Man with adjustment disorder kills wife; brother of victim not ready to forgive
His sister was in a happy marriage and expecting her first child but on Jan 11, 2022, her husband killed her – a tragedy Mr Emanuel Francis is struggling to make sense of.
Ms Isabel Elizabeth Francis, 30, was 15 weeks pregnant. She and her husband David Brian Chow Kwok-Hun were expecting a girl.
He was the managing director of a security training centre, and the mother-to-be was enrolled as a law student at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, while juggling work as a communications professional.
Mr Francis was close to the couple, but especially to his sister, who would tell him everything. The three of them had dinners together just about every week.
He never saw them fight, and there was never a hint of trouble. Until the call to tell him that his sister was dead, and that Chow, now 35, was responsible.
Mr Francis said he had hoped Bel, as he calls his sister, was killed in her sleep. In court on Oct 26, 2023, it was revealed that she had tried to crawl to safety as her husband stabbed her repeatedly.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Francis said: “I was hoping that she didn’t feel any pain, but I’m very certain that she did.
“When the (facts of the) case were read out, I cried in the courtroom. To know she was awake, it was the most painful.”
Chow was convicted of culpable homicide on Oct 26 and sentenced to seven years’ jail. He was originally charged with murder, but the charge was reduced after he was diagnosed with a disorder that diminished his responsibility for the acts.
Mr Francis said his sister died under grim circumstances. He wants her to be remembered for how she lived.
Very close siblings
Ms Francis was the middle child of three siblings – two years older than Mr Francis and three years younger than their older sister, who has special needs.
After their parents divorced, they lived with their mother and aunt in a Housing Board flat in the East Coast area.
The two younger siblings relied on financial aid and took part-time jobs to support the family – including their older sister’s daughter, who also had special needs.
Said Mr Francis: “Bel and I became very close because we had to settle a lot of things together in order to keep the family running.
“We always kept each other sane. As siblings, obviously we bickered once in a while, but we would always care for each other.”
They would record song covers at home, with him playing the guitar and Ms Francis singing. The siblings, who are Catholic, served at the Church of Christ the King in Ang Mo Kio, where Ms Francis taught catechism classes.
An outgoing person, Ms Francis was often surrounded by friends as a student at CHIJ Toa Payoh and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where she pursued a diploma in mass communications.
At a memorial mass held for Ms Francis at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Upper Thomson in 2023, friends and relatives described her as generous and loving.
After completing her diploma, Ms Francis enrolled at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Singapore. She met Chow in 2014 when interning at his family’s company – KnowledgeTree Training Centre – and they started dating soon after she left the company.
In the five years of courtship, the couple regularly spent time with Mr Francis over drinks and meals.
“Through all the times I met them, they were a very loving couple. They were very supportive of each other.
“He always seemed like a very kind and caring person, even towards my mum and niece. He was very consistent in the love that he had for everyone,” said Mr Francis, adding that Chow became like family to him.
The couple tied the knot in December 2019. Mr Francis, who signed on the marriage certificate as a witness, sent his sister into her new life with high hopes.
“Bel is someone who makes her own dreams. We’ve always wanted to live a better life. And I was very happy for her, because I thought that she was going into a better life,” he said.
Ms Francis loved to invite family and friends to the couple’s new flat in Ang Mo Kio, where she whipped up Eurasian and Peranakan dishes such as curry devil and rendang.
She also baked excellent sourdough bread, added Mr Francis.
Mr Francis, his mother and niece had dinner at the flat every Friday evening, with Ms Francis spending time with her niece, now 13, at the playground.
In October 2021, Ms Francis told her brother she was pregnant. She then excitedly made arrangements for a midwife and helper, he said, adding that he was the first person the couple told about the pregnancy.
In November 2021, Chow told Mr Francis that he was having some problems at work.
According to court documents, he was overwhelmed with stress after an employee showed him a set of unusually low financial figures that suggested the company was struggling. Chow believed the business was failing, even though it earned about $1 million in profit between July 2020 and June 2021.
