Dead in the water

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

A grisly discovery

In October 1945, a body washed up on the shores of the Port River in Adelaide. It was wrapped in blankets and weighted with ships spanners.

The body was that of 44-year-old Lee Pao Sung, an engineer on the British cargo vessel SS Helga Moller. Before the body was discovered, it was suspected that he and a fellow crewman, Wu Su Ling, had deserted the ship while it was at port in Adelaide. Details of the missing crew had been supplied to the police department in an attempt to locate them.

When Lee Pao Sung's body appeared, with 4 nails driven into his head, the authorities knew he had become the victim of murder. 

The accused

Those accused of Lee Pao Sung's murder were Chinese seamen Lui Lung Fui and Wu Su Ling, who had been allowed to come ashore at Adelaide while the Helga Moller was docked.

Under Australia's Immigration Act, foreign nationals were usually barred from coming ashore. But, in this case, the British Shipping Company had secured an exemption by guaranteeing their employees' good behaviour. The 3-month exemption was given on the proviso that the men did not become a burden on state funds or any other charitable institution during their time in port.

Lui Lung Fui's identification documents indicate that he was a 'Captain Boy'. He would have waited on the officers of the ship and run errands for the captain. The second man, Wu Su Ling, is noted as being a ships engineer, and may have maintained electrical equipment.

Blame game

Both men blamed each other for the murder and gave sworn evidence in court that the other was guilty.

Wu Su Ling was allegedly motivated by a family dispute – as well as a desire for the 100 pounds that the victim was carrying.

Lui Lung Fui claimed that he had only helped dispose of the body because his friend Wu Su Ling had threatened to kill himself if Lui did not help him.

Guilty – but not of murder

The court found that both men had participated in disposing of the body, but the jury could not definitively say that either man was solely responsible for the murder itself.

The court finally ruled that both men were guilty of the lesser charge of 'conspiracy to defeat the course of justice'.

These criminal charges represented a contravention of the Immigration Act, and both men faced deportation after the completion of their respective jail sentences.

The seriousness of the case saw the Adelaide Supreme Court open on a Saturday for the first time in 20 years.

Lui Yung Fui served 2 years and 9 months of his sentence of hard labour at Yatala Labour Prison in Adelaide with an early release for deportation. The National Archives does not hold a deportation order for Wu Su Ling, and we do not know how long he remained in prison.

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