He claims he slept through the first murder and was woken by the second. Acquitted after eight years in
prison, Ram Tiwary is now a free man. But the case of the 2003 student murders in Sydney remains open.Who
killed Tony Tan and Chow Lyang?
It was about 2.15pm on Monday September 15, 2003. The next 15 minutes
would change my life forever. Tony had been seen alive and well just minutes before.
I woke up to the sound of something falling and a commotion. Suddenly, I heard shouting and the sound
of people running past my room. There was a loud pounding on my door. I think it was Tony, I think
he screamed help, but I’m not exactly sure. I was still half-asleep and the TV was blaring outside,
which only added to my confusion.
I remember that horrible scream and the fear and terror that it carried, but through the door I could
not know it was Tony. My mind jumped to the assumption that someone was trying to break in. Heavy
footfalls continued in the direction of the front door. The bang was followed by the sound of
something metal being hit against something, like a door being broken down, further cementing that
idea in my mind.
My reaction – which I profoundly regret and am so deeply ashamed of, which I cannot even fully
explain to myself, much less to anyone else, which will haunt me every living day – was to lock and
barricade my door. I did not go outside.
The sounds stopped. I could still hear the TV blaring away, but nothing else. In the sudden calm, my
heart had stopped pounding and I wondered if I had overreacted. I decided to venture out
Opening that door, I came out of my room and walked into a scene out of a nightmare.
There was so much blood.
Scenes like that momentarily stun the part of your brain that thinks logically. All the familiar
rooms, walls, fixtures, decorations – the things I saw and touched every day, the objects I knew and
recognised – were tainted with pools, smears and spatters of blood.
From my doorway, the first thing I saw was the state of the living room. The table had been upended;
the couch and easy chair had been shoved from their usual positions and were partially covered by
blood spatter. The walls, floor and ceiling were blemished with spatters of blood. The spatters
continued, from the living room, past my bedroom door, right in front of me as I stood in the
doorway, down the hallway to the front door. There were smears of blood along the walls. At the end
of the hallway, in a spreading pool of blood was my friend Tony.
He was sitting upright with his back to the wall, his legs spread before him. His head was resting on
his chest, covered in blood; I only recognised him from his familiar clothes and body shape. Blood
spatter covered every surface around him. There was even blood on the ceiling. A knife and bat,
covered in blood, lay by his legs.
I don’t know how long I stared at that sight.
I went from my room towards the bat lying beside Tony. As my fingers closed around the handle, the
feel of the bat in my hands gave me the courage to walk the few metres back up the hallway to close
the back door.
I stopped short. Right after being completely unnerved by that first incomprehensible sight of Tony,
I was confronted by another. Discovering Chow Lyang’s body, bloody and battered behind the sofa,
almost unhinged me.
Feeling lightheaded, I locked the back door. I then checked to see if they were breathing or for a
pulse, but I have little actual recollection of doing so. What I do remember is that Chow Lyang’s
flesh was not warm when I touched him to see if he was breathing.
As soon as I was sure they were deceased, I stumbled back into my room
and locked the door, perhaps just to put a physical barrier between the carnage and myself. I called
The operator told me to leave the bat and get to the ambulance. I have seen photos of the crime scene
so many times and the bat was exactly where I had left it when the operator asked me to – in my
room. Still, I have a vivid memory of actually walking to where Tony lay outside and leaving the bat
there as the thought “leave it where you found it!” ran through my head.
I ran out of my room, out the back door into the sunlight, down the rear steps, along the side
walkway and onto Barker Street, all the time expecting someone to pounce on me. I reached the
bitumen and stopped short. There were no ambulances outside the house. I looked around wildly – my
mind jumping to the conclusion that the operator was in on some elaborate plan to lure me out into
the open unarmed – and spotted two ambulances parked up the road about 20 metres away. The relief! I
sprinted towards them.
Responding to a triple-zero call in the early afternoon of Monday,
September 15, 2003, NSW police officers arrive at a red-brick duplex in Barker Street, Kingsford, a
short stroll from the University of New South Wales in Sydney’s east. Outside the block they find a
24-year-old man, breathing heavily, upset and agitated, wearing shorts and an inside-out jumper. His
name is Ram Tiwary, and he made the emergency call.
Inspector Leanne McCusker is the first police officer to speak to Ram. He appears extremely
distressed, telling her, “I was asleep, I heard my flatmate screaming. I ran out of the house.” Ram
tells Senior Constable Rodney Jurd that he had picked up a baseball bat for self-defence and put it
down again. Sergeant Winston Woodward, who, with Jurd, interviews Ram as a witness, notes that he
has blood on his hands, which Ram says comes from when he touched his 26-year-old flatmate, Poh
Chuan (Tony) Tan, to check if he was alive.
Inside the top-floor unit, where Ram and his two flatmates live, is a nightmarish scene. Less than
half an hour ago, Tony returned to the flat from a university lecture and began cooking lunch. He
now lies on the tiled floor by the front door, his head stove in by a baseball bat and his neck
sliced by a kitchen knife.
Scrapes and sprays of blood are on the walls, thickening to darker smears by the door frame,
suggesting that Tony was trying to escape. Thick red pools spread around his head where he fell. His
feet are bare. He lies on top of the shoes he took off to come inside.
Down the hallway into the living room, where the attack started, more of Tony’s blood is on the walls
and the floor.
A cheap beige couch is at one end of the living room, and behind it lies a second horror: another
young man, lying on his back behind the couch, his body obscured from view by a chair. Dried blood
is everywhere around him. This young man, Chow Lyang Tay, also 26, was brought down two hours ago,
with a baseball bat to the head. He lay unconscious for those two hours before he was finished off
with the knife at the same time Tony was slain.
The flat is a boys’ student lodging, functional and soulless. In the large living room, there is only
that $200 couch, three blue milk crates and a canvas deck chair. The white walls are bare but for
the blood and a lonely pinboard. A mattress leans against a wall, a bar fridge stands beside it,
there’s an ironing board half-collapsed, and a small television on a flat-pack stand is playing.
Adjoining the living room, the kitchen is spartan: a folding table with a blue plastic tablecloth is
up one end and groceries have been left in cardboard boxes pushed against the walls. The bedrooms
are fractionally homier. Chow Lyang’s is tidy, with photos pinned above his desk, while Ram’s is
chaotically piled with clothes and other personal effects.
Tony and Chow Lyang were engineering undergraduates due to graduate at the end of the semester from
the university just down the road, UNSW: Asian students who flew in for their degrees and would fly
home again, without family or deep ties in Australia. They represent an Australian “export industry”
worth $2 billion in 2003, and estimated in 2013 to have grown to $15 billion annually.
It is heartbreaking enough that the young men, far from home, should die so violently on Australia’s
Tony and Chow Lyang will be sent home for their funerals. The third Singaporean student, Ram Puneet
Tiwary, the man outside the apartment who met police, will remain in Australia for another nine
years, eight and a half of them in prison.
The weekend had begun on Friday for the three students, but while
Chow Lyang and Tony knuckled down
over their assignments, Ram was distracted by social and work commitments.
