Do you believe in ghosts? From me, it’s a hard no; I’m 99.999% certain that every spectral sighting is just a result of those misfiring meat computers inside our skulls. But regardless, even if the spooks and spirits themselves don’t exist, you can’t deny the power of the beliefs themselves.
That’s the core theme of today’s episode — a story of black magic and murder from deep in the heart of Southeast Asia. Back in 1990s Malaysia, one bad witch used her fearsome reputation as a celebrity shaman to enthral the nation, throughout one of the most sensational criminal trials in the country’s history.
This pop-singer-turned-witch-doctor’s black magic practices won her more fame than she had ever dreamed of, as the country’s well-heeled elite flocked to her doorstep. But ultimately, her legacy became a warning to all of those who seek a shortcut to power and riches: don’t mess with witchcraft, it’s bad for your health.
The Disappearance of Datuk Mazlan Idris
Pahang State, Malaysia: a region of lush, mountainous rainforests to the northeast of the country’s capital, stretching out to the South China Sea on the east coast. Anyone who’s ever been there will attest to the natural beauty of the place, but after the dark of night falls upon the land, this pocket of paradise becomes a very different place.
Malay folklore tells that these forests — like many of the secluded, rural spots around the country — are home to dark forces: evil creatures that lurk among the trees, waiting to drain your blood and steal your soul. Even today these superstitions are still a strong part of the culture; visit certain towns and villages, and everyone knows someone whose gran’s friend’s cat’s uncle was taken by these dark forces.
Some superstitious sorts would no doubt have shared such rumours about Pahang politician Datuk Mazlan Idris, when he left his wife and kids at home in early July 1993, and never returned. The US-educated state assemblyman — a big name, with big ambitions within the ruling United Malays National Organisation — was officially reported missing after missing some party engagements in his constituency, Batu Talam.
His unexplained disappearance became front page news, even more so once police discovered the AWOL politician had withdrawn 300,000 ringgit from his bank accounts at several branches in Kuala Lumpur (the equivalent of about $70,000 at the time). Some speculated that old Maz was just off on a mad one. However, that wasn’t exactly in character; ‘Datuk’ is an honorific title equivalent to ‘Sir’ in the UK, and you wouldn’t expect a knight of the realm to blow off his commitments for a week-long bender. (maybe Sir Rod Stewart, I suppose)
As the weeks passed and no trace of the ambitious assemblyman could be found, his family started to worry, and those whispers of supernatural suspicion grew a little louder. Of course, most people take these kinds of old wives’ tales with a grain of salt — no serious police detective would class ‘taken by a demon’ as a credible lead.
However, for the cops working the Mazlan Idris case, those terrifying tall tales were about to become a whole lot more realistic…
The break came weeks after the disappearance, and from an unlikely source. Some beat cops in Pahang were out on patrol when they happened across a man off his face on drugs, which is not something they take lightly in Malaysia. In case you’re wondering, no: this wasn’t our renegade politician, on the comedown from $70 grand of coke. It was actually a 23-year old guy named Juraimi Hussin.
The police arrested the young man, and took him to the station for questioning. At this point Juraimi was only facing the prospect of a little jail time at the absolute worst. But before he could sober up, he actually ended up implicating himself in a far more serious crime.
His statement was rambling and incoherent at first, but the police were able to pick up some crucial pieces of information — most importantly, a name: Mazlan Idris. It appeared that Juraimi was confessing to being involved in the disappearance of the missing politician. He was probed for more information over the following hours, spinning a strange tale of clandestine deals and magic spells (par for the course on drug arrests, I’m sure).
During Juraimi’s interrogation, he mentioned another name that pricked the ears of the police: Mona Fandey, the arrested man’s employer. She also happened to be the owner of a certain house in the jungle, where Juraimi claimed the most crucial piece of evidence lay waiting to be found. That’s how officers found themselves driving deep into the mountains in the west of Pahang on July 22nd.
Juraimi had described the place to them: a bungalow house in the middle of nowhere. More specifically, he told them that the dilapidated storeroom out back would be of particular interest. If things were really as he described, then perhaps this really would be the break they’d been waiting for.
