Hello Kitty is a cutesy Sanrio character associated with kindness and fun. But in Hong Kong in 1999, the character's imagery became associated with a horrific crime. It began with a simple theft—nightclub hostess Fan Man-yee stole a regular customer's wallet. Her desperate act soon led to her kidnapping, murder, and decapitation.
No part of Fan's life was easy. When she was a child, her family abandoned her to grow up in an all-girls orphanage. Due to age restrictions, she was kicked out of the institution when she was just 15 years old. Suddenly homeless, she became addicted to drugs and was forced into street prostitution. When she was 21, she moved her work to Romance Villa, a brothel in Sham Shui Po.
Thanks to this new arrangement, Fan now had a regular client, fellow drug addict Ng Chi-yuen. The pair soon got married, but family life didn't treat Fan any better. Her husband was described as abusive. When her son was born in 1998, she set out to provide a better and safer life. She quit drugs and gave up sex work. After scoring a job as a hostess at Empress Karaoke Club, she even left her husband. But these life changes meant that it became very difficult for her to support herself and her son.
One of Fan's regular customers, Chan Man-lok, had his own dark history. He was a Wo Shing Wo triad member who had already been charged with drug trafficking. He was not one to be trifled with. In early 1999, Fan stole Chan's wallet, which contained about $HK4,000, which would roughly be the equivalent of US$500. Upon realizing Fan robbed him, Chan confronted her, demanding not only the money she'd stolen, but a compensatory fee of an additional $HK10,000. Fan returned the money she'd taken immediately, but was unable to pay the extra upfront.
Three men and a teenage girl abducted Fan from her apartment on March 17th, 1999. Among the kidnappers were Chan himself, Leung Wai-lun, Leung Shing-cho, and 14-year old grooming victim Lau Ming-fong. For a month, Fan was imprisoned in an apartment where Chan planned to have Fan pay off her debts through prostitution.
Throughout her captivity, Fan