David Lee, a Singaporean naval officer studying commerce at UNSW, hosted a Chinese Mooncake Festival
party for 20 people on the Friday night, and when Ram arrived at around 10pm, he said he was very
tired, having not slept after a late dinner the night before with friends. After the Mooncake
Festival party, Ram accidentally left his diary at David’s house, and phoned at 9am Saturday to
arrange to get it back. Ram and David met at the McDonald’s just off Anzac Parade, Kingsford, and
had breakfast with another Singaporean student, an ex-flatmate of Ram’s named Chaw Bak You. When
they finished, Ram excused himself, saying he had to meet technicians in the city to resolve a
problem with his university thesis. David and Bak left him at the bus stop at Barker Street and
Ram, by his own admission, had no intention of working on his thesis. On his way to the city, he made
a crucial decision. “I went into Rebel Sport,” he says, where he bought a baseball bat and took it
On the Saturday night, Ram had a shift as a security guard at a 21st
birthday party in the city. His visa allowed him to work 20 hours a week, and he performed duties as
a guard for a company called Abacus Security. After finishing at midnight, he went home and phoned
his girlfriend, Elvira Metiljevic. They spoke from about 1-2.30am, after which Ram grabbed a few
hours’ sleep before his next security job on Sunday at the Cranbrook School in the eastern suburbs,
which went all day. Getting up early was a challenge for him. His habit of staying up late at night
and sleeping through the day was well known to his family and friends; Chow Lyang nicknamed him
“Vampire” for his nocturnal lifestyle.
Exhausted from two days of hard work and little sleep, Ram arrived home
at Barker Street at around 7pm. Tony and Chow Lyang were in the living room watching one of The Lord
of the Rings movies on DVD. Ram recalls watching with them, swapping occasional comments about the
film. Around 9pm, Tony went into his room to study, and Ram went to bed around the same time. When
he fell asleep, he says, Chow Lyang was still in the living room watching the movie. Ram says the
next time he saw his flatmates they were dead.
The first ambulance had two female paramedics in it. Seeing me
approach at a run, they locked the
doors and I was left looking at them in puzzlement from outside. The lady in the passenger seat
wound down her window slightly and I told them I was the one who called emergency services. It was
embarrassing and frustrating how they spoke to me through that narrow slit of open window. The male
paramedic from the second ambulance opened his door and called me over. As I spoke to him, the first
police cars arrived. More marked and unmarked police cars arrived. I identified myself to the
uniformed and plainclothes officers who were soon swarming the area.
Police “cleared” the unit and two ambulance officers finally entered
the house at 2.37pm, officially pronouncing Chow Lyang and Tony deceased at 2.39pm. One of them came
over and informed me of this as I was being questioned by detectives.
The detectives asked if I was willing to accompany them to the station to give my statement, and we
got into an unmarked police car.
I was at the station until 11pm, undergoing an ERISP (electronically recorded interview) and
voluntary forensic procedure. During that interview I said that I had been woken by the first murder
and was awake and out of bed by the second.
Ultimately, that is not an alibi. It sounds as unappealing to me as it does to you, I assure you,
anyone attempting to conceal involvement in a double murder would sit up and manufacture a hell of a
lot more convincing story. Unlikely as it might initially seem, I told the police the truth. As the
forensic evidence trickled in, it did not convincingly attach me to the murder.
The normal Monday routine for Chow Lyang and Tony was to be up by
8am, have breakfast, shower and
shave, and then study before a two-hour lecture at noon. Although they were both from Singapore and
attended the same classes, Chow Lyang and Tony had only become close when Tony had moved into the
Barker Street flat in 2003. By September, however, they were inseparable at the university. Normally
they would leave the flat together at 11.45am for the short walk to UNSW. After the lecture, they
had planned a group tutorial on ethics. Chow Lyang last used his computer at 10.16am on the Monday.
Tony was using his computer to work on his thesis on speech enhancement of digital audio files,
sending two emails to his supervisor. His computer was switched off at 12.02pm.
Here is where the story fragments. For some reason, Chow Lyang and Tony broke with habit and did not
leave the flat together at 11.45am. Tony left late, and Chow Lyang did not leave at all. It was
around midday – it is unknown whether before or after Tony left – that someone came up behind Chow
Lyang as he sat at the computer desk in the living room and bashed his head in with the baseball
bat. He fell instantly to the floor, though he was still breathing.
Several classmates registered that Tony arrived late – and alone – at the midday lecture. The
150-seat theatre was half-full, and instead of taking his usual place with Chow Lyang, Tony sat
beside fellow student Wihan Kustono, who noticed some uncharacteristic behaviour. “His hair was a
bit messy and he usually uses gel and has neat hair,” Kustono told police. Two places along, Kevin
Cheng Choi Teo whispered to Tony, “Why are you late?” Tony smiled vaguely and said nothing. Teo
would later tell police that Tony looked “restless”. “He didn’t seem to be paying much attention to
the lecture. He seemed like he was turning his head and looking around for someone in the
Tony then told Teo to cancel the ethics tutorial planned for later in the day. “Chow Lyang has got
something to do,” he said. For unexplained reasons, Tony knew that his housemate was not coming to
the university that day.
The lecture finished early, at 1.50pm. Outside the theatre, student Esmond Keng Leong Chai noticed
that Tony was “uneasy” as he told Chai he was going to the toilet. Tony came across another group of
students, including Steven Tay and Jeff Lum. Tony told Tay he was “tired and going home to
Tony’s path out of the university followed the outdoor stairs to Willis Street. On his way, he ran
past students Jonathan Choy, whom he knew, and Sean Murray. “How’s it going?” Choy said. Tony
grunted, “It’s going good,” but did not have his usual smile and, said Choy, “seemed to be
preoccupied with something else. Usually he would answer me straight away and he would usually be
smiling or have a grin. On this day he didn’t… He kept on moving up the stairs rather quickly.”
Choy, in his statement to police, saw a white car, possibly a Toyota Echo, facing south against the
one-way traffic on Willis Street in front of a No Stopping sign. Tony opened the back door and got
in. “There were three people in this car. A male of Asian appearance in the passenger seat and a
person of Asian appearance was sitting behind the front passenger,” Choy said. “I didn’t recognise
any of the people in this car.” Assuming that Tony was going home, Choy said, “I thought it was
strange that he was getting into this car because I had a feeling that he lived nearby.” The car
drove past Choy and turned east onto Norton Street. The other student, Sean Murray, thought the car
was a dark colour, and said, “There were other people in the car, possibly two other people – they
were Asian in appearance… I didn’t see Tony actually getting in the car, but the door was open and I
saw him taking his bag off, so I thought he was getting into it.”
Ten minutes later, Tony was dead.
After the murders, Ram moved to another flat and continued working
and studying. Meanwhile, NSW
police were piecing together a case against him. Ram’s fingerprints were on the murder weapons; in
his interview on the day of the murders, he had admitted to picking them up for possible
self-defence. The detectives did not believe his story that he had been in his bedroom throughout
the attacks. briefly rousing from sleep when Chow Lyang was assaulted, only waking while Tony was
being chased through the rooms and killed by the front door. If Ram’s innocence was to be believed,
unknown murderers had come in and attacked Chow Lyang, and then come back to kill Tony two hours
later, without checking the bedroom where Ram was sleeping. It defied common sense. Making Ram their
chief suspect, they sought a motive.
