The Body In a Suitcase

Anabelle Chen's body was found in a battered suitcase drifting down Perth's Swan River.
Wednesday 3 April 2019

The body of a 57-year-old woman was found drifting down the Swan River, Perth, in a battered suitcase by two fishermen. The victim suffered 25 head injuries, indicating that the killing was very personal and unlikely to have been a random act of violence. It took months before the authorities discovered the identity of the victim amongst a missing person’s report made by the victim’s daughter, 27-year-old Tiffany Wan. She had reported her mother’s disappearance after over two months of silence. The victim was Annabelle Chen, a wealthy but reclusive artist living in the affluent suburb of Mosman Park. Alongside her mutilated body, police also discovered heavy ceramic tiles that weighed down the suitcase. These tiles perfectly matched the bathroom tiles found in her home. A breadboard tied to a scooter was also found near the body at the crime scene, and Police surmised that the scooter was used to transport the body to the river.

It later transpired that around the time of Chen’s disappearance, her ex-husband Ban Ah Ping had flown in from Singapore to attend their daughter Tiffany’s graduation ceremony in Melbourne. He had made a quick stopover in Perth to his ex-wife’s home. According to court testimony, Chen was upset to find out that her estranged ex-husband had been in touch with their daughter all this time against her wishes.

They also had a heated argument involving money when Ban struck Chen’s head with a blunt instrument. Tiffany, who had been downstairs during the incident, later testified that her father had used an iron paperweight to kill her mother. Ban then stuffed Chen’s body into a suitcase and dumped her into the river. Tiffany later admitted that she had helped clean the evidence off Ban, so as not to betray her father, in the ultimate act of filial duty. Without missing a beat, The Straits Times reported that shortly after murdering his ex-wife, Ban attended the happy occasion of his daughter’s graduation and returned home to Singapore. Meanwhile, Tiffany returned to her home in Melbourne while continuing to send her mother text messages after the killing, knowing that they would remain unanswered. She then reported her mother missing a whole two months later, which led the police to discover the identity of the body in the suitcase. Ban was charged and pleaded not guilty to killing his ex-wife, whom he had divorced in 2000.

anabelle chen - body
A headline regarding the murder from Australian newspaper The West Australian. Photo: The West Australian

During the three week jury trial, tension escalated between father and daughter as they turned on each other, their conflicting statements accusing the other of murder. Tiffany claimed that her father had killed her mother with the iron paperweight and that she covered up for him “as only a loyal daughter would”. Ban in turn claimed that his daughter had confessed to killing her mother in her bedroom during an argument involving her graduation ceremony. In a move to protect his child, he helped his daughter dispose of his ex-wife’s body.

Whether they colluded to contradict each other, create confusion and raise reasonable doubt amongst the jurors is unknown. However, clearly someone was lying and the jury chose to believe Tiffany. She was convicted of being an accomplice to murder and sentenced to four years and ten months in prison. Meanwhile, Ban was sentenced to life imprisonment and to serve a minimum of 20 years in Australia. He showed no emotion upon hearing his verdict. After the court hearing, The Straits Times reported that Tiffany’s lawyer Simon Freitag said to reporters, “The matter is now resolved, Tiffany would like to get on with her life.” She has since served her sentence and is eligible for parole in July 2019, when she might be able to carry on with her life, knowing that she had helped put her mother’s body in a suitcase to drift down the river.

What the expert says: “The emotional motive seems to be more prominent in this case. The type and number of injuries could be one of the parameters for determining the motive of a murder. Chen suffered 25 head injuries, this indicates the perpetrator expressed his uncontrolled emotions of anger and rage in the form of hitting,” says Dr Mohammad Rahim.

Related: A Family Feud Turned Bloody