The mystery of Shane Todd: Did US electronic engineer commit suicide – or was he murdered because he knew too many Chinese secrets?

Parents claim son had been unhappy at work and feared 'heavy hands coming after him'

A coroner’s inquiry that opened in Singapore on Monday may offer a final chance of resolving whether an American electronics engineer committed suicide – or was killed to stop him talking to the US authorities about his work at a Singapore institute on a sensitive research project involving a high-profile Chinese telecommunications firm.

The body of Shane Todd was found on 24 June 2012 by his girlfriend in his apartment in Singapore, hanging from a strap attached to a door. A police autopsy said his death was caused by asphyxiation, but his parents believe he was murdered. They said suicide notes purportedly left by their son were faked and the initial police account of the scene bore little relation to what they found when they arrived at the apartment 48 hours after his death.

Mr Todd, who was 31 when he died, had joined the Singapore government-backed Institute for Micro Electronics (IME) 18 months earlier and for the final year of his life worked on an IME project to develop an amplifying device, using gallium nitride (GaN), a heat-resistant material with the potential to make superconductors with many possible uses in the civilian and military fields. Mr Todd had been trained in the US on proprietary equipment that produces GaN but is restricted for export because of its potential military applications.

During an early stage, IME was talking about the project with the Chinese telecom company Huawei, which is deemed a security risk by the US, Australia and India. According to his parents and his girlfriend Shirley Sarmiento, a Filipino nurse working in Singapore, Mr Todd was showing increasing signs of stress and unhappiness with his job as the project progressed.

Testifying on Monday as the first of at least 36 witnesses, Ms Sarmiento told the court that Mr Todd had frequently told her how he felt uncomfortable at IME and complained about the “dishonest environment” in his workplace. He had also mentioned how he feared “heavy hands coming after him”, she said.

Mr Todd had a history of depression dating back to his days as a college student, but in letters to his parents he had emphasised that his problem in Singapore was not depression but work-related anxiety. In particular, his parents, Rick and Mary Todd, told the Financial Times earlier this year that their son suspected he might be involved in a project that might be illegal, or something that in could compromise US national security. For this reason, they believe, he may have been murdered.

There are other apparent inconsistencies, apart from suicide notes that do not appear to be in Mr Todd’s handwriting. One of them apologised for being a burden on the family – but his mother pointed out he had never been a burden, but rather had excelled at everything he did.

According to the parents, the original police report described an elaborate mechanism for the hanging, including bolts drilled into the marble wall of the bathroom, that secured a pulley. But the Todds said they saw no trace of drilled holes when they arrived at the apartment from their home in Montana.

What they did discover, they told the FT, was an external hard drive. When they had it analysed by an IT expert in the US it was found to contain copies of their son’s computer files from IME, including a planned project apparently involving Huawei.

Friends have said that in the days before he died Mr Todd seemed in a much better mood, having secured a good job back in the US.

His parents said they found boxes of his effects and clothes laid out as if for packing, as well as the air ticket to the US on a table. The place, they said, “looked like a snapshot of a man in the middle of a move”.

The official version, however, is very different. The state counsel, Tai Wei Shyong, told the court police found no signs of foul play when they arrived on the scene and no evidence that anyone had tried to force their way into his apartment. In addition, Mr Tai said, Mr Todd’s computer showed he had visited several suicide-related websites in the days before he died and had made 19 searches about depression in the last two months of his life.

Meanwhile, IME and Huawei have minimised their collaboration on GaN research. K Shanmugam, Singapore’s Foreign Minister and law minister, has said Mr Todd was involved in “a small project” with Huawei that lasted nine months. IME and the Chinese company had also discussed a possible GaN project, he added, but could not agree terms. “Thus the project never materialised,” Mr Shanmugam said.

The inquest is expected to last a fortnight and some time after that a verdict will be handed down, which under Singapore law cannot be appealed. But the Todds have vowed to seek an investigation by the US Congress, no matter the outcome.

“We believe China and Singapore are illegally transferring technology,” Mary Todd said last week.

“If our son was murdered, the implications for Singapore and China are so extreme that they will go to any lengths to make it look like suicide.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary General Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album