Ram is a big man, strong and fit-looking: about 185 centimetres tall, with a deep chest and powerful
shoulders. It is easy to see how he cultivated an image among Singaporean students in Sydney as
something of a he-man. His friends knew him by the nicknames “Rex” – short for his military
call-sign, “T-Rex” – and “Ranger”, indicating his training as a commando. The names were to backfire
on him during his trial, when the prosecution made much of his projection of machismo and his
supposed preparation, as a ranger, for hand-to-hand combat. But for all his imposing physique, Ram
today, interviewed while living in Singapore, is timid and tense. He wears glasses and speaks in a
soft, slightly high-pitched voice. He is friendly, reliable and helpful, if without especial
Studying in Australia had not been a dream for Ram, who had grown up in Singapore and Brunei, the son
of a private school deputy headmaster, before joining the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). But an
Australian university sojourn was a well-worn step on the career path for Singaporeans. A SAF
scholarship provided for Ram when he enrolled at UNSW in 2000, studying a bachelor’s degree in
“It was such a change from Brunei and Singapore,” Ram says about living in Sydney. “Life was less
restricted. I had my best times in Australia, as well as my worst times. Being with friends, going
on trips to the Blue Mountains or the Gold Coast, going jogging or just walking on the beach and
hanging out there.” In early 2003, he began dating Elvira Metiljevic, a fellow engineering student
he had known since 2000.
David Lee drank with Ram and partied with him in the city. When
interviewed by police after the murders, Lee said: “Sometimes Ram may appear brash and abrupt,
however he is close to his friends and will defend his friends. He is very loyal to his friends. He
is an extrovert, he has lots of stories to tell… Sometimes he would get involved in an argument at
the uni bar but nothing that would result in a fight.” His friend, naval architecture student Sean
Cribb, told the police stories about Ram having arguments with other young men over females, but
Cribb and others described him as a peacemaker.
Cribb called Ram “a good bloke, who was considerate, attentive and the sort of bloke who would listen
to what you had to say and help each other if you need a hand … I have never seen him fighting or
arguing with anybody.” Anthony Silveira, who studied aerospace engineering, told a story about being
lured into a bar fight before Ram talked everyone out of it. Zodinliana Khiangte, also an aerospace
engineering student, said that when he lost control through drink, Ram would help him home.
Metiljevic, who knew Ram intimately, told police: “I would describe Ram’s personality as being calm
and he doesn’t lose his head over things ... He’s the type of person who would rather walk away from
a situation than let it escalate.”
In the days that followed the event, I did not know what to do.
People who knew I had been in the
house regarded me strangely from a distance. There was subsequent talk about my acting “normal”.
Maybe they wanted or expected me to cry publicly like in the movies. It was one of those “damned if
you do, damned if you don’t” situations, I guess.
In truth, I wasn’t feeling very normal. You cannot unsee things.
I just kept to myself for the most part, and interacted only with a small group of close friends.
People who know me know that I am not an emotional guy; sharing problems and asking for help does
not come to me easily.
Initially, I did not even tell my family that the murders had occurred in my house. They had called
asking about the incident because they heard “Barker Street” on the news and knew I lived there. If
I’d told people, it would have invited a whole lot of questions. What did you hear? What did you do?
I couldn’t face that. I told them it was a house down the street, and they would not find out about
what I had been through until half a year later, when I was arrested.
Most people I met after the incident never knew that I was connected to the event at all. Some, such
as the housemates at the new place where I was staying, found out after a while. My solution was to
tell them that I simply returned home to the crime scene, and was spared from narrating more garish
I had always assumed the murders happened simultaneously. When I was told
later that the murders occurred two hours apart, I was incredulous that I could have slept through
the attack on Chow Lyang. The forensic report showed that the first blow to Chow Lyang caused “deep
unconsciousness”. It was only after witnessing the violence in jail that I discovered how sneak
attacks leave bloody scenes without the commotion most people expect.
I met Tony and Chow Lyang separately, through mutual Singaporean
I’m still yet to meet a nicer guy than Chow Lyang. He was the type to go out of his way to help a
stranger. He was very thin, quiet, and unassuming.
Tony was a rotund, jovial guy, always smiling. He was more likely than Chow Lyang to go partying but
never let anything interfere with his uni work.
In 2002, Ram moved into the upper floor of 109 Barker Street, with
Chow Lyang and Chaw Bak You. The
two-storey red-brick duplex was owned by an elderly Lebanese-Australian couple who lived on the
ground floor. Only a five-minute walk from UNSW, the flat had been let out to students for several
years. When Ram moved in, Chow Lyang was the lessee and the conduit for rent payments of $140 per
room per week. Chow Lyang had also undertaken compulsory military service in Singapore, but he was
not in Australia on a scholarship like Ram. His parents, food vendors in Singapore, paid for Chow
Lyang’s tuition and expenses themselves. Ram also received extra financial assistance from his
With limited English, Chow Lyang lived a very different life in Sydney from Ram Tiwary, circulating
exclusively among Singaporean engineering students. Before coming to Sydney, Chow Lyang had had a
registry-office wedding to a classmate from high school, Winnie Leong, but like many Singaporean
students he left her at home when he moved to Australia to complete his degree. A quiet young man
who enjoyed food and staying at home to watch television or work on his computer, Chow Lyang loved
music and was learning the organ, intending to play Pachelbel’s Canon at a second, more celebratory,
wedding he planned with his wife once his studies were over.
Witness after witness told the police that they could think of no reason
anyone would want to harm Chow Lyang, but examinations of his computer turned up a surprise: he had
been rekindling a flirtatious relationship with a friend in Singapore, Jasmine Tan. Although Chow
Lyang often bought Winnie the Pooh toys for his wife and carried a photo of her in his wallet, he
wore his wedding ring only when Winnie visited Sydney. Jasmine Tan was engaged, and her online chats
with Chow Lyang included endearments and sexual references without any implication that their
relationship had become sexual. She was in regular contact with Chow
Lyang for months in mid 2003,
and Ram Tiwary’s court defence team would suggest that sexual jealousy might have been a motive for
an unknown killer. Immigration records showed that neither Jasmine nor her fiancé visited Australia
in 2003, and police did not investigate this line further.
Tony Tan moved into the apartment when Chaw Bak You left in March.
Like Chow Lyang, Tony had a wife
in Singapore, but the circumstances were different. Tony, who grew up in a small flat with his
parents and sister, was a strong, physical boy who excelled at table tennis. He and his Singaporean
friends enjoyed going out on shopping trips, and when he began his military service as a signaller
he took to the outdoor life. While he did get homesick, he was popular and sociable among his
comrades. He met a Singaporean woman, Yokehar Loi, in an internet chat room in 1998, before moving
to Australia to study. He and Yokehar broke up in 2002, but according to Tony’s parents, Yokehar
became very emotionally needy. According to Tony’s parents, it was out of kindness, rather than
love, that Tony returned to Singapore where he married Yokehar in a civil ceremony in February 2003.
Their wedding photo shows the pair, unsmiling, outside the Registry of Marriages. Tony’s father
renovated an apartment for the couple to move into, but after Tony’s murder, Yokehar broke off
contact with Tony’s family. “I don’t like her,” Madame Chiew Lee Hua says. “My son was soft-hearted
so he relented.”
Chow Lyang’s family have maintained a public silence since the murders. They did not give a victim
impact statement during any court proceedings.
Eight and a half months after the murders, on May 27, 2004, I called
Detective Mark Frearson and asked him if it was okay for me to return to Singapore. I told him that
university wasn’t going well for me and I had commitments in Singapore that I had to fulfil. At this
stage I had not made any travel preparations. Ten minutes after our conversation, Detective Frearson
called me back and asked if I could come in for a final interview before I returned to Singapore. I
was completely oblivious to the fact that behind the detective’s words was a flurry of activity to
arrest me based on my decision to leave Australia.
The next morning I went to Maroubra police station at the agreed early appointment time of 7.30am. I
did not recognise the significance of the surprise with which I was greeted when I asked for
Detectives Paul Thierjung and Mark Frearson. The pair had left earlier to try and arrest me in
public somewhere between my place and the police station. I actually waited in the lobby for about
25 minutes before they returned.
