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Simon Davis from England was the kind of guy who loved striking up conversations with anyone. He had travelled the world and had entertaining stories of time he spent in Mexico, The States and Asia.
He made friends quickly as he would always chat to people who sat next to him on a long-haul flight, or who waited in line at the airport. It was not unusual for him to share a taxi with someone he had just met. He seemed trustworthy and tourists didn’t seem to mind making the acquaintance of a seasoned traveller like Simon. He would gain their trust, promising to let them in on some local tips and secrets.
But Simon Davis was not who he claimed to be. He was a man with a troubled past and a dark future. In 1995, in a matter of days, he had been to Singapore and Thailand, leaving three victims behind him – all bludgeoned to death in their hotel rooms, dismembered and thrown out like trash.
Who was this man, dubbed by British tabloids as “The Tourist From Hell”?
John Martin Scripps was born in Hertfordshire in December 1959 to Leonard and Jean Scripps and he had an elder sister called Janet.
John was not a very strong student and growing up he spent a lot of time keeping his father company as he drove trucks. They travelled all over England, living a detached and isolated life. John and his father, Leonard were very close.
When John was only nine years old, his mother, who was working as a bartender, left his father for another man. Unable to cope with the breakdown of his marriage, Leonard ended his own life by gassing himself in the oven at their home. John discovered his father’s body and needless to say, it traumatised him and caused permanent emotional damage.
In the aftermath of his father’s suicide, John became a troubled young man. At the age of 14, he ran away from a cadet training camp in France. This was a big deal, as he was underaged in a foreign country and no one had any idea where he had gone. But John was used to the road and made his way back to England.
When he was 15 his undiagnosed dyslexia made learning at school extremely difficult. Always feeling the need to run away when things got tough, John dropped out of school. He moved to the Isle of Wight where his mother ran a guest house.
This is when he essentially started his life as a career criminal. As a teenager, John was always in trouble. It started with burglary of homes. Shortly after leaving school, he had his first juvenile conviction for theft and burglary. He did not learn his lesson and straight after his release, he went back to the life he knew best: that of a thief.
For most of his teenage years he was in and out of jail. Whenever he was out, he would burglarise homes, sell stolen goods and use the money to travel. He managed to see quite a bit of the world this way. His routes would be erratic and unpredictable. But it wasn’t the best life-plan… John also stole when he was travelling. In the late 1970s he was imprisoned in Israel for stealing from a kibbutz worker.
On his return to England in 1982, it did not take long before he was caught stealing again. This time, he was jailed in Surrey. In England, some prisoners, when they have a record of good behaviour, are allowed to go home for two to three days. Convicts are expected to report back at a specific time, but John was never someone to play by the rules. When he was granted home leave, he used the opportunity to escape.
He started travelling again, this time to the Americas. On this trip, he met a young Mexican woman called Maria Pilar in Montreal and fell in head over heels in love. They travelled together for two years, then decided to get married. Maria was 17 and John was 21. After the wedding in Cancun, John took his young bride home to England to live.
It didn’t take John long to fall back into familiar habits. Soon after they arrived back in England, he was arrested. John Martin Scripps was charged with ten counts of theft and burglary. During his arrest, he also assaulted an officer and all-up he was sent to jail for three years.
Maria was shocked, as she was under the impression he had worked in imports and exports. But she forgave him and stood by her man. She stayed in the UK, waiting for her husband’s release. Not long before his three-year-term was up, he was able to go home on home leave. Like a moth to a flame, John took to the road again and escaped, committing burglaries as he went. And as the pattern went, he was arrested again and given another three-year sentence.
Maria had had enough, this time she was not hanging around waiting for him. Although she was still in love with John, she realised he would never change, so she filed for divorce. She remarried, this time the polar-opposite to her first husband: police constable Ken Cold, an officer in the Royal Protection Squad. He was part of the team in charge of the royal family’s safety.
When John heard about this, it shattered him. On home leave, he stalked the couple and even broke into their home, stealing Maria’s new husband’s clothes. John and Maria met up whenever he was out on leave and were still intimate. But John knew she wasn’t his to have and it aggravated him. During one of their encounters, John attempted to strangle her, and she nearly passed out.
