John Martin Scripps: Body-parts murder

Singapore Infopedia


John Martin, born John Martin Scripps, was the first Westerner hanged in Singapore for murder on 19 April 1996. He was convicted for the murder of South African tourist, Gerard George Lowe, in March 1995. The police were alerted when various parts of Lowe’s dismembered body were found floating in black plastic bags off Clifford Pier. Investigations led to Scripps’s arrest, and his eventual conviction and death sentence. 

Scripps was born in Hertfordshire, England, in December 1959 to Leonard and Jean Scripps.1 He had an elder sister, Janet. His parents moved to London when he was very young. He was close to his father, who was a lorry driver. However, when Scripps was 10, his father passed away. When he was 15, Scripps left school because of dyslexia, and was in and out of British prisons for petty crimes ever since. Between 1974 and 1992, he was convicted for more than 20 counts of burglary and theft, two for resisting arrest, two for drug trafficking and one for outrage of modesty.2

While serving a six-year sentence at The Mount prison in Hertfordshire for drug smuggling, Scripps was known to be “quiet and reserved” with no history of violence, and was “no longer considered a risk”. However, he absconded while on home leave for the weekend in October 1994.3 Scripps then used the birth certificate of fellow prisoner Simon James Davis to apply for a passport and managed to travel to a number of countries. While on the run, he was also wanted for questioning by foreign authorities for a drug-related killing in Mexico City, and serious offences in the United States.4 In addition, he was linked to the disappearance of British tourist Tim McDowell in Mexico, as well as the murders of Canadians Sheila and Daren Damude, whose cut-up bodies were found in Phuket in March 1995.5 He had been married once in his 20s to a Mexican woman, who divorced him while he was in prison.6

The murder
In mid-March 1995, Singaporeans were gripped by the news that dismembered parts of a human torso and lower limbs were found floating in black plastic bags in the waters off Clifford Pier.7 The body parts were identified as belonging to South African tourist, Gerard George Lowe, who had been missing; his head and arms were never found. Following police investigations, Scripps was caught and charged in court to stand trial for the murder of Lowe. He was accused of killing Lowe in Room 1511, which they had shared in the River View Hotel, between noon on 8 March and 8 am on 9 March.8 Acting for the prosecution were Jennifer Marie, Noral Huda and Toh Han Li.
During the trial, Scripps said he hit Lowe on the head repeatedly with a 1.5-kg hammer when he rebuffed the latter’s unwanted homosexual advances in their River View Hotel room. After that, he dragged Lowe into the bathroom and washed away the blood from his head in the bathtub, but panicked and fled when he realised Lowe was dead.10 He said a British friend, whom he refused to name, disposed of Lowe’s body. However, neither the prosecution nor the High Court believed that this friend existed.11 Acting for the defence were Edmond Pereira and Joseph Theseira.12 Justice T. S. Sinnathuray found Scripps to be a calculative killer who set out to murder and rob the unsuspecting Lowe. He was sentenced to death by hanging.13

Scripps was called the “tourist from hell”, as he had befriended the victims, killed them and then dismembered their corpses. He also robbed them of their wallets, credit cards, cash and passports.14 Scripps had considerable skill as a prison butcher and Lowe’s body showed signs of being dismembered professionally. He had learnt his butchery skills in 1993 while serving a sentence for drug related offences in the Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight, England.15

8 Mar 1995:
Scripps arrives in Singapore on a flight from San Francisco. He meets Lowe at Changi Airport and both agree to share a room at River View Hotel to save costs. Martin later murders Lowe, dismembers the body, and places the body parts into Lowe’s suitcase and a small bag.16

