Below is a collection of some of the biggest headlines that shook the Singapore society since 1955, when Singapore was given self-governance (Extending the timeline from the previous version of “1970 to Present”).
Please feel free to contribute and I will update accordingly.
Self Governance (1955-1961)
12 May 1955 – Hock Lee Bus Strike
Large number of drivers were dismissed by Hock Lee Bus Company, who in turn protested by locking themselves in the garages at Alexandra Road. Soon, students from Chinese middle schools took sympathy of the drivers and joined in the protests. The government viewed the strike as pro-communist and anti-colonial.
The mob grew to a strength of 2000 and riots broke out between the angry protesters and the police, resulting in four deaths and 33 injuries. Two policemen, a student and a reporter were killed in the conflicts.
Negotiation between the bus company owners and the union took place on 14 May before bus services were resumed two days later.
24 October 1956 – Chinese Middle Schools Riots
When the Chief Minister of Singapore David Marshall resigned in 1956, Lim Yew Hock took over and implemented tough measures on pro-communist organisations. The Singapore Chinese Middle School Students Union (SCMSSU) was forced to close down.
Students gathered at the Chinese High School and Chung Cheng High School for protests, and refused to soften their stand even after their parents’ persuasion. On 26 October, police forced their ways into the schools and dispersed the students using tear gas.
The angry students took to the streets, throwing stones at the police and overturning the cars. Curfews were imposed by the government, as more than 900 were arrested. The riots caused 13 lives and left more than 100 injured. The detainees were released in 1959 after the People’s Action Party (PAP) won the election to form the government.
10 June 1957 – Transfer of Christmas Island
After World War II, Christmas Island was placed under the administration of the Colony of Singapore. Phosphate was discovered, leading to a booming mining industry which required large number of labourers from Singapore.
By 1957, with the independence of Singapore becoming more imminent, the British proposed the transfer of Christmas Island to Australia. Taking consideration of the losses in phosphate mining, Australia compensated the self-government of Singapore a total of 2.9 million pounds. The transfer took effect on 1 October 1958.
This event contributed indirectly to the political downfall of Second Chief Minister of Singapore Lim Yew Hock, who was blamed by the public for not trying hard enough in securing the sovereignty of Christmas Island.
25 May 1961 – Bukit Ho Swee Fire
A disaster that had a direct impact on the development of public housing in our country, Bukit Ho Swee Fire took away a life, injured dozens and made at least 16,000 homeless. Most of the attap houses in the squatter settlement were destroyed as the fire spread quickly by the strong winds in the late afternoon.
The root cause of this disaster, the largest fire ever in Singapore’s history, remains unknown till this day.
The self-government of Singapore acted quickly to build public flats in Queenstown and other estates over the next four years to reallocate the refugees.
Merger with Malaysia (1962-1965)
2 February 1963
Under “Operation Coldstore”, 111 people deemed anti-government leftists with a plan to build a communist Singapore were arrested and detained.
12 July 1963
Prison riots erupted at Pulau Senang caused deaths of four prison officers. 18 prisoners were sentenced to death.
Sunny Ang (1939-1967) was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of murdering bar waitress Jenny Cheok Cheng Kid for her insurance.
In August 1963, Ang, a rich playboy-turned-bankrupt, brought Jenny, who was insured for a total of $450,000, to Sisters’ Islands for diving. The body was never found.
21 July 1964 – Prophet Muhammad Birthday Riots
On 21 July 1964, tens of thousands of Malays gathered at Padang to celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday. During their march to Geylang, the groups got into conflicts with the police, which worsened to riots by the evening. The government had to impose curfews, but 36 people died in the violent events. More than 3000 were arrested, while the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of Malaysia and People’s Action Party (PAP) of Singapore pointed fingers at each other.
Another major riot happened again in September, when a Malay trishaw-driver was suspected to be murdered by a group of Chinese gangsters in Geylang Serai. The series of racial riots and violence played an important part for Singapore to withdraw from the merging of one Malaysia.