It was as if the world shook when I extended my hand to them and met only
air. There was no handshake, just two stony faces, one telling me that I was being arrested for the
murder of my friends. It was surreal, like watching the scene as a third person detached from my
body. In my memory of those moments, all the sounds are muffled. Even the room seems so dark. I was
standing in the lobby of Maroubra police station and Detective Mark Frearson was reading me my
It was 256 days after the murders, almost the entire gestation period that brings a new human life to
the world. Eight-and-a-half months had passed since the most tragic day of my life, and things were
only about to get worse.
In the months after the murders, police gathered more material that
they believed showed Ram Tiwary’s criminal mentality. He was caught with student cards, a phone and
a computer that were not his own. His explanations led to further charges of larceny, to which he
pleaded guilty. He had lied to his friends, other than his girlfriend Elvira Metiljevic and friend
David Lee, about where he was when the murders occurred.
“If someone told me he slept through these attacks, I wouldn’t believe him,” Ram tells SBS. “It
sounds so stupid. If I had told people, it would have invited a whole lot of questions. ‘What did
you hear? What did you do?’ I couldn’t face that. But when I spoke to the police, I was 100 per cent
But the police did not believe him. They arrested him on May 28, 2004, on two counts of murder, and
his trial was set for 2006. He was not allowed bail. The only problem for the prosecution was, for
all its apparent logic and simplicity, their case did not add up.
My first trial was set for between four and six weeks in the winter
months of May and June in 2006. After two years of remand imprisonment, I was finally going to have
my day in court.
Singapore's leading broadsheet, The Straits Times, published a somewhat muddled version of what I had
told the police – it was said my “alibi” was that I had slept through two murders, but I never said
that. Not only did I never claim to have slept through two murders, I had said that I had been woken
by the first, and was awake and out of bed by the second. Although I did not know it then, I awoke
to what I now believe were sounds from the assault on Chow Lyang. Having no reason to suspect
anything untoward, I had fallen asleep again. The automatic reaction to that statement is disbelief.
I understand. If someone told me my story, I would probably say he was lying, it just seems so
I was not asleep, but awake and dressing in my room when Tony was assaulted, and I heard the attack
on him. During the interview on the day of the murders, I said: “I woke up… when I heard what I
thought was the sound of some sort of commotion, I was half-asleep and the TV was on as well so I
had no idea what was going on… (I was) getting out of bed when I heard somebody rush past my door,
bump (it)… I think it was Tony… I think he screamed help but I’m not
The autopsy revealed at least 12 blunt-force strikes to [Tony's] head that left lacerations. Due to
the extensive bruising of the scalp, there was no way to tell how many more landed but did not cause
lacerations. The attack with the bat ripped off parts of its plastic shrink-wrap cover, and these
were found on Tony’s clothes and even in his wounds.
The surface of the lowermost lock on the front door was covered in blood. There was more blood on the
left of the door frame. Tony had tried to escape, but his attempts had been thwarted. Tony’s blood
was found on the exterior keyhole, but Tony never reached the outside of the house and by the end of
the attack, his body completely blocked the front door. The only way his blood could have gotten on
the exterior keyhole would be if someone with his blood on him or her from the attack in the living
room left via the front door, before the final assault in the hallway.
Two years later, in the winter of 2006, Ram’s trial commenced in the
NSW Supreme Court. Before Justice Michael Adams and a 12-member jury, Ram pleaded not guilty to
murder. After the Crown opened its case, prosecution witnesses informed the jury about the injuries
suffered by Chow Lyang and Tony.
Dr Johan Duflou, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, described the severity of the
blows with the baseball bat that shattered Chow Lyang’s skull and damaged his brain. Dr Duflou said
there were at least two blows, so extensive was the damage. Chow Lyang’s left index finger had also
been crushed and lacerated, almost certainly, Dr Duflou thought, as a result of trying to defend
himself. He had also been stabbed multiple times in the neck and forehead, probably about two hours
after the initial attack.
Our landlord’s family who lived below and who were home at the times
of the murders said they did not hear anything – even the relatively louder attack on Tony did not
create enough noise to alert the people living just downstairs. The fact that I would have been in
bed in the afternoon was confirmed by many friends and acquaintances the police interviewed; even
Chow Lyang and Tony’s wives who had spent just a couple of weeks in Sydney told the police that.
There was no blood from Chow Lyang on me, and instead only specks of
Tony’s blood, facts the defence argued were incompatible with the ferocity of the attacks and the
resulting copious, omni- directional blood spatter that was found at the scene and that would have
been on the assailant(s).
I had told the police that Tony had “spurted” blood as I tried to check his pulse as instructed by
the 000 operator. Researchers verified the expiration reflex, but the Crown remained opposed because
that meant two separate ferocious attacks had left blood spatter everywhere except on their alleged
The Crown’s case was that Ram had murdered Chow Lyang because of a
financial dispute. Its timeline was that after Tony left alone for the lecture, Ram attacked Chow
Lyang, and when Tony came back two hours later, Ram killed him because he would see Chow Lyang’s
body in the flat. But Tony was not attacked as soon as he walked in. It was established that upon
his return from the lecture, Tony went to the kitchen to fry chicken wings for lunch. To do so, he
must have walked past Chow Lyang’s body, partially concealed behind the couch. Chicken wings were
found sitting in a frypan on the stove, their bottom burnt. As Tony came out of the kitchen, the
prosecution argued, he was struck in the mouth and the eyes with the baseball bat Ram had bought on
the Saturday, breaking some teeth and his glasses. The blood trail showed that Tony tried to run
down the hallway and escape through the front door, but before he could get out he was battered in
the head with the baseball bat, leaving 15 injuries. As well as the blows with the baseball bat,
Tony was stabbed five times in the neck with a black-handled kitchen knife found on the floor under
his knee. One of Tony’s stab wounds was so deep it pierced his voice box, and another passed into
the base of his tongue. Tony had tried to defend himself, as evidenced by stab wounds in the backs
of his hands. The crown argued that the evidence demonstrated that the assault was brutal and
thorough – and clearly intended to kill.
A contentious part of the Crown case against Ram was its explanation of why he had so little of
Tony’s blood on him, and neither blood nor DNA from Chow Lyang. Detective Sergeant Philip Elliott,
the police crime scene examiner, told the court that he believed the blood on Ram's body and clothes
was “medium velocity” spatter from the attacks on Tony. Unable to explain why there was no blood
from Chow Lyang on Ram or the bat, Elliott also tested the bathroom for signs of blood and the house
was searched for signs of clothes having been disposed of or washed, but nothing was found to
support the Crown’s case.
The Crown’s expert witness on DNA, forensic biologist Virginia Friedman, tested a number of swabs and
items taken from the flat. The swab from the bathroom hand basin indicated blood, but not
conclusively, and there was a mix of DNA from Chow Lyang, Tony and Ram. Tony's DNA and blood were
found on the baseball bat, the knife, and Ram's shorts, but Chow Lyang's DNA was not found on any of
The prosecution argued that in the two hours after Ram had murdered Chow Lyang, he had cleaned all
blood and DNA off himself, his clothes and the baseball bat, and removed all traces of it from the
bathroom. The blood from Tony that was found on him was, they said, a result of the attack. The
defence version was that Ram had none of Chow Lyang’s blood on him because he had nothing to do with
the murder, and the blood from Tony had got on him when he bent down to check Tony’s pulse after
coming out of his bedroom. While Ram did not testify, the court heard his interview with police, in
which he told them that Tony had coughed up blood as he lay dying, and this went on Ram’s shorts and
Two expert witnesses for the defence, Doctors Mark Hersch and John Matheson, supported Ram’s version
that the blood on Ram could come from a cough expiration reflex. Dr Matheson, a neurosurgeon, was
not cross-examined by the Crown, which relied instead on evidence from emergency specialist Dr
Gordian Fulde against the likelihood of the “cough” theory. Justice Adams said to the jury:“Dr
Fulde’s evidence would not be a proper basis for you to convict this accused. The state of the
medical evidence at the end of the day is that not only could Tan have coughed but that he did.”
