As more information emerges about the slain model/influencer, a web of intrigue is beginning to be apparent. Who was the mysterious, couture-wearing woman, really?
Abby Choi, wearing Georges Hobeika, for a L’Officiel shoot. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
With police investigating and Netizens digging deep concurrently, a rather different picture of the murdered and mutilated model has surfaced. Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), whose violent death more than three weeks ago aroused the curiosity of the international fashion set, now appears to be a character shrouded in mystery and as layered as the tulle dresses she favoured. There are suggestions that she was somehow connected to the Hong Kong world of organised crime, in particular, money laundering, although how so, it is not immediately clear. This does not, however, say that her brutal and gruesome death is justifiable. But observers of this slaying are beginning to wonder who, in fact, is the real Abby Choi. Even the Hong Kong press are not able—or willing—to clearly delineate this “socialite” with considerable social media presence. It is the same with the people who allegedly know her. The very few who spoke gave conflicting accounts of her back story. More of those following the developments are, therefore, conceding that this case is increasingly “扑朔迷离 (pushuo mili)”, impossible to unravel.
Abby Choi was depicted as a social fixture, but that did not point to an actual job. When her murder was reported, she was mostly referred to as a celebrity. In mainland Chinese media, she is called a mingyuan (名媛) or a young lady of note, even the Chinese version of the debutante. As self-proclaimed to Vogue China last November, she’s a “高级定制收藏家” or collector of haute couture, although on her Instagram page, she did not don that many. The prevalent argument is that a mingyuan, especially one who buys high fashion, usually comes from an extremely wealthy family of stellar reputation. Not much is known about the Chois. Or, if they are indeed immensely rich. The central character in that family so far has been the matriarch Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), also known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister in the mainland, where she reportedly spends part of her time, minding an unknown money-making business. Following the murder, she has spoken about her daughter, but little is revealed. Recently, another character related to that family has emerged. According to what has been circulating online, there was another person at the site where Ms Choi was dismembered: A masked man, whose identity is not confirmed; a lookout at the crime scene. It has been speculated that the person could be Ms Choi’s hitherto unseen brother, even step-brother. If that is true, there is more than meets the eye to this murder mystery. Strangely, the Hong Kong press has been rather silent this past week in their follow-up to the sensational homicide.
From left, Abby Choi, her mother Zhang Yanhua, and two step-sisters. Photo: Weibo
Abby Choi, as it’s currently known, was born in 1994, the child of Zhang Yanhua and another unidentified man from a previous marriage. A Hong Kong Netizen with the handle Poey Cheung shared online that Ms Choi was originally surnamed Wan (云 or Yun in Mandarin). No information is available about her father. Ms Zhang divorced her husband (some reports say because he gambles too much) and later re-married, in Hong Kong, to a local with the family name Choi. With this man, she gave birth to two daughters (and possibly a son?). Ms Cheung also shared that the murdered influencer grew up and lived with her grandparents in To Kwa Wan (土瓜湾), a neighbourhood on the eastern shore of the Kowloon Peninsula, not far from the old Kai Tak Airport. It is not an exceptional area, unlike, say, the swanky Kadoori Hill, where Ms Choi bought an apartment for her ex-husband and his family to live in. Ms Zhang has stated that her “precious daughter” went to an unnamed “international school”. But, according to Ms Cheung, Ms Choi attended the aided, co-ed Oblate Primarily School in To Kwa Wan. A Catholic institution founded in 1975, the school’s medium of instruction was Chinese. She later went to the private 60-year-old Kowloon Tong Secondary School, where teachers used Chinese in classes, too. It is not known if Ms Choi completed her secondary education or furthered her studies. Or, if early marriage, in fact, impeded her academic pursuits.
Initial reports claimed that Abby Choi met her first husband in the same secondary school. Her mother announced that her “daughter and son-in-law were [same-school] childhood sweethearts.” Poey Cheung said that the lovers were acquainted while both were schooling, but not in the same institution. Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智) apparently attended Chan Shu Kui Memorial School. Formerly known by other names until 1974, the 50-year-old CSKMS was situated in Kowloon Tong before they moved to their present location in Sham Shui Po. As Ms Cheung described it, Kowloon Tong Secondary School, Abby Choi’s alma mater, was just opposite CSKMS, divided by a Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) track. Beneath this track, was a pedestrian underpass known among the students who used it as “桃花隧道 (taohua suidao)” or lovers’ tunnel. Those aware of this conduit knew that both schools were separated by a distance of a “two-minute walk”. Ms Choi reportedly knew her future first husband when she was 15. It is possible then that both met and fell in love here, beneath the passing of a KCR train. Yet, it is also said that both schools were not in such close proximity. How their romance blossomed to the point that it could lead to teenaged marriage is thus not clear, yet.