10 March 1965 – MacDonald House Bombing
During the peak of Konfrontasi (1962 – 1966) between Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore became an victim of terrorism when Indonesia sent two commandos to plant a bomb at the MacDonald House (formerly known as Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building).
Then Indonesian president Sukarno was openly opposed to the merging of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, and ordered armed attacks in East Malaysia, incited revolts in Brunei and carried out sabotage activities in West Malaysia and Singapore.
There were dozens of bombing in Singapore, and the one at MacDonald House was the most serious of all as two bank employees were killed and 33 injured. The two Indonesian saboteurs were caught and hanged in 1968.
5 August 1965
Some of Singapore’s most notorious kidnappers and gunmen Morgan Teo, Oh Kim Kee and Lim Bah Lim escaped after killing an inspector in an exchanged gunfire with the police at Siang Lim Park. Both Morgan Teo and Lim Bah Lim were eventually killed by the police and Gurkhas after weeks of raids.
29 October 1967
Rumours spread among hundreds of Singaporean Chinese that the disease of koro (shrinking penis) was caused by eating pork inoculated with anti-swine-fever vaccine. As many as 97 Chinese men rushed to the emergency department of Singapore General Hospital in one day. The rumours faded away after one month.
14 July 1968
More than 10 villagers from Kampong Bereh ventured into a prohibited area to pick rambutans during a live artillery exercise at Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute Firing Ground at Choa Chu Kang. Four of the trespassers were killed, while nine were left injured.
31 May to 6 June 1969 – Seven-Day Racial Riots
The Singapore society remained shaky after independence in 1965. On 13 May 1969, the largest riot erupted in Kuala Lumpur (KL), capital of Malaysia, due to the rising tensions between the Malaysian Malays and Malaysian Chinese.
Soon, rumours began to spread here that the Singaporean Malays, a minority in Singapore, would be subjected to revenge after Malaysian Chinese were unfairly treated by the Malaysian government. Chinese secret societies began plans to attack the Malay-majority Jalan Ubi and Jalan Kayu. The Malay triads retaliated by burning Chinese shophouses in Geylang.
The Internal Security Department (ISD) of Singapore worked with the police to quash all conflicts, but the seven-day riots still caused at least four deaths and 80 injuries. The mounting tensions between the two races continued for another couple of years, but the government made efforts to ensure such high level of violence would not happen again.
Struggles of a New Nation (1971-1975)
29 December 1971
The case of “Gold Bar Murders” where businessman Ngo Cheng Poh was killed for his 120 gold bars. Seven were hanged while three escaped death due to underage.
18 September 1972
A 22-year-old seamstress Cheng Lizhen was walking with her sister along Tanglin Halt when she was hit by a bullet straight at her heart. She died from the fatal wound at the Singapore General Hospital. The police suspected a sniper was hiding in one of the high-rise buildings but the case remains a mystery till today.
21 November 1972
At the time of the fire, there were some 350 employees and 200 shoppers in the departmental store. Most of the consumer goods went up in flames, and the glare of the fire was said to be visible as far as Jurong at a height of more than 60m.
07 March 1973 – Black Panther Escapes From Zoo
The three-year-old panther, acquired from Thailand just six days earlier, was one of three at the zoo which was scheduled to open the following month. It was reported missing the previous evening.
The police hunted in teams of five and eight.
Just before noon, one police party opened fire when it spotted movement in the jungle along the zoo boundary. But the animal turned out to be a bear that had also escaped from the zoo a few days earlier.
12 July 1973
20-year-old Hoo How Seng, from Pontian of Johor, shot dead Detective Ong Poh Heng at East Coast Road. The wanted man, who was involved in smuggling and robbery earlier, was shot six times in the head and body after a police ambush at his Cavanagh Road flat nine days later.
