Tragedy and truth

The Murder Of Canny Ong was a poignant tribute to a young life lost.

THE brutal murder of 28-year-old Canny Ong in 2003 remains embedded in the minds of many Malaysians. The tragedy shook the nation not just because of the gruesome and senseless nature of the crime committed – Ong was abducted, raped, stabbed and torched – but also because it happened in a popular and upscale neighbourhood-mall that was fitted with security cameras.

Ong, an IT-analyst living in the United States with her husband Brandon Ong, was back in Malaysia to visit her ailing father. On June 13, 2003, a day before she was due to return to the US, Ong went out for dinner with some family and close friends at the Bangsar Shopping Complex in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. After their meal, she went to the basement carpark to retrieve her parking ticket from her car. She asked her mother and sister to wait for her by the autopay machine.

Unfortunately, Ong never returned with the ticket. After waiting for 20 minutes, Ong’s mother Pearly Visvanathan Ong and her sister decided to go to the car park to look for her. When they went down they found the car, a purple Proton Tiara, missing. Sensing something bad had happened to her daughter, Pearly ran to the mall’s security office to view the CCTV tapes. The tapes confirmed their worst fears: they saw Canny being abducted by an unidentified male who drove off with her in her car, crashing past the exit barrier of the carpark.

Days later, Ong’s charred remains were found in a manhole along Old Klang Road in Kuala Lumpur. Forensic and criminal investigators found evidence that led to the arrest of a 27-year-old aircraft cabin cleaner, Ahmad Najib Aris.

Farewell, friend: The late Canny Ong with Noreen Natasha (right), one of theinterviewees in The Murder Of Canny Ong, on the Crime and Investigation Network.

The news of Ong’s murder was covered widely by the media and followed intently by the public. The randomness of the crime – Ahmad Najib had no apparent motive – made it all the more horrific and prompted many unsolicited and baseless conspiracy theories much to the dismay of Ong’s loved ones.

Ahmad Najib confessed the crime to the police but later pleaded his innocence in front of a magistrate. But, the evidence was damning and he was found guilty in 2005 and sentenced to hang.

It’s been eight years since Ong’s murder and while the speculation about her death has ceased, many questions remain unanswered.

Who was Ahmad Najib and why did he abduct Ong? Why did he torch her body? What led the police to him? What about the conspiracy theories? Why didn’t the undercover policemen who found Ahmad Najib and Canny by the roadside arrest him immediately?

The Murder Of Canny Ong, a documentary by directors Ahmad Yazid and Rob Nevis commissioned by AETN All Asia Networks exclusively for the Crime and Investigation Network aims to unscramble the mishmash of facts and conspiracy theories that were published by the media in presenting the facts of the case through careful examination of police documentation, interviews with the investigators on the case as well as insight from Ong’s family and friends who were with her on the night of her abduction.

In a press conference promoting the documentary, executive producer for AETN All Asia Networks Chris Humphrey said he hoped the documentary could give viewers a “clear and credible perspective” of the case and also serve as a remembrance for Ong.

“I would love for Malaysians to know this case inside out and to stand back and look at how the story is being told from an outside point of view ... one that is credible and follows the facts of the case and the chronology of events. It is also to remember Canny Ong. This was one case that really touched the hearts of everyone,” he said.

The hour-long documentary, which premiered on Monday night, certainly succeeded in being a remembrance of Ong. The exclusive interviews with Noreen Natasha (Ong’s close friend who was at the farewell dinner) and Pearly were poignant and reveals the pain and torture that Ong’s family and friends went through.

It was clearly still difficult for Pearly to talk about her daughter – she mentions at the end of the documentary that she sometimes pretends that Ong is still alive and residing in the US. Still, she manages to muster up the courage to recall the events leading to Ong’s disappearance – she relates how she had an uneasy feeling as they were looking for a parking spot as the carpark was dimly lit. She recalls how, throughout the initial stage of the investigations, she had a sinking feeling, fearing that something terrible had happened to her daughter. Noreen shares the trauma of having to go to the hospital morgue to identify Ong’s remains.

Also, she speaks about having to break the news of Ong’s disappearance to Brandon.

It’s a terrible thing listening to a mother talk of her deceased child. It is so easy for us to get caught up with the facts of a case or get riled up about the hunt for the perpetrator or find fault with the handling of a particular case that we forget that there are real people involved that are suffering a real loss. We forget that for the family and friends of Ong, the murder is more than a case. It’s a tragedy.

While the The Murder Of Canny Ong documentary chronicled the case in detail – the interviews with SAC Abu Bakar Mustaffa (who was the Selangor CID chief) and Amidon Anan (head of forensics) shed light about the details of the investigations that led to Ahmad Najib’s arrest – there are still some unanswered questions at the end of the documentary.

First of all, there wasn’t a clear enough explanation about why undercover cop lance corporal S. Ravichandra didn’t arrest Ahmad Najib immediately upon seeing the woman beside him (Ong) apparently pleading for help.

The policeman got their identity cards and shot the front tyre of the car twice but why couldn’t he chase them down or call for back up? It really wasn’t clear what happened. Did the policeman run an immediate check on the two ICs he had seized – if he had, wouldn’t he have known immediately that the woman was a victim in a kidnapping? Or does this only happen in crime dramas on TV?

Also, although documentary producer Lydia Lubon explained in the aforementioned press conference that it was difficult to secure interviews with friends and family of the victim (because of the private nature of Malaysians who would rather not talk about personal issues in public), it was rather disappointing that there were no interviews with some of the other people who were involved, either directly or indirectly, in this case.

Was it not possible to secure an interview with Ahmad Najib – even if he could not be on TV, to get a comment from him through his lawyer? Was it not possible to get a statement from Ong’s spouse? And what about Ahmad Najib’s wife? Perhaps she could have shed some light on the man who so brutally took the life of an innocent woman.

There was an interview with a neighbour of Ahmad Najib, but nothing from his wife? What is her life like now that her husband is awaiting the gallows?

And how come no one spoke to the management of the mall – didn’t they think it suspicious that a car rammed through the barrier? Why didn’t the guards check the security videos before Pearly approached them?

Even if none of these people wanted to be interviewed, I think it would have made a great difference if the documentary mentioned these points.

As it stands, The Murder Of Canny Ong was a good documentation of the events of the case and a poignant tribute to a young life lost but as for unanswered questions? I still have many.

The Murder Of Canny Ong encores on the Crime and Investigation Network (Astro Ch 732) on Dec 13 (11pm), Dec 15 (8pm), Dec 16 (10pm), Dec 17 (8pm) and Dec 18 (10pm).