And sure enough, when the detectives entered this dingy little brick outbuilding, it was as he said: a patch of freshly-laid concrete in the centre of the floor…
The Storied Career of Mona Fandey
That’s how the shitfaced revelations of Juraimi Hussin brought the cops to the doorstep of Mona Fandey — a glamorous, wealthy ex-pop star. Hardly the sort of person you’d expect to be implicated in a suspicious disappearance, but as the detectives took a closer look at her, some crucial pieces started falling into place. Fandey was a controversial figure in the community, for reasons that will soon become clear. But even more pertinent was her whereabouts at the time of Mazlan Idris’ disappearance.
She and her husband, Mohammad Affandi Abdul Rahman, just so happened to be in Kuala Lumpur when the withdrawals from the missing man’s accounts were made. That same day, they bought a brand new Mercedes in cash, splurged on clothes and jewellery, and even scheduled a facelift, so the 37-year-old singer could turn back the clock to her glory days.
Not that they were all that glorious; Mona (real name Nur Maznah Ismail) never really achieved all that much success as a pop singer. Back in ‘87, she forked out cash to self-release an album called Diana 1, which featured the timeless banger we all know and love: Ku Nyanyikan Lagu Ini.
Actually, joking aside, you can easily find it online and it’s not that bad — it’ll be getting a spot alongside Charles Manson’s tracks on our upcoming CasCrim compilation album. But unfortunately for Mona, the people of 1980s Malaysia weren’t quite as enamoured with her music as I am.
After a few TV appearances, the hype died out and she was forced to leave the music industry behind. She did, however, keep her stage name. After all, her next career move was still technically a kind of performance — just one with a little more goth flair.
After the pop music money dried up, Mona and her husband spent their thirties working as traditional shamans, known as bomohs. These witch doctor type characters are thought to be masters of magic and traditional medicine. But the catch is that they’re just as likely to curse you as heal you. Definitely not the sort of person you’d want to meddle with.
The bomoh culture has a kind of uneasy cultural truce with Islam in Malaysia — they’ll use the Quran and claim to be following Islamic teachings, but conventional religious leader usually say that these witch doctors are illegitimate, and it’s a dangerous sin to dabble in witchcraft. Despite all that, their influence is often extremely strong.
While most bomohs are small-time village shamans, others can become multi-millionaires from their trade. Think of them kind of like your oriental televangelists: flashy showmen trading spiritual assistance for big bucks. That’s the level that Mona Fandey and her husband were aiming for when they got into the black magic game. Luckily for her, a 37-year-old, attractive, female bomoh stood out against a sea of old men (a lot of whom look about as mental as you’d expect from a witch doctor).
Many people from around the region were interested in Mona’s supernatural services — she became a semi-famous shaman, gaining far more fans and riches than she ever did through singing. Eventually, the glamorous shaman couple were sitting pretty, with a luxury Kuala Lumpur mansion, multiple second homes, fancy cars, and influence running up into the higher echelons of society.
Somewhere along the way, they decided to expand their operation by hiring some help: Juraimi, the witch doctor’s assistant with a penchant for amphetamines. He would aid the couple in preparing their rituals, rumoured to be performed for high-society individuals looking to boost their material wealth and prospects (in return for silly amounts of cash).
Mona even claims to have provided members of Malaysia’s ruling party with talismans which made their political careers. Visiting a bomoh is actually a more common practice than you might think among older politicians, so much so that in 2011 ex-PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad had to issue a statement advising against it. Given that, I’d think it’s safe to assume that Mona was probably telling the truth.
Which is most likely how she made the acquaintance of one Datuk Mazlan Idris back in 1993…
A Deal With the Devil
It’s not clear which one approached the other first, but what we do know is that Mona Fandey and Mr Idris arrived at an agreement sometime earlier that year: she was to provide him with a pair of talismans — a cane and songkok (a traditional hat) that was supposedly worn by the former president of Indonesia, Sukarno.
According to the bomoh, these items would fast-track his political career and make him “invincible”. The assemblyman had ambitions on a spot right at the top of the political establishment, and he was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen, even risking this brush with black magic.
And what did Mona Fandey want in return for the magical Cane of Warding (+2 charisma) and Helm of Sukarno (+20% fire resistance)? Not much at all, just a little token gesture: 2.5 million Malaysian ringgit… which is about $600,000!