31 January 1974
Two Japanese and two Arab terrorists of the Japanese Red Army and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) bombed Pulau Bukom’s Shell oil refinery and hijacked a ferryboat called Laju. Holding hostages, the terrorists were granted their wish to fly to Kuwait on 7 February after days of intense negotiations. This terrorist act was later known as “Bukom Bombers” or “Laju Incident”.
20 December 1974
The members of the Communist Party of Malaya attempted to sabotage Nanyang Manufacturing Company by planting bombs at the director’s residence but their car exploded at Still Road, killing two and injuring one.
02 May 1975
Operation Thunderstorm kicked off when the first wave of 300 Vietnamese refugees arrived at Singapore on a vessel named Troung Hai. The refugees had escaped from Vietnam following the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War (1955-1975).
More than 8,000 refugees arrived near Singapore in two weeks. Many boats were intercepted by the Republic of Singapore Navy and the Police Coastal Guard. Some refugees were quarantined at Marine Parade and Bedok Jetty, while others were housed temporarily at Hawkins Road in Sembawang. The rest of the refugees were denied from entering Singapore.
18 August 1975
After making a suicide pact with his wife Neo Yoke Kua, 24, pork-seller Lim Back Yong, 27, drove his borrowed car to Sembawang and plunged it into the waters off Mata Jetty. At the last moment, Lim backed out and escaped, leaving his wife drowned. He was later imprisoned for 10 years for culpable homicide.
The couple had been married for eight years and had two children, and the cause of the tragedy was believed to be sparked off by a series of family problems, including Neo’s suspicion of Lim’s unfaithfulness.
Rapid Economic Growth (1976-1985)
12 October 1978 – The Spyros Disaster
It was the worst industrial accident in Singapore’s history. At about 2pm of 12 October 1978, Liberian-registered Greek tanker Spyros exploded at the Jurong shipyard, killing 76 people and injuring hundreds.
Due to the after-lunch timing, the number of casualties increased dramatically, as many workers were returning to the repair works. Many were burnt to death. Others suffered serious burns and inhalation of toxic gases.
During the seventies, safety practices at the shipyard was not strongly enforced. A repair cutting tool might have caused the sparks to ignite the vapour of the crude oil on the tanker. More safety regulations were implemented after the disaster.
2 December 1978
Huge monsoon rains caused disastrous floods in areas from Bishan to Potong Pasir. Seven person were drown, hundreds were evacuated from their homes, massive amount of crops were destroyed and thousands of pigs and poultry died. Total damage was estimated to be S$10 million.
6 January 1979
Four children of a Tan family, three boys and a girl aged between 5 and 10, were found murdered in their flat at Geylang Bahru district. They were cruelly slashed to death, with their bodies piled up in the bathroom. The case remains unsolved till this day with no suspects identified, no motives established and no weapons ever recovered.
01 November 1980
The former SIA Pilots Association (SIApa) initiated a work-to-rule action after negotiations broke down, and the month-long dispute had disrupted many international flights. The expatriate pilots had earlier demanded higher pays and better benefits. Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stepped in and confronted the pilots: “I don’t want to do you in, but I won’t let anybody do Singapore in”.
The pilots eventually backed down. SIApa was de-registered a year later, and 15 leaders that incited the strike were charged and convicted.
January/February 1981 – Adrian Lim Murders
In 1981, the murders of two young children, Agnes Ng Siew Heok and Ghazali bin Marzuki, led to investigations that resulted in the capture of Singapore’s most notorious murderers to date: Adrian Lim, his wife Catherine Tan Mui Choo, and his mistress Hoe Kah Hong.
The murders had opened a complex case involving rituals of human sacrifice, drinking of human blood, as well as sexual perversion. During the days of the trial, crowds of people gathered outside the courts, and the proceedings were closely monitored and reported by the media.
The trial turned out to be the second-longest murder trial in Singapore, lasting as it did for about eight weeks, and unveiling disturbing accounts of rites and rituals that were both cruel and perverse. The trio were ultimately sentenced to death and were hanged on 25 November 1988.