Eventually Maria’s second marriage could not wither the storm that was John Martin Scripps and the couple divorced. Not so much that she chose John, it was just a messy situation. Maria knew John wasn’t good for her, so she moved back to Mexico.
This appeased John, at least she was not married anymore. Around this time, he legally changed his name to John Martin, dropping the Scripps part.
He realised that he could be making good money by operating as a drug mule. Plus, he would get to travel – something he loved. He had a couple of good runs, until 1987 when he was arrested at Heathrow Airport for suspected drug trafficking. Officials found a safe deposit key on his person, which was eventually traced to a bank in Singapore. In the deposit box, they found 1.5 kilos of heroine, worth One Million US Dollars. John Martin was sentenced to thirteen years in prison.
During his stint at Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight, the career criminal was a model prisoner. The prison governor described him as quiet and reserved. John Martin was promoted from dishwasher to butcher in the prison kitchen.
Prison Officer, James Quigley, who used to be a butcher taught John everything he knew: how to dismember and de-bone slaughtered animals. Officer Quigley remembered his time with John:
“He was instructed in butchery over a six-week period in March and April 1993. He was trained to bone out forequarters and hind quarters of beef, sides of bacon, carcasses of pork and how to portion chicken.”
John had found something he was really good at. He loved learning from officer Quigley and once told him that he would like to open a butcher shop once he had served his time in prison.
His time was almost done when John was granted home leave. Again, he could not resist temptation and used his freedom to escape. This should have come as no surprise, as he had done it so many times before. His mother even warned authorities not to let him out, as she realised John was selling all his personal items. She had the sense that he was hatching a plan to leave England and possibly never return.
Turned out, John’s mother was right. John was ready to start over – as far away from England as he could get. But he could not leave as John Martin, so using his cell-mate’s birth certificate, he applied for a passport. Simon Davis was a South African born naturalised British Citizen, which meant John could obtain a British passport.
John travelled to Mexico under his new alias, to go and look for the love of his life, Maria Pilar. Maria was not over the moon to see him, but he promised her that he had found religion in prison and he was serious about changing his ways. He devoted himself to the Virgin of Guadeloupe, Mexico’s patron saint.
Although Maria was still in love with him, she did not want to risk stepping into a relationship with John again. She did, however, take him in and they lived together. He told her that he found a job importing silk from Thailand, but she did not believe him. She knew him too well, but also felt she did not want to know what he was really up to.
John Martin hung out in bars and struck up conversations with travellers. A young British backpacker called Timothy McDowell met John in Cancun. Timothy was an economics graduate from Cambridge. The two became friends and went out partying together. They also travelled together for a while. While in Belize in January 1995, the friends took scuba diving lessons on an island off Belize. Timothy was never seen alive again. Later, badly mutilated body parts were found in crocodile infested water, but could not conclusively be matched to the missing young Brit.
Maria remembered that when John returned from Belize, he had changed. His whole demeanour was different to before, she knew he had done something, but she did not even want to think what it could have been.
Soon after this, John left Mexico for San Francisco – Maria would never see him again. From San Francisco John boarded a plane to Singapore – possibly to look for work as a drug mule.
Singapore is home to five million people. It is a city-state, island country with a multicultural population. It is a global economic hub and Changi Airport serves as a bustling gateway to and from Asia. In the 1990’s – like today – Singapore was a popular shopping destination, especially if you were looking for a wide variety of cutting edge, affordable electronics.
This proud city-state is also known for being one of the cleanest cities in the world, thanks to its anti-litter laws. If convicted of littering, you could expect a 1000 Singapore Dollar fine – that’s about 700 US Dollars. Neglecting to flush a public toilet could cost you more than 100.
So, reporting a garbage bag floating the harbour off the busy Clifford Pier, would not be unusual. Police officers responded to the call and found the black bag with the putrid smell of death. Inside were the legs of a Caucasian male, cut off below the knee with surgical precision.