Jesus Christ, if it’s that easy to get rich I’ll be a bomoh as well. I do have that pair of Nike Air Max once worn by Churchill, after all ($1,000,000 or best offer). Amazingly, Mr Idris never flinched at the cost of his new gear — a small price to pay for success beyond his wildest dreams. The agreement saw him pay a fifth of the fee up front, and offer up 10 land deeds as collateral for the remainder.
But the politician was about to discover that dealing with dark magic has bigger consequences than just the financial. Any deal with a bomoh is prone to backfiring if you’re not careful, meaning you’ll end up cursed, penniless, haunted, or worse. And unfortunately, it seems like Mr Idris must have incurred the wrath of our pop-princess witch doctor, with a dispute over the money owed.
Maybe he got a touch of buyer’s remorse when he realised his fancy new talismans were actually just charity shop junk, up-sold by a conwoman. Or maybe a couple of bad days at the office proved they never had the luck-giving properties he was promised. Whatever the case, it appears that he refused to hold up his end of the bargain.
But of course, when he filed his complaint with Mona, she adamantly denied being a charlatan; the problem wasn’t her, it was him. Mazlan Irdris was positively dripping in negative energy. How the hell can you expect to become prime minister with all that bad joo-joo?
Despite his rudeness, Mona Fandey still only wanted to help Maz become his best self, so she scheduled a “cleansing ritual” that would help him better channel the powers of the items, and shift all that bad luck from his shoulders. At this point, he was still willing to indulge the shaman, probably because he knew full well a refund wasn’t on the cards.
But what he didn’t expect was that the bomoh had a very different kind of ritual in mind than the one she described; our diabolical diva fully planned on collecting on the remaining debt, no matter what…
That’s why Mazlan Idris left his house that evening on July 2nd 1993, and drove in the dark to the rural village of Kampung Peruas. It seems like he never told his wife where he was going, probably because he just blew the kids’ college fund on a fancy walking stick (and let’s be real, if your husband disappears in the night to give thousands of dollars to another woman, no wife’s going to believe it’s just his side witch).
Sas the politician made his way to Mona Fandey’s unfinished bungalow house in the middle of the forest that night, she quite rightly assumed that nobody would know where he was. Mazlan drove up into Kampung Peruas, following the directions given by the shaman couple. He turned off the paved road and onto a dirt track that led into the trees, snaking up the hillside.
Superstitious types wouldn’t dare walk these parts at night, especially with a bomoh practicing in the area. Legends has it that their magic draws in the dark spirits of the forest, which they can even command to do their evil bidding. It’s the sort of spooky story that mothers tell their kids, to make sure they come home before dark: ‘don’t play too late, or the bomoh’s boogeyman will get you’.
And even though Mazlan Idris was a fully grown man, who didn’t have time for ghost stories, things start to seem very different when you’re driving through the woods at night, alone. Peering into the spaces between the trees, where the car headlights dropped off into a deep darkness, those bedtime stories would have no doubt started to creep back into his mind.
Was that just the toppled bough of a tree, or could it have been a pochong — a restless spirit, raised from the grave, still wrapped in its kafan burial shroud? A flash of yellow eyes between the trees — probably a wild cat… or maybe it was the orang minyak, an oil-coated humanoid that stalks and assaults young women. The squeak of the car axle on the uneven dirt road… or the shrill laugh of the pontianak — the Malay vampire woman who prowls the woods, looking for victims to slaughter or possess.
As he neared the house on the hill, Mazlan Irdris glanced over at the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver on the passenger seat — just in case. The politician parked out front of the unfinished, bare-concrete bungalow and walked up the driveway, flanked with tall weeds, and exposed to the dark forest all around.
The ghosts of his imagination would’ve put a spring in his step, but what he didn’t quite reckon with, was that the real monsters were waiting for him inside (and as is usually the case, they were very much human). The entrance to the windowless building was faintly illuminated by the glow of electric light around the doorframe. The door swung open as he approached, and Mazlan was welcomed inside by bomoh Affandi and the servant Juraimi.