Although surrounded by books at a Chanel event last February, Abby Choi was not known to be academically inclined. It is not known if she completed her secondary education. Photo: Abby Choi/Facebook
It was also shared online by self-proclaimed former schoolmates that although Ms Choi was said to be “善良 (shanliang)” or kindhearted, as well as sweet and demure (as proclaimed online by those who had been in her recent clique), she was purportedly not nearly the good girl that she had projected herself to be, at least as seen on social media. The revealer claimed that Ms Choi was prone to “搬弄是非(bannong shifei)” or tell tales, sew discord, even creating mischief. She reportedly got herself into fights with schoolmates, too. With misdemeanors piled up, she eventually had to pulled out of school and register in another, which has not been identified. It was in secondary school that Ms Choi took her step-father’s surname. Concurrently, she began to morph into a wealthy daughter, and was sent to and picked up from school in a chauffeur-driver car. Her step-father initially opened a restaurant called Ying Heung Fan Dim (盈香饭店) in To Kwa Wan, but after undisclosed business dealings in China (reportedly in Hainan), became extremely wealthy. Despite rewarding her with material edge, Ms Choi’s parents apparently paid scant attention to her schooling. Even more inexplicable was how unaffected they were when Ms Choi announced that she wanted to marry Alex Kwong when both were merely 18 years of age.
The Chinese have a common saying: 门当户对 (mendang hudui) or a fitting marital match when both families are of similar social status. Popular understanding in Hong Kong suggests that the aided Kowloon Tong Secondary School that Abby Choi went to was, at that time, a better institution than Chan Shu Kui Memorial School that Alex Kwong attended. Additionally, the Kwongs, in comparison, were not even considered borderline affluent. Patriarch Kwong Kau (邝球) was a disgraced former policeman (an accusation of rape when he was with the force was never resolved). His elder son, Alex Kwong, was not known to be academically successful or gainfully employed (the other son, Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰), later served as Ms Choi’s personal driver and, puzzlingly, event companion). Although the Choi family was not in the league of Hong Kong’s 名门望族 (mingmen wangzu) or prestigious families, they were, at least on the surface, economically better off than the Kwongs. Yet the coming together of two disparate families by marriage took place (exactly when is unknown although 2012 is thought to be the year). The unanswered question on so many lips: Why would any parent (the mother Zhang Yanhua, in particular) agree to a teenaged daughter marrying another teen who had no certain future? And not discouraging them from having children so soon after?
Screen shot of Abby Choi with her second husband Chris Tam in an undated video shared on Sina News
The adolescents’ marriage bore them two children, but the union did not last. The divorce came, as did the wedding, at an undisclosed date, but online speculation placed it at around 2015. If that is correct, Ms Choi remarried rather quickly—only a year later. The groom is a man thought to be of considerable wealth—the son of Tam Chuk-kwan (谭泽均), co-founder of the chain eatery TamJai Yunnan Mixian (rice noodles). Tam junior is known only as Chris Tam. He is not addressed by his Chinese name, even in the Chinese media. According to current knowledge and chatter, Chris Tam was acquainted with Abby Choi during their school days, just as Mr Kwong. Ms Zhang claimed, in fact, that they knew each other when her daughter was ten. When they tied the knot, it was reported that both went through traditional Chinese nuptial rites that included betrothal gifts of immense gold jewellery (one photo showed boxes of chunky gold bangles, another of her wearing them as a necklace). Their wedding dinner was a lavish affair, held in what looked like a luxury hotel ballroom. The event was hosted by renowned TVB variety show host 林盛斌 (Lin Shengbin), popularly known as Bob, who reportedly earns a six-figure sum (HKD) for each appearance, including weddings.
A video of the nuptials, inexplicably shot in a studio in the Philippines, emerged (after the murder, the company removed it from their social media account, but not before it was downloaded by Netizens and shared online). In the video, Chris Tam claimed that he met Ms Choi on some street, where his future wife was with a friend. This contradicted Ms Zhang’s version of the matter. Even more peculiar, the marriage was never registered. There was no certificate to prove that they officially tied the knot, just that shot-in-the-Philipines video and testimonies of whoever attended the ceremony that was reportedly witnessed by“nearly 100 tables” of guests. Was this a more modern arrangement that was a tad better than straight-to-cohabitation? As with her first husband, Ms Choi had two children with her second, and, again this time, a boy and a girl. By most accounts, life with her new man was at least good, if not blissful. Ms Choi had expressed on IG more than once her gratefulness towards an unnamed fellow, presumed to be Chris Tam. In one photo shared online, he was seen with her in Paris last January during Couture Week. A month later, back in Hong Kong, the Tam family reported to the police that Abby Choi was missing.
