By Pearly Tan
ARMED with just a screwdriver and a pair of gloves, Bay Buck Siong broke into 145 HDB flats island-wide over two years, and got away with a staggering $903,175 worth of cash and valuables.
Bay's loot included laptops, jewellery and Rolex watches, which he sold in Chinatown and Geylang. The gambling addict then wagered the money away at casinos.
Yesterday, the 47-year-old odd job worker, who is one of Singapore's worst serial burglars, pleaded guilty to 10 charges of housebreaking.
The other 135 housebreaking charges and one charge each of fraudulent possession and theft will be taken into consideration when he is sentenced later this month.
The court was told that Bay, a divorcee, targeted flats in areas including Tampines, Yishun, Bukit Batok, Clementi and Hougang between Feb 24, 2009 and Jan 16 this year.
The flats were located along the common corridor and he would strike between 10am and 8pm, when most of the residents were working.
To ensure that a home was vacant, Bay would knock on the door. Only when he got no response would he use his screwdriver to force open the sliding window of the unit to gain entry.
His getaway vehicle was a red van.
Bay's biggest loot - $130 in cash and $50,000 worth of jewellery - was from a second-storey unit at Block 140 of Bishan Street 12 on Jan 19 last year.
He was almost caught on Feb 8 last year, when he was spotted by a neighbour of a flat he broke into.
Mr Tan Ming Chow, 31, saw Bay entering his neighbour's unit at Block 344 of Ubi Avenue 1 through the sliding window.
Mr Tan witnessed the illegal entry through the peephole of his door and called the police at about 10.35am.
When the police arrived, Bay was still in the third-storey unit but he quickly went to the master bedroom and jumped down from the room window to the ground floor.
The police chased him but lost sight of him at Eunos Industrial Park.
He got away with valuables worth about $4,940.
The owners of the unit had been at work then.
Bay acted alone in the break-ins except on one occasion, when he had an accomplice - See Boon Keng. 35.
On Oct 2, 2009, Bay and See got away with $29,770 worth of valuables from an HDB flat at Ubi Ave 1.
The two made off with a safe which the owner, Mr Raymond Neo, 61, had kept in a cupboard in the master bedroom.
The safe was worth $400. Inside it were two Rolex watches worth almost $20,000, some foreign currency, some Singapore "gold" coins and new dollar notes, a gold bracelet, a credit card, a birth certificate, some documents and testimonials.
See was allowed to keep one of the Rolex watches for helping Bay to steal the safe. He has been arrested and sentenced.
On at least two other occasions, Bay carted off stolen safes by himself.
Bay was arrested on Jan 25 this year. He was tracked down at the casino at Resorts World Sentosa.
The police found $1,700 in cash, 27 pieces of commemorative coins and two pawnshop receipts on him.
Bay told them that the cash were his winnings from the casino, and the coins and receipt had been stolen from one of the flats he had broken into.
He led the police to his van, where they found four woollen gloves, two screwdrivers and a stolen laptop.
Bay admitted to the police that he would first ransack the living room. If the loot was insufficient, he would then break into other rooms to search for valuables.
Most of the stolen items were not recovered as he had sold them to unknown buyers in Chinatown and Geylang. He gambled away all the stolen cash at the casinos.
Bay admitted that he committed the offences in order to support his gambling addiction.
Bay was convicted twice - in 1993 and 1999 - for housebreaking.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Yu Hui highlighted in court yesterday the severity of Bay's offences, saying he had committed them to feed his gambling habit.
She added that the offences could be said to have been premeditated as Bay had arrived at the units armed with a screwdriver.
In his mitigation, his lawyer, Mr Teo Choo Kee, said that Bay had tried to live a normal life but could not overcome his gambling habit.
He added that his client was not incapable of being reformed and that he had cooperated with the police.
Bay's nephew was the only family member in court yesterday.
At the end of the hearing, Bay asked District Judge Paul Quan for permission to call his mother, and was granted a 10-minute supervised phonecall to her.
Judge Quan called for preventive detention and corrective training reports and the case was adjourned till June 23.
For housebreaking, Bay could have been jailed 10 years and caned for each charge.
Precautions to protect your house
Install windows with iron grilles and good quality key-operated locks.
Main doors should be of solid construction and fitted with a good-quality mortise lock with a dead bolting feature (where a key is needed to lock and unlock the door).
Reinforce all doors with iron grille gates together with metal clasp and a close-shackle padlock. Fix door peephole, latch chain and surface latches on the main doors.
Keep large sums of cash in banks.
Leave the radio on and a light on at night to give an "at home" appearance.
Cancel all deliveries, such as newspapers, when you are away from home for a few days.
Lock all doors and windows when leaving the home unattended, even if it is for a short while.
Ask your immediate neighbours to keep an eye on your house for any unusual occurrences.
Change all locks when the house keys are lost or stolen.
Inform your Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) or Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) when you are away on vacation.
Do not hide your keys under the door mat, in flower pots or on top of the electricity meter box.
Info taken from the National Crime Prevention Council website.
This article was first published in The New Paper.