February 19, 2013 – 7:30 pm

UPDATED: October 5, 2013


Sometime on the morning of June 27, 2012, Mary Todd heard the news no mother ever wants to hear: her firstborn son, Shane Truman Todd, then 31 years old, was dead. Complicating matters, Shane’s body was lying in a morgue halfway around the world in $ingapore.

What happened next is a case study in the way a personal tragedy was transformed into a cause celebre by a Montana family blessed with resources, steely-eyed determination and a shrewd understanding of the ways of the world. Because Shane’s father Rick Todd is an American Airlines pilot, the Todds were not strangers to international travel and were not intimidated by the prospect of dealing with a foreign government.

But that first morning back in June 2012, the Todds - like anyone else in their position - were hit with a wave of raw emotion. “I just fell to my knees and sobbed… it started the worst nightmare you could ever imagine,” said Shane’s mother, Mary.

At the time, she was at the family home near Kalispell with her mother and Shane’s three adult brothers. Mary broke the news to them in between guttural sobs. It did not make any sense; Shane was a strapping young man - 6 feet, 1 inch tall - who was a mixture of brains and brawn. He held a PhD and had been a championship wrestler, a rugby player, and was in the prime of his life.

Mary desperately tried to reach her husband Rick who, at the time, was a passenger on a jet that had just landed in Denver.

“I turned on the phone after we’d cleared the taxiway,” Rick said. “I saw a message from Mary and she says, ‘Rick, you gotta call me immediately. Something horrible has happened.’ And I knew somebody was dead.

“I called her right away, and she says, ‘Rick, Shane hung himself.’ And I screamed in the middle of the airplane. I think I told the people next to me, ‘My son just hung himself.’ And we taxied in, and I just kinda roamed around the terminal, trying to put my mind around it.”

The Todds are a close-knit family and it was beyond shocking that Shane was dead. He’d been working in $ingapore as a research engineer on a three-year contract for the Institute of Microelectronics, but had decided to come home early and had secured a new job in the United States. He was days away from returning when his body was found hanging on his bathroom door.

The $ingapore police told the Todds that Shane had hanged himself but, almost from the start, they did not believe it. Aside from having a new job, Shane had made summer plans with his brothers and had even asked his grandmother if he could use her car and apartment in the interim before he started his new job. He’d queried his future employer about the company policy regarding vacation time and publishing opportunities, Mary said.

Even as Rick Todd staggered off the plane in Denver, devastated by the news of his son’s death, Mary and her sons already had hatched a plan to fly to $ingapore immediately. There’s no doubt that the Todds had an advantage given that Rick flew for a major airline and the entire family had passports at the ready. Seemingly overnight, they were in $ingapore asking pointed questions of police officials.

The Todds were savvy and knew the immediate steps they needed to take when a loved one dies overseas - namely, contact the US Embassy. Embassy officials in $ingapore arranged for cars and a hotel and the Todds were soon meeting with top embassy officials who helped smooth the way.

US Embassy vice-counsel Traci Goins even accompanied the Todds as they spoke to $ingapore police for the first time. All the while, the Todds were collecting anything they could find that might help them prove Shane had been murdered. After all, he’d been telling them for at least a month that he feared for his life and was facing pressure from Chinese scientists who he suspected wanted to know about some American technology he was working on. Shane’s girlfriend Shirley Sarmiento says Shane told her that “heavy hands” were coming after him.

Once inside Shane’s apartment, the Todds say they found something that, at the time, seemed insignificant but later proved to be critical. It was, the Todds say, an external hard drive that matched what was on Shane’s computer, then in the hands of police. The family began to develop a theory that Shane was murdered because he would not deliver American secrets to the Chinese.

Back in the United States, the Todds turned into amateur, but ingenious, investigators. They had photographs taken of Shane’s body at a family-owned mortuary and later had those photos and the $ingapore autopsy results analyzed by a top medical examiner in Missouri, who was a friend of a friend. He provided his services free of charge.

The Todds also took that external hard drive they say they found in Shane’s apartment to a forensic computer analyst in California, a former police officer who was a member of the same church as Mary’s brother. The photos and the information developed by these professionals were used by the Todds to support their murder theory.

Even with all of that in hand, the Todds could not - in the first few months after Shane’s death - find anyone in power willing to help them make their case. Not a word of Shane’s death appeared in the $ingapore press and American and international reporters did not seem interested.

