Hong Kong in 1999 was a rapidly changing city in search of an identity. Two years prior in 1997 British administration of the burgeoning megapolis ended after 156 years, and 6.5 million colonial subjects returned to Chinese rule.
Initially a scattering of fishing villages and a small Chinese fort numbering no more than 7,500 people, Hong Kong had transformed into Asia’s world city. A huge pouring in of Chinese capital following the The Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 had morphed the city into the jungle of glass, steel, and concrete that we all know the city for today. More construction site than city in this period, huge swathes of the territory’s green space were disappearing to make space for 70 story high rise tower blocks.
Huge land reclamation projects forever changed the coastline, and provided the space for some of the world’s tallest buildings. The familiar landmarks of the colonial period were disappearing: Kai Tak Airport would no longer provide its famous views of jumbo jets kissing the roofs of tower blocks being replaced with a cruise ship terminal and housing estate. Kowloon1 Walled City no longer stood as a monument to barely organised self determination, and was torn down to be replaced with a public park. The historic Star Ferry, once the only way of reliably crossing Victoria Harbour was relegated to little more than a tourist trap, as tunnel boring machines worked 24/7 to give the city one of the most advanced and widely served subway systems in the world. Likewise, extreme triad violence appeared to be largely confined to the annals of history as Hong Kong transformed into the picture of modernity and splendour.2
That was until May 1999, when a distressed 14 year old girl entered Yau Ma Tei3Police Station claiming that for several weeks her every moment both awake and asleep was plagued by the ghost of a bloodied and beaten young woman. The phantom barely recognisable as human for the physical suffering it had endured; frayed strands of electrical wire that had once bound the spirit’s arms still embedded in the gashes in the spectre’s wrists. It’s face disfigured and warped as though it had endured weeks of cruel and unrelenting beating. The ghost wailed like a banshee, begging for it’s torture to finally be over.
Initially the police paid the young girl no heed, dismissing her claims as an elaborate ruse to garner attention, or a drug fuelled psychotic episode. The desk sergeant sat the girl down and now becoming rather fed up with having to deal with the girl picked up his phone to try to contact her parents. The girl then shared one detail that had him slam the receiver down to give her his full attention; she had killed her.
Under further questioning the young girl revealed that her nightmare was anything but a fantasy, and in fact she was seeing the spirit of a young woman she and three other men had jointly tortured for weeks on end before she passed away. The girl offered to lead the police back to the scene of the crime, and two officers raced with the girl the short distance to the third floor of No. 31 Granville Road4, Tsim Sha Tsui.5
As they ascended the steps of the decrepit and derelict old walk-up tenement the girl ushered the officers inside a particular flat, and they were met with a scene more befitting of the brutality of the city’s Japanese Occupation half a century prior.6
The beige paint of the once prestigious property peeling away leaving large patches of exposed concrete. The floor littered with the collapsed remnants of furniture too large and valueless to be removed when the property was abandoned. Bamboo scaffolding and lengths of 2×4 scattered around the peripheries of the apartment, relics of aborted attempts at renovation. A dirty and soiled single mattress sat in the corner of the room, flanked by small piles of condom packets and discarded needles. In the kitchen a small gas stove sits besides a rusted refrigerator.
The girl, now pale as a sheet leads the officers to the aforementioned fridge, slumps her head in silence, and simply points at it. The closest officer follows her direction and slowly opens the door. He pauses to take in the scene that greeted him, bewildered at why a fridge in such a derelict apartment would be packed with so much crudely butchered meat. It took mere moments for the obvious realisation to dawn on him. He slams the door of the fridge shut and charges into the hallways of the tenement to vomit. The girl informs the remaining officer that packed tightly into the fridge is the butchered remains of Fan Man-Yee.7
The officer’s eyes are then drawn to the large Hello Kitty mermaid doll to his side. Moments ago this doll had blended unnoticed into the general clutter of this apartment. Now however he notices a certain redness to the dirt that stains the doll, almost akin to dried blood. He puts on plastic gloves and goes to inspect the doll further. The body of the doll seemed normal enough, but there was a certain hardness to its head, he couldn’t particularly squeeze or compress it. He then noticed some crude stitching on the rear of its head. He unpicks the stitching, and Fan Man-Yee’s skull, stained red and grey from her partially boiled and rotten brain matter falls to the floor.
