Suicidal Hong Kong mother pleads guilty to drugging, then strangling son to death

A Hong Kong mother pleaded guilty to killing her son because she feared he would not be able to support himself without her.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A suicidal Hong Kong woman has admitted to killing her 23-year-old son by strangling him with a USB cable after drugging him with sleeping pills because she believed he would not be able to financially support himself after her death.

Primary school janitor Chiu Lai-ha, 57, on Friday pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility, after psychiatric experts found that she was suffering from a major depressive disorder that substantially impaired her judgment and reasoning at the time of the killing in February 2019.

Madam Justice Susana D’Almada Remedios will sentence Chiu on October 30, pending reports on her latest psychiatric condition and the suitability of a probation order.

The High Court heard the incident came to light at about 10.05pm on February 23, when a security guard at Chiu’s building at the Shin Ming Estate in Tseung Kwan O found her staggering around on the ground floor and called an ambulance.

Paramedics arrived at the scene to find she could not answer questions properly and suspected that she was drugged.

In ambiguous terms, Chiu then said she and her son had taken rat poison at home the day before, prompting the ambulance crew to seek assistance from firefighters, who subsequently broke into her locked unit and found her son, Lai Yu-fan, on the sofa.

By then, Lai had no vital signs, and a mark suggesting he had been strangled was found on his neck.

He was certified dead at 11.28pm on the same day.

Chiu was arrested for murder the following morning.

Under caution, she told investigators that she had been depressed and suicidal for “quite some time”. She had initially intended to commit suicide without killing her son, but later decided they should die together as she believed he could not financially support himself after her death on his comparatively low salary as a casual worker.

Read Also
Suicide and homicide ruled out as Hong Kong jury deliberates death of teen found at sea
Suicide and homicide ruled out as Hong Kong jury deliberates death of teen found at sea

So on February 21, she crushed up 20 sleeping pills – prescribed by a government clinic – and added them to soup, which she then gave to her son in order to drug him so that she could strangle him after he fell asleep.

Lai felt dizzy after drinking the soup, and Chiu helped him lie down on the sofa, then strangled him.

The court heard Lai vomited and struggled to pull the cord from his neck, but he no longer had much strength at the time.

The strangulation went on for more than 30 minutes, until his face turned black.

Chiu confirmed his death by feeling his cold hands and lack of breath. She then washed the soup bowl and returned it to the cabinet, before consuming Ko Leung wine with two packs of rat poison she had stolen from a flower bed near her building.

However, she ultimately vomited up all the rat poison, and instead took 10 sleeping pills before going to bed.

She told investigators she did not know why she left the flat, or how she ended up in a hospital.

Read Also
Body of daughter, 16, found in Hong Kong after mother threatened to jump off building
Body of daughter, 16, found in Hong Kong after mother threatened to jump off building

An autopsy found Lai had a ligature mark on his neck and Zolpiden, a kind of sleeping pill, in his stomach. The cause of death was ruled to be pressure to the neck.

Psychiatrist Dr Jessica Lam of Castle Peak Hospital, where Chiu has been admitted since February of 2019, said the defendant was suffering from a major depressive disorder at the time of the offence, and recommended continued inpatient treatment.

Another psychiatrist, Dr Li Cheuk-wing, said that Chiu was believed to be suffering from a severe episode of a major depressive disorder with melancholic features.

Dr Wong Yee-him further observed that Chiu was suffering from the active effects of delusional disorder, and was therefore unable to rationally understand the nature of what she was doing.

Manslaughter is punishable by life imprisonment in Hong Kong.


  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
  • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
  • Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.