29 January 1983 – Sentosa Cable Car Accident
Tragedy struck when the towering structure of a Panamanian-registered oil rig struck the cable of the Sentosa Cable Car and caused two cable cars to plunge 55m into the sea. The disaster, happened shortly after 6 pm, caused thirteen people trapped in four other cable cars between Mount Faber and Sentosa.
This accident was the first involving death or injury since the cable car system opened in 1974. A total of seven people died in the cable car tragedy.
This operation involved all the three Services of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The Diving Unit of the Singapore Navy was assigned to conduct the underwater search for the passengers in the two cable cars which had plunged into the sea, while the 120 Squadron of the RSAF were tasked to rescue the people who were still trapped in the four cable cars as the cars could not be moved along the remaining cables.
Helicopters fitted with floodlights approached the cable cars in strong winds, with the airman winched down to enter the cable-car and pull out the rescued one by one, until all thirteen passengers were brought to safety. The rescue took three and a half hours of risky hovering in darkness and high wind conditions.
12 December 1984 – Gruesome Curry Murder
Mr Ayakannu Marithamuthu was murdered on 12 December 1984 at the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church and his body cooked in curry before being disposed of. The case became popularly known as the “Curry Murder”.
Ayakannu’s wife Naragatha, her three brothers, mother and a sister-in-law planned the murder to put an end to Ayakannu’s continuous abuses. To destroy all traces of incriminating evidence, his body was then chopped up into pieces. The body parts were then cooked into a curry which was later tied in different plastic bags to be disposed all over the island to allay suspicions.
Initially, Naragatha and her brothers were charged in 1987 with murder, but they were unconditionally released in June 1991 as the prosecution was unable to prove that it was indeed the family members who caused Ayakannu’s death. The cooking pot in which Ayakannu’s body parts were allegedly cooked could not be found, leaving no traces of the savage act.
23 May 1985
18-year-old Catholic Junior College student Winnifred Teo Suan Lie was the victim of a rape-murder during her jogging along Old Holland Road. The murderer was never caught.
Since 1965, Singapore GDP had been growth at an average rate of 9.7% per year. It was the first time in 20 years that Singapore faced a major test when the recession hit with the growth shrunk to negative 1.7%.
The economy had shown significant decline in 1984, but the worst was in the second quarter of 1985, when the growth recorded a -10.1% on the year-on-year data. It was not until the early 1986 before Singapore slowly pulled itself out of the recession.
Harmonious Society (1986-1999)
15 March 1986 – New World Hotel Disaster
A national disaster, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), hundreds of volunteers and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) worked hand in hand with specialist equipment to rescue the victims. They bravely faced a mammoth task in their attempt to save lives and clear the rubble. The rest of the nation gave help in any way they could: blood, food, money and care.
Companies voluntarily offered the use of specialist equipment worth thousands of dollars. Equipment such as the ultra-high pressure water machines that were able to blast through concrete without causing vibrations and 100-ton cranes to lift heavy concrete slabs facilitated the rescue efforts.
In the 7-day ordeal, People from different walks of life, races and nationalities responded as one. Public service organisations like the Red Cross and hundreds of ordinary Singaporeans came voluntarily and speedily to help. Staff of all the relief aid organisations looked after and alleviated the plight of the families of the victims.
14 December 1986
Then Minister of National Development of Singapore Teh Cheang Wan (1928-1986) committed suicide after allegations of corruption of SGD1 million by Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
14 May 1987 – Two Primary School Boys Went Missing
Exactly a year earlier, 12-year-old schoolboys Keh Chin Ann and Toh Hong Huat had gone missing.
Despite a huge police search, a poster campaign, a $100,000 reward from MacDonald’s and a feature on television’s Crime Watch program, nothing had emerged which would explain their disappearance.
The two Primary Six students of Owen Primary School were last seen on their way to school. The search for them was extended to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, but proved to be fruitless after many years.
