 21, the victim, 30, had hung her wet clothes on bamboo poles and left them to dry on the third-floor corridor outside their flat at Bedok Reservoir Road.
That afternoon, Seah was caught on film trying to sniff her underwear on the bamboo pole before returning to his unit. He came out after a while and stole the bra, taking it back into his flat.
He stole the blouse later.
Investigations revealed that Seah stole the item for his sexual pleasure - he had sullied the clothes.
That night, he placed the soiled pieces of clothing in a plastic bag and threw them away.
An Institute of Mental Health (IMH) report showed that Seah was suffering from chronic schizophrenia and fetishism.
He had a history of sexual offences, including molest. He had no previous record relating to theft.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong said: "We note that it is his first property-related offence. But this is motivated by his sexual urges that could be rehabilitated through psychiatric care."
The benchmark sentence for first-time offenders of theft is a fine.
While the report said Seah had been regularly going for schizophrenia treatment, it did not elaborate on his fetishism.
Ms Chong told the court that it was unlikely Seah's schizophrenia that caused the offence, but the same could not be said about his fetishism. It is not known if Seah's fetishism was treated.
District Judge Mathew Joseph said: "The offence boils down to his fetishism. The court is concerned of the accused re-offending if his underlying condition is not treated."
He called for a suitability report for a mandatory treatment order to be made to see if it would help "address the underlying root cause of the problem".
The case will be heard again in two weeks time and Seah will be remanded at IMH in the meantime.
WHAT IS FETISHISM?
Fetishism is a condition in which a person is able to experience sexual satisfaction only through alternative sexual behaviours, said psychiatrist Dr Adrian Wang.
The consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital added: "It becomes a problem for their spouses and for themselves because they are able to be aroused only through these means. That could mean finding sexual pleasure in certain objects or practices."
It is also difficult to discover as few people would come forward to admit that they have a fetish problem, he said.
"Most of the time, it is only because they are found to have committed a crime."
Some treatment methods include psychotherapy, a form of counselling, and behaviour-modification techniques.
Even then, such a treatment would take a long time - from several months to a few years - as it is a tedious process.
Said Dr Wang: "The person must also want to be treated, otherwise it is not effective."
Tony Tan Tong Li, 17, pleaded guilty to stealing 14 sets of school uniforms, 10 skirts and five school T-shirts worth at least $500, all between 2012 and this year. He soon grew bolder and molested two girls, aged nine and 11.
Jonathan Peh Song Wee, 26, a research engineer at the Defence Science Organisation, was ordered to undergo a year of psychological treatment for trespass, theft and fraudulent possession. A total of 228 bras, which Peh could not account for, were found in his house.
This article was first published on September 10, 2014.
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