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.
[Someone by the name of Baron Suzuki Kantaro was Grand Chamberlain from 1929 to 1936. Baron Suzuki went on to become President of the Privy Council of Japan on 10 August 1944 and then Prime Minister on 7 April 1945. Was this Suzuki’s uncle?]
Suzuki apparently died on board the ship Awa Maru, when it was sunk by an American submarine the USS Queenfish on 1 April 1945, killing all but one of the 2,004 people on board. The ship was sailing back to Japan with important officials, skilled technicians and others from Southeast Asia, as well as badly needed materials such as rubber and tin, to prepare for the defence of Japan. But despite displaying illuminated white crosses marking it as a ‘hospital ship’, the vessel was sunk by four torpedoes from the USS Queenfish.
[The Awa Maru had earlier been given safe passage to bring in relief supplies for Allied prisoners of war in Southeast Asia, but it also brought along some gold bullion to repay Japan’s ally Thailand for supplies.]
On 14 August 1945, the day of Japan’s surrender, its Foreign Minister Togo demanded $52.2m in compensation for the sinking of the Awa Maru, including $45m for the loss of 2,003 lives. The claims were later waived in a 1949 agreement in exchange for US post-war aid to Japan.
Have you heard of Suzuki, the executioner? If you have, share with us what you know.