If Ram had killed Tony, where was the rest of the blood? Tony’s injuries
and the struggle had left blood everywhere in the flat, but almost none on Ram. The defence pointed
out that Tony was bludgeoned and stabbed after 2.05pm and possibly after 2.10pm. Ram called 000 at
2.20pm. He would have had to remove a great deal of blood from himself within a few minutes. If the
murder was premeditated, as the Crown argued, why would Ram place himself under such pressure when
there was no need to call triple zero so quickly? And why then would he leave the small amount of
Tony’s blood that was on him? The defence argued that the most believable explanation was Ram’s:
that he had hidden in his bedroom while Tony was being attacked, had come out when it was finished,
and only had a small amount of Tony’s blood on him because he coughed while Ram was checking him.
A major part of the police case was Ram’s purchase of the baseball bat on the Saturday afternoon two
days before the murders. Ram exercised his right not to give evidence in his trial, but he tells SBS
that he bought the baseball bat as a kind of novelty. “One of my friends had a small baseball bat,
and whenever we went to his house we all played with it,” he says. “It was a fun thing to do, and I
thought I’d like one of my own.” He made no attempt to conceal the purchase, keeping a receipt and
being clearly identifiable as the buyer, which, he contends, shows that he had nothing to hide. If
he had bought the bat with the intention of using it against Chow Lyang, he asks, why would he do it
The blunt force injuries on Chow Lyang were consistent with a weapon
similar in hardness and size to the bat, for example, a metal bar or pipe, or even another bat. A
competing theory is that the assault on Chow Lyang was pre-planned and that the weapons used on him
in that first attack were brought from outside the house and then disposed of, but the knife and bat
used in an unplanned attack on Tony that were found were left behind, as they were from the house.
There was no plastic shrink-wrap from the bat on Chow Lyang like that which was found on Tony’s
clothes and even within his injuries. Testing of the bat and knife by DAL (Division of Analytical
Laboratories) failed to show Chow Lyang’s blood or DNA. Once again, the defence accepted that
finding and the consequent conclusion that Chow LyangTay was attacked with a different set of
weapons. The Crown did not.
Tony’s classmate, Kevin Teo, told police of a conversation he had with Tony and another classmate,
Zhong Wei, a few weeks before the murders: “Tony said that he had a baseball bat for his
protection.” Another witness who often came to our place told police that he had seen a baseball bat
there in July, probably the one Tony spoke of to his friends. That bat was never found. DNA analysis
of the weapons found at the scene, the bat and the knife, by DAL strongly suggested that they were
used on Tony. Both the defence and prosecution accepted this conclusion.
The motive for Chow Lyang’s murder was always portrayed by the police and
the Crown as financial, specifically regarding rent. Tony’s murder was described as a “cover-up” to
hide the first.
In the weeks before the murders, Tony told his friend Chung Wei Lee
that he had owned a baseball bat “for protection … [but] it was just chit chat and no specific
conversation about being scared”, Lee told police. Ram had owned a baseball bat in a previous
household, but did not own one when he moved into Barker Street. Two other friends, Kevin Teo and
Zhong Wei, told police that Tony had told them about buying a baseball bat for protection, and David
Lee said he had often seen a baseball bat in the hall at Barker Street. During the trial, the
prosecution said that no second bat had been found in the flat.
The Crown attempted to establish Ram’s motive around financial stress and tensions in the house. The
question of motive presented a problem from the outset, as friend after friend of the three students
had told police they had seen no friction between Ram, Chow Lyang and Tony, and did not have any
reason to believe anyone would want to harm the two victims.
Ram’s girlfriend Elvira Metiljevic told police: “On every occasion I went
to the Barker Street unit, I would say the guys were all very harmonious. I never saw them argue or
fight. I can’t remember Ram ever mention any incident where the guys may have argued. Ram never
mentioned any sort of tension or disagreements that he or the guys had with one another.”
In June 2003, when according to the Crown’s “financial stress” motive
I owed him more than $4000, Chow Lyang wrote to a friend in an ICQ message: “(Ram) paying my rent 4
tis mth so I got ‘extra’ couple of hundreds. The prosecution understandably made a great deal of
fanfare that one of my bank accounts had, at one point, “negative eighty-four cents” in it. Yet,
upon interviewing my girlfriend, friends and acquaintances, police discovered that my spending
habits had never changed at any time. They all testified under Crown questioning that we still went
out, socialised and that I spent money just as I always had.
Just once during my four years in Sydney did I borrow money – the night
of the murders after the police left me naked but for paper overalls. I was told that nothing could
be removed from the unit, which I appreciated, except it meant that my wallet and clothes were
inaccessible. A good friend lent me money so I could buy some clothes. That was the one and only
time that I borrowed money as opposed to the many times I lent it to others.
Tony’s wife Yokehar Loi said that her husband and Chow Lyang “had no
enemies”. Tony’s friend Alan Poh said, “I can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to hurt
Tony… I do not believe Tony had any friends that I would not trust.”
Loi and Winnie Leong both visited their husbands while they were sharing 109 Barker Street with Ram
Tiwary, but neither noticed any major tensions in the household, according to their statements to
police. There were minor spats, however. Tony told his wife that Chow Lyang was “stingy”, based on
Chow Lyang’s appropriating a coin jar that had been left by a previous flatmate for the group to buy
themselves a treat. Months before the murders, Chow Lyang told his friend Alan Wong that things were
“not so rosy” in the household and that he had taken to locking his bedroom door when he was not
home, and said that the flatmates had begun watching television in separate shifts rather than
together. According to Ram, however, on the night before the murders all three sat together watching
one of The Lord of the Rings movies.
Nor did the landlords detect any trouble. “Since those boys have been
living upstairs, I have never heard any arguments or yelling from any of them,” one landlord told
police. The other added: “The tenants are good in that they hardly make any noise.”
Ram is at a loss to explain why unknown people would kill Chow Lyang and Tony. He tells SBS that
there were no drugs used in the house, and only very occasional trips to the casino, “two or three
times in a year”. Once, he and Tony had told friends they had lost $900, but bank records of all
three did not show any irregular cash movements or evidence of gambling or any other crime. After 13
years to think about it, Ram shakes his head. “I had no inkling of anything suspect in their
Upon my arrest, the detectives gleefully showed me a handwritten note
from Chow Lyang with my name on it, titled “March” with the words 'owe $1,148'. I pointed out that
$1148 equated to two months’ expenses, and that since the “owe” amount preceded the word “March”, it
would be for January and February, the period when I was in Singapore. I had paid the amount due for
December before I left Sydney, and Chow Lyang had given me that note when I had returned, which was
why it said “owe”.
Another piece of paper collected from my room was in Chow Lyang’s handwriting. This note did not say
“‘owe”’ because it was for the period when I was in Sydney – it was Chow Lyang’s record of what I
had paid him in cash. This note also mentioned the name Andrew.
