Body in a Bag
On the morning of 23 July 1925 two fisherman, sitting huddled on the landing stage at Fremantle Harbour’s North Wharf, spotted a large flour sack drifting down the river. Thinking it ship’s waste, they ignored it, but when it drifted past again, they fancied they saw a pair of knees. They brought it to shore and opened it.
“Tearing away the stout cord with which it was tied, they were staggered to find, doubled up inside, the ghastly remains of a young woman.”
The West Australian, 24 July 1925
She lay face upwards, her Chinese features obvious. Her sodden clothes were silk, and her hair was cut and dyed in a reddish-brown, flapper-style bob.
It was her vivid hair that soon led police to identify her as Ruby Yen, the 21-year-old, Perth-born wife of Cantonese-born, Subiaco greengrocer, Leong Yen (29).
Leong, also known as Ah Leong Sing, had arrived in Fremantle on the Zealandia in 1923. He met Ruby, the pretty, vivacious, strong-willed daughter of well-respected Perth merchant Lee Wood, in 1924 and they married in June. They lived, for a time, with Ruby’s parents but the relationship, between Leong and Ruby, and between Leong and her parents, was strained and volatile. Leong moved out while Ruby recovered from the first of two operations, moving back in after the second, for appendicitis.
In early 1925 Ruby’s father leased a small greengrocer’s shop for them at 163 Hay Street, attached to the chemist on the south west corner of Coghlan Road, Subiaco (now Lunch Mania). There, in early July, neighbours and customers witnessed a heated argument.
Ruby went missing ten days later, on 13 July.
...In the afternoon of which, police found, Leong had gone to a pawnbroker on Rokeby Road looking for the largest trunk they had. Haggling over the price, he paid £1 11s 6d (roughly $125 today) and had it sent around to the shop.
At about 7pm Leong took the trunk, now with a heavy load, from Subiaco to Fremantle in a taxi.
The Sunday Times of 26 July 1925 reported Leong asked the driver, James Gillon, to help lift it into the car. “He asked the Chinaman whether he was going away, and Yen replied that he was going to see a countryman off.”
Gillon drove to the corner of Point and Josephson Streets, Fremantle, and helped Leong lift the trunk onto the verandah of a nearby building later identified as Hop Wah’s Laundry. Leong paid the fare, adding a little more for the driver’s efforts. Gillon, not suspecting anything, then drove away.
Leong dumped the trunk in a vacant block closer to the river, where it was found a few days later. Struggling with the trunk’s contents in his arms, he made his way to the railway bridge.
“Drenched, he toiled through the rain, fumbling with his feet for a footing over the bridge, unable to see. He could hear the hissing of the river, feel the railing. Halfway over he stopped ... lifted his dead wife on to the boards of the bridge, for long, ghastly minutes strove to urge the sacking over her. Then, unseen, he lifted her smallness, held her far out in his arms, let go, and heard amid the seething of the rain, a heavier splash.”
The Sunday Times of 13 April 1941
Ruby’s father, Lee Wood, was called to identify her body. The Daily News of 24 July 1925 reports he was then “overcome with emotion, and it was some time before he could control his tears.”
Leong, with cuts and scratches on his forehead and ears, was then called in. Already a suspect, he did not react when he received the news Ruby was dead, his boyish features tense.
During a search of the Yen’s shop, police found Ruby’s engagement ring and other personal jewellery inexplicably hidden in an old straw broom. Together with James Gillon’s testimony, police charged Leong with wilful murder.
His trial was standing room only.
“About 2:30pm on Monday the 13th, I want her to keep quiet until 6 o’clock, then we go home. She said she must be gone. She get bad temper, she going to go. I keep her. I catch hold of her and say ‘Don’t you go.’ Then not much fight. She scratch my face little bit. I then hit her where operation been, and she fall down. She no say word. She dead.”
The Daily News of 7 September 1925
After Leong hit his tiny wife, she fell in swathes of silk. He then lifted her clear off the ground by her throat, before he realised she was dead.
He continued, “Night time I put her in bag, about 6 o’clock. Get motor car. I go office, ring up car. Car come. I put bag with missus in motor car. Tell motor car man drive Fremantle ... Take bag on to train bridge and throw bag into water. I take ring and watch and hid them.”
Coroners found there was no bruising on either Ruby’s stomach or her throat, and that she died from suffocation. There were traces of strychnine in her system, which could cause suffocation, but it was not confirmed as the cause.
The jury deliberated for one hour, returning with the finding that Leong was guilty of manslaughter.
Chief Justice Robert McMillan, taking the jury’s strong recommendation for mercy on the grounds of extreme provocation, sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment, with hard labour.
Leong served twenty months in Fremantle Prison and was released on 10 March 1927. He was immediately taken into custody awaiting deportation under Section 8 of the Immigration Act, providing ‘that any person, not being a British subject, or a naturalised British subject, who has been convicted of a crime of violence, is liable to deportation upon his release from prison.’
Leong Yen was deported back to China on the steamer City of Palermo on 30 March 1927.