What was a bin liner containing severed limbs doing floating in one of the busiest ports in the world?
At first investigators thought it could possibly be another drowned illegal migrant who had fallen overboard from an over-crowded vessel. But on closer inspection, they realised that this was not the case at all. The way the legs were removed from the rest of the body, showed that whoever did this, had extensive experience in removing limbs. There was no damage to the knee or surrounding areas and the ligaments had been neatly cut. It was undoubtedly the work of someone with prior knowledge of anatomy: a doctor, a surgeon, perhaps a veterinarian or even a butcher.
Medical examiners determined that the victim had died about two days before the bag was discovered. But without the rest of the victim’s body, Singapore police had a hard job to find out who the victim was. All they knew definitively, was that the legs belonged to a Caucasian male.
The first task was to look at missing persons reports. There was a report that caught their attention. A 32-year-old man had been reported missing by his wife in South Africa. Gerard Lowe, a chemical engineer for South African Breweries had left Johannesburg two days before and had not been in contact with his wife. He left his itinerary with his wife, Vanessa. He called her from Johannesburg Airport before he left and left a message on her cell phone, saying that he would call on his arrival in Singapore. He never did. It was very unusual – he was reliable and would always call. Gerard was only supposed to be there for a day or two, as his only business was to buy some electronics.
Records showed that Gerard cleared customs at Changi Airport in Singapore on Wednesday the 8th of March 1995. This is when he must have met a man called Simon Davis, who arrived on the same day on a flight from San Francisco. Simon said he was a businessman who sold clothes from Mexico and he was heading to Bangkok via Singapore.
The man called Simon was well-presented and friendly and they had a short conversation. But he was not who he had said he was. Simon Davis was John Martin and he had found a victim in Gerard. When John established that Gerard was travelling alone, he suggested that they share a hotel room to save costs. Gerard, not realising the eminent danger, agreed. Perhaps John found common ground with Gerard, explaining that his alias, Simon, was born in South Africa. Perhaps there was a familiarity that made Gerard agree to the man’s strange request. We will never know why he agreed.
Either way, both men checked into the River View Hotel on Havelock Road and went up to the room. John used the name Simon Davis to register. Moments after they arrived, as Gerard was looking over his shopping list, his new friend went at him with a 10,000 Volt taser gun, until he was unresponsive. He then took the unconscious Gerard into the hotel room bathroom, where he bludgeoned him on the head with a camping hammer, killing him.
With a foldable knife, John Martin started with the dismemberment. Because he had the right equipment and he knew exactly what he was doing, it didn’t take very long. He would later say in court that it would take a skilled butcher about five minutes to dismember an animal. Presumably dismembering a human body would not be much different.
When he was done, he packaged all of Gerard’s body parts into separate black plastic bags, then packed it in his luggage and stored it in the wardrobe. Then he took some time to craft a new identity, by taking Gerard’s passport and removing the photo and replacing it with his own. Simon Davis (who was actually John Martin) now had a South African passport showing that he was Gerard Lowe.
At this point, John decided it was time to head out for some sightseeing and shopping. He bought himself a video recorder, hi-fi stereo speakers and running shoes, all the while using Gerard’s credit cards. He ended the day by attending the symphony at Victoria Memorial Hall, sitting back and enjoying compositions of Brahms and Tchaikovsky while his victim was decomposing in the hotel room.
The next morning, John, posing as Simon Davis, went to the front desk, and requested that they take Gerard Lowe’s name off the hotel guest register. He was asked to provide a reason and he reluctantly told a story about an uncomfortable encounter with Gerard Lowe. He claimed that he had asked Gerard to leave after Gerard tried to seduce him. He did not realise Gerard was homosexual and did not want to share a room with someone who had ulterior motives. Hotel management left it at that and removed Gerard’s name from the register.
Early on Wednesday morning, March 11, in the cover of dark, John was seen by a security guard at the River View Hotel, leaving the lobby, dragging his luggage. He left around 6:30 and returned 15 minutes later, without his suitcase.
