Old Penang: Suzuki, the ‘hippy’ executioner (Updated)

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Was the chief of the Japanese police garrison in Butterworth, Suzuki, the “hippy” executioner, ever based at the occupied British garrison in Batu Maung, now the site of the Penang War Museum?

Not likely, according to a 50-minute National Geographic documentary “Malaysia: Haunted Museum” on Suzuki and the executions in Penang in its “I Wouldn’t Go In There” series. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the knowledgeable researchers for the programme, Andrew Hwang, when he came up to Penang a few months ago. I put the producers in touch with one of the witnesses mentioned in my earlier blog post, Robert David, who witnessed an execution by Suzuki in Butterworth.

According to the Astro website:

Description: A tour guide at a World War II museum on the island of Penang, Malaysia claims to have seen the legendary ghost of a Japanese Colonel named Suzuki who was alleged to have drunk the blood of his victims with whiskey. Blogger and Urban Explorer Robert Joe (R.J.) pursues the truth behind the ghastly claim. Was there such a colonel at the museum when it was a fort during the Second World War? And if so, did he actually commit such atrocious acts of violence? As RJ pursues the truth about Suzuki, his investigation leads him into a shocking world of massacres and mass burials.

My original post (11 November 2012):

During the Japanese Occupation of Penang, the mere mention of one name was enough to strike fear among the local populace.

Most people are familiar with the terror unleashed especially during the early phase of the Japanese Occupation, but few may have heard of the much-feared chief police officer of Butterworth, Tadashi Suzuki. Of average height, handsome even, he had unusually long hair, reaching his shoulders.

“He was the first real hippy I’d seen,” says an eye-witness, still alive and in his late 80s now. Except that this was no peace-loving flower-power dude. Far from it.

The eye-witness, a teacher in his late teens back then, recalls being stopped one morning while cycling in town and herded towards an open space opposite the present-day Telekom building along Jalan Bagan Luar (see slideshow above). Others had wisely fled the scene. There a small crowd of about a dozen reluctant onlookers had gathered, a short distance away from the gruesome scene that was about to unfold.

Before them, a 17- or 18-year-old youth lay awaiting a public execution. He had been held in a cell at the police garrison in Butterworth. The youth was on the ground crouched, his head in the direction of a pit in the earth, presumably freshly dug by the hapless victim himself.

Suzuki stretched out his hand, raised his sword down and in a flash beheaded the youth. The head fell to the ground with a soft thud, the decapacitated body slumped.

The small crowd gasped with shock and horror. They had never seen anything like it.

The decapacitated body was dumped into the pit. To this day, the plot of land in front of the Sin Chew Bee hailam restaurant lies vacant – despite plans in recent years for a hotel to be built on the site. It is as if a curse has struck the site.

The severed head was carried solemnly by a Punjabi officer from the police garrison and paraded along Jalan Bagan Luar Road. Another witness, a teenaged girl living along the road, recalls being filled with terror and hiding in her home along that road. At the intersection in Bagan, the severed head was mounted on a four-feet-high stool with a circular hole in the seat so that the neck could be inserted in and the head propped up on the seat for all to see.

This execution was carried out some time in the middle of the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945).

During the Occupation, beheadings were also carried out in the open space near the present ferry terminal, between the site of the old Barkath Store and the present Butterworth Convent Secondary School, where the clock tower later stood (now no longer there). One schoolboy, now in his 80s, was passing by as Suzuki was about to execute a middle-aged Chinese man at this site. “We were terrified,” he recalls. “The name Suzuki was enough to create much fear among the local people back then.”

He remembers seeing a couple of severed heads, almost blackened, placed on the pontoon bridge (now no longer there) in present day Mak Mandin/Permatang Pauh. Another execution site was on the Prai side of the Prai River, near the chain ferry that used to cross the river (now replaced by a bridge) to Chain Ferry Road leading to Butterworth town.

On the island, public executions were carried out at the site of the police headquarters along Penang Road. One local in Penang witnessed 12 heads on spikes at Magazine Road. An historian told me that the Recsam site in Gelugor was another execution site. An officer named Suzuki is also mentioned in the Penang War Museum as an executioner at the fort of the occupied British garrison located on the hillock in Batu Maung, though he may not have been based there.

