Indonesia’s Tragic Family Murders
Familicides, or family murders, happen with alarming frequency across the Indonesian archipelago. Here’s a look at one of the most shocking cases, and what happens in the minds of these murderers.
One Wednesday morning in Palembang, South Sumatra, a housemaid walked into the room of her employer’s daughter. The date was 24 October, 2018. It was an unusually quiet morning. The parents were still in their room, and it was a school day for 11-year-old Kathlyn Fransiskus, who was still in bed. Her 18-year-old brother, Rafael, was nowhere to be found either.
It was then that Sarah, the housemaid, noticed blood on Kathlyn’s pillow. She figured it was from a nosebleed; when she looked closer, however, she realised it was from a wound in Kathlyn’s head. A gunshot wound, she realised. Kathlyn was dead. Sarah ran to her employers’ room, but was met with a locked door and silence.
One can only imagine the chilling scene. Horror must have suffused the entire house by then. Sarah and Dewi, the other housemaid, ran to get the neighbours and police, who tore through the house to find that everyone had been shot dead in their sleep. No one was spared, not even the family dogs, Choky and Snowy, who had been drowned in the bathtub.
Police investigations and autopsy results revealed that the murderer was the father, Fransiskus Xavierus Ong. It was a murder-suicide; in a carefully planned, silent rampage, the 45-year-old had killed his 43-year-old wife, then his children and dogs, then himself, according to South Sumatra Police chief Inspector-General Zulkarnain Adinegara in a report by The Jakarta Post.
The chain of events went as such: Ong first shot his wife, Margareth Yentin Liana, in their bedroom, then paused for a while to light a cigarette outside the room. “We found cigarette butts partly covered in blood, as well as coffee stains outside the bedroom. We assume he smoked a cigarette and thought about his actions before proceeding to murder his children,” said Zulkarnain.
Ong then went to his son’s bedroom on the second floor and shot him in the head while he was asleep. The last victim was his daughter, who, like her brother, was shot from close range.
None of the maids claimed to have heard gunshots – an odd fact, considering that guns are loud, and silencing them only reduces the sound at its lowest to about 110 decibels, which is not quiet at all. For reference, sounds within 100-125 decibels fall within the “extremely loud” category. Listening to a sound at 110db is the equivalent of sticking your ear a metre away from a car horn.
And unlike what Hollywood portrays, a silenced gunshot sounds exactly like an ordinary gunshot, only a little quieter. In any case, Ong managed to kill his entire family without alerting the maids or neighbours. After that, he drowned the family dogs in the bathtub, returned to his bedroom, locked the door and shot himself.
Ong had barely telegraphed his plans in any discernible way, his behaviour only truly understandable in hindsight. He played the piano and drank coffee on the night before the impending rampage; the housemaid, Dewi, said he only did so when he “was having a problem”.
Later that night, Ong called every employee working for his company, as well as his housemaids, to gather for a meeting at his residence, where he reportedly gave his employees some money. At 3am, mere hours before the murders, he sent a message to his secondary school WhatsApp group asking for their forgiveness and for them to only remember his good deeds. “Ngomong apo kau mat jam 3 fajar? (What are you blathering about at three in the morning?)” said one of the confused group members in reply.
According to Zulkarnain, the police suspected the murders were triggered by a fight between Ong and his wife, who demanded a divorce over allegations Ong was having an affair. There was little other evidence to go on, with the only other clue being in the suicide notes left by Ong, which read: “Aku sudah sangat lelah. Maafkan aku. Aku sangat sayang dengan anak dan istriku… Choky dan Snowy. Aku tidak sanggup meninggalkan mereka di dunia ini. (I’m so tired. I’m sorry. I love my wife and children… Choky and Snowy. I can’t bear to leave them alone in this world.)”
“He didn’t want to die alone,” said Zulkarnain.
The tragedy of the Ong family murder-suicide case shook the South Sumatran capital. Such cases are “rare”, The Jakarta Post said in its report of the matter; that said, the newspaper would also note the next year that Indonesia saw eight cases of family murders in the first three months of 2019 alone.
This article is an excerpt from Unreserved’s March 2020 issue from the article Indonesia’s Tragic Family Murders.