SHE remembered some of our names and faces more than a year after we first met her – at the preliminary inquiry into her sensational murder trial in 1993.
Mona Fandey stood at the back of the police truck which ferried her and stared straight down at us pressmen, who represented every media house in the country, along with the hundreds who turned up to catch a glimpse of her at the court compound.
With husband Mohd Affandi Abdul Rahman and their assistant Juraimi Husin in tow, the three arrived at the Temerloh High Court for the trial proper with much fanfare.
Handcuffed, the ever-smiling bomoh nodded to the three of us (from rival media companies) who covered the inquiry the year before and spooked us by saying: “You, you and you. I know you. Apa khabar? Don’t think I have forgotten your names ...” Much to our discomfort, she didn’t.
In Dukun, a movie recently released after being shelved for 11 years, Diana Dahlan (believed to be based on Mona herself) is a beautiful temptress, serial murderer, cannibal, and of course, a dukun par excellence, a black magic practitioner. However, apart from the belief that Mona was a bomoh (with hints of the couple’s involvement in two other unsolved murders), the movie is admittedly quite different from how the main accused is remembered.
The murder, where it happened, and what happened afterwards was infinitely more chilling in real life.
The movie is (very) loosely based on the high profile case which captured the nation’s imagination as it had most factors which made a murder case sensational – a missing politician not only turning up dead, but hacked into 18 parts and buried 1.8m in a cemented grave, an isolated and spine chilling murder scene, elements of the occult and a mystifying, glamorous witchdoctor at the centre of it all.
The politician, Batu Talam state assemblyman Datuk Mazlan Idris, had sought the help of the bomoh couple to gain more political influence, the High Court heard, but ended up gruesomely murdered in July 1993.
Leading up to his killing, he had purportedly been taken in by the powers of three mystical items (a staff, songkok and talisman), which the couple were prepared to sell to him for millions of ringgit. He was said to have even agreed to sign off several of his land grants for the items, which he believed would make him invincible.
Against this backdrop, public curiosity reached fever pitch when the three appeared in public for the first time at the Raub magistrate’s court. The draw was this mysterious and heavily made-up woman who always wore a grin despite her doomed fate, her involvement in black magic and the grisly murder of a politician.
And Mona, who was in her late 30s, did not disappoint. Dressed in colourful, eye-catching garb each day, the bomoh smiled through her tight, surgically-enhanced face and bowed to the crowd like a celebrity. Her mere presence spooked the public, yet, fascinated them.
Many in the crowd shouted Pembunuh! (Murderer!) when the three appeared, but Mona was unperturbed, smiling and waving all along. In the thick of the shoving crowd, someone yelled: “Mona, I love you!” to the amusement of everyone. She was absolutely thrilled.
In the commotion, a photographer accidentally pushed against her and in a flash, Mona showed her other side. The irate bomoh spat at the poor man, the spittle hitting him in the arm. Everyone froze as the man duly dropped his camera and everything he was carrying, and sped to the washroom to clean himself. The fear of enraging one believed to have supernatural powers is very real after all.
One day, the entire court team, including the accused, went to view the murder house in Ulu Dong, Raub. The couple and their assistant lived in the house for a time. Standing by itself in the middle of nowhere, with a dirt trail road leading to it, the unfinished house was flanked by tall grass.
All of us were there, including the millions of flies which had apparently been at the grim house from the time the decomposing body parts were dug up, two months earlier.
Most swarmed around the pit where the body parts were recovered, probably drawn to the spot with the stench still lingering even after many weeks.
The chopped-up body had been buried in an adjoining room next to the main house where the politician was decapitated.
Entering the house, filled with “heavy” air which permeated a faint but nauseating metallic scent of blood and rotting flesh, we came face to face with a large portrait of the lady of the house herself, dressed in an elaborate costume and headgear, hung on the main wall. Two other similar portraits were up on the walls along the side corridors.
Unlike the film, which showed the house to be fully-furnished and rather cosy, the actual crime scene was cold and barren, with a darkened interior as it had no windows, only several doors letting in minimal sunlight.
It was sparsely furnished, with a large shelf against the main wall, which held rows of bottles and jars of varying sizes.
Upon closer inspection, the bottles contained oily substances, several had hair-like fibres, amulets and other items many believe are ingredients used in black magic rituals.
In the kitchen was a raised platform where Mazlan had been told to lie down while the couple performed a mandi bunga (flower bath) ceremony on him. After that, he was made to tilt his head back and an axe, held by Juraimi, came down, nearly severing it from his body on the first blow.