The victim Fan Man-Yee was not a woman who found herself particularly heavily laden with luck even before she crossed paths with the group that would eventually brutally end her life. A young Man-Yee was abandoned by her parents when she was still an infant and raised in one of Hong Kong’s orphanages. Hong Kong orphanages in the early 1990’s were not exactly temples of kindness and caring, living conditions were often brutal and unforgiving, and children residing within them rarely got the qualifications and care they needed to succeed in their adult life.
Thus it came to be that at the age of 16, in this tragically common pattern, Man-Yee was evicted from the orphanage, being deemed by the state to be an adult, and fully capable of fending for herself despite all evidence and common sense to the contrary. Unsurprisingly this did not end well for the young girl, who with nowhere to live, no job, no qualifications, and no one she could turn to for aid and support quickly found herself treading the ever tragic path of prostituion, drug abuse, and petty criminality.
At some time in the 7 years between her eviction and her murder she had a son, but it is uncertain whether he was the result of liaisons with a partner, or a customer. Her son has also never come forward for interviews or to discuss his early childhood, perhaps if one day he does we may be able to shed more light on these early years of Fan Man-Yee’s life.
The 23 year old woman worked as a prostitute in Kowloon’s8 poorer districts, of which there were plenty in 1999. When reading about this case you will often encounter two clashing claims: some sources identify her as working as a nightclub hostess, others as a prostitute. Articles contemporary to events and the police report from the incident all identify her as a prostitute, with latter and more recent English language articles on the case tending towards identifying her as a nightclub hostess. The initial change in story cannot be tracked down to an initial article, but likely it spawns from a well meaning, if ultimately incorrect attempt to allow the victim a greater degree of dignity.
In 1997 when Fan Man-Yee was 21 years old, she began working in a brothel rather than on the street. Prostitution in Hong Kong sat (and still does sit) in a murky grey area of the law, not exactly illegal, but not exactly legal. The act of prostitution itself was legal, but pimping, keeping a vice establishment, causing or procuring another to be a prostitute, and living on the prostitution of others were outlawed. This created the uniquely Hong Kong situation in which pimps branched out into real estate, buying apartments and units in cheaper buildings and converting them into numerous micro flats. The ‘landlords’ then just so happened to rent them exclusively to prostitutes at far above the market rate, where the girls plied their trade perfectly legally.9 It was this type of establishment that the 21 year old Man-Yee found herself residing and working in. The young woman believed herself safer in such an establishment, and statistically she was, but her ‘landlord’, and many of her clients were still triads, meaning she was never truely safe.
After 2 years of plying her trade in this brothel, Fan Man-Yee was by all accounts something of a favourite among the establishment’s unsavoury clientele. One of her regular clients was the 34 year old Chang Man-Lok.10 Man-Lok often asked for Man-Yee personally. In his police interrogation he went into rather explicit detail about exactly why he took such a shine to her, but for the sake of Simon’s monetisation, we shall not dwell too much on those particulars. The important takeaway is that through this regular liaison Man-Yee became intimately aware of Man-Lok’s triad ‘profession’, and the bountiful dividends it yielded unto his bank account.
You, the audience, as the intelligent, worldly big brains that you all are would probably agree with me if I were to claim that stealing a triad members wallet isn’t exactly the greatest move for an individual seeking to live a long and fruitful life. Sadly Fan Man-Yee was not exactly level-headed and rational during this period, those two facets of her person having been slowly eroded by a lifetime of pain, suffering, and drug dependency. When clear headed and supplied with a fix she would no doubt concede as readily as you or I that such a move would be a very, very stupid idea.
