Who was the slain, haute couture-wearing Hongkonger Abby Choi?
Abby Choi, wearing Elie Saab, in Paris early this month. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Warning: This post contains description that some readers may find disturbing
She is on the news in Hong Kong daily since last Wednesday when her dismembered body was found in Lung Mei Tsuen (龙尾村), Tai Po (大埔), in the New Territories (新界), north of the SAR. “Reality is more gruesome than fiction” was a repeated comment on Weibo when the news broke. Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), a model and an influencer who has been constantly referred to as a socialite, was found mutilated in a mysterious village flat. The grisly murder has been very much covered by the local media, including the discovering by police of cooked body parts, as well as a mincer and an electric saw at the crime scene. According to the South China Morning Post, “body parts were discovered in two soup pots police retrieved” and “two female legs were found in a fridge at the house” in a search that stretch to the Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Tseung Kwan O (将军澳), some 27 kilometres away from the Tai Po. In what has been described as 一家落网 (yijialuowang or one family netted), police have arrested four related individuals in connection with the case: first husband Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智), his elder brother, and their father for murder, as well as their mother for perverting the course of justice. In addition, a “lover” of the father was also arrested. Reportedly, Mr Kwong was apprehended by police while waiting for a speedboat to abscond to the mainland at Tung Chung Pier (东涌码头) on Lantai Island. He was found with cash of HK$500,00 (or about S$85,857) and luxury watches, including a Patek Philippe, all estimated to worth a total of HK$4 million (or about S$686,858).
The backstory to the murder that emerged is, given the consistent glamour that Abby Choi projected, inconsistent with a fashion personality who has been a couture week fixture. In Paris, just this past January, she was seen lavishly dressed at Dior and Chanel, two labels she seemingly adored, as well at the shows of Giambattista Valli, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, and the Greek designer Celia Kritharioti. She also attended the Dior and Chanel dinners after the respective presentations. At 28, she was considered one of the youngest customers of French high fashion. Ms Choi loved ultra-feminine styles, and her adoration of all those maisons was not surprising. She was also seen on the front row at the Louis Vuitton men’s presentation, shortly before the start of couture spring/summer 2023 season. And just last Wednesday, Ms Choi shared on Instagram an image of her on the (digital) cover of L’Officiel Monaco. The e-mag described her with considerable enthusiasm as “a fashion icon and media personality who has taken the world by storm with her impeccable sense of style and her unbridled passion for fashion” and “a true trendsetter, with fans from all over the world following her every move”. And on that same day, she was reported missing after she was not contactable the day before. Two days later, police made the gruesome, partly-cooked find.
In Chanel at the Grand Palais Éphémère for the Chanel couture spring 2023 show in January
The flat in a quaint, nondescript four-storey block, where the body parts were found, is believed to have been rented by Ms Choi’s former father-in-law Kwong Kau (邝球) just a few weeks ago. The latest reports state that Kwong Kau’s mistress, a mainlander who works as a masseuse in Sham Shui Po (深水埗), Kowloon (九龙) and is known only by her surname Ng (伍 or wu) to media and Yung Yung (容容) to her customers, was the person who facilitated the rental of the flat. Police believes she also harboured Alex Kwong in another flat in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀). The rented residence where the dismemberment was carried out sits in a beach-side village—half an hour drive’s from the city centre—that tourists do not generally associate with the gleaming metropolis: verdant surroundings of the New Territories and the Pat Sin Leng (八仙岭 or ridge of the Eight Immortals) mountain range for a backdrop. Those who choose to live here generally prefer to get away from the manic heart of the city or to adopt a seriously quiet life. The village, by many accounts, “look(s) like forever holiday”, and it is in this tranquility that a brutal crime could easily be carried out. Tai Po is, ironically, home to the world’s tallest bronze Goddess of Mercy, and just three kilometres to Lung Mei Tsuen is a river that leads to a plunge pool, known locally as 新娘潭 (xinniangtan) or the Bride’s Pool.
