This story was first published in July 2015 in an e-book titled Guilty As Charged: 25 Crimes That Have Shaken Singapore Since 1965. A collaboration between The Straits Times and the Singapore Police Force, the e-book appeared in The Straits Times Star E-books app. Read the other crime stories here. (Warning: Some content in these stories may be disturbing for some individuals.)
HUANG NA'S MURDER (2004)
Like any other study mama from China, Huang Na's mother brought her to Singapore in early 2003 for a better education. The girl's dream was to be a doctor so she could in turn give her mother a better life. Huang Na also learnt to be streetsmart and independent, as her mother had to shuttle between Singapore and Fujian to care for her 11-month-old half-sister.
On Sept 27, 2004, a day before Huang Na's eighth birthday, her mother returned to their hometown for two weeks.
Huang Na, who once even took a flight back to China alone, was left in the care of friends, who lived with her and her mother in a small room on the upper floor of a fruit and vegetable company at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.
The bubbly girl would go to school herself, take her meals at a nearby food court and sometimes even cook for her and her neighbours. She showered in a common toilet. The centre's auction hall was her playground.
On the afternoon of Oct 10, Huang Na called her mother from a phone booth and asked her to buy a computerised English dictionary and a pair of sandals. They spoke for about six minutes.
That was the last time Madam Huang Shuying heard her voice. And it was the last day Huang Na was seen alive - barefooted and wearing a blue denim jacket and bermudas.
On Oct 31, her badly-decomposed body was found stuffed inside a brown cardboard box less than half her size.
The box was found in dense undergrowth at Telok Blangah Hill Park, just hours after Penang-born Took Leng How was grilled by police.
The vegetable packer, who worked at the wholesale centre and had previously shared a flat with Huang Na and her mother, admitted to strangling the girl with his bare hands in a storeroom where he had lured her for a game of hide-and-seek.
The news left a nation shocked.
Huang Na's disappearance was first made public in newspapers on Oct 14, four days after she was last seen at around 1pm at the food court less than 500m from her home. The Primary 2 pupil of Jin Tai Primary School was described as 1.2m tall, with a fair-complexion and straight dark hair.
Police urged anyone with information to come forward.
Coffeeshop assistant C.B. Lim, who described her as a familiar figure, was one of the last to see her alive. "As she passed by, I asked her why she had no slippers and she just smiled and went."
Madam Huang, who had returned to Singapore two days after the disappearance, combed the island for her girl, even searching construction sites and ditches.
She showed photographs of Huang Na to strangers, asking if they had seen her. She also scoured Bukit Timah Hill and Mount Faber after her niece dreamt she was being held on a mountain.
"I looked everywhere, from Clementi to Geylang, from Race Course Road to Woodlands. I've tried them all, but there is no news," she said.
She could not imagine why anyone would want to harm her daughter. "I work here to earn money for my daughter to study," said Madam Huang, who worked at a vegetable stall at the wholesale centre. "We lead a simple life. I didn't make any enemies or offend anyone."
Police searched Huang Na's favourite haunts, including West Coast Park and the IMM building. Hospitals and transport companies were roped in to keep a lookout for her.
A 60-year-old retired businessman offered a $10,000 reward to anyone with information. Another Singaporean added another $5,000.
Mr Joseph Tan, the founder of Crime Library, a voluntary group which looks for missing people, and employees of his recycling company handed out leaflets to passers-by near where Huang Na disappeared. The general manager of an online design company set up a website to gather tip-offs.
Taxi company ComfortDelGro asked its cabbies to join in the search effort.
In Malaysia, 30 cabbies placed posters of Huang Na on the rear windscreens and front seats of their vehicles. At least five coffee-shop owners in Johor Jaya, Taman Yew and Skudai put up posters.
Those who tried to help Madam Huang said it was heart-wrenching to watch news clips of the mother clutching her daughter's toys, clothes and pictures, walking through neighbourhoods with tears in her eyes, calling out her name.