In the book, The Sara Story, the then editor of the now defunct Straits Echo, Manicasothy Saravanamuttu, noted that Suzuki was known in Tamil circles as Thalaivetty (literally, head-cutter). He had a Ceylonese Muslim interpreter by the name of Mohd Raphay, whose father was a jeweller in Kobe, Japan before the war.

Raphay told Sara that Suzuki believed that anyone who was beheaded by him would go straight to heaven as the sword he had was supposedly given to him by the then Japanese Emperor.

Sara described Suzuki, who was known as a terror in Penang, as having shoulder-length hair and a bristling moustache. In one anecdote, he wrote about how Suzuki, when he became the Penang Fire Brigade chief, forced a municipal engineer to eat cement dust for failing to carry out his work satisfactorily.

In another tale, he recounted how Suzuki chased the Japanese state secretary round and round a table with a drawn sword during a New Year celebration. Presumably, some of the guests may have had too much to drink. Suzuki was believed to have enjoyed some immunity for his actions as his uncle, Count Suzuki, was the Grand Chamberlain of the imperial household in Tokyo, wrote Sara.

Suzuki died on board the ship Awa Maru, which was sailing back to Japan in early 1945 with top officers to prepare for the defence of Japan, when it was sunk by an American submarine.

Local historian Andrew Hwang fills in more details:

Tadashi Suzuki was killed en route back to Japan on 1 April 1945 travelling on the HS Awa Maru, a hospital ship, which was deliberately torpedoed by the USS Sword Fish, an American submarine, even though the commander of the submarine knew it was a hospital ship.

Have you heard of Suzuki, the executioner? If you have, share with us what you know.

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61 Comments on "Old Penang: Suzuki, the ‘hippy’ executioner (Updated)"

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OWC
OWC

Without the resistance from the communists, the Japs would have killed more innocent people in Malaya. This is the historical fact that is ignored by our history book.

Boon Leng
Boon Leng

Anil,

I remember a classmate named Foo Chin Chye, who said his grandfather was beheaded by the Japanese. We were students at Assumption School

Jong
Jong

Anil, if you want to ‘meet’ Suzuki, find a way to get into Hong Leong Bank on Light Street(facing the esplanade), and stay there for a night. Get an interview even video and share with us!

Apparently, Suzuki(yeah long-haired, short guy) would always there late into the night/early mornings – frequently appears inside the building marching his Japanese soldiers and they’d go around doing their business without a care, to horrors of security guards who ultimately
get used to it since ‘they’ meant no harm. LOL!!

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang

Jong, I would like to contact and meet you when I am next in Penang. The description you gave of the alleged apparitions are interesting but I can only verify how accurate they are after speaking with the actual eye-witnesses (the security guards). Please get my mobile number or email address from Anil and contact me. Thank you.

tunglang
Anil, you spoke of serene & mystical Bujang museum. When you explore places in the rainforest, you are bound to experience similar sensations, some of which can be found in our Botanic Gardens. Try walking past the PBA reservoir & enter the shady forest road or tip toe in to the water lily ponds, alone. The same with the Ghost Hill before it was turned into a fanciful thematic park hantu cum war museum of urbanised culture of Batu Maung. While surveying that area in 1987 & its underground tunnels with friends, one could not help but sense a different… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
The Bujang Valley Archaelogical Museum is situated in Merbok, not far from Sungai Petani, Kedah. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits at the museum. I would also recommend V. Nadarajan’s very readable and well illustrated 2011 book – “Bujang Valley: The Wonder that was Ancient Kedah.” There are a total of 87 Hindu and Buddhist sites excavated and recorded. 10 candis have been found and some of them have been transferred, brick by brick, and reconstructed at the Bujang Valley Museum. The Kota Gelanggi site is out of bounds to visitors, as declared by our (Federal) Department of Museums and… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang

Anil, I try to visit the Penang State Museum whenever I can. It has probably the cheapest entry charge in Malaysia! Our Penang State Museum is one of the better museums in this country and has an excellent and varied collection of great historical value. We also have an excellent state art gallery now situated in Dewan Sri Pinang. Few Penangites visit it but I would strongly recommend it. … As for the rock with the Sanskrit inscription on it, I have shared with you privately how the locals feel about it!