The detectives asked who Andrew was and I told them I had no idea – the
fourth bedroom had been empty and they themselves acknowledged that the note had been written by
Chow Lyang, not me.
A key part of the financial motive put forward by the prosecution was a note written by Chow Lyang
that was found in the flat suggesting Ram owed him approximately $5054 in unpaid rent. The
prosecution said that Chow Lyang was demanding Ram pay it and speculated, on the basis of this
handwritten note, that Ram had told Chow Lyang that a fourth tenant, named Andrew, would occupy the
fourth bedroom and that this would reduce the total by $1600. Ram had also received a bill for
university fees of $7271 on August 15, 2003, a month before the murders, and the Crown said it was
the accumulation of this financial pressure that gave Ram the motive to murder Chow Lyang. Also, the
Crown said, Ram was due to take over as the lessee when Chow Lyang and Tony graduated at the end of
2003, which, if Ram was broke, would add to the financial pressure.
Ram had no explanation for who “Andrew” was or if he existed, and nor did police establish his
During the trial, the Crown mounted an all-out attack on Ram’s credibility. The Crown said that if
Ram was a liar, “Why would you believe anything else he said?” Justice
Adams paraphrased, in his address to the jury, what the Crown had been trying to say about Ram’s
character and how that was relevant to their case. “Once he is a liar, he is always a liar in
effect. It affects the rest of his credibility.”
Justice Adams summarised that the Crown had said that “really, there is a big lie told by [Ram] in
this case about what he told the police because they say, ‘Look, he’s guilty and this was just his
attempt to escape that responsibility, that liability, and what he has told you is just a pack of
lies about his hearing a noise when he was asleep and waking up.’”
The jury found Ram guilty of murdering both Chow Lyang and Tony. He was sentenced to a term of 25
years for the murder of Chow Lyang and life without parole for the murder of Tony. Ram was looking
at spending the rest of his life in an Australian jail.
How do I describe waiting for a double murder verdict? You know that
life will hurl you onto one of two opposite paths. It had taken two years of waiting to get to
trial. Two years for my life, my sanity, my everything to be balanced on a knife edge.
I was sitting on the metal bench of the court cell with my back against the wall. I looked up as the
“They have a verdict.”
My heart was racing, my stomach churning as I stood, alone in the defendant’s box, clinging to hope.
The jury seemed to take forever to file in.
The forewoman pronounced me guilty.
There was silence in the courtroom for a while. I could not bring
myself to look at my parents and brother. I realised that I had been put in prison at the grand age
of 25 years and nine days, and I would spend the rest of my life in jail for something I had not
done. I remember my cell door clanging shut behind me and the sound of the key turning in the lock.
After the traumatic events of the day, I remember I was glad to be back in the familiar surrounds.
This was now home: life in maximum security until the day I died.
Justice Michael Adams had summarised the trial evidence for my conviction in about 20 minutes.
Twenty-five years for the murder of Chow Lyang, and life imprisonment without parole for the murder
of Tony. Running concurrently, of course. Out of the approximately 10,000 inmates in the NSW
corrective system, fewer than 30 were sentenced to confinement until death. I joined them on the
I carried on at MRRC, the maximum security facility in the
Silverwater Correctional Complex in Sydney, for about two-and-a-half months after I was sentenced.
Then I was sent to “real” jail, Lithgow Correctional Centre in the Blue Mountains area northwest of
Sydney. Lithgow’s capacity is about 330; 240 in four normal wings, 60 in Protection and about 30 in
Segregation. Because Lithgow is a “long- term” jail, it is a harder jail but also older in terms of
inmate age. Only a very small percentage of inmates at Lithgow were doing single-digit sentences and
quite a number doing “bricks”’ prison slang for 20 years. If I stretched my arms out sideways in the
widest part of my one-out cell at MRRC, my fingers would touch the walls – that was the width of my
life at least 17 hours a day. At Lithgow, it was the exact same situation, but with another person
to share that space with.
The mammoth task of preparing an appeal in prison meant constantly revisiting the murders, my arrest,
the thousands of questions asked and answered in police interview rooms. There was no way to review
any of the audio or video evidence. I spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours sifting through
every single sentence, picture and exhibit from the proceedings available to me. In jail, I used to
ask my friends or family to do online research whenever I needed information about a particular
topic. The problem was that in prison, you got a 10-minute overseas call or a six-minute local call
at one go. Then, you had to get back in line for the two phones shared by dozens of inmates and wait
until your turn came again, if there was enough time. There were times when the phones would be
switched off altogether or out of order for days.
I remember discovering the first wrinkle around my eyes, the dreaded
crow’s feet. It was 2007 and I was 28. I remember that instant more clearly than almost any other
from inside jail, because it was accompanied by a realisation that left me staring, motionless,
thinking, “I am growing old in jail. I am going to become an old man in jail. I am going to die
As memories of the world outside slipped away, “normal” changed. I no longer even noticed the bars on
the windows. What a horrible evolution. The thought of suicide itself was never that far away, but I
could not bring myself to follow through when the taint of murder convictions stood against my
Over the next two years, Ram and his defence team thought through
their appeal. In late 2008, Ram’s barrister, Tim Game SC, presented the case before Justices
McClellan, Blanch and Hislop at the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The defence presented three grounds for appeal: that Justice Adams, the trial judge, had not directed
the jury adequately in response to the Crown’s arguments about Ram being a liar; that the evidence
about the blood on Ram had been misrepresented by the Crown in its summing up and not represented
properly by Justice Adams; and that the verdict was unreasonable and unsupported by the
The Crown had made much of inconsistencies between what Ram told police and his friends at various
stages of the investigation. After reviewing the evidence over Ram’s credibility, the appeal judges
said, “The trauma of the events may have been sufficient to cause an innocent person in his position
to be confused about their precise movements and recollection.” They felt that if Ram had planned
the murders, he would have memorised a fake story which would have been consistent. Justice Adams
had, during the trial, said, “You might have thought if he was going to fabricate that he would have
got it right, especially if he is, as the Crown says, as cunning as the Crown submits he is.”
The appeal bench upheld this ground of appeal, and also the second one, finding that the Crown and
Justice Adams had possibly confused the jury about the evidence regarding Tony’s blood and how it
got onto Ram.
But the most important ground, for Ram, was the third. If the appeal
judges found that the guilty verdict was “unreasonable or cannot be supported by the evidence”, they
had the power to set him free.
Game submitted a number of points relating to this third ground: the non-attendance of Chow Lyang at
university on the Monday morning, and Tony’s strange behaviour around the other students leading to
his confiding that Chow Lyang would not be at the ethics lecture; the witness statements that Tony
had got into a car with a number of people of Asian appearance; the lack of blood on Ram; and the
unlikelihood, if he planned the murder, that Ram would so openly buy a baseball bat and not bother
to conceal other key evidence, such as the notes about rent; in short, that if he was planning this
murder, why he did such a poor job of it.
The appeal hearings were held in October 2008. The initial part of
the arguments dealt with the first of three grounds of appeal. The first was the trial prosecutor’s
allegations of lies and the trial judge’s failure to direct the jury correctly on that allegation.
The second was the manner in which the trial prosecutor addressed the blood issue and the failure by
the trial judge to clarify that for the jury. (Both these grounds would be successful, and result in
a retrial being ordered.) The judges, however, were more than interested in hearing the third ground
– that the verdicts themselves were unreasonable and not supported by the evidence.