21 May, 20 June 1987 – Operation Spectrum
The details were never released by the government, while critics were doubtful and pointed out that the alleged detainees were mainly professionals, lawyers, social workers and actors, which hardly fit into the description of a typical political leftist.
Nine accused were arrested again a month later after they complained of mental torture during their detains without trial. Most of the detainees were released one or two years later.
18 December 1988
Lim Keng Peng, nicknamed Ah Huat, became Singapore’s most wanted criminal in 1988 when he shot dead Detective Goh Ah Khia at Upper Serangoon Road. He was gunned down at a coffee shop at Sunset Way by a submachine gun used by the police, ending a manhunt that lasted 30 months.
A family of three elephants was found on in the jungles of Pulau Tekong by national servicemen. They were captured and sent back to Johor.
A year later, another bull elephant made its way to Pulau Ubin across the Johor Strait.
26 March 1991 – Hijack of Singapore Airlines SQ 117
Singapore Airlines Airbus flight SQ 117 took off from Subang Airport in Kuala Lumpur with 129 passengers and crew on board when four Pakistanis took control of the plane, forcing it to land in Singapore at 10:15pm.
The hijackers wanted the release of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s husband and other Pakistan People’s Party members detained in Pakistani jails.
Before the deadline at 6:45am after which they threatened to kill one passenger every ten minutes if their demands were not acceded to, elite Commandos stormed the plane, killing the four hijackers and freeing all 118 passengers and 9 crew. The rescue of SQ 117 was over in just 30 seconds and ended at 6:50am. None of the passengers and crew were hurt.
05 August 1993
MRT suffered its first major accident when an east-bound train hit a stationary train at Clementi station in the morning peak hours. Many passengers were flung aside or collide against the metal poles inside the train, resulting in 156 injuries. The accident was investigated to be caused by a large oil spill that affected the braking of the moving train.
28 February 1994
American teenager Michael Fay was sentenced to four months’ jail and four strokes of caning after being found guilty of vandalism, theft and mischief. The caning punishment received highly-publicised criticism from the West.
15 October 1994
Top nightclub mamasan Mona Koh was left paralysed after being ambushed by an unknown hitman at the ground floor lift lobby of Katong People’s Complex. She was hit by two bullets in the face and spine. The hitman was never caught.
8 March 1995
Known as the “Body Parts Murder”, British national John Martin killed a South African Gerard George Lowe at River View Hotel. The body was dismembered and dumped at the Singapore River.
Asian Currency crisis struck, and Singapore economy was not spared. Singapore dollar dropped 20% while Straits Time Index (STI) plunged 60%.
New Millennium (2000-Present)
13 February 2000
A 27-year-old female jogger was raped and murdered at Bukit Batok Reserve Park. The case remains unsolved.
31 October 2000
First fatal crash of Singapore Airlines (SIA), SQ006 was destroyed in a failed takeoff at Taipei during a typhoon. A total of 83 passengers were killed.
Plot to attack foreign embassies and Yishun MRT Station by terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was foiled by the authority. 37 were arrested and detained under Internal Security Act (ISA).
2 January 2002
A case known as “Orchard Towers Murder”, British expat Michael McCrea murdered his friends Kho Nai Guan and Susie Lan. The bodies were found in an abandoned car at Orchard Towers.
Singapore society and economy was hit hard by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Many stringent measures were imposed, but 33 in Singapore died.
18 March 2004 – Three Armed Robbers Took Refuge in Pulau Tekong
The Singapore Police was informed by the Royal Malaysia Police at about 8:45am on 18 March 2004 that they were pursuing three men on board a motorised sampan and the sampan had landed at Pulau Tekong. The men, 2 Indonesians and a Malaysian, were suspected to have earlier committed armed robbery in Johor.
The Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force were immediately activated to conduct a joint search for the three persons on the island. Security measures had also been stepped up on the island and all military trainings on the island had been temporarily suspended to facilitate the search operations.
All three were caught within 3 days and were charged with illegal entry and possession of firearms.