Jong
Jong
Oh yes Anil, the Bujang Valley is another pitiful ‘state of art’! What a treasures yet neglected. Evidence of early Hindu and Buddhist civilization – statues, artifacts, apparently I was told were not on public display, all carted away so where are they, where have they all ended up? See how they handle history the way they deem fit! There was an ancient Hindu shrine smacked in Bujang Valley, wonder what had been done to it, anyone? I have been told same (could be) happening to Gelanggi site in Johor. I am sure there may be Hindu Sanskrit evidences too,… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
Jong, 1. I work closely with foreign history documentary makers. Giving factual historical talks is something I am interested in but there are few decent organisers and most of them have their own agenda which I usually disagree with. In other words, they want me to speak about THEIR VERSION of history. If I were to say things to the contrary and even produce documentary evidence to prove it, they still would not accept it as I have challenged their dearly held beliefs, and they are prepared to vilify me on the Internet as has happened before. Nowadays I work… Read more »
Jong
Jong
Re owner of the building the late Mr Foo Tye Sin, thanks – that was informative indeed, Andrew, appreciate that. Now I know! Hey Andrew, I strong feel you have much to contribute and should document whatever knowledge first hand or otherwise that you have. One good way is to get together a group of young people with keen knowledge in history with organised talk and trips to keep history “alive” and the best way is to engage with school seniors/college kids to uncover accurately the many hidden truths. It’s said memories stays – money can’t buy and time can’t… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang

Jong, the Foo Tye Sin Mansion was believed to have been taken over by the Imperial Japanese Navy. It is definite that none of the Suzukis had anything to do with the building.

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang

Jong, the building was originally the Foo Tye Sin mansion (Tye Sin Street named after the original owner), and after Citibank, it housed MUI Bank and later Hong Leong Bank after it took over the MUI Bank licence. I remember this clearly as 21 years ago I walked into this MUI Bank branch to negotiate a $21 million bridging loan for my company. This building was notable for its unusual look-out tower at the back.

Jong
Jong

Andrew, Sorry I have to disappoint you. It has been such a long time ago, impossible to get hold of the security guards who worked there. They may have left the employment, moved off elsewhere or even retired and there’s no way to contact them.

The ‘alleged apparitions’ I gave was exactly what I had been told but I had never experienced any direct contact with those ‘beings’ nor had they ever appeared before me; perhaps they were more afraid of me than me of them! Hahaha!!

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
Tadashi Suzuki was a police officer and commanded Malayan policemen, mostly Malays and Indians. He was not known to command Japanese troops. It is unlikely that it is his ghost as he had no previous association with the mansion which is now Hong Leong Bank. Nevertheless, I would like to meet you, Jong, via Anil, and also interview the guards, if possible. I have a good description of how Tadashi Suzuki looked like which was deliberately left out in the documentary so that we can easily differentiate between true or false sightings of Tadashi Suzuki. Having worked with Robert Joe… Read more »
Jong
Jong
Thank You Andrew for the three youtube.com documentary, you are of tremendous help. Yes, I just managed to view them! I may agree with you that the ghost could have been any Japanese commander died whilst on duty on Penang island. It’s no secret the Hong Leong Bank mansion on Light Street has very strong energy. This building was previously occupied by American First National City Bank. It has been such a long time now and impossible to get in touch with those guards working for the bank. I suspect the building was used as a Japanese Administration HQ and… Read more »
Glugorian
Glugorian

I did hear about this Suzuki from my dad who leave and stay near the penang road police HQ. He often drive around in a open top jeep with a long hair and carry his sword. That guy was bomb somewhere around Bukit Dumbar road toward Recsam by the allied plane when he was heading to Batu Maung. I did hear from the old timer of Recsam who saw skull been dug out during it construction in the early 70’s and about the haunted place behind it. The jalan tunku kudin old palace.

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang

Glugorian,you were describing Udini House on Jalan Tengku Kudin. It was the former Imperial Japanese Navy HQ. The RECSAM mass grave location is not far away on Coombe Hill, now the exact location is lost as the hill has been extensively redeveloped, first for the Malayan Teachers Training College and later, for RECSAM.