Seven weeks before my arrest, the police used the media to call for assistance from the public in
tracking down the car and its occupants. But it seemed like the detectives dropped all
investigations into the car after my arrest when the evidence started to show that the car was in no
way connected to me. When Tony was picked up in that car by those three people, his fate was sealed.
In my view, it should have been central to the prosecution case.
When both convictions were quashed, I allowed myself a restoration of
some cautious faith in the system.
There have been so many times when I felt that Chow Lyang was extending a helping hand across the
vastness. His writing of the word “owe” on that note when I did owe him at the time I was
demonstrably and undeniably in Singapore - he could have just omitted that word and written the
amount, but he wrote it anyway. The ICQ message regarding my helping him with his rent and that he
had extra money to expose the Crown’s contention that I, instead, owed him.
Together, these points were enough to persuade the appeal judges that
the trial had miscarried – but not enough to acquit Ram. On December 17, 2008, the Court of Criminal
Appeal ordered a retrial. Ram was not freed; instead, he was to be tried again.
The second trial began in the NSW Supreme Court on August 31, 2009. Ram, who had been 24 on the date
of the murders, was now 30. This time, he was represented by barristers David Dalton SC and Anthony
Goodridge, and again, he exercised his right to silence during the trial.
The Crown’s case was substantially the same as it had been in 2006: that Ram, motivated by financial
pressure, had argued with Chow Lyang and killed him on the Monday after Tony had gone to the
university; and that when Tony returned home, Ram killed him because he would see Chow Lyang’s body
and be, effectively, a witness to the first murder. Again there was difficulty showing that the
financial motive was enough for such brutal murders, but the presiding judge, Justice Peter Johnson,
told the jury that the Crown did not need to prove a motive:“At one level, it is difficult to
understand how such a dispute could lead to an extremely violent and homicidal attack upon Mr Tay …
On the other hand, I accept that the build-up of financial pressure upon [Ram] created a grievance
between him and Mr Tay. Of course, there may have been other unknown factors which contributed to
the attack on Mr Tay.”
The Crown accepted that Tony had got into a car on Willis Street, but
said that he had been given a lift home, where Ram was waiting to kill him. Dalton argued that the
people in the car must be involved in the murder, and also in the murder of Chow Lyang. The Crown
said that Ram had already decided he was going to tell police that, as Justice Johnson later
summarised, “a stranger or strangers had killed Mr Tay, and that the murder of Mr Tan was necessary
as well so that the Offender could thereby use the same explanation for the deaths of the two men”.
Did detectives do enough to correlate missing and abandoned car
reports to the descriptions given by witnesses? Did they exhaust all possible options in tracking
down this important lead? I don't think so.
At the first trial, the Crown's expert said that his failure to swab for blood in the correct places
on the bat would explain the absence of Chow Lyang’s blood. Before the second trial, the bat and
knife were subjected to further testing in earnest hope by the Crown. In the end, both the Crown and
the Defence agreed that both weapons had been used on Tony, but neither on Chow Lyang.
On the inside, I used to use the metaphor of the Crazy Ex for the System – once it gets its claws
into you, it never wants to let go. After the second conviction in 2009, I was completely convinced
that I would never leave jail again.
Regarding how Tony’s blood came to be found on Ram, two contesting
versions were again presented. The prosecution said that the blood came from medium-velocity impact
spatter from the attack, while the defence countered that it was coughed up by Tony as Ram was
The second jury decided the same as the first. On October 6, 2009, it found Ram guilty. He was
sentenced to 25 years for Chow Lyang’s murder and 40 years for Tony’s. The earliest Ram could be
paroled would be May 28, 2042.
The cold depression that set in after the verdicts battled the
burning desire inside me for recognition of the truth.
The judges at the second appeal in 2012 thought the Crown’s case for a motive was “weak”. Their
judgment said: “The Crown case theory included: a motive (perhaps weak for such horrific crimes)…”
The NSW Public Defender’s website listing multiple murder convictions still refers to the case
simply as having “motive unknown”.
As memories of the world outside slipped away, “normal” changed. I no
longer even noticed the bars on the windows. What a horrible evolution. The thought of suicide
itself was never that far away, but I could not bring myself to follow through when the taint of
murder convictions stood against my name.
Even though I had no blood from Chow Lyang on me and only specks from Tony, the Crown alleged that I
had washed the weapons and myself of Chow Lyang’s blood and most of Tony’s. Evidence from the NSW
police forensics department showed that no blood had been washed away** from anywhere in the
apartment; the Crown scenario was not supported by the evidence.
Ram spent another two and a half years in prison. Then, in 2012, he
was granted a second appeal hearing, this time before Court of Criminal Appeal Justices Bathurst,
Fullerton and Allsop. They rejected a first ground for appeal, relating to paint from the baseball
bat being found on the walls of the flat, but upheld the crucial second ground, that the jury had
made its verdict unreasonably and without a basis in the evidence.
Aspects of Ram’s account to police, the judges said, were “difficult to accept”. His sleeping through
the beating of Chow Lyang, his decision to remain in his bedroom while Tony was being attacked, and
the inconsistencies and hesitancy in his account to police after the murders, in the judges’
opinion, created difficulties with the defence version. Nonetheless, the judges had a reasonable
doubt about the prosecution case.
“Our individual views about aspects of the evidence varied in emphasis,” the judges wrote, “but we
all reached the clear view that there was a reasonable doubt about [Ram] being the murderer.”
Above all, what the CCA found wanting in the prosecution case was an explanation for Tony’s behaviour
at UNSW that day and his departure in the car. Tony knew that Chow Lyang was not coming to
university: why? Tony was dishevelled and acting strangely: why? Tony was seen getting into a car
with three people: why? The Crown case was that these people dropped him home, a few hundred metres
away, and then drove off. Despite police appeals for information, no members of the public came
forward to identify the car or its occupants. “The people in the car did not come forward to assist
police,” the appeal judges said. “There was evidence of media coverage of the murders and of police
wishing to speak to the people in the car. They were, on the Crown case, the last people (other than
the appellant as killer) to see Mr Tan alive. They had waited to pick him up by apparent
pre-arrangement to drive him a few hundred metres. In all the circumstances, including the unusual
behaviour of both Tay and Tan, there is a reasonable possibility that these people (or one or more
of them) had a connection with the re-arrangements of the usual pattern of Tay's and Tan's day and
had organised to meet Tan after his lecture when, unbeknownst to him, they had killed Tay and were
driving Tan to the unit where he would also be killed.”
The appeal judges painted a portrait of Tony Tan’s last hours that expressed their doubts about the
Crown case against Ram:“After his lecture, Mr Tan met three people who were waiting in a car for
him at the exit from the university and left with them. His home was only a few hundred metres away.
These people undoubtedly drove him to his unit. Once inside he begins to cook a meal that is
consistent with food for a number of people. The above hypothesis, based on facts that are tolerably
certain, raises the real possibility that another or others who could have been the killer or
killers of Mr Tay returned to the unit with Mr Tan intent on killing him.”
Two witnesses, Mejaney Kuo and Jennifer Mirto, had come forward in the initial stages of the police
investigation to say they had, respectively, seen people and a speeding car leaving the area where
the murders took place. Mirto said the car “was travelling on the inside lane at high speed and
weaving in and out of traffic. It swerved and missed a blue car and in doing so nearly collided with
a telegraph pole, just barely missing it. It wasn’t just joy riders, the speed scared me… I had
never witnessed this sort of behaviour on the road before. The speed of the vehicle appeared to be
in excess (of) 100km/h when all other cars were doing approximately 50 km/h.” Police never found out
more about the car through either CCTV or red-light camera footage.