20 April 2004
A tunnel at Nicoll Highway, constructed as part of the SMRT Circle Line, collapsed when the supporting structure gave way, killing four people and injured three. Three days of rescue efforts were carried at the 30m-deep cave-in, which triggered a series of investigations and probes. The construction was halted for almost eight months, and the man-in-charge, project director Ng Seng Yoong, was fined $8,000 for negligence.
10 October 2004
Malaysian Took Leng How admitted to the murder of Chinese girl Huang Na after her body was found dumped at Telok Blangah Hill.
16 June 2005
Leong Siew Chor was found guilty of murdering Chinese national Liu Hong Mei in what was later known as the “Kallang body parts murder”. After killing the victim, Leong chopped up her body into seven parts and dumped the pieces into Kallang River. He was hanged in 2007.
2 December 2006
Tan Chor Lin, nicknamed “One-Eyed Dragon” shot nightclub owner Lim Hock Soon five times in a Serangoon flat. He was sentenced to death.
27 February, 2008 – Shocking Escape of Mas Selemat
Mas Selamat Kastari, leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror network, is one of Singapore’s most wanted terrorist. He was involved in plans to attack Yishun MRT station and United States naval vessels in Singapore.
In early 2006, he was arrested in Malang and was deported to Singapore, detained under Internal Security Act. However, on 27 February 2008, Mas Selemat escaped from Whitley Road Detention Centre, sparking nationwide manhunt. The Malaysian authorities revealed later that after his escape, he swam across Johor Strait and hid in Kampung Tawakal in Skudai. Malaysia says he hatched plans to bomb targets in Singapore and Malaysia after fleeing.
In 2009, after a year of escape, Malaysian police raided his hideout in Kampung Tawakal and captured him. The news is not made public (shortly after capture, Malaysia informed Singapore but asked that the matter be kept quiet) until May 2009.
Finally in September 2010, Mas Selamat was handed over to Singapore, prompting detailed investigation of his escape.
18 September 2008
A shocking murder case occurred in a Yishun flat in which three were killed and one was left with serious injuries.
45-year-old China national Wang Zhi Jian stabbed her girlfriend Zhang Meng multiple times after a quarrel. When the latter’s daughter Feng Jian Yu woke up from her sleep after hearing the cries, Wang Zhi Jian proceeded to stab her as well. Both women died from their injuries. Wang Zhi Jian then entered a second room to attack another pair of mother-and-daughter, who were staying in the same unit. The mother Yang Jie was forced to escape through the kitchen window but fell to her death, while her daughter Li Mei Lin, the only survivor of the killing frenzy, was injured badly.
Wang Zhi Jian, who arrived at Singapore for only 10 days before he committed the horrific murder, was sentenced to death in 2012 after a four-year trial.
Due to the subprime crisis in the United States, Singapore became the first Asian nation to enter recession as STI plunged more than 30% in a couple of weeks.
15 December 2009
Romanian diplomat Dr Silviu Ionescu hit three pedestrians at Bukit Panjang, causing the death of Tong Kok Wai. Ionescu was suspected of drunk-driving and hit and run. He left Singapore three days later.
Swiss Oliver Fricker became the highest-profiled foreigner since 1994 to receive caning after he trespassed SMRT Changi depot and vandalised two train carriages.
15 and 17 December 2011
The North-South line of SMRT was hit by major disruptions for several hours due to track faults. More than 200,000 commuters were affected and thousands were stranded in the tunnels.
12 May 2012
China national Ma Chi, 31, sped in his Ferrari and beat the red-lights at Victoria Street in the wee hours of Saturday morning, resulting in a horrific collision with a taxi and motorcycle. The taxi driver Cheng Teck Hock and his passenger Shigemi Ito died in the crash, along with Ma Chi. Another two were injured.
The shocking accident also sparked off strong anti-foreigner sentiments from Singaporeans, who were increasingly unhappy with the massive influx of foreigners in recent years.
Published: 24 January 2011
Updated: 14 December 2012