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
Tadashi Suzuki was killed en route back to Japan on 1 April 1945 travelling on the H.S. Awa Maru, a hospital ship, which was deliberately torpedoed by the USS Sword Fish, an American submarine, even though the commander of the submarine knew it was a hospital ship. The Suzuki living near the Penang Road police HQ was a different one. He was the chief of the Japanese Special Branch and he was quiet, short, very conventional and sported a crew cut. The Malayan policemen who served under him said he was often mistaken for Tadashi Suzuki who resided in Butterworth… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
Further clarification, the Japanese Chief of the Penang Special Branch was Captain Eikichi Suzuki, not Captain Tadashi Suzuki who was the CPO of Butterworth. Eikichi Suzuki’s office was in the Police HQ on Penang Road and his official residence was on Burmah Road – the house is still standing. The flamboyant Tadashi Suzuki did not drive a Jeep as it was not available in Penang until after the Japanese Surrender in August 1945. The car he drove is suspected to be an open top Bentley “liberated” from some rich British individual or a Chinese towkay. The shoulder-length long hair he… Read more »
tunglang
The War Museum was a place of mass execution during WW2 as told to me by an elderly resident staying at the foot of the hill near the main road when I, with a group of friends went there one Saturday morning. He, as an eye witness told me he saw many dead beheaded & bloated bodies, left rotting all over the hill jungle. Because of the sheer number, they were left there to be dragged away by hungry monitor lizards, some as large as a crocodile. He firmly advised us young ignorant men & ladies not to come here… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
I visited the South Channel Gun Emplacement (which is its actual name) in 1980 with a JKR team, long before it was leased out and turned into a paintball centre -cum-“war museum”. We interviewed the local residents and there were no stories of massacres. In fact, the gun emplacement was abandoned and blown up by the British even before the Japanese arrived in Penang. The Japanese never used it as it was ruined and did not fit into their strategy of using a swiftly deploying naval and air defence force. Static defences were useless in WW2. The site was also… Read more »
Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
Thanks for the additional info, tunglang. I was surprised that the War Museum operator, Johari, described the hill as Bukit Hantu during filming. It was known pre-war as Punjab Hill and when he first opened his museum, he told me personally that the hill was called Punjab Hill, but he seems to be singing a different tune now. The Ah Pek you mentioned must have been between 10 and 18 years old during the war years. You said the Japs were looking for communists, so this must have been after the Sook Ching period. More likely after the Double Tenth… Read more »
tunglang

I was there (Ghost Hill) in 1987 with my friends. The Ah Pek (in his late 50s) who related the horror stories lived where the present War Museum main road entrance is.
Even my godfather’s Hakka homestead in the Balik Pulau-Relau Hills deep in the forest was visited by Japanese soldiers looking for suspected Communists. His only hunting rifle was confiscated by them. These Japs were not urban-saki drinking lovers fearing the jungle fringes. They were like hunting dogs helped by local spies. Give them a bicycle & they would reach you in Tiger Hill.

Frankie
Frankie

I have a confession to make. Exact a sort of revenge on behalf of my fallen fellow Chinese. Took a Japanese lady for a holiday, had a great time, then stop taking her calls when she came back again. That was 25 years ago.

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang

Anil, the story of Tadashi Suzuki is featured in the National Geographic Channel documentary “I Wouldn’t Go In There: Malaysia: Haunted Museum”. Next showing on Monday, 7 October 2013. Please check their website for the actual times.

Andrew Hwang
Andrew Hwang
John, my friend is writing the definitive book on the Alexandra Hospital Massacre. His father was a Volunteer and a survivor of the massacre and kept a diary on what happened. What has been widely reported and repeated ad nauseum is only part of the truth and may even have been censored to put more blame on the Japanese after the war. There exists hitherto little publicised evidence that Indian troops used the hospital as a strongpoint and a firefight took place in the hospital wards, which cancelled the hospital’s non-belligerent status. Some of the massacre accounts were actually inaccurate… Read more »
John Hembry
John Hembry

Has any Jap ever heard about the Alexander Hospital massacre? What was that? The Jap soldiers went into the Singapore hospital & bayoneted all the patients & nurses & surgeons who were actually operating. A civilised nation? You must be joking! …
John Hembry.

Ric Francis
Ric Francis

I have an Australian Milatry book called Malaya on WW2 milatry history includes Japam occupation
Ric Francis

wira
wira

Anil. Can you please refrain from multiple tweets on the same topic? It looks as though you are spamming your followers. Thank you.

thor
thor

A hippy who beheads? That has to be one of the most absurd things I have ever heard. After decapitation, what? The peace sign? Weed? Make love not war? The guy was an out-of-control brute, was all.