9 Mar 1995: Scripps requests for Lowe’s name to be removed from the hotel registry.17
9–10 Mar 1995: Scripps uses Lowe’s credit cards to withdraw S$8,400 in cash, and buys a S$490 Thomson video recorder, a pair of S$82 Aiwa speakers, a pair of Nike shoes and a pair of socks for S$184 as well as five Big Sweep tickets.18
10 Mar 1995: Scripps attends a Singapore Symphony Orchestra performance at the Victoria Concert Hall.19
11 Mar 1995: Scripps dumps the contents of the suitcase into the Singapore River behind the hotel and disposes of the suitcase (it was never found). He visits the Thomas Cook office in Anson Road to transfer S$8,500 in cash and US$5,000 in traveller’s cheques to a San Francisco bank account in the name of John Martin, and leaves the smaller bag at the office (the contents were never found). He buys an open air ticket to Bangkok-Phuket-Singapore for S$485, and departs for Bangkok at 7 pm that evening.20
13, 16 Mar 1995: Human body parts, including a torso and a pair of legs severed at the knees and thighs in black plastic bags, are recovered off Clifford Pier. Lowe is believed to have been killed and dismembered.21
15 Mar 1995: Canadian tourists Sheila Mae Damude and her son Darin Damude, who were staying in the same hotel as Scripps in Phuket, are reported missing.22
19 Mar 1995: The skulls of the Damudes are found at a disused tin mine in Phuket, while severed body parts are found along a road five days later. Scripps returns to Singapore and is arrested at Changi airport. He has knives, a hammer, a stun device, handcuffs, Lowe’s belongings as well as credit cards and passports of the Damudes with him.23
25 Mar 1995: Scripps is formally charged with Lowe’s murder.24
28 Mar 1995: Lowe’s wife arrives in Singapore and identifies his body parts as well as his personal belongings among more than 100 items seized from Scripps.25
1 Apr 1995: A black canvas bag with body parts is discovered off Clifford Pier.26
18 Sep 1995: Scripps is committed to stand trial in the High Court.27
2 Oct 1995: Scripps’s trial begins.28
10 Nov 1995: Scripps is found guilty of murdering Lowe, and is sentenced to hang.29
13 Nov 1995: Scripps files notice of appeal.30
8 Jan 1996: Scripps withdraws his appeal.31
9 Mar 1996: Scripps declines to seek pardon from President Ong Teng Cheong.32
19 Apr 1996: Scripps is hanged at Changi Prison.33


Nureza Ahmad

1. Tan Ooi Boon, “Martin: I Hit Lowe, but Friend Disposed of Body,” Straits Times, 5 October 1995, 37. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Who Is John Martin?” Straits Times, 12 November 1995, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Yvonne Lim, “Second Time on the Run,” New Paper, 30 March 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Wanted in 3 Continents…,” New Paper, 30 March 1995, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “What His Mum Says,” New Paper, 13 November 1995, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Who Is John Martin?
7. “Grisly Finds near the Pier,” New Paper, 5 April 1995, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Body Parts: Anatomy of a Killing,” Straits Times, 12 November 1995, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan, “Martin: I Hit Lowe.” 
10. Tan, “Martin: I Hit Lowe.”
11. “Who Is John Martin?
12. Tan, “Martin: I Hit Lowe.”
13. “Guilty as Charged: John Martin Scripps Befriended Tourists, Then Butchered Them,” Straits Times, 16 May 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
14. “Guilty as Charged.”
15. Yaw Yan Chong, “‘This Is a Perfect Instrument for Deboning’,” New Paper, 4 October 1995, 10 (From NewspaperSG); “Who Is John Martin?
16. Tan Ooi Boon, “Martin: I Hit Lowe, but Friend Disposed of Body,” Straits Times, 5 October 1995, 37; “Anatomy of a Killing.”
17. “Anatomy of a Killing.”
18. “Anatomy of a Killing.”
19. “Anatomy of a Killing.”
20. “Anatomy of a Killing.”
21. “Grisly Finds near the Pier.”
22. Tan Ooi Boon, “Accused in South African Murder Case Jailed for Drug Possession in London,” Straits Times, 30 March 1995, 3; “Anatomy of a Killing.”
23. “Guilty as Charged”; “Anatomy of a Killing”; Tan, “Accused in South African Murder Case Jailed.”
24. Tan Ooi Boon, “Martin Hanged, Leaving Behind Mystery over Another ‘Victim’,” Straits Times, 20 April 1996, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Anatomy of a Killing.”
26. “Body in Bag Picked Up from Sea off Clifford Pier,” Straits Times, 2 April 1995, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Tan, “Martin Hanged.”
28. Tan, “Martin Hanged.”

Further resource
Sharon Teng, “Murder Most Malevolent,” BiblioAsia (Jul–Sep 2017)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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