Dr. Shane Todd was an American engineer who died under disputed circumstances in Singapore in June 2012. Local authorities said Dr. Todd had committed suicide, though his family insists that he was murdered, possibly in connection with the work he had been doing at the Institute for Micro Electronics (“IME”), part of the Singaporean government-run Agency for Science, Technology and Research (“A*STAR”) involving a gallium nitride-based semiconductor amplifying device purportedly for the Chinese telecom company Huawei.
As Todd worked on GaN research, he became increasingly anxious about his role. In conversations with his family, he said that he was collaborating with a Chinese company, and was “being asked to do things” that made him uncomfortable. Namely, his mother said that “he felt he was being asked to compromise American security.” On one occasion, Dr. Todd told his mother that if she didn’t hear from him every week, she should contact the American embassy. He turned to religion, and was prescribed antidepressants to help cope with the stress.
In late February 2012, Todd decided to leave IME and return to the United States. He put in 60 days’ notice, then decided to stay an additional 30 days. As his time at IME ran down, he was offered a job with Nuvotronics, an American research firm. Friends and co-workers recalled that he was upbeat on his final day of work at IME on Friday, June 22.
Todd’s girlfriend, Shirley Sarmiento, expected to hear from him on Friday or Saturday, but he did not respond to her messages. On Sunday, June 24, she went to his apartment. Finding the door unlocked, she entered, and discovered Todd’s body hanging from a bathroom door. A chair was about five feet away. Sarmiento then contacted Todd’s family in the United States to alert them to his death.
The police were quoted as saying that Dr. Todd “drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through the pulley and wrapped it around the toilet several times. He then tethered the strap to his neck and jumped from a chair.”
However, when Dr. Todd’s family arrived at his apartment in Singapore after receiving news of his death, they noted that the scene was not as described: there were no holes in the marble walls of the bathroom, and neither were there bolts or screws. The location of the toilet was also not where the police report indicated it was. Furthermore, there were no signs of an investigation at the scene; police had not put up crime scene tape or dusted for fingerprints.
The Financial Times reported that Dr. Todd’s home “looked like a snapshot of a man in the middle of a move”. Before his death, Dr. Todd was in the middle of doing the laundry. He had packed boxes in preparation for his move back to the United States, and had clean clothes folded on the couch. He was also apparently in the middle of trying to sell his furniture, and had been writing out price tags. His airline ticket back to the United States was on the table, but his laptop and phone had been taken away by the police.
Police found several suicide notes allegedly left by Dr. Todd, but his family and girlfriend told the Financial Times that they did not seem to be Dr. Todd’s writing. In one note, he apologized for being a burden to his family, but his mother said he had never been a burden; he had excelled at everything, she said. Another note praised the management of IME. His girlfriend was incredulous, noting that Dr. Todd “hated his job.” After his mother read the notes, she told the police detectives, “My son might have killed himself, but he did not write this.”
Dr. David Camp, a criminologist from Illinois, analyzed the suicide note side by side with a collection of Dr. Todd’s other writings and told reporters that he held the opinion that the suicide note found by the police was not written by Todd. Dr. Camp concluded that it wasn’t written by an American and wasn’t typical of a suicide, that he felt the note was detached and unemotional, and did not match up with Todd’s personality. He added that “everything about [the suicide note] was different: different format, different cultural backgrounds, different wording, different sentence length, everything about it was completely different, which leads to one conclusion; someone else wrote it.”
Employees at IME were reportedly told not to speak to reporters about Dr. Todd’s death. However, one of Dr. Todd’s colleagues did reach out to his parents, telling them, “After collecting all information available, I cannot believe it is a suicide case. Actually, no one believes it…I truly hope that [the] FBI can be involved and perform further investigation.”
The official autopsy report provided by the Singapore police said that Todd’s cause of death was “asphyxia due to hanging.” But on his body, Dr. Todd’s family found bruises on his hands and a bump on his forehead, neither of which was mentioned in the autopsy report. Suspecting foul play, they asked the mortuary to photograph Shane’s body before burial, and send the photos to Dr. Edward Adelstein, a county-level deputy medical examiner in Missouri. Adelstein’s initial theory was that Dr. Todd’s wounds did not support the suicide hypothesis. Instead, it appeared Dr. Todd was involved in a fight with an attacker and died by “garrotting”.
An inquiry into the cause of Dr. Todd’s death was launched on 13 May 2013 by Singaporean authorities. The verdict on the inquiry was released on 8 July 2013, with the coroner ruling that Todd died of “asphyxia due to hanging” and said he was satisfied “there was no foul play”.
A few days before his death, Shane was offered a job by Nuvotronics, a US research firm that works with the US defence department and Nasa. David Sherrer, the company president, said Shane stood out among a dozen applicants and was offered a $105,000 pay package.
American working for Huawei in Singapore said he was “being asked to do things” that made him uncomfortable. like “being asked to compromise American security.” He quit his job and was about to fly back to the US when he was found dead of a “suicide”. Investigations by the family show that the police barely investigated and their accounts of everything were suspicious. He had already been offered a job with a $105,000 pay package back in the US. He was halfway through making preparations for moving, including doing his laundry, when he died. His suicide note was in broken English and praised the management of his company even though he told everyone who would listen that he hated the company and management, and experts determined that it was obviously not written by him. Some experts say his body showed signs that he fought an attacker and was garroted.
Was it suicide or was he murdered?