Bill Chua
Bill Chua
What happened during Second World War should not have happened. Only when the world allow Mad rulers & tyrant like Hitler and the mad Japanese Emperor and his PM Tojo to exist (he was beheaded by Gen MacArthur for war crime after the war), the whole world suffers. 50,000 male Chinese in Spore were slaughtered by machine gun in 1942 & 50 Million Chinese died from 1903 to 1945 at the hand of the Japanese army. Now are we not glad that modern China could wipe off Japan off the Planet if Japan Inc try anything funny these days? Japanese… Read more »
Lesley Lee

We’ve just come back from Nanjing. I would like to go again to explore on my own as it was too short to really see much of what remains after the atrocities there. We did meet a professor from the university though and he still harbours a great hatred towards the Japanese. Even though I don’t understand Mandarin, I could feel the anger and emotion in his words which were confirmed by my companions. There are very few Nanjing-ers left, most of the residents are from outside, but the spirit of the survivors and their descendants is still strong.

semuanya OK kot
semuanya OK kot

It is worse than that. Today, there are still people in China in their 80s who have limbs rotting slowly due to biological warfare conducted by Japan. I would not have believed it if not for a Nat Geo documentary. It is not a piority issue for the government to take up.

Guess who grabbed the bio warfare centre (in Manchuria), documents, materials and experts?

semuanya OK kot
semuanya OK kot
Rather than “removed from textboks”, they never added the facts to them. Today, they still adamantly claim an island they conquered around 19th. century from China (This is not excusing the wild territirial claims made by China) and hail their wartime leaders as demi-gods. They have a similar claim on Russia. Unlike Germany in the 1930s which was being squezed by capitalist bloodsuckers, they did not have a starving population, yet decided that other Asians were sub-human. The truth of the mass hysteria that swept the entire West (white superiority, not just in Germany) and Japan has not been written,… Read more »
Frankie
Frankie

What the Japs did was inhumane and should never be forgiven. It’s easy to say to forgive and move on but if anyone working for a Japanese boss will know …

Once you beheads another human, all bets are off.

tunglang

The same goes for the Thais.
They allowed the cycling Japs a direct passage to Malaya in exchange for ‘peace & no-attack by the Japs’.
So they saved their own skins from the cruel Japanese soldiers.
Now they are paying the Karma of natural disasters & insurgencies & terror in South Thailand.
Never forget the ‘Kay Bo’ Thais.

moot
moot
And describe one with long hair as “hippies”, just make me ROFL. The whole stories reveal some matters of cultural ignorance. Japan cultural never relate “heaven” with beheading practice. Even “Seppuku” merely absurd display of “courage” than religious. Few people really learn that, Japan invasion army march its troops with little to NO SUPPLIES CHAINS. Even so call bicycle troops does not have more than 2 days of food supplies. That’s why pillaging happens on the way. It expose the ignorant and coward of colonial government and seeding the independent movement. Anyone read the compiled history document will learn that… Read more »
tunglang
There is a popular podcast (http://penanghokkien.com/) which in one of its Ghost topics mentioned about Chung Ling High School as a place of Japanese terror during WW2. One guest talked about seeing a Japanese executioner in the process of beheading several Chinese with spilled blood flowing all over the toilet wall (the old toilet near the canteen) like a pig abattoir in the dead of night. Was it Suzuki? Behind the school near the scout camp & Sixth Former building is another ‘hot spot’ of paranormal activities b’cos the back river with lots of bamboo trees was where headless bodies… Read more »
Lesley Lee

A very interesting account. While I don’t have personal memories, we honeymooned in Penang during the early 1970s and my husband’s grandpa came every morning to take us for breakfast. As we were staying along Penang Road, we would have to walk past the police station and he would recount the various things he had seen there, including the heads on stakes on a number of occasions. Until today, every time I visit Penang and go past the police station the images he drew so graphically come back to me.

Boo Soon Yew
Boo Soon Yew

TRULY a brief History Lesson of “Experiences from the Japanese Occupation”

SADLY.. ask 70% of Malaysian F4 students (who are supposed to have learnt Sejarah Dunia by end Oct) will only think that Suzuki is a name of bike.. or perhaps name of a football player like Honda..

wpDiscuz