Screen shot of Abby Choi’s betrothal gifts from the Tam family, shared on Sina News
As the weeks passed, a more vivid picture of Chris Tam emerged. He seems like an extremely understanding—some say outstanding—spouse; he’s on more than friendly terms with Ms Choi’s ex-husband, welcomed the two kids from his wife’s previous marriage to play with his own two, had no objections to the hiring of Ms Choi’s former brother-in-law Anthony Kwong as her personal driver and chaperone to fashion events, and has been extremely/unusually chummy with his mother-in-law, wujie Zhang Yanhua, arousing the curiosity as to what was the true nature of their relationship. Additionally, Chris Tam’s parents and the Kwongs are reported to enjoy mutually amicable rapport. Even Ms Zhang was full of praise of how the two families had been affectionate towards her daughter. At the same time, it isn’t clear why a man known as the 太子爷 (taiziye) or crown prince of his family’s relatively large business would take as a first wife a woman from not a particularly distinguished family and who was a divorcée, with two children in tow. Despite the all-over love fest, dispute and displeasure later surfaced. After the Kwongs were arrested, a family member supposedly contacted the Tams and asked, “你为什么报警不提前告诉我 (why did you not inform me in advance before contacting the police?)”. Kwong Kau, too, allegedly said to Chris Tam before the murder, “如果谭家食言，下场就是一起死 (if the Tam family will not keep to their word, the consequence is death to us all)”.
In several close looks at Ms Choi’s social media pages to better learn about her fashionable past with French luxury houses, what stood out was not the lack of influencer-worthy clothes, but posts of a more personal nature (other than shots of birthday celebrations). There is, for example, not a single photo on Instagram (her username was, as recorded, changed twice) that shows Ms Choi with either of her husbands. Stranger still are nil images of her when she was pregnant, pre-natal or post-natal, or with her children (even just one) as babies or toddlers. There are no photos of her with her immediate family. Or, in-laws, past or present, except—remarkably—those of her with her brother-in-law Anthony Kwong, who shared seven shots (excluding group pictures) on his IG page, with the somewhat careful hashtags, #family and #BroAndSisLove. She joined IG in 2012, which would be the year she married Alex Kwong, yet there are no photos of her wedding or even a bridal gown (perhaps the event was a very simple affair). Ditto her second wedding, which is curious for someone who was by 2017, after she married Chris Tam, lauded as a fashion star. What we did find was the Facebook page Abby and Paomes Charitable Org, which was supposed to be started by the murder victim and a mysterious friend, who goes by the handle 豹太 (baotai) or Madam Bao and had, in the early days of the investigation into the Abby Choi homicide, offered HK$1 million for information relating to the case. Her relationship with Madam Bao is unclear, unlike that with Aaron Kwok’s also-influencer wife Moka Fang (方媛), frequently described as a 闺蜜 (guimi) or bestie.
Abby Choi during a couture fitting at Dior. Screen shot: xxabbyc/Instagram
It is not clear when Ms Choi began enjoying fashion to the extent that she did. Most of her posts on IG (and repeated on Facebook, which she joined only in 2017) featured identifiable, ultra-feminine styles from the usual brands that influencers tend to be drawn to: Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Gucci, with extreme love for Chanel and, especially, Dior. Interestingly, her first show, according to her posts, was Dolce & Gabbana in February 2017, just two months after she married Alex Tam. It was during this time, according to media reports, that she really played the part of the rich fashionista. Was she, perhaps, finally able to be a wealthy daughter-in-law? She was active and traveled through the pandemic years. It is not certain when she became a couture customer. In the beginning, she appeared to be wearing RTW, but in February 2020, she was videotaped at a Dior couture fitting, in a grey-blue silk chiffon gown. It is not known how big a Dior customer she really was (of if that was the first and only couture purchase). A source at a luxury house confirmed that such information is never disclosed. It is not certain either if all those fashion week trips were out-of-pocket expenses or if she enjoyed a fully-paid invitation by the brands—they are known to request the presence of potential or existing couture customers, all on the house. According to a Forbes report in 2020, a Dior couture full-length dress would cost “US$100,000 upwards”. Perhaps, most baffling among the unknowns about Ms Choi was the source of her seemingly immense wealth.