But one night in March 1999 with her son desperate for food, and every cell and fibre of her dependency riddled person screaming out for its next fix she saw an opportunity, and in the heat of the moment took it. After a ‘session’ with Chang Man-Lok she looked to the floor and saw his handsomely filled wallet protruding from his crumpled trousers. The opportunity briefly overtook her reason, and before she could even stop to fully consider the ramifications of such an act she glanced over her shoulder to make sure he wasn’t looking, ripped the wallet from the pocket, and hid it in the clutter of the room.
As he went to put on his trousers the realisation hit her, all other emotions evaporated from her in an instant, replaced only with dread, and dark fantasies of what would happen to her when her client felt his now empty pocket. Much to her dismay and relief he did not realise, simply thanking her as usual and going about his way. She breathed a deep breath of relief as the door closed behind him and sank onto her bed. That was stupid, but it’ll be fine. It’ll be ages until he finds it missing and then he’ll just assume he lost it on the way home she thought. They have a cordial relationship and there’s no way he’d suspect her. Unfortunately for Man-Yee, she was deadly wrong in this assumption.
Chang Man-Lok was feeling thirsty after his session with Fan Man-Yee, so headed for the nearest 7-Eleven and grabbed himself a zesty and refreshing beverage. Like anyone would, he panicked when he couldn’t find his wallet, and began to retrace his steps. He had his wallet when he paid Man-Yee only half an hour ago he thought, and as the realisation hit him the panic in his mind was replaced with all-consuming anger. He stormed out of the store with the rage of a man possessed by a demon and headed back to the brothel. He barked at the crowd of men waiting outside: “Get the f*ck out of my way, that b*tch stole my money”. He slammed on Man-Yee’s door, threatening to take it off its hinges if it wasn’t opened immediately.
Fan Man-Yee, pale as a ghost and consumed by fear slowly began to open the door, which was barged through by her client the moment he heard the lock click. He pushed her to the floor, grabbed her by the collar, pulled her head upto his and snarled two words at her. “Wallet, now!”. Man-Yee released his grip on her and she handed him the wallet. He took a moment to count his cash, and make sure that his $4,000HKD (about £400) was accounted for. He then explained to her that as compensation for the insult she owed him $10,000HKD (about £1,000).
Obviously Fan Man-Yee did not have this kind of money, either on her person or in her bank account. She pleaded with Chang Man-Lok, explaining that she had every will and intention on paying, but she needed time to find that much money. With little else he could do he left her room, and warned her that he would be back soon to collect the money.
Chang Man-Lok knew that Fan Man-Yee had ample opportunities to escape: within 24 hours she could have fled to the United Kingdom, or disappeared deep into the Chinese mainland, and with her would disappear both his compensation and his pride’s satisfaction. Accordingly he went to pay her a visit the next day, and remind her of the dues she owed him. The gangster was enraged, albeit not surprised when he entered the brothel and found the enticing purple lights of Man-Yee’s workplace switched off with her nowhere to be seen. The girl had absconded.
He enlisted the help of two of his criminal comrades, 27 year old Leung Shing-Cho11 and 21 year old Leung Wai-Lun12 to search for Fan Man-Yee. They had no idea where she lived, so resorted to night after night meticulously searching Hong Kong’s various red light districts, reasoning that if she was still in the city she would be in need of money so couldn’t have ended up anywhere else.
They searched Wan Chai13, a district of Hong Kong Island frequented mostly by European expats, believing she may be using a change of clientele to hide; they found no sign of her. They searched Sham Shui Po14, a heavily ethnic minority district of Hong Kong whose differing circles may provide her some cover; again they found no sign of her. The men were unrelenting in their search, until by pure luck in March 1999 they found her working a street corner.
Unified behind their purpose like a hive mind the three gangsters took no reprieve to consult one another or formulate a plan, they immediately looped around the block and pulled up to Fan Man-Yee as though they were prospective clients, then they dived out of the car, and bundled her into the boot before she could identify the men and flee the scene. They screeched off into the night and drove Man-Yee to one of their triad’s properties: No. 31 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. A place that should be hauntingly familiar from our introduction.