The outside of this witch’s woodland cottage wasn’t quite the typical style found in European fairy tales, but the interior looked much as you’d expect — a dim, empty chamber; a few curtains hanging from poles enclosing a sleeping area; loads of creepy witch stuff; and a couple of chairs, one of which Mazlan set himself down on as he prepared for whatever the night might bring. That snub-nosed revolver now sat heavy in his jacket pocket.
It took a moment to adjust to the air inside the main room: heavy and humid, thick with a sour stench from the rows of bottles and jars on a shelf that ran along the wall. These were filled with oily liquids, fibres of hair (hopefully animal in origin), exotic plants, and other indiscriminate lumps of pickled something or other. Everything you’d ever need for a career of demon summoning and politician swindling.
On the wall opposite was a portrait of the lady of the manor herself — Mona Fandey, painted in opulent ceremonial garb. The painting mimicked the slightly manic smile on her face as she welcomed the guest, and gathered her ingredients for the ritual. While preparing her ingredients at a small altar, decorated with figurines of obscure folk deities, she explained to her client what was about to happen.
He was to be taken to the kitchen, in which there was a raised platform at the centre. Mazlan would have to lie down on this slab, while the couple performed a mandi bunga (flower bath) ritual on him. Hmm, actually it doesn’t sound all that bad — just chill and have a witch toss some magic bath bombs at you (it’s a niche experience, but people will pay a pretty penny for far weirder stuff… I’m told).
And to sweeten the deal even further, this supernatural spa day would guarantee him riches and success beyond his wildest dreams. What’s not to like? Mazlan would be familiar with the ritual already — it’s actually a common practice, derived from royal households, but now enjoyed as a kind of traditional relaxation treatment by people from all walks of life. Nothing to worry about at all.
Mona’s pleasant tone helped further calm the man’s nerves as the time to begin approached.As he settled into the couple’s welcoming hospitality, he probably felt less threatened at being alone in the woods with these eccentrics (and definitely less inclined to whip out that revolver and start blasting). The shamans and their assistant were a picture of professionalism, and Mazlan allowed himself to start believing in their magic again — things would soon be back on track.
At Mona’s signal, Mazlan Idris was led through a doorway and into the kitchen. He lay down on top of the stone slab, which was already dressed with petals. The two bomoh dommed their ceremonial robes, then started dropping flowers over the politician and chanting incantations to cleanse him — seven blessings, granted as they poured basins of fragrant water over his body.
When the ritual reached its climax, Mona Fandey said “Put your head back, close your eyes, and soon you’ll feel the money falling down from the sky.” Hopefully we’re talking bank notes, because nothing ruins a nice soak like a roll of pound coins to the forehead. But of course, no money fell at all — Mona had something very different in mind to wrap up the ceremony.
A silent moment passed, as Mazlan Idris laid his head back, eyes closed, neck fully exposed… The flower bath was supposed to dispel the politician’s bad fortune, but what he didn’t know was that his luck had already run dry. The last thing he felt was the heavy thud of an axe, driven right into his throat.
Juraimi Hussin loomed over him with the hatchet in hand, as a shower of blood poured onto the bare floor; the first cut almost severed the victim’s head entirely, which now hung by just a few red ropes of sinew and tendon. Two more sharp swipes parted it from the neck entirely.
Now, after this point, in which the poor man lay dead and beheaded on that kitchen platform, the story becomes a little less clear. It’s thought that it was about midnight when the axe struck Mazlan’s neck, and — judging by the state of the body, which you’ll see in a minute — it seems as if the bomohs might have then performed another, darker occult ritual on the corpse afterwards.
This involved levels of corpse defilement that would make Dr Frankenstein raise a judging eyebrow. But we’ll get to that in a minute. For now, all I’ll say is that the morning after this grisly affair, Mona Fandey and husband Affandi took off for Kuala Lumpur, leaving their crack-addled Igor to deal with the aftermath.
Our Faustian politician never did get the riches he was promised, but after all, the ritual was never meant to make him wealthy. The bomohs on the other hand, got quite a handsome payday — not quite enough to cover that 2 million debt for the talismans, but in reality they were probably worth about £4.50 anyway.
You’re already heard about the spending spree the two witch doctors treated themselves to, so instead let’s focus on what young Juraimi got up to after the crime. Judging by the state of the murder scene, he’d been a very busy man indeed.
