Convicted ‘spiritual leader’ brought weird activities to quiet neighbourhood, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Convicted ‘spiritual leader’ brought weird activities to quiet neighbourhood

It was once a quiet estate in Kembangan, with residents there saying they rarely spoke to one another.

But in early 2016, a new neighbour moved in, bringing with her an entourage of followers who appeared to wait on her hand and foot.

The quiet of Jalan Waringin quickly became punctuated by weekly chanting, singing and the beating of a drum late into the night.

Ms Lily, 48, said the clamour would begin at 9.30pm and continue late into the night, sometimes until 6am the next morning. 

The housewife, who declined to give her full name, lives next to a four-storey property that was once the residence of Woo May Hoe, a 54-year-old Singaporean woman who claimed to be a deity and headed a group of about 30 followers that believed in spiritual leader Sri Sakthi Narayani Amma.

On June 19, Woo was jailed for 10 years and six months after admitting to cheating her followers of more than $7 million and assaulting them.

She had also made them consume faeces and serve her full time. Many of her offences were committed inside the house in Jalan Waringin.

Residents of the estate who spoke to The Straits Times said that after Woo moved in, they began to notice strange things happening.

A resident of the estate who wanted to be known only as Mr Yeow said groups of people had begun to gather at the house late at night.

The 52-year-old said: “Their activities were a bit weird. They would all gather at the open area on the top floor of the house where there’s a pool, and sing and play a drum from evening till past midnight.

“Initially, because of the symbols on their gate, I thought it was a religious thing, but then it didn’t make sense to me because their activities were conducted only late into the night and never in the daytime.”

Another neighbour, who wanted to be known only as Madam Ling, 75, said the group of about 30 people would all be dressed in white on the top floor of the house.

She said she once saw one of them, a woman, crying uncontrollably while walking up and down the road in the middle of the night, but did not approach her as she “did not want to be a busybody”.

The neighbours said Woo had also invited them several times to the house for Chinese New Year, during which there were performances by a lion dance troupe.

Several of the neighbours had taken her up on the invitation, including Madam Ling and Ms Lily, who both said the celebrations appeared normal.

But Ms Lily said it was the interactions she had with the woman’s followers that left her puzzled.

“The followers introduced themselves as ‘Apple’, ‘Pear’, ‘Mango’ and ‘Pineapple’,” she said.

“They claimed to be reincarnations of fruits and said they prayed to Amma.”

Ms Lily added that around 2019, she began to notice other strange behaviour from the followers.

She said: “When she (Woo) came to the house in her big car, everyone would line up and bow down to her, like in a Korean drama. They would start lining up 30 minutes or so before she arrived.

“My family and I would laugh whenever we saw that. But that was because we didn’t know about the horrible things she was actually doing to them.”

Ms Lily said it was also around that time that she began to see some of Woo’s followers sitting outside the house with a cast on their leg or their arm. 

“I asked if they were okay, but they would look away and not answer me. Or they would say they had slipped and injured themselves,” she said.

“There were also periods when there would be a pungent stench, and we would go around our house looking for the source, thinking it was cat faeces.

“If I had known what was actually happening, I would have called the police.”

One of Woo’s followers, a woman in her 40s, was repeatedly assaulted in various ways and at different locations from 2019.

According to court documents, on a different occasion each time in 2019, Woo had hit the woman repeatedly in the face with a bundle of canes, pulled out and broke her teeth with pliers, hit her on the back of the head and hand with a roller brush, poured essential oils into her eye, and made her jump down from the second floor of an industrial building in Ubi, leaving her with both ankles broken.

On separate occasions in 2020, Woo assaulted the same woman by hitting her on the head with a filled bottle, getting other followers to hit her buttocks with a mop, and stabbing her multiple times on the arm with a pair of scissors.

Woo had similarly assaulted her other followers by pulling out their teeth, punching one in the eye, and hitting two of them on their mouths and heads with a ladle.

She made four of her followers swallow human faeces as punishment.

ST was able to contact one of the followers, but she declined to comment, saying she did not wish to speak about anything relating to the incidents.

The residents of the estate said they had all thought there was something strange about Woo and her followers, but none of them had asked questions or confronted her as they felt it would not be a neighbourly thing to do.

Madam Ling said: “They all seemed like nice people, so I didn’t want to probe. Some of their activities were quite loud, but it also didn’t bother me that much so I just let it be.”

Ms Lily said she could not understand why Woo’s followers would obey her even when she was abusing them.

She said: “I don’t understand why they listened to her instructions. Were they being charmed? 

“She was so small-sized. Many of them (her followers) were much bigger in size. And there would be 10 or 15 of them at times; they could fight back. I don’t understand why they were so afraid of her.” 

Woo sold the property in Jalan Waringin in 2020.

The new owner of the house, who wanted to be known only as Madam Sha, 51, said she and her family did not know about the activities that happened there when they bought it.

The housewife said they had never met the previous owner, despite asking to do so numerous times through their lawyers.

She said she felt something was amiss only when they received the keys to the house, which were handed over to them by the police.

“It was only then that we realised something must have happened here, and so when we found out after reading the news when she (Woo) was charged, we were bracing ourselves for people to start turning up at our new house,” she said.

“But thankfully, nothing like that has happened. We like our new place a lot and are very happy with it. It’s just disturbing to know about what happened here previously.”

Madam Sha’s daughter, who wanted to be known only as Ms Emma, 26, said that with natural light streaming in through a skylight and a built-in lift, the seven-bedroom house is everything her family wanted.

So it came as a shock to find out about what had happened in the place she calls home.

She said: “The house looked nothing like a house of horrors. They painted everything white before we moved in.”

Now, when Ms Emma cleans her toilet, she is reminded of how Woo had forced a follower to swallow human faeces in her house. 

She said: “I could visualise all of this happening, how she pulled out their teeth and (made them) eat faeces. Knowing that all of this was happening and I’m now living here – it took some time for me to digest it.”

Although the family had asked one of the previous occupants of the house – a man believed to be one of Woo’s followers – to remove all their belongings, smart locks on the doors of two bedrooms remain. 

Ms Emma said: “We did not understand why they needed to put locks in their bedrooms. We were very suspicious... it did not feel like the house was owned by a family.” 

But while the family now living in the house appears to have come to terms with its past, next-door neighbour Ms Lily continues to feel uneasy.

She said: “The aura in the house is not the same as before they (Woo and her followers) came. I still turn on a recording of the Quran every night. It helps us sleep better.”

assaultneighboursSINGAPORE CRIME