At this point Chang Man-Lok, Leung Shing-Cho, and Leung Wai-Lun had a simple enough, albeit already abhorrent plan: establish the decrepit apartment up as a brothel, imprison Fan Man-Yee inside, and force her to have sex with clients of the gangsters choosing to pay off her debt. This plan quickly changed however, and evolved into one of stomach-churning torture and brutality.
The men were then joined by the teenage girl from our introduction, the unnamed then 13 year old girlfriend of 34 year old Chang Man-Lok.15 The group of four settled in for the night, satisfied in their having secured Fan Man-Yee. As the drink flowed, and the drugs were snorted, the group began to be overcome with all together more sinister intentions towards the ill-fated girl.
Anger consumed the three men, who began to chastise and berate their captive, then they slapped her, slaps turned into punches, which turned into kicks, which became beatings with kitchen utensils, which became beatings with bamboo poles and metal bars. This crescendo of violence escalated throughout the night as Fan Man-Yee was stripped of every shred of her humanity, and reduced to naught but a human punching bag for a group of sadistic and warped animals masquerading in the image of petty gangsters. Shockingly still, the 13 year old girlfriend of Chang Man-Lok became a willing accomplice to the violence. Inflicting violence upon the poor girl as great as any of her male accomplices.
This horrific torture was sadly not relegated to a single night of drug fuelled barbarity either. This became the group’s routine: barely descripable torture being constantly inflicted upon Fan Man-Yee, the only reprieve from this physical humiliation being the periods in which she was subjected to the emotional humilation of being forced to service the clients that came to this ‘brothel’.
This too worsened with time as word spread around the local area that there was a prostitute who could be ‘roughed up’ without complaints from her pimp. Her increasingly broken state only drove away relatively conventional clients and drew even more sadistic ones in their place.
As the situation worsened for Fan Man-Yee over the following weeks, physical torture was no longer was enough for her captors. They began to torture her emotionally also, forcing her to smile through the beatings, to thank her for her punishment, to give monologues about how much she loved being punished, and how grateful she was for being given the opportunity to be absolved of her sin against Chang Man-Lok. Predictably, refusal or lack of enthusiasm in the execution of these commands only resulted in harsher beatings.
The condition of the poor girl eventually became so poor that even the most depraved men of Hong Kong refused to sleep with a woman who was all but a corpse. The group became unable to make any money from her, and she was unable to do anything to clear her debt. Not that this mattered to her captors, for them this had long stopped being about clearing a debt. Now they just revelled in the twisted ecstasy of their brutality.
They then graduated to burning her. They would drip hot candle wax on her body, use a lighter to melt plastic on her, and set short lengths of wood on fire and place them on her body. They held the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet down onto their gas stove so that she couldn’t even grip or walk without crippling agony. This still was not enough, they poured strong alcohol onto her open wounds, before stuffing feces into them to cause infection.
The torture eventually escalated to such a point where Fan Man-Yee was all but unresponsive, alive, but barely, a battered and bruised carcass of a woman just waiting to die. This bored the group rather, who were no longer finding their torture particularly gratifying now that it was lacking screaming and begging for mercy. They responded to this by binding her wrists with electrical wire and suspending her from the ceiling so it would be easier to continue to torture her. If her captors were feeling particularly benevolent, they would cut her down before they retired home and not leave her dangling overnight.
The inevitable finally happened on the 15th April 1999. The group went out to party and as per their routine, locked Fan Man-Yee in the bathroom so she couldn’t escape. When they returned Chang Man-Lok’s (lest we forget 13 year old) girlfriend went to use the toilet, and found Man-Yee dead in the bath. She could take no more punishment, and finally had passed away after a month of brutal suffering. So tortured was her body, that it appeared as though she had entered the early stages of decomposition before she had even died. Blood, puss from her wounds, and other bodily fluids were pooling in the bottom of the bath she lay in and the smell of putrefying human flesh already filled the air of the apartment.
It will come as no shock to learn that Fan Man-Yee was given no dignity even in death. Her murderers wanted her corpse disposed of as quickly and expediently as possible. They also didn’t want her to be identified if found. To this end they butchered her corpse into parts small enough to fit into their cooking pot, and boiled the remains so that the flesh could be easily rendered from the bone. In case you happen to be wondering, yes it was the same cooking pot that they had used to, and continued to use to cook their meals in.