Later that same morning, the hotel guest who had registered as Simon Davis, checked out of the River View Hotel and headed for the airport. Then, a bag containing two severed legs were found off Clifford Pier.
Police suspected that their victim was missing South African Gerard Lowe and traced his movements after his arrival at Changi Airport. They were able to establish that he had checked into Riverview Hotel with a man called Simon Davis. When police went into his room, room 1511, housekeeping had not been in to clean and fortunately that meant that the crime scene had been contained. The room was in disarray and the unmistakeable smell of death lingered in the musty room. Searching the room, they could not see any blood. But when they had a look in the bathroom, they found splashes of blood on the toilet bowl.
The blood matched the legs found in the water. They were getting closer to identifying their victim and asked for blood samples of Gerard’s sister, which was sent straight away and arrived in Singapore the next day. It was a match, and the homicide investigation could start.
Less than a week after the first trash bag was discovered, a second one was found floating off Clifford Pier. It contained Gerard’s thighs and his torso, cut up with the same precision as the legs. Despite many search attempts, his head was never found, making it difficult to establish a cause of death.
Vanessa Lowe arrived in Singapore two weeks later to claim her husband’s remains and assist police with their investigation. She did not know who would want to murder her husband – he was kind and friendly and would not harm a soul. She had never heard of the man called Simon Davis and had no idea how he knew her husband.
Singapore police reached out to Scotland Yard to help them locate South African-born British citizen: Simon Davis. Between investigators in Britain and Singapore, they were able to link their suspect to another identity: that of John Martin Scripps. John had applied for a British passport in the British High Commission in Singapore on a previous visit and the photos matched up. Police realised that Simon and John was one and the same man. But whoever he was, they had no idea where he had gone.
From hotel phone records, police saw that John had called Thomas Cook, the foreign exchange service in Robinson Road in Singapore. Staff at Thomas Cook confirmed that the man they were looking for had transferred a large amount of money to his account in US. Because the transfer would take a couple of days to complete, John said he would go to Thailand and then return to Singapore when it was all done. He also purchased a ticket to Bangkok from the Thomas Cook Travel agent at the same premises.
Thai police confirmed that a Simon Davis had arrived in the country, but they did not know his whereabouts. Police in Singapore had no choice but to wait for his return, hoping he won’t change his mind.
Meanwhile, the media was eager to get the story out. It’s not every day human body parts are found in their harbour. But police pleaded with them to keep it under wraps as long as possible. They were afraid that John might see the news about the investigation and decide NOT to return to Singapore. It was too much of a gamble. The press respected the request.
Fortunately, it paid off and, using the passport identifying himself as Simon Davis, John Martin returned to Singapore. He arrived at Changi Airport on March 19th, 1995. He was taken into custody as soon as he reached customs. He was taken to an airport holding cell and was everything but co-operative. He was agitated and angry. In a fit of rage, he smashed the glass window and attempted to slit his wrist with one of the shards. But officials were quick to contain him and prevented him from hurting himself.
In John’s luggage, they found a 10,000 Volt taser gun, a can of mace, two serrated knives, two swiss army knives and a 1.3-kilogram camping hammer. It is important to note that airport security was much more relaxed in the 1990s. As an example of how much things have changed, consider that smoking was allowed on flights, up until the late 1990’s.
Today it may sound far-out that John could have made it onto a plane and into another country with all those weapons. But things were different back then. Passengers were permitted to travel with blades up to 4 inches long. This was before 9/11, of course, after which security measures have changed dramatically.
Also, in his possession was Gerard Lowe’s credit cards and his South African passport, with John Martin’s photo. He had traveller’s cheques and cash to the value of 40,000 US Dollars. What concerned police greatly, was the fact that there were two more passports in the bag. That of Canadian mother and son, Sheila and Darin Demude.
Confronted with the evidence, John remained absolutely silent, he did not even speak when asked to identify himself. He did not confirm, nor did he deny anything. He just kept his mouth shut. Police needed more time, as they realised John would never confess to the murder. So, they charged him with forgery, for falsifying Gerard’s passport.