It was his handiwork that the detectives were faced with in that dingy storeroom on July 22nd, 1993, after being directed there by the axeman himself. A team was brought in to smash through the concrete cap, and dig through the earth below. Just short of six feet deep, were the badly decomposed remains of Datuk Mazlan Idris. He was not in good shape.
The overpowering stench of decay erupted up from the hole like a geyser when the police shifted the last lair of dirt, revealing a mass of assorted human pieces, piled up in a grotesque mess (like a Picasso piece recreated from butcher’s offcuts). Juraimi had chopped the body into eighteen pieces before discarding them in that pit. The murder weapon and a bunch of knives used for the dismemberment were recovered from the scene.
Absolutely awful for the victim, but also for the poor bastards that had to remove and study the remains! In the coroner’s notes, it was mentioned that the body appeared to have been “partially skinned” (which is why I suspect a bit of extra witchcraft went on post-mortem). However, it’s not quite clear how much of this was done with the bomohs present, and how much Juraimi did after they took off.
Why not? Well, by this point, the young lad had sobered up, got legal representation, and sure as hell wasn’t willing to take the entirety of the blame for the killing. This resulted in some conflicting testimony, and questions that were never fully answered. What we do know is that Juraimi appears to have stayed at the bungalow for weeks after the crime.
The first days were probably spent burying the body, cleaning the mess, and burying the revolver in the woods at the edge of the garden. After that, it’s thought he spent upwards of two weeks sleeping in the room adjacent to the kitchen where he ended Mazlan Idris’ life.
As contemptible as this killer was, it takes a pair of brass balls to stay in a witch’s lair right after burying your victim beneath the floor — can’t begrudge the man a little bit of class A’s to cope with that…
The Pahang Witch Trial
At the time Juraimi was picked up on the drug offence, his two employers had no idea that the net was closing in on them. And after the body was recovered, it didn’t take long to track the black magic maestros down to their Kuala Lumpur mansion house, and slap the cuffs on them too. At this point, they probably regretted not giving Juraimi a little pay rise for his troubles (whatever they were giving him, it wasn’t enough).
It would be another year before the trial got underway. But in the meantime, the press had a field day with the story of this glamorous showman shaman — an ex-pop star no less — and the horrific ritual murder she orchestrated. As I said before, Malaysia is by and large a deeply religious country, and a majority of people also believe in the power of this dark magic from old folklore. Our gal Mona Fandey became the smiling, botoxed face of those fears.
Each time fresh details of the crime appeared in the papers, readers shuddered at the thought of coming under the witch doctor’s deadly influence. She became a flesh and blood version of those evil spirits of folklore and bedtime stories. But there was another side entirely to her character.
Mona almost seemed to be using the trial as a chance to relive her pop star days: Mona was always waving and smiling for the cameras — a constant, uncanny smile, hyper-exaggerated by that surgery she allegedly enjoyed on the victim’s dime. Throughout the trial, her makeup and colorful outfits were better suited for a runway than a courtroom. I mean, this was the biggest audience she’d ever enjoyed, bigger than even in her short-lived pop career — can’t turn up looking like a slob.
Journalist Esther Ng covered the story for The Star, and chronicled some of the ways in which Mona Fandey’s aura of terror affected all involved. She even had the bad fortune of coming face to face with the magician murderer a number of times over the course of the proceedings. Ng recalled of the beginning of the trial in 1994:
“Handcuffed, the ever-smiling bomoh nodded to the three of us […] who covered the inquiry the year before and spooked us by saying: “You, you and you. I know you. Apa khabar? Don’t think I have forgotten your names […]” Much to our discomfort, she didn’t.”
As she ushered towards the Temerloh High Court by the guards, she absolutely lapped up the attention. For Mona, any publicity was good publicity (even when most of your audience thinks you’re a monster). The guards parted the crowd in front to make way for the accused, and someone shouted out “Mona, I love you!” from among the crowd. Her surgically-enhanced smile stretched out even further than before. For someone with a serious case of main character syndrome, all this attention was a dream come true.
On one occasion, she offered to sing for the judge, and later even made a false claim to royal heritage. Other days she signed autographs for fans, passed out philosophical notes about inner peace.In the mornings before court, prison guards would sometimes show her articles about the case in the newspapers. If she was particularly pleased with the coverage, she’d tell the assembled journos “thank you for putting in such nice stories and pictures”.