There was little forensic evidence linking Ram to the murders, the appeal judges continued. None of
Chow Lyang’s blood was found on him or his clothes. Chow Lyang had been beaten more than two hours
before the police arrived, but he had been stabbed in the neck around the same time as the attack on
Tony, and no blood or fingerprints connected Ram to his murder. And considering the brutality of the
beating and stabbing of Tony, there was not enough blood on Ram to connect him with the second
murder, and no evidence of washed or discarded clothing. The small amount of Tony’s blood that was
on Ram could be explained by his version: that Tony had coughed as he lay dying. And finally, the
judges said:“there are aspects to the 000 call that tell in favour of [Ram’s] innocence. Whilst
emotion can be faked, of course, the tone, verging on hysteria, of [Ram] when he was transferred
resonated with fear. Further, he asked to remain on the line with the ambulance officer until the
ambulance or police arrived, in a tone of residual fear and distress. This would not appear to be
the action of someone who has methodically planned and effected the execution of both Tay and Tan.”
The CCA did not find Ram fully convincing or consistent in his
explanations but, as in the 2008 appeal, they felt that there was too much doubt in the case against
him for his conviction to stand. This time, they decided not to send the matter back for a third
trial. Instead, they freed Ram. In conclusion of their summary of their reasons, the appeal judges
said:“The hypothesis upon which the doubt is founded also goes some way to explain and
ameliorate some of the problems with [Ram]'s accounts. He may not have been entirely accurate or
complete in his explanations. He may have had a greater degree of knowledge than his explanations
revealed, or even some complicity in the murders. If, however, as is a reasonable hypothesis, others
known to him murdered Tay and Tan, his circumstances and attitude and ability to recount matters
would be partly driven by fear of consequences to him. This was not his version of events, but in
our view the confluence of the likely presence of other persons and the dearth of forensic evidence
connecting him to the murders gives rise to a reasonable doubt as to him being the murderer.”
Was Ram in league with others, as the appeal judges hypothesised? There was no further investigation
after Ram, freed, flew home to Singapore.
The Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) bench elucidated the evidence for
this in 2012: “First, the bathroom where this washing must have taken place was inspected by 4pm on
the day. Sergeant Elliott, who got to the scene at about 3.35pm, examined the bathroom ‘closely… as
an obvious place where someone may have attempted to wash or remove blood from their person or
clothing’.” Hiss statement specified: “I saw that the shower recess, the laundry tub and the hand
basin were dry.”
At the second appeal, the judges came to the decision of acquittal on both charges virtually
immediately after the hearings. People familiar with the justice system know that that is almost
unheard of in as serious a matter as a double homicide.
How do I describe the feeling of shedding the green prison-issued clothes after eight years? I had
been so sure for so long that I would breathe my last in them, one way or another. I took only my
letters and drawings, legal material and personal notes and put on my civilian clothes before I was
transferred to Villawood Immigration Detention Centre.
On September 10, 2012, six-and-a-half weeks after I arrived at Villawood,
the CCA bench released the judgment containing their formal reasons behind their decision. Nine days
later, I was on a flight home to Singapore.
The Singaporean media saw my release as sudden, but for me, the acquittal was the culmination of two
years of seemingly unending effort and mental agony since the second conviction.
The NSW Police and Director of Public Prosecutions have declined to
comment to SBS about the Tiwary matter. In two trials, their case against Ram was accepted by
juries. Both times the verdicts were overturned by appeal courts. The lead detectives who
investigated the case, Paul Thierjung and Mark Frearson, have since moved into the uniformed police
Either way, a terrible miscarriage of justice had occurred. Whether it was the wrongful imprisonment
of an innocent man for more than eight years or the failure to secure justice for the families of
Tony Tan and Tay Chow Lyang, the authorities in New South Wales failed these Singaporean students
and their families.
In the first months of freedom, a horrible thought would cross my
mind when I woke from dreams that I was still in prison: what if my freedom is the terribly vivid
dream and I am going to wake up on the inside in a few moments?
It is a gift being able to walk into a shop and buy what you like, to be
able to lean out of an open window, to go for a walk if you can’t sleep. I constantly remind myself
of that because it is so easy to forget. Years of prison cells made me realise that something about
the wide expanses of nature appeals to something deep inside us. The sight of trees and mountains as
far as the eye can see makes us see the world, and ourselves, with more clarity; it makes us feel
emotions more fully, everything from ecstatic felicity to cutting sadness, and perhaps even induces
Even today, my mind sometimes wanders back to jail. I look at my watch and add the requisite number
of hours to get the time in Sydney. I remember the jail routine, and recall what I had been doing at
that particular hour for all those years, and I wonder who is sitting in the seat I sat in, lying in
the bed in which I lay, or looking out from between the bars my hands held.
I would not change those last years in prison – they opened my eyes to so much. I was blind; perhaps
now I am less so. And that is really something.
My life has turned me into more of a sceptic than a conspiracy theorist.
Anyone with a genuine interest in this case, anyone who cares that two young men were brutally struck
down in the prime of life, that the lives and hopes of so many people were so suddenly, so
completely destroyed seemingly for no reason, anyone who feels a sense of dread that people they
pass on the street may be responsible but have suffered no consequences, must advocate for one
thing: A reinvestigation.
If justice was not delivered to anyone, it was in part because of a
failure of connection: the lives of the three men in that flat were not known deeply enough, or
sufficiently embedded in, an Australian city for the crime to be solved. The search for the killer
or killers remains incomplete. Just as so many Asian students pass through Australian cities like
ghosts, their money taken and their degrees given, so will these three. Except that Tony and Chow
Lyang would receive their degrees posthumously.
These victims were a long way from home and without deep layers of support in the Australian
community. They were in Sydney to get what they needed from a university, and then leave. Their real
lives were in Singapore. Were they, as foreign students, with their transient economic and
educational connection to Australia, at a disadvantage before the law? The murders remain a mystery.
The theory that Ram killed his flatmates was riddled with flaws. Yet the alternative – that unknown
people killed Chow Lyang, picked up Tony after his lecture, and then drove him home to murder him,
all while Ram was asleep in his room – raises more questions than it answers. If the household at
2/109 Barker Street contained three local Australian students with families, friends and champions
in Sydney, would justice have stood a better chance?
“They did not keep an open mind,” Ram says of the police. “They had a certain theory in mind and were
determined to fit the evidence to that.”
Ram says he was the third victim, through having eight years of his life stolen from him. His hope is
that the case is reopened and a killer is found, but from a continent away, he has little influence
over events. The families of Tony Tan and Chow Lyang Tay, whatever happens, are victims for
Madame Chiew and Mr Wee Sea believe that Ram killed their son, Tony. In their flat in Singapore, they
have nothing to believe in but their memories of their son, and the certainty that a miscarriage of
justice has occurred. The lack of closure will boil in them forever. Their son was murdered so far
from home, in a place where they thought they could trust justice but ended up with nothing but
suspicion and a feeling of having been short-changed on their rights. In this last respect, at
least, they and Ram Tiwary are in the same purgatory.
SBS would like to thank Ram Tiwary for his assistance in the development of this story.SBS advises that
Ram Tiwary did not review or approve this story before it was published, and does not endorse the story.SBS
retained full editorial control over this story.
Ram Tiwary’s text is based on the book, ‘99 Months’, by Ram Tiwary.