Enter Ray Bonner, a former Pulitzer-prize winning reporter for The New York Times. The Todds contacted him through a friend: “The Todds felt that nobody was listening to them, and nobody was,” Bonner said. “They said to me at one point, ‘We don’t want our son to just be forgotten.’ You know, he’s disappeared.”

Of course, Bonner did not take the Todds at their word that Shane was murdered - he launched his own investigation, talking to experts in the type of technology Shane was working on and traveling to $ingapore to speak to friends of Shane.

After that research, Bonner, these days a freelance reporter, was intrigued and was able to sell his story to London’s Financial Times newspaper. “Look,” he says. “An American has died in $ingapore under suspicious circumstances while working on high technology. That is a story.”

Bonner, now a 48 Hours consultant, says he always told the Todds that he had an open mind about whether or not Shane was murdered or committed suicide and even after his story ran in February of this year, he remained “50-50.”

But Bonner’s magazine cover story in February 2013 had its desired effect. “Overnight,” Mary said, “our story went viral.”

Suddenly, the name Shane Todd was on the lips of anchors on virtually every television program, stories ran in newspapers stateside and abroad, and the Todds scored meetings with US senators and congressman. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Washington, DC with top $ingapore government officials.

$ingapore officials reacted and agreed to hold an expanded inquest to determine whether or not Shane was murdered or had committed suicide. It was held last May in $ingapore and that is the subject of our “48 Hours” report on the case.

[Read the findings of the 150-page coroner’s inquiry here.]

But none of this would have been possible if the Todds had not been so-called “powerful victims” who had the doggedness and know-how to act quickly and reach the right people who could help them publicize the story of their son’s death. - CBSNEWS

Watch now: “48 Hours: Spies, Lies and Secrets”

Click here for older reports.

Click here for older comments from our readers.

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The Feb 15, 2013 FT feature.

It is rare for a Financial Times UK article to fluster $ingapore. The island has an unbeaten record of winning every lawsuit thrown at the international media in $heep City. In fact the Financial Times was sued by $ingapore and lost its case in 2007. See a list of defamation suits here.

But on February 15, 2013, the FT ran an in-depth feature on the death in $ingapore of an American foreign talent, Dr Shane Todd, under the headline “Death in $ingapore” with this second header “U.S. electronics engineer Shane Todd was found hanging in his $ingapore apartment”. That got $ingapore netizens buzzing with comments for and against because the FT article said Todd’s family wanted the authorities to consider whether it was “foul play”.

Todd died on or around June 23, last year. His body was found on June 24, 2012. As far as we can tell, very few in $ingapore had heard of this case until the FT article surfaced on Feb 15, 2013, seven months late. Yahoo! Newsroom carried a story on its site after the FT article:

“American Shane Todd was found hanging in his $ingapore apartment in June last year, in a case local police deemed as suicide. But in a report by the Financial Times (FT) on Friday, Todd’s parents, Mary and Rick Todd, raised questions about their son’s death that remain unanswered.

“Todd, an electronics engineer, had just concluded an 18-month employment with $ingapore’s Institute of Microelectronics (IME). He had been developing, in collaboration with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, sophisticated radar and satellite technology for both civilian and military applications.

“His mother says that at work, he was ‘being asked to do things that made him uncomfortable’, FT quoted her as saying. His girlfriend knew that he was increasingly stressed about the nature of his research.

“Todd resigned from IME sometime later. Days before his death, he was offered a job by a US research firm working with the US defence department and NASA. On his final working day, Todd was last seen at a farewell lunch with his IME colleagues who described him as looking upbeat.

“After acquiring Todd’s external hard drive by chance and obtaining a second opinion on his autopsy report, the family now suspect foul play. ”

Since the Feb 15 article, $ingapore’s media, The $tate’s Times, has dragged the story out into its pages prominently on Feb 17 (via their Sunday edition) and again on Feb 19.

The response from netizens in $ingapore

We reproduce five comments from the sammyboy site.

$ingapore has never developed anything significant other than chicken rice and the $ingapore Sling and the latter is not fit for consumption. $ingapore’s A*Star despite registering a record number of patents have never got anything of value out of it. They are not about to start now. Even a tub of margarine has military value.

If this guy was working on a sensitive military related project or one that has military use, he would have come under the purview of a number of oversight bodies and he would not be able to download his files. Even commercial companies have sophisticated software that traces downloads. The storage governance for such things are highly regulated.