The youth testified that he was in a trance when that happened, while the couple claimed they were shocked by their assistant’s actions.
What was incredible was how Juraimi lived in that house alone for several weeks after the killing, hacking the body, burying its pieces, before laying cement on the top of the makeshift tomb and cleaning up afterwards. The couple headed for Kuala Lumpur right after the murder.
At the High Court a year later, the scenes were just as dramatic. Mona announced her real name as Tengku Rohani Tengku Abdullah, suggesting blue blood status, although this was later trounced by the prosecution.
“Selamat bahagia Tuan Hakim, juri dan DPP. Saya Maznah Ismail @ Tengku Rohani Tengku Abdullah. Satu lagi nama saya ialah Mona Fandey,” she declared loudly when testifying in a trial within a trial.
She told Justice Mokhtar Sidin that she was a singer and even offered to sing in court, although this was politely declined.
Once, she spoke so fast, the judge couldn’t keep up to record what she said.
Justice Mokhtar had to stop her to clarify details before allowing her to continue. After that, Mona dramatically spoke slowly, and even asked the judge: “Yang Arif, dah habis tulis belum?’’ (Have you finished writing, my lord?)
Several times, she got carried away and apparently forgot what her point was. To the amusement of those present, she asked: “Tolong baca balik, Yang Arif.” (Please read it back to me, my lord.)
There were times before the day’s hearing began, Mona was shown newspaper reports of her high-profile case, her smiling face splashed across the pages. Obviously happy with the publicity, she thanked reporters loudly “for putting in such nice stories and pictures”.
Like in Dukun, during the trial, the gallery was treated to some theatrical moments. In one incident, Mona stunned the court when she admonished a prosecution witness, a jewellery shop assistant, in spotless Hokkien.
She shouted from the dock: “Gua chai lu kong ha mi. You cakap tipu.” (I know what you are saying. You’re lying).
This was right after the man listed down the jewellery pieces the bomoh couple bought, purportedly with Mazlan’s money, after he paid them for the mystical items.
The poor witness was visibly shaken.
Adding to the supernatural slant, the gallery could not ignore the sense of “mystery” in the courtroom one day.
A forensics expert was describing the condition of Mazlan’s mutilated remains, explaining how he had taken each piece out of the temporary grave, when a peculiar sound, like that of a low eerie moan, filled the courtroom twice.
Everyone heard it, froze and then looked around nervously. Many in the gallery appeared fidgety and some left immediately.
The sight of Mona’s face, her eyes unblinking, was shuddersome.
One Bahasa Malaysia newspaper frontpaged this story, describing the sound like that made by a duck, noting that the same sound was reportedly heard whenever the couple carried out their bomoh practice at home.
However, other newspapers had a different explanation the next day – the sound was apparently creaks made by one of the courtroom’s rickety benches as the excited crowd leaned forward to hear better!
Mona was friendly with regulars who were there with her throughout the five-month trial, she got along so well with some of them that she even signed “autographs” and wrote philosophical notes about achieving inner peace via religion.
Unlike the temptress Diana in Dukun, however, Mona seemed to be very much in love with her husband, sharing tender moments with him whenever they could get close to each other and declaring her love for him whenever she spoke to the press.
When the death sentence was pronounced following the guilty verdict, Mona kissed her husband in the dock. Later, she said: “I’m happy with the decision. I want to thank all Malaysians. I love all the people, I love Fandey (Affandi).”
She also cared a lot about her young daughter, saying that the then four-year-old was “the light of my life”.
Breaking down into heaving sobs in the witness stand at the mention of the girl one day, she said: “I’ve already accepted whatever has happened to her.’’
For a brief moment, the world forgot that she was a murderer, fearsome bomoh or con artist.
Mona, Affandi and Juraimi appealed to the higher courts several years later but failed to get a reprieve. They were eventually hanged in 2001. She was 45 years old.
She was colourful all the way up to being led off to the Kajang Prison. Asked how she felt, she said: “Saya rasa saya nak senyum. Bagi saya, untuk orang tengok saja. (I feel like smiling. For me, it’s (smiling) all for the people.)”
Watching Dukun 23 years after her conviction brought me right back to the chilling murder house, Mona’s persona in court and how I was there to cover one of the most memorable murder trials in the country. Some things you just never forget.
Who is Mona Fandey?