Hardly the sort of behaviour you’d expect from someone accused of murder. Especially when that crime carries a mandatory death sentence in Malaysia. This juxtaposition both fascinated and terrified onlookers — how could this larger than life figure, capable of such horrific violence, seemingly relish every moment of her own doom?
Unless perhaps, she had already made a dark deal to dodge the reaper…
People were already creeped out enough by the idea of ritual murder, and Mona’s bizarre behaviour only added fuel to the fire. It wasn’t long before rumours of supernatural happenings began to swirl around the trial. Whispers came from the prison, claiming that strange things would happen in and around Mona’s cell — objects moving by themselves, strange sounds, unsettling dreams.
It was as if she still emanated an energy that drew in all kinds of spooky stuff. Residents of the area around the prison even reported seeing the bomoh walk free in the middle of the night — apparently she used her supernatural powers to leave her jail cell in the middle of the night, wandering off to get a drink for herself, and returning before dawn.
Prison officials decried these rumours as ludicrous, and I’d tend to agree. She could have pulled off a super natural Shawshank Redemption (with none of the sewage crawling), but chose to return to her cell like a good prisoner? Still, these stories only enhanced the powerful sense of dread lingering over the courtroom each day the glamorous pontianak appeared.
One day, as the press photographers were shuffling to get a close up of Mona entering the courthouse, one guy was unfortunate enough to trip and bump into her. In a flash, her demeanour flipped — the diabolical diva shouted at the terrified guy, and spat a thick glob of saliva onto his arm.
She might as well have spat acid: the poor guy was so legitimately terrified that this cursed saliva might be the end of him, that he dumped his gear on the ground and rushed off to the toilets to clean it off. Better safe than sorry, I guess — even if Mona was killed by the state, there was a real concern that her vengeful spirit could linger on after she was gone. If your name happened to be in her bad books when that happened, goodbye and good luck.
But of course, this was a court of law — it didn’t deal in ghost stories. The goal was to get to the bottom of the actual facts of the case, which risked being drowned in superstition. The physical evidence told a much simpler story: 18 choice cuts of human found on the property of two of the accused, found via a direct confession from the third. Pretty clean cut.
The main confusion which remained, was focussed on just who was responsible for the death itself.
The middle aged shaman couple turned on their assistant, claiming that Juraimi was the one who decided to spice up their perfectly harmless ritual with an impromptu beheading. Apparently he read the wrong WikiHow article for flower baths, because customers usually leave them with their heads attached.
To hear Mona and Affandi tell it, they were “shocked” with his snap decision to kill the politician. Although, obviously not that shocked, because they then lifted the guy’s bank cards out of his wallet, and calmed their nerves with a brand new Benz.
That much was proven by testimony from the shopkeepers and bank clerks who attested to having served Mona and Affandi in the days after the killing. One of them, a KL jeweller, got the fright of his life when giving his testimony.
As the man listed the items the couple bought that day in his native Hokkien language (a language from China, commonly spoken by many Chinese ethnics in SEA) our #1 bomoh made a surprise interjection in the same tongue: “I know what you’re saying! You’re lying!” The witness looked like he might die of fright there and then. But the facts don’t lie: this indiscrete spending spree all but guaranteed their guilt.
Given that, you’d have to assume that Juraimi’s version of events was probably a little closer to the truth. He claimed that he killed the politician on the orders of his employers… Actually, what he really said was that he was under a trance brought about by their black magic. (I’m definitely keeping that ace up my sleeve if I ever get nicked: “No your honour, it was a witch’s hex that made me down 20 jagerbombs and piss on that police car.”).
Whatever the motive, Juraimi was under no illusions that it was his hand that dealt the fatal blows. He told the court: “I chopped his neck three times to separate the head from the body. I also cut Mazlan’s body into pieces before burying his remains”.
His claims of diminished responsibility, on the other hand, were dubious. However, many present probably believed such a thing to be very much possible. Case in point: one of the strangest news stories to come from the trial, was that the celebrity bomoh was trying to cast a similar hex over the proceedings.