Reminds me of the case of an ex-RI boy who went missing for 3 years and the family told his friends that he was working for the government on a sensitive matter. They thought he was in Intelligence. Turned out that he was cooling his heels at Selarang Park DRC.

And why would anyone murder him? Bear in mind the prohibited technology is in US hands. The Chinese murdered him because he was disloyal to them? The $ingapore Govt murdered him because he did not like Chicken Rice.

For christ sake, the $ingapore Govt is an US ally and accommodates an American base, provides submarine pens, has rotating detachment of Eagles, does emergency repairs for allied warships etc. They do not do such things for Chinese military equipment. The only Chinese base is in Geylang and its all female formation.

I am well aware that FT is a highly respected publication but this is one that got carried away with the fairies. Suicide is one thing no parent will accept. To many western countries if a country detains people without trial, they are also capable of extra-judicial killings.

PS. FT and the parents forgot to ask his girlfriend who found the body first how he was hanging, the pulley, the drilled holes etc. or maybe they think that she was the hired assassin.
- scroobal, Feb 16, 2013

Guy got a history of psychological problems, before coming to $ingapore and while in $ingapore. Being treated here as well. Left 2 suicide notes but father claims not his son’s. These are easily assessed by a handwriting analyst. Family can engage their own analyst as well. Just wait for coroner’s inquiry. Suicide is one thing that parents find very difficult to accept. Reminds me of an article in the US press during the Michael Fay incident where an expert on $ingapore claimed that caning is done at the Padang with crowds chanting.
- scroobal, Feb 17, 2013

NOTE: The alleged suicide notes were allegedly found on the deceased’s computer, as such no handwriting analysis is possible.

dontcha just love the planted poppus distracters
- wendychan, Feb 17, 2013

99.999999999999999999999999999999999% suicide.
- Golden Dragon, Feb 17, 2013

You think so? I read the entire FT story a few times. It is sensational, to say the least. Putting aside most issues, it is rather incredible that a person who is packing his belongings and about to leave for the States suddenly pauses and commits suicide. The other issue is the “suicide” note praising his employer. Does anyone who commits suicide do that? What makes it even more incredible is that he was known to dislike his employer intensely, and so writing a note praising his employer makes little sense.

Other aspects of the story I set aside as journalistic licence to make it a thrilling read. But the above are puzzling. To add to the mystery, this guy died in June last year in circumstances that can be considered strange, to say the least. Yet it did not make the press till now, and only due to the FT. There have been many other instances of foreigners dying in strange circumstances, including an American exchange student at NUS back in March 2009 and a rich Japanese national at a local hotel in, coincidentally, the same month of the same year. All were reported on in the local media almost instantly.
So, I keep an open mind. Maybe it was suicide. I don’t know.

- ray of hope, Feb 17, 2013

So was Shane Todd’s death a suicide or something else?

The full Financial Times UK report can be read here.

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Contest No. 26

  1. 9 Responses to “THE BigO PLAIN-SPEAKING, STRAIGHT-TALKING NO B.S. CONTEST No. 27 (Updated October 8, 2013)”

  2. Big O, while half listening to the radio, I this morning in the US that 60 Minutes on CBS TV Sunday night will be reviewing the death of a US citizen in Singapore. I believe your post and Sunday’s show are one in the same. I am trying to confirm this on the net and CBS website, but no luck yet.

    By Bubbles on Oct 9, 2013

  3. Correction to my earlier post. The investigative show was on CBS 48-Hours. Here is a link to the investigation that was shown on the CBS Morning news.

    By Bubbles on Oct 9, 2013

  4. All governments will do anything to get information. These people (Chinese?)just seemed to be a bit lame about planning it out. Wouldn’t there have been less questions following an auto or boat accident rather than a suicide?

    By sking on Oct 11, 2013

  5. …”and was able to sell his story to London’s Financial Times newspaper.” And, of course, the FT is interested in selling papers & creating a buzz (which sells more papers…).
    Who knows if there’s a story here or not, but if there’s money to be made, we’ll keep hearing about it.

    By Tom Jackson on Oct 31, 2013

  6. chinese money pwns singapore!

    By Billy Boy on Dec 24, 2013

  7. FT Don’t usually publish stories without ‘legs” be interesting to see where this goes

    By Billy Boy on Dec 24, 2013

  8. very suspicious. governments do all kinds of covert things we aren’t aware of, this seems like another example

    By walter on Jan 11, 2014

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