The firm’s records also showed that it was not losing money between July and November 2021 despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Francis said his sister was concerned about Chow’s well-being, adding: “She was worried about the sleepless nights he was having and the amount of stress that he was under.”
What happened that day
Chow was ruminating over his business concerns in the early hours of Jan 11, 2022, when he developed suicidal thoughts. But he feared that his wife might suffer the shame of having a husband who killed himself.
He was also concerned that others might go after his wife and child as a result of his business failure.
At about 5am, he went into the kitchen, picked up a knife and walked to the master bedroom. He then stabbed Ms Francis multiple times.
After she stopped moving, he returned to the kitchen to get another knife. He pierced himself in the neck and stomach, then dropped to his knees and asked for the devil to “take him”.
Chow also consumed a random assortment of tablets, but could not die. At about 7.35am, he called the police and told them that he had killed his wife.
He then called his father, who was on the way to the flat to pick him up for work. Chow’s father had made an appointment for his son to see a psychiatrist later that day.
In the call, he told his father not to come, but did not say why.
Chow crawled to the main door to unlock it, and was found on the floor in the flat. Paramedics who arrived at the home pronounced Ms Francis dead at about 8am.
At 10am, Mr Francis received a call from Chow’s mother, who told him that “something happened” and that his sister was dead.
He rushed to the flat with Chow’s brother. Mr Francis said he asked police officers if there was a break in, and was shocked to learn that Chow had killed his sister.
Said Mr Francis: “There were a lot of things going on in my mind. I didn’t know how to tell my mum. I didn’t know how to tell any of my family members or her friends.
“I took a while to process it.”
Mr Francis had to collect his sister’s body from the mortuary two days later. He was overwhelmed with emotion after seeing the injuries she sustained.
He said: “It was really sad to see her in that state because my sister was very pretty. When she was in school, a lot of people wanted to date her. To see how she looked after that was really heartbreaking.”
He had to be strong during the wake for his mother, as he tried to explain to friends and family what had happened.
But on the last day, he could not hold it together and broke down in front of everyone.
“I tried very hard to be strong, but it was very difficult for me at that point in time,” said Mr Francis.
He named the baby Leah, as Ms Francis had wanted, before his sister’s cremation.
To help him deal with the loss, Mr Francis started seeing a counsellor. He found himself visiting his sister’s home from time to time, to process what had happened. “I would just sit there and wonder how it came to this,” he said.
Since the tragedy, Mr Francis has been visiting her niche at the columbarium at the Church of the Holy Spirit.
Her portrait is adorned with her favourite flower – white lilies. When they were young, she would often tell him, teasingly, to buy her the flowers.
Mr Francis had dinner with his sister’s friends on June 25 – which would have been Leah’s first birthday.
He still maintains contact with Chow’s family. But he only saw the man he once considered family in court, on the day he was convicted.
He was there hoping to find closure. “I thought I had prepared myself mentally and was strong enough to be able to listen to the case... (but) to know that she was trying to crawl away was very painful to hear.”
“My mother didn’t want to know. Sometimes ignorance is bliss,” he added. He also said his mother does not want anyone to read to her reports of the case.
After the sentence was passed, Chow’s family and Mr Francis went up to the dock to speak to Chow, at the request of his lawyer.
Chow said he was sorry. All Mr Francis could muster was: “We will talk another time.”
According to a report by the Institute of Mental Health, Chow had “catastrophic thinking that he would be bankrupt with no way out and had suicidal thoughts but felt that his death would bring shame to his wife”.
The low financial figures given to him by an employee turned out to be wrong. The company was not in trouble.
Chow’s lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, said his client had lost his wife and daughter for reasons he could not explain. “This is his life sentence,” added Mr Nathan.
Mr Francis said he has not been able to forget the tragedy, and is not ready to forgive. “I don’t know if it is really because of a mental condition. But either way, it is not easy to accept the fact that it was at the cost of my sister’s life.
“Maybe in time, I will be able to accept it. But right now, it’s very hard for me to do so.”