The popular proposition now is that Ms Choi “是被包装出来的伪豪门女”; she was packaged as a rich and powerful woman. This usually indicates that such a person is groomed to be a diversion from a hidden malefaction. Ms Choi is reported to be 1.55m tall and weighed about 40 kg. She was not considered typical of the influencers—in size and stature—that dominate social media, such as “天王嫂 (tianwangsai)” or heavenly king’s wife Moka Fang or the eighth suspect in this case Irene Pun (潘巧贤, Pan Qiaoxian). Some who knew Ms Choi, former schoolmates among them, pointed out that she had had cosmetic enhancement at an unknown time, and before that, she looked “很一般 (henyiban)” or ordinary. Yet, she was able to work towards the status from which to launch herself in the world of not just fashion, but haute couture. Furthermore, Ms Choi had never held a job that could be considered regular employment (while financially supporting her former in-laws). Maintaining the high profile, she did required a team, which she had acknowledged to exist. These individuals, from hair and makeup to videography, were unlikely to have volunteered their services. The pursuit of influencing is a cost-intensive enterprise. How was she able to finance it all? How did a To Kwa Wan lass of indeterminate means propel herself without apparent connections to the hallowed grounds of the couture salons of Paris? Was there something illegal/illicit involved? Were there more than the rapacious Kwongs behind her brutal downfall and grisly end?
In Chanel, in 2021. Occasion and location unknown. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Interestingly, Vogue China had not put Ms Choi on their cover (nor Vogue Hong Kong) despite her ascent. In an IG post last November, Ms Choi shared that she had a “对话 (duihua)” or dialogue with the fashion bible. Vogue China revealed nothing much except how she appreciated couture. Last month, she did receive a magazine cover—for the digital edition of L’Officiel. Ms Choi shared it on IG, with the comment, “From Hong Kong to the cover of L’Officiel Monaco, my journey as a style icon continues.” Who calls herself a style icon? In the oddly banal editorial that accompanied the cover, the magazine described her as a ”fashion star” who “has taken the world by storm with her impeccable sense of style and her unbridled passion for fashion.” They marveled at her “keen eye for style and her ability to mix and match pieces in unexpected ways” although they showed not evidence of that. “I am a person who keeps absorbing inspiration and always tries new styles. Sometimes I also try to dress up more extravagant, by mixing and combining different looks,” she was quoted saying, and again that innate flair was not seen, even on her IG page. The question was, why L’Officiel Monaco? Who reads it? Why not L’Officiel China?
L’Officiel was first published in France in 1921. Now, it has more than two dozen international editions in the current line-up. Last year, the title was acquired by Hong Kong-based AMTD International, whose founder is Dr Calvin Choi Chi-kin (蔡志堅), dubbed by finews.asia as “Hong Kong’s Most Controversial Banker”. Dr Choi, with links to mainland Chinese banks, chairs AMTD Group whose AMTD Digital, according to Forbes, made a startling turn last August: “Less than a month after the 43-year-old listed his AMTD Digital on the New York Stock Exchange, his stake in the digital financial services firm has skyrocketed 14,000% for reasons his firm can’t explain.” That brief period made him “worth nearly US$37 billion, more than Li Ka-shing (李嘉诚).” Early this year, the “auditing pioneer” and whizz was banned by Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) “over conflicts of interest while he was a UBS banker in 2014 and 2015”, as finews.com informed. Dr Choi’s colourful history in auditing and banking is too long to be described here. While there is no immediately discernible link between the two unrelated Chois, it is interesting that the couture-loving influencer could somehow draw big names into her glittery orbit, whether directly or not. Was the L’Officiel cover of Ms Choi an independent editorial decision? And why did it happen only after AMTD International’s acquisition of the title?
Deeply curious journalists and individuals are playing online detectives and putting out different back stories and details to Ms Choy’s murder. Local names and those across the mainland—from Hong Kong’s “tianwangsao” to Macau’s jailed “Little Gambling King”—were dredged up to effect better brush strokes in creating the still incomplete picture. The speculations oftentimes point to something more nefarious than the familial dispute over a luxury apartment that was initially posited. Why would a whole family kill a girl whose first two kids are their children and grandchildren just over a flat? Was Ms Choi a victim from the start? The police have for weeks not shared with the public developments in their investigation. And things are increasingly not what them seem. A Chinese saying could be the best guide in following the truth behind the homicide of Abby Choi: “眼见不定为真，耳闻不定为是”. What the eyes see may not be real, what the ears hear may not be true.
This is a developing story. Updates will follow