- Shane Todd, an American working on an 18-month assignment in Singapore, was found hanged in his apartment in June 2012
- Family claims he was murdered and Singapore police refuse to accept help from FBI
- Todds also recovered hard drive with backup data from son’s project
- Dr Todd was doing research on high-tech chemical and was collaborating with Chinese company, according to report
By Beth Stebner
PUBLISHED: 13:10 EST, 18 February 2013 | UPDATED: 14:38 EST, 18 February 2013
The hanging death of an American electronics engineer in Singapore last summer has ignited an international mystery, after his family and girlfriend developed suspicions that he may have been murdered the week before he was scheduled to return home to the U.S.
The family of Shane Todd visited his apartment in the Chinatown district of Singapore days after they received news of his June 2012 death, saying that their son had misgivings about some of the work he was doing for the company.
Dr Todd, 31, was slated to return to the U.S. after completing an 18-month stint at the Institute of Microelectronics, and his family is now desperately searching for how – and why – their son is dead.
A February 15 piece published in the Financial Times magazine tells of how Mr Todd’s parents, Mary and Rick Todd, traveled from Montana to Singapore days after their son’s death on June 23, 2012.
Mrs Todd told the magazine in no uncertain terms: ‘We think our son was murdered.’
The Todds did not immediately respond to a request sent by MailOnline.
According to the magazine, the Todds, joined by their sons, John and Dylan, went to see where Shane had spent his last hours.
His parents have said he was murdered because of his involvement in the project, which they say involved exporting sensitive military technology to China.
IME did not immediately respond to MailOnline’s request for comment.
The family told the FT that they discovered several things awry at Dr Todd’s Colonial-era apartment.
Piles of laundry were neatly folded and ready to be packed in suitcases, packed moving boxes littered the apartment, and his plane ticket back to the States was sitting on his dining room table.
The Singapore police report from last summer states that Mr Todd – who stood more than 6ft and 200 pounds – constructed a sort of noose by bolting a pulley to the bathroom wall and wrapping a strap through the contraption.
However, when the Todd family arrived days later, they were appalled to find that their late son’s front door was unlocked, there was no crime tap indicating an active investigation, and more importantly – no bolts drilled into the bathroom.
The Singapore Police released a statement today in response to the FT article, reading in part: ‘The police investigate all unnatural death cases thoroughly, working closely with the pathologist and other relevant experts, and no prior assumptions are made on the cause of death,’ according to Yahoo! Singapore.
The FT article also states that the FBI bureau in Singapore has volunteered their forensic help on two separate occasions, but said that the local police had declined their help.
An FBI source in Washington told the paper that they could do nothing to help the investigation until the Singapore Police formally accepted their assistance.
In the statement, Singapore police added: ‘Since the death of Mr Shane Todd, the Police have engaged and assisted the family without impending the objectivity of our investigation process. We will continue to do so. Police have also kept the American Embassy and FBI informed of this case.’
The family also recovered a hard drive with backup data from his time at IME. The FT gave information on the hard drive to Professor Sir Colin Humphreys to analyze. The professor works as the director of research at Cambridge University’s Centre for Gallium Nitride.
According to the centre’s website, the chemical, known as GaN, is ‘probably the most important semiconductor material since silicon.’
The chemical is used in many of today’s high-tech products, from Blu-ray players to hybrid electric cars, and can withstand heat to much higher capacity than silicone. It is the building blocks for blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Sir Colin told the FT that the data on Dr Todd’s hard drive was fore a high-electron mobility transistor made from GaN, adding that the project had applications for both the military and commercial use.
Singapore police said they were still investigating the death of Dr Todd and would submit their evidence to a coroner. Singaporean pathologists concluded in an autopsy last June that he died by hanging in his Singapore flat.
‘IME approached Huawei on one occasion to cooperate with them in the GaN field, but we decided not to accept, and consequently do not have any cooperation with IME related to GaN,’ Huawei said in a statement.
Huawei said that the development of GaN technology was commonplace across the telecommunications industry.
Interviews with the family, colleagues and friends revealed conflicting views on Dr Todd’s state of mind before his death, the nature of his work and how he died.
Colleagues said that he was increasingly depressed in his last few months, but said that his concerns appeared to centre on a sense of failure about his work, and an ambivalence about returning to the United States.
Researchers in unrelated fields have also questioned how, if his work was so sensitive, he was able to take home computer files from his office.
IME is part of a network of research institutes managed by government-run Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*Star.
A former A*Star researcher now working in the United States pointed out that IME and other A*Star institutes were not military research organizations.
Huawei is one of the world’s largest telecommunication equipment companies, but has been blocked from some projects in Australia and deemed a security risk by the U.S. congress on the grounds that its equipment could be used for spying, according to Reuters.
Huawei has routinely denied such accusations and has said it is not linked to the Chinese government.
Dr Todd’s parents said in interviews in July that Singapore police and IME had failed to properly investigate his death after his body was found hanging from a door in his Singapore apartment on the evening of June 24, two days after he quit IME.
Singapore police say they have handled the case as they have handled other cases, and their procedures follow high international standards. They said in such cases of unnatural death, ‘no prior assumptions’ were made about the cause.
Mrs Todd said in a telephone interview with Reuters last July that he had been scared.
‘I had been talking to him for months for at least an hour every week and he told us he was afraid of being murdered because of his contacts with the Chinese government,’ she said.
‘He quit his job because of it.’
Huawei declined to say whether they had been working on other projects with IME. Colleagues said shortly after Todd’s death that he had told them at one point he had been working on a project with Huawei but that it was not sensitive or high-level in nature.
One described it as carrying out ‘measurement test reports’ of semiconductors.
The FT said that Dr Todd had been involved in proposing a joint project with Huawei.
While it did not say whether the project was approved, it quoted his parents as saying that subsequently he complained to them of being asked to do things with a Chinese company he did not identify that made him uncomfortable.
Dr Todd was described in his obituary as an avid baseball player and a brilliant scientific mind. He earned his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Santa Barbara.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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