They then stored her remains in the refrigerator to stop further decomposition and to attempt to contain the smell.16 As a perverse trophy Fan Man-Yee’s murderers sewed her boiled skull into the Hello Kitty mermaid doll mentioned at the start of the episode. It seemed that as much as they had the pragmatic common sense to want to dispose of her remains, they couldn’t help but keep a reminder.
Fortunately this is the part of the story where Chang Man-Lok’s now fourteen year old ‘girlfriend’ became consumed with guilt, as we discussed at the beginning of the episode. Whether or not she was actually seeing Fan Man-Yee’s ghost I will leave to Simon and you the audience to decide. Too scared to admit her anxiety to her ‘boyfriend’ and too ashamed to admit it to her parents, she turned to the one organisation she felt could bring justice for Man-Yee and ease her conscience, the Hong Kong Police Force. Thus how she came to be where we found her at the start of the episode in Yau Ma Tei police station.
A territory wide man-hunt was immediately launched to bring all three men into custody. Less than 24 hours after his ‘girlfriend’ had walked into Yau Ma Tei police station Chang Man-Lok was sat enjoying Dim Sum17 in a street side restaurant several blocks from the murder scene in Tsim Sha Tsui when a 12.5 ton armoured truck locked it’s brakes and screeched to a halt in front of him. Special Duties Unit officers clad head-to-toe in black poured from the truck before it had even stopped, dragged him from his chair and placed him under arrest, with the arrests of Leung Shing-cho and Leung Wai-Lun following shortly after.
Under questioning, the three suspects all had the exact same testimony: they were just running an illegal brothel, and that Fan Man-Yee had entered into their service consensually. Man-Yee was an addict who died of an overdose they claimed, and that out of fear of reprisal from both the legal system and their triad superiors they decided to make her disappear. They knew they had been caught red handed, and that they were going down for a long time, their only concern was protecting their own skin and presenting the most believable story for the minimum amount of jail time.
All three men were thoroughly interrogated by psychiatrists, who shockingly found nothing wrong with them. Unlike so many of the cases we investigate on this channel, where there is some kind of trigger, some kind of trauma we can point to in order to explain such great evil, in this instance there is nothing. The three men were simply evil inhuman animals consumed by the intoxication of a blood frenzy.
Tragically, despite the explicit and detailed testimony of Chang Man-Lok’s ‘girlfriend’, from which large portions of this video are derived, there was sufficient grey area in evidence and testimony to spare Fan Man-Yee’s murders from the most extreme punishment the Hong Kong legal system could bring down upon them. Her remains were suitably mauled and incomplete that it ultimately couldn’t be proved beyond all doubt exactly how she died.
The jury couldn’t rule firmly that she had been murdered, and hadn’t died of a drug overdose as the men claimed, but it did rule that irregardless of whether they carried out the act, they were responsible for her death. All three men were sentenced to life in prison, with no review of parole for twenty years (until 2020).18 Chang Man-Lok’s ‘girlfriend’ due to her age, assistance in helping the police, and questionable responsibility for the killing had all charges against her dropped. The most brutal episode in Hong Kong’s recent history, and let us pray its future had drawn to a close.
Let us not just reduce the tragic case of Fan Man-Yee into a gruesome spectacle for us to gawk at. Remember her name, remember her image, and remember her tragic tale. Every city on earth has a plentitude of women just like Fan Man-Yee who were handed a bad hand by fate, who have to scavenge for scraps on the edge of polite society’s splendour, and plenty of animals such as her killers who would seek to exploit them. They are human just like you, they have wants, fears, desires, and dreams just like you, and any one of them could be one bad decision or encounter away from suffering the same fate as Fan Man-Yee. Are we really doing enough for these women both individually and as a society? After concluding this episode, let us all take a few moments to consider this question, and just maybe some positives can be yielded from this most tragic affair.19
No doubt this endeavour into the macabre has left many of us feeling less than chipper. So let us close by focusing on some positives. Despite this gruesome outlier to the contrary, Hong Kong was a very safe city at the close of the millennium, and only continued to become more so in the following two decades. In 1999 the city had 63 homicides, and 91 rapes, for a population of 6.6 million. 20 years later in 2019 the city had 24 homicides, and 50 rapes despite an increased population of 7.5 million. Much to the relief of myself as a resident, and everyone listening who may find themselves in Hong Kong in the future, homicides of any kind, let alone homicides of the brutality suffered by Fan Man-Yee are very, very rare.
- On the culpability of Chang Man-Lok’s ‘girlfriend’:
Her responsibility for the fate of Fan Man-Yee is the great moral conundrum of this case. Sure, as most 13 year olds tend to be she had morality suffienctly developed to be aware of the fact that torture is among the most abhorent and evil of crimes, but to what extent did she truely comprehend the ramifications of her actions? To what extent did she even have a choice? Would she suffer the same fate as her victim if she didn’t comply and appease her ‘boyfriend’? Equally what stopped her going to the police at any point after she got involved in the brutality? Hindsight is 20:20 of course, but the fact we still don’t know her name 22 years after the murder certainly implies she was safe to come forward.20 Questions like this however are significantly above my intellectual pay grade as a humble researcher and writer, so I shall leave it to Simon and yourselves in the audience to attempt to answer this question.
2 Nowadays the triads are a largely benign force in the city compared to their historical heights of power and brutality. Their operations are essentially limited to smuggling and black marketering. They’re (allegedly) very useful for finding cheap cigarettes and illegal mahjong parlours. That’s what people tell me anyway, as a proud patriot I wouldn’t know, and love over paying for cigarettes, and having to cross an international border to put a bet on.
3 Yow (as in how) Ma Tay
4 If you’re ever visiting Hong Kong and need a cheap hotel, the building has since been rebuilt into a hotel, and for some reason they always struggle to fill their rooms!
5 tz-eem tza tz-oy (as in toy)
6 These attrociates included the rape and toture of upto 10,000 local girls, and the regular public beheading and bayoneting of local ‘criminals’ under the flimsiest of pretexts ; Unrelated note of interest: my great uncle was the superintendent of Yau Ma Tei police station in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and was killed for refusing to collaborate with the Japanese.
7 Faan Maan-Yee (hold the a’s) ; Chinese names place the family name first, if you want to refer to her as you would yourself Simon, or myself George refer to her as Man-Yee.
9 Prostitution was and still is rampant in Hong Kong, the NGO Ziteng estimates that in 2021 there are as many as 20,000 sex workers in the city of 7.5 million people. In the commercial districts there are entire towers full of nothing but brothels see ‘Fuji Building’ in Causeway Bay ; I actually have three brothels in my building it’s so rampant – lots of men shyly avoiding eye contact and looking at their feet when the elevator stops on that floor!
10 Chang Maan (Hold the a) Lock
11 Li-ung Shing (as in shingles) Cho (Ch-o)
12 Li-ung Why Lun (as in London)
13 Pronounced as you’d naturally read it.
14 Sham (as in shambles), Sh-oy (as in boy), Po (as in the teletubby).
15 So not only was he a sex trafficker and a pimp, he was also a nonce. Really completing the TRIAD of being a piece of sh*t.
16 Pictures of the refrigerator are freely available on the internet, should anyone be so minded as to want to see the contents – but be warned it is unpleasant viewing.
17 A popular Cantonese food.
18 Hong Kong abolished the death penalty on 23rd April 1993. Much like yourself Simon, I’m torn on the death penalty. The logical half of my brain doesn’t like the idea of the state being in command of life and death itself, but then the emotional half of my brain would be popping a bottle of champagne if these men tripped feet first into a wood chipper.
19 There’s a very good sex trafficking charity in East Asia called AFRO (Action for Reach Out) if you want to give them a shout out.
20 In fact, the police took the girl’s anonymity so seriously that in the documents examined for the production of this script her name was totally omitted, and her name in the initial report was retroactively censored with thick marker pen on both sides of the paper.