When the forensic pathologist who recovered the body was called to the stand, to describe the remains of the victim, a strange, eerie sound rang around the courtroom — two otherworldly groans… almost as if the ghost of the dead man himself had come back to take the stand.
The pathologist stopped immediately, as everyone in the room looked around wide-eyed for the source of the sound. Meanwhile, Mona Fandey sat with her eyes fixed on the dock, unblinking, unmoving…The crowd in the gallery collectively shuddered — some even walked out right then and there. Who wants to get caught in the crossfire of a curse?
The next day, one Pahang newspaper ran the story on the front page, describing the sound as something like a duck call, and even went as far as interviewing Mona’s neighbors about the event. Some claimed to have heard the exact same sound emanating from the remote house on the hillside, or the KL mansion, whenever Mona Fandey performed her black magic rituals. Spooky stuff…
Or maybe not — the more level-headed reporters who were present that day realised that the sound was probably just the creaking of the gallery benches, as the crowd leaned forward to hear the pathologist’s quiet voice. The second one was probably just when they all got a fright, and leaned back again.
But if you have enough believers in one place, primed by fear, and feeding off each other ‘s superstition, the dark world of spirits and magic can actually appear as real as the hand in front of your face. Does this mean that Mona’s magic would ultimately save the day, as she levitates out the window, cackling like a maniac?
Of course not, don’t be daft.
This eerie tension hung over the majority of the trial, which saw 65 days of evidence from 76 witnesses in total. And if Mona Fandey really was looking to cast a magic spell over proceedings, it seemed like she failed pretty miserably. On the 9th of February 1995, the foreman of the jury returned their verdict, reached after only 70 minutes of deliberation: Mona Fandey, Affandi Abdul Rahman, and Juraimi Hussin were all found guilty..
Even when those fatal words were read out, the two bomoh kept on smiling, seemingly unfazed by the fact their lives would be coming to an end sooner rather than later. The next time they found themselves in that courtroom, it was for the sentencing: death by hanging, as expected.
But what wasn’t expected was Mona’s bizarre reaction: she embraced her husband in the dock, kissed him, and later declared “I’m happy with the decision. I want to thank all Malaysians. I love all the people, I love Fandey [her husband].”
Sorry Mona, did you hear properly? They’re going to kill you. You’re acting like you just won X Factor!
Apparently this murderous shaman-popstar was just thrilled with the idea of being hanged by the neck until dead. Amnesty International were less ecstatic — they and other humanitarian NGOs urged their supporters to join a letter writing campaign to the Sultan of Pahang and King of Malaysia office to have him commute the death sentences.
Mona’s defence team also launched appeals up to the highest level, but in 1999 their very final attempt was dismissed — the death sentence was upheld at the federal level. And so, the executions were scheduled for the second of November 2001. Ever the entertainer, our bomoh queen believed that the show must go on right until the very end.
All that’s left is to look at the very last chapter in her strangely fascinating life, the execution itself…
For a story wrapped up in so much supernatural myth and media sensation, the ending is actually quite intimate. Commonplace, even. On the day before they were set to be killed, Mona Fandey and her husband were allowed an eight-hour visit with their family at Kajang Prison, a last chance to share some time with their children (both from their current and previous marriages).
Prison officials reported that there were tears all around as the clock reached the end of the visiting hours, and the condemned passed on their final messages to the children: “take care of yourselves” and “grow up to be good people.”
Despite her creepy reputation, the celebrity bomoh was never shy about showing this softer side, even during the very public court proceedings. She was clearly a people person, fond of lavishing praise upon her husband and fans at any opportunity. Had her singing career gone just a little better, it’s not difficult to imagine her as a beloved pop princess: gracious, glamorous, beloved by all.
But of course, the fairytale monster she became was a very, very different character. When it came time to greet the hangman, Mona Fandey decided to leave one last creepy message for the people of Malaysia to remember her by — one that would haunt their dreams for years to come.
Before the first light of dawn on November 2nd 2001, Mona, Affandi, and Juraimi were woken, and fitted with hoods and handcuffs. They were then led out of their holding cells, into the execution chamber adjacent. The prison doctor and warden were already waiting inside, alongside justice department officials, all of whom watched as the three killers were led up onto the wooden platform of the gallows.