According to the HK news site Mingpao (明报), Ms Choi’s petit body was discovered by the police in parts, separately. Two stainless steel pots found in the unfurnished flat contained a skull in one and bits of ribs, hair, and “small amount of human tissue” amid green and red carrot chunks in the other, as well as soup dregs. According to one Reuters report published after the body parts were found, a refrigerator apparently was where her legs were stored. At the time of this post, Ms Choi’s body was not completely found. Her torso and her hands are reportedly still missing. The police have not explained why searches (two, apparently) were required in the Tseung Kwan O cemetery or if clues pointed them there. It was also revealed that a 6.5 cm by 5.5 cm hole was found on the skull, behind the deceased’s right ear. Followers of Ms Choi on social media cannot reconcile the description of the dismembered body with images of the fashionista/influencer frequently seen on social media or society pages of magazines. “Who hacks a beautiful woman like that?” Or any body? Were the slayers so consumed by rage in whatever Ms Choi did or said to want to murder and mutilate?
The Lung Mei Tsuen flat where the gruesome mutilation took place. Photo: EPA/Shutterstock
Hong Kong news reports posit that the murder was set in irreversible motion by squabbles between Ms Choi and her former in-laws that related to a luxury property in Kadoori Hill (加多利山), a historic-enclave-turned-residential-neighbourhood-of-the-wealthy, south of Kowloon Tong (九龙塘). The hill is named after the prosperous Mizrahi-Jewish Iraqi family that is widely linked to Hong Kong’s oldest hotel The Peninsula in Kowloon. Kadoori Hill scores favourably among the rich—Andy Lau (刘德华) is an esteemed resident—for the many good schools in the area (known as the “Prestigious School District), as well as grand mansions and swanky low-rise flats, earning the area the reputation of the “address of the elite”. It is reported that back in 2019, Ms Choi purchased the disputed Kadoori Hill flat for HK$72.8 million (about S$12.5 million). Full payment was completed three months later, purportedly leaving behind no mortgage records. Her former father-in-law was apparently the name in the sales contract, witnessed by lawyers. It is not certain if this was a gift to the old man, but the media speculated that Ms Choi was trying to save on stamp duty that amounted to HK$7 million (about S$1.2 million). Hong Kong real estate portals estimated that the unit could fetch HK$67 million at current prices.
Her long-time unemployed ex-husband and his family lived in the luxury flat located on up-hill Kadoori Avenue. Most accounts claimed that Ms Choi continued to support Mr Kwong and his family financially even when the marriage was over. Even her brother-in-law, Alex Kwong’s older sibling Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰) was employed as her personal driver. It is not known when she and the younger Kwong brother were divorced (common guesses place the year in either 2015 or 2016). She apparently met him in school when she was 15 and married him three years later, in 2012, and bore him two children. It is not known why she chose to wed at such a young age, if her parents agreed to it, or even if she was still in school at that time. Little is also known about her married life or why she chose someone “not her economic equal”, as Netizens had said. The Chinese edition of the BBC shared that Alex Kwong has a criminal record, having been charged in the past for seven counts of theft. China’s Sohu News (搜狐) claims it was fraud that involved deceiving four men into investing HK$5 million (about S$859,022) in a non-existent gold business. He disappeared after receiving the money. Financial crunch and trouble plagued the Kwong family. Both brothers were, at various times, hauled to court for credit card debts that included a purported HK$1.576 million (or about S$270,730) that Alex Kwong owed to American Express. Although their mother Jenny Li Ruixiang (李瑞香) was a retiree, she mysteriously filed for bankruptcy in 2016, presumably due to overwhelming debt. Despite this chronic familial financial debility, Abby Choi continued to support the Kwongs, who probably saw in her their chance to rewrite their fate.
In Dior couture with pal Moka Fang (right) at Ms Choi’s 27th birthday party last year. Photo: Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Sometime at the end of last year, Ms Choi made an unexpected decision: she wanted to sell the multi-million Kadoori Hill flat. Apparently her lawyers had told her that she could keep the proceeds of the sale if proof that she had paid for the unit could be produced. The possibility of the Kwongs no longer being able to use an “address of the elite” enraged the family. Ms Choi and her ex-husband reportedly were at loggerheads as a result. According to Hong Kong media, the elder Kwong, also known as 球哥 (kao gor in Cantonese), was infuriated too, and so incensed that one day he threatened his former daughter-in-law: “[如果] 你卖楼，不安置我哋，我会杀你 ([if] you sell the flat and do not find a replacement and settle us down, I will kill you)”. It was not expected that he would carry out his threat. Kwong Kau, who was a former police officer, but resigned after “being involved in a rape case” (he was allegedly the perpetrator, but was not known to have been prosecuted), was noted for his foul temper. Police believed that he plotted the murder based on his knowledge of criminal investigations in the Hong Kong police force, although he had left 18 years ago. The plan was to get Ms Choi to pick her daughter, born to her ex-husband, up from school, but that trip would be intercepted and she would end up in a seven-seater car in which she would be bludgeoned before arriving at the Lung Mei Village flat to be butchered. That part went according to plan. The Chinese have a perfect expression: 谋财害命. To plot and kill for the victim’s property/wealth.
