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Homecourts crimeLifting fingerprints from animal antlers helped forensics experts catch killer

Lifting fingerprints from animal antlers helped forensics experts catch killer

SINGAPORE – Furious that a prime-mover driver whom he had hitched a ride from did not want to drive him to another location, a man got into a quarrel with the people in the vehicle.

He grabbed a pair of replica animal antlers from the dashboard and stabbed a fellow passenger in the back.

In the struggle, the antlers swung towards the driver’s face, impaling his left eye, piercing his brain and killing him.

The 33-year-old attacker was charged in 2018 with the murder of Mr Sivakumar Perumal, 43.

On March 24, 2020, the assailant was jailed for a year and eight months after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of committing a rash act.

But proving he had used the antlers to kill his victim was challenging for police investigators.

The unusual item was believed to have been used here for the first time as a weapon.

Ms Gladys Lim, who was then with the Singapore Police Force as the officer-in-charge of the Forensic Management Branch, and her team of forensic officers racked their brains on how to recover fingerprints from the antlers.

The Y-shaped object, which Ms Lim described as a pair of replica antlers, was about 40cm long and 50cm high. Its thickness was not revealed in court documents.

Ms Lim, 37, is now an officer-in-charge in the Major Crime Squad, Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which is part of the Forensics Centre of Expertise at the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX).

She said: “It was something we did not come across frequently in our course of work.

“We tried to brainstorm the possible ways to get (antlers) quickly, because we wanted to test (on a sample) before testing it on the real exhibit.”

They visited multiple shops which sold decorative items.

They bought a pair of antlers and experimented with different fingerprint enhancement methods, such as superglue fuming and fingerprint dusting. They finally found a way to recover the fingerprints.

The driver’s autopsy report revealed that the fatal injury was caused by a strong sharp-tipped object.

Faced with the overwhelming evidence, the attacker pleaded guilty and was convicted.

The attacker and Mr Sivakumar, the dead man who was a driver in the logistics industry, were former colleagues.

On Feb 15, 2018, Mr Sivakumar, his nephew, the attacker and others were drinking alcohol at the void deck of Block 53 Teban Gardens.

At about 5pm, Mr Sivakumar drove to Yishun with his nephew and agreed to give the attacker a lift in a prime mover.

During the journey, the attacker asked Mr Sivakumar if he could drive him to Toa Payoh instead. But the older man said he had a dinner appointment.

The attacker insisted on taking over the wheel and Mr Sivakumar’s nephew hurled a vulgarity at the man, asking his uncle to drop him off immediately.

That was when the attacker retaliated.

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But this was not the most gruesome case Ms Lim has seen in her 11 years in forensics.

One of the most heinous crimes that she had worked on was in 2014 when her team was called to Syed Alwi Road at night to examine a piece of luggage – which contained the upper half of a man’s body.

On recovering the victim’s fingerprints, she said matter-of-factly: “We only had the top part of the body. Luckily, his hands were still there.”

The man was Pakistani tissue paper seller Muhammad Noor, 59, who had been murdered by two compatriots after they lost money to him in a card game.

After smothering him, they sawed his corpse in half. The severed legs were kept in another piece of luggage and abandoned at the Jalan Kubor Muslim cemetery, off Victoria Street.

Investigation officers led by Superintendent Roy Lim, who was then the deputy head of the Special Investigation Section at CID, worked with Ms Lim’s team.

The forensic team examined trash bags that contained the body parts, and found them marked with fingerprints and footprints.

Said Ms Lim: “(The footprint marks) seemed to indicate the accused persons could have been standing on the bags.

“They could have put them on the floor when they were cutting up the body, so they wouldn’t have to clean up so much.”

The damning evidence helped convict the two killers – Rasheed Muhammad and Ramzan Rizwan – who were sentenced to death.

Ms Lim said they can sometimes spend more than 12 hours at a crime scene scanning for evidence.

She said: “We look out for things that may be disturbed, or have certain stains, or maybe an area of void (which shows) an item could have been removed.”

Ms Lim spent seven years with the police before moving to HTX, a statutory board created in 2019 to develop science and technology capabilities for the Home Team.

Supt Lim, now the head of the Special Investigation Section in CID, said investigators direct the forensic team to secure evidence of the crime, while the latter’s work helps investigators piece information together.

Said Ms Lim: “Our focus at the scene is really to recover anything that can help to bring closure to the family members of the victims, for the unfortunate events they had to go through.”

The mother of three children – aged eight, six and three – said she tells her eldest son only that she helps to support police work.

Ms Lim said: “When the forensics we recover leads to the identity of the perpetrator, that is the biggest accomplishment for our officers.

“It’s like a pat on the back for them, saying, ‘Well done.’”

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