Three nooses hung from the beam overhead. The convicts were positioned over the trap doors with their legs bound together, then the ropes were fixed tight around their necks. The executioners made their final checks, and awaited the signal to begin.
It was reported that in those final moments, Mona Fandey uttered the ominous words “Aku tak akan mati,” (“I will never die”)…
Then she died.
At 5:59am, the platform dropped out from beneath the three condemned killers’ feet. All three died instantly, as the ropes snapped tight. They were left hanging for an hour before being taken down (not sure if that’s common practice, or if it’s a specific anti-witch procedure). The star of the show was 45 at the time of her death, her husband a year younger, and their assistant only 31.
If any superstitious folks were waiting for her surprise escape and/or resurrection, then they’re still waiting. The story of Mona Fandey ended that day at the prison. Still though, her legacy remains, as do those famous last words. As a reward for her efforts, Mona Fandey was rewarded with the thing she coveted most: fame. Her name is widely known to this day, 20 years after her death — a petty kind of immortality, but I guess it’ll have to do.
Or maybe we can take that statement a little more literally… Mona’s abandoned mansion southwest of KL (in section 12, Shah Alam) has actually become something of a ghost-hunting hotspot. It’s apparently so haunted that even some of the bravest ghostbusters daren’t enter. Aside from the dark energies and creatures lingering there, locals claim to have actually seen Mona’s spirit — still strong enough to manifest — appearing in the windows.
Likewise, she’s also been ‘spotted’ wandering around the prison where she died. Some people have even come forward to report seeing her on the dancefloors in Kuala Lumpur nightclubs! Good to see the old gal is living her best afterlife. But let’s forget all that for a minute, because the more important thing is this: at the heart of any supernatural murder story is this darker truth: all that malice and violence actually came from flesh and blood people, not the poor ghosts and monsters who too often end up taking the flak for humanity’s horribleness.
Strip away all the superstition, and you have a simple tale of narcissism and greed. For Malaysia’s most glamorous bomoh, witchcraft was just another route to riches and acclaim (and in the end, so was murder). She and her husband thought their own wealth was more important than the life of an innocent man. And if the rumours are to be believed, he may not have been the only victim.
Is it possible that other members of Malaysian high society fell prey to the couple’s deadly cons in the past, but the bodies were never found? Maybe these are just baseless rumours spun around unconnected missing persons cases, or maybe there are some genuine leads left unfollowed. After all, some grieving widows might want to keep things hush hush to save attaching their family’s names to this crazy, infamous case.
That’s all speculation on my part, so please take it with a pinch of salt (mixed with the eye of a newt, and three drops of goat’s blood). We’ll almost never know for sure whether there are more bodies out there, and sadly Mona Fandey herself wasn’t available for comment. Maybe one of you out there can sort out a seance, to get to the bottom of the matter once and for all.
In closing, if you’re been affected by any of the issues in today’s programme… ehm… call an Imam or something. I don’t tango with no bomoh.
1. The case of Mona Fandey left a huge impact on Malaysian culture and media, and also on the country’s legal system. The craziness of the whole courtroom affair was actually partly to blame for the abolishment of trial by jury on the 1st of January 1995. The official reasons cited were problems in getting people to attend jury duty, and the fact that many were easily manipulated by the underhand tactics of defence teams (/evil wizard ladies).
2. Five years after the execution, filming for a movie version of the story got underway. The production was stuck in limbo for years because of problems with the country’s media censors. It was finally released back in 2018 after more than a decade on the shelf, entitled Dukun. .
3. If you want a bit more insight into the role of bomohs in Malaysia, this is my favourite anecdote. In 2014, millionaire witch doctor Ibrahim Mat Zin made a spectacle of himself at KL Airport by rocking a pair of bamboo binoculars, waving coconuts in the air, and chanting the Quran. The boastful bomoh claimed it would help find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Much of the Malaysian youth collectively cringed at his nonsense on Twitter.
4. And lastly, in recent years Mona Fandye herself has enjoyed something of a resurrection in the Twittersphere (and not as a bad guy). Fed up with stories of corrupt, money-hungry politicians, some Malaysians have turned Mona Fandey into a meme — a symbol of revolt against corruption. Not sure I’d want a murder-witch leading my revolution, but I guess I can appreciate the sentiement.