Abby Choi was born in 1994 in Hong Kong to a family believed to be wealthy. The extent of their riches is not established, nor the source. Similarly, there is no mention in the media about her childhood, where she grew up, her teenage years, or her academic pursuits (no information about her school either). But it is said that her parents, business people with commercial interest in China, specifically Hainan Island (海南岛), brought up Ms Choi and two other sisters (both are younger, with the youngest only 17 this year) in a “富裕环境 (fuyuhuanjing) or well-to-do environment”. Her mother, Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister in the mainland, where she’s seemingly based, is from 文昌 (wenchang), a city in the northeast of Hainan Island that is famed for being the ancestral home of the Chinese political figures, the Soong sisters (宋氏三姐妹). Little is known about the mother of the deceased except that she maintains a Douyin (抖音) account and have been, according to mainland Netizens, ‘liking’ commentators’ consolatory messages. She has offered to take care of her grand children in the wake of her daughter’s death. Curiously, there has been no mention of Ms Choi’s father; his identity has not been disclosed.
With Pharrell Williams at a 2018 Chanel party in Hong Kong. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
In 2016, Abby Choi, reportedly worth HK$100 million (or about S$17.2 million), married her second husband Chris Tam (Chinese media, including those here, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, refer to him only as Chris), whose father 谭泽均 (Tan Zejun) is behind the popular TamJai Yunnan Mixian (谭仔米线) restaurant chain. Little is known of Mr Tam, but as the heir apparent of his father’s company (until it’s sold in 2017 to Japan’s largest operator of noodle shops Toridoll Holdings), is called “谭仔米线太子爷 (crown prince of TamJai Mixian)”. Although the couple’s nuptial celebration was described by local media as a lavish event, their marriage was, in fact, not registered. They are parents to two children, a boy and a girl. Friends consider Mr Tam a good husband, who is not concerned with his wife’s—in hindsight—complicated past, and loves the two kids born to her and Alex Kwong as if his own. As she found stability in wedded bliss, Ms Choi slowly began her social media career as a fashion influencer. For a social media star, however, she was relatively late in joining Instagram and Facebook. Her first IG post on 12 July 2012 was of a green, snake-skin Lady Dior bag, while on FB, it was even later—on 1 January 2017 of herself sunbathing; both posts had no comments. It is not known when she started attending the European fashion weeks, but an IG post in February 2016 showing her at the Dolce & Gabbana show in Milan, which could possibly be her first.
Her social media posts soon showed more expensive fashion (especially in tulle) and, unsurprisingly, celebrities (it isn’t clear if Ms Choi knew them before). In January 2018, there was the pose with Pharrell Williams, who, like Ms Choi, was admirer and guest at a Chanel show (presumably couture, given the date) and the expected after-party. Mr Williams, as well as Ms Choi, probably didn’t know then what laid ahead for the singer. Even Bryan Boy was quick to Tweet that she was “an acquaintance”. One name that was often mentioned this past week is Moka Fang (方媛), Aaron Kwok’s (郭富城) model/influencer wife of six years and mother of his two daughters. Ms Choi, who has been called “温柔 (wenrou)” or gentle by those who know her, has described Ms Fang and her as “情同姐妹 (qingtong jiemei or deeply close sisters)”. Both women do look rather alike, with their straight, long hair; bright almond-shaped eyes; delicate lips; and pointed chins. The two friends were known to attend fashion events in Hong Kong together although, interestingly, there are practically no photos of the duo in Ms Fang’s IG page. In a recent IG post of a black-and-white photo of a white rose, Ms Fang wrote in Chinese: “Feeling extremely sad. For now, still can’t accept this as fact. The sadness in my heart is unspeakable; there are only a thousand whys. The great sorrow still can’t be subdued.” Reality is more gruesome than fiction.