This bought them only one week’s time – a very short to build a murder case. After a week, they would have had to release their prime suspect.
Desperate for evidence, police in Singapore contacted Thai and Canadian police to enquire about Sheila and Darin Demude. They established that someone with the name ‘Scripps’ had checked in to the same hotel as them in Phuket: Nilly’s Marina Inn, overlooking Patong Beach.
Sheila and Darin arrived on March 15th for a week’s holiday from British Colombia. Sheila was an administrator at a school in Victoria and her son was a college student. Darin had already spent part of his spring break in Asia and met up with his mother in Bangkok before travelling to Phuket together. They met John on the flight from Bangkok to Phuket and he was simply a friendly co-traveller. After chatting on the plane, they went to the hotel together and checked in at the same time. Their rooms were on the same floor, close to each other.
Having struck up somewhat of a travel-companionship, the Demudes arranged to meet John for breakfast the next morning. What they didn’t realise, was that they had made a date with death.
After breakfast, they all went back upstairs. John managed to get into the room as mother and son were gathering their things to go to the beach. As he did with Gerard Lowe in Singapore, John used the taser gun to incapacitate his victims. Then, after killing them by bludgeoning them with the camping hammer, he dragged both bodies into the bathroom to start with the process of dismemberment.
He followed the same procedure exactly: after cutting up the bodies, he placed the parts in garbage bags and then set out to dispose of it. He used their passports to create more aliases for himself. Also, being able to identify himself as Darin Damude, he could cash his victim’s travellers’ cheques.
With his victims slaughtered and packaged in their hotel room, John Martin went to the front desk of the hotel. He checked out of his own room and asked if he could switch to room 43, the Damudes’ room, as they had left early in the morning. He paid their bill and no questions were asked.
Thai police were able to trace his movements after the murders. One of the hotel’s receptionists remembered John leaving the hotel with bags and driving off on a rented motor cycle. After that, the Canadians were never seen again.
Some days later, two severed heads, badly decomposed, were found in a disused tin-mine. A torso and two pairs of arms and legs were also discovered along Bahn Nai Trang Road, 6 miles (or almost 10 kilometres) from the hotel. All the parts were in a bad state of decomposition and had to be identified by a medical examiner. Using dental records, the examiner was able to confirm that the bodies belonged to the Canadian mother and son.
The crime scene in the hotel in Phuket had a lot more blood than the room in Singapore. Samples of blood were taken and could be matched to traces found on the camping hammer John Martin had in his possession when he arrived at Changi airport.
Law enforcement agencies in both Thailand and Singapore felt that the murders of Gerard Lowe and the Demudes were committed by the same perpetrator: John Martin, aka Simon Davis. Prosecution used the evidence from Thailand so strengthen their case and were able to charge him with murder.
While on remand, John Martin went on hunger strike. When his appointed attorney visited him, he found a wreck of a man. He cried and said that he wanted to see his mother. It was hard to reconcile the two sides of this murderer: one the one hand he was a cold-blooded killer, on the other, he was a fragile semi-literate man who could only be comforted by his mother.
John Martin was not a sophisticated criminal. Far from it. His weakness, time and time again, was his inability to properly cover his tracks. He was quite skilled in committing the murders and subsequent fraud, but he was sloppy in getting away. The fact that he entered Singapore, using the same identity as the one he used to check into the hotel with Gerard Lowe, is an example of this. Had he re-entered as Darin Demudes, chances are he would have evaded capture.
He was formally charged for the murder of Gerard Lowe in September 1995. His trial began in October. He was regarded as a dangerous man, and there was strict security in the courtroom. John sat between two police officers inside a glass and metal cage. He was handcuffed, and his legs were in shackles.
At trial, John stuck to his story that Gerard was gay and that he had made sexual advances on him. He said when he realised Gerard was not backing down, he panicked and hit him over the head with his camping hammer. This was an attempt to reduce his charge to manslaughter instead of murder, which would mean a life sentence instead of execution.
Gerard’s widowed wife, Vanessa, testified that Gerard was definitely not gay. Forensic evidence also proved that John’s story was not true, as there was no blood on the carpet or on the bed in room 1511. John did not hit Gerard with the hammer as he was fending him off while he was in bed. Instead, evidence showed that Gerard was tasered, then taken to the bathroom where he was murdered and dismembered.
But that was not all. John Martin testified that he had not acted alone. He told the court that a British acquaintance that he had known for about 10 years helped him dispose of the body.
According to John, the acquaintance – whom he refused to name – stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa. This man had worked in an abattoir in the past, and John knew that he would be able to help him. When it was all done, the man supposedly disposed of the garbage bags, while John hid in his hotel room. When asked why he did not want to name his accomplice, John said that the man was very dangerous, and he was afraid that if he implicated him, the man would take revenge on John’s family back in England.
But all that this story proved, was that John was not only a murderer and a thief, but also a pathological liar. Investigators had followed up, matching hotel records and surveillance – it simply was not true.
After a 16-day trial, on the 10th of November 1995, John Martin was found guilty of Gerard Lowe’s murder. He was sentenced to hang. He cried as he made a statement:
“I know it looks like I’ve murdered everybody whose credit card was found on me, but I’m not a violent man.”
His lawyers appealed the sentence in a hope to change his sentence to life imprisonment. However, on January 4th of the following year, John Martin sent a hand-written letter, asking the court to withdraw the appeal. He was prepared to let justice take its course.
Although evidence from the Demudes’ crime scene in Thailand was essential in securing his conviction, John Martin was never charged with the murders of Sheila and Darin. With the conclusion of his trial, however, Thai and Canadian police were able to close the case on the deaths of the travelling mother and son too.
It was official that John Martin was responsible for the deaths of at least three people. But were there more victims? Had he committed murders whenever he travelled? Red flags were raised when police also found documents of British backpacker, Timothy McDowell, amongst John’s possessions.
Looking back at the case of Timothy’s disappearance in Belize, police could see that a substantial amount of money was transferred from his bank account to John Martin Scripps’ account in the UK. The same amount was later transferred to an account in the US, also in the name of John Martin Scripps.
Scotland Yard sent investigators to Singapore to interview John about the disappearance and suspected murder of Timothy McDowell. When John heard why the investigators were there, he flew into a rage and refused to speak to them. He felt betrayed by his defence attorney for allowing them to come and see him. His reaction was sudden and violent, and his attorney saw a side of him he had never seen before.
Unfortunately for Timothy McDowell’s family, John Martin never confessed to anything and took the details of Timothy’s disappearance to his grave.
Another suspected victim was 24-year-old backpacker, William Shackel, who had spent some time in Cancun. William would also never return home. He disappeared right after cashing 4000 pounds in traveller’s cheques and to this day, he has never been found.
There was also an unsolved murder of a male prostitute in San Francisco that placed a question mark behind John Martin’s name. 25-year-old Tom Wenger was murdered and dismembered in March 1994. John was supposed to have been in the UK at the time, but a composite picture made by San Francisco police in the Tom Wenger case, matched John Martin. He also refused to talk about this case before his execution.
During his last days on death row in Singapore, John wrote poems to his ex-wife, Maria Pilar, declaring his undying love for her. Maria did not want to see him before his execution.
Despite his dyslexia, he insisted on writing incessantly, rambling on about life, love and loneliness. Hours before his execution, he wrote one final, note:
“One day poor. One day reach. Money fild the pane of huger, but what will fill the emteness inside? I know that love is beyond be. So do I give myself to god. The god that has betrad me You may take my life for what it is worth, but grant thise I love peace and happiness. Can I be a person again. Only time will tell me.” (sic)
For his last meal, John asked for a pizza and a cup of hot chocolate.
There was only one Westerner to be executed in Singapore before him, a Belgian man called Johan van Damme who, in 1994 was sentenced to death for drug trafficking offences. John Martin Scripps was executed by hanging on the 19th of April 1996. He would go down in history as the first Westerner to be hanged in Singapore for murder.
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This was The Evidence Locker. Thank you for listening!
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