Hong Kong (CNN) The postcard picture of Hong Kong is one of glitzy skyscrapers set against lush mountains, dim sum restaurants and investment bankers in suits.
But in recent weeks, the international financial hub has again made headlines for something much darker: the death of model and influencer Abby Choi, whose dismembered body parts were found along with a meat slicer and electric saw in a rental unit last month.
The death of 28 years the mom Not only city terrors are regularly classified as one of the safest places in the world, But she captured much of the world’s media with the shocking details of her alleged murder.
For Hong Kongers, it has resurfaced painful memories of past dismemberments in the city — many targeted at young women and nearly perpetrated by men.
There is the so-called “Hello Kitty” murder of 1999, when 23-year-old Fan Man-yee was kidnapped by gang members and brutally tortured for a month before she died and was dismembered. Her skull was eventually found sewn inside a Hello Kitty plush.
There were four women, the youngest just 17, who were murdered by a taxi driver who kept their dismembered body parts in a tractor before his arrest in 1982. Then came 16-year-old Wong Ka Moi, who was strangled and dismembered. 2008 and the rest of it flushed down the toilet.
And in 2013, Glory Chow and Moon Seo were murdered by their 28-year-old son, a crime the judge called as “evil” and “absolutely heinous”.
Each murder followed headlines. But for all the media attention, experts point out that such cases are exceptionally rare in Hong Kong, a city with an extremely low rate of violent crime for its population of 7.4 million.
So why the great interest in these few previous cases? Experts say its rarity, along with its brutality, is a factor.
But there may be something else at play: that buried beneath all the grim details of death is an insight into living in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.
There is no space to hide a body
Roderick Broadhurst, professor emeritus of criminology at the Australian National University formerly based in Hong Kong, where he founded the Hong Kong Center for Criminology, estimates that there have been a dozen or so cases of hacking in the city over the past 50 years.
Philip Beh, a semi-retired forensic pathologist who previously worked with the Hong Kong police, gave a slightly lower estimate, saying he could recall fewer than 10 such cases in his 40-year career.
Both experts emphasized that Hong Kong is still very safe, and these numbers are relatively low. Broadhurst said Hong Kong’s reputation for safety meant the few cases that occurred left a stronger “imprint” on the city.
But both also pointed out the horrific nature of these past cases – in particular, the dismemberment of limbs – reflecting the realities of life in Hong Kong.
Simply put, it’s hard to hide a dead body in a tightly packed city, home to tiny apartments and some of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world.
Beh said someone trying to dispose of a body in rural Australia, Canada or the United States has a “very good chance of getting away with it” thanks to the wide space and open terrain.
Not so in Hong Kong.
“These are basically people who try to get away with crime, but fail to do so,” Beh said.
The killer in Hong Kong likely lived within a few feet of dozens of people who could spot them trying to dispose of the body – This prompted some to divide the victims into smaller parts for disposal.
“Most people live in apartment blocks on top of each other,” Beh said. “We don’t have individuals with homes and gardens where you can go out and dig a hole and try to bury a body.” “You are never alone; your neighbors are above you, below you, by your side. Anything out of the ordinary will catch someone’s attention.”
Broadhurst agreed, pointing out that in apartment buildings, a killer might have to take an elevator shared by more than 100 households just to get out.
Many of the previous cases involved killers who cooked or boiled their own body parts – a detail that horrified the public, likely spurred on by unsubstantiated rumors about cases such as the 1985 “pork killings” in neighboring Macau. A man murdered a family of 10 including the owners of a restaurant, and – Urban Legend (W the film inspired) goes – supposed to serve them cakes.
But Beh said the explanation is more mundane in most cases.
In Hong Kong’s humid subtropical climate, he said, “body odor catches the eye very quickly” — which is why some killers may try to remove the odor by cooking the cut-up parts.
Few cars or freezers
As for why these killers did not use methods common in other countries – keeping the body in the refrigerator, dumping it in water late at night – Hong Kong’s density presents another difficulty.
In the popular expensive housing market, apartments are usually very small and crammed with large furniture or kitchen appliances.
“Very few people have large refrigerators at home,” Beh said. “There are fewer freezers. You can’t even keep the body if you wanted to.”
He added that the same rarity applies to cars – and thus the same difficulty in discreetly transporting a corpse.
Few residents own vehicles because buildings with parking spaces are at a premium—in 2019, parking space sold for nearly $1 million, a record—and the city has an extensive and efficient public transportation system anyway.
Combined, these factors could explain various cases over the years in which killers have used bizarre and bizarre methods to deal with the bodies of their victims — such as the woman killed by her husband in 2018 with her body in a suitcase, or the 28-year-old man whose body was found. Cement block in 2016.
“We live in a place where your next very urgent question, if you kill someone, is: What do you do with the body?” Bih said.
“There are very few options.”
CNN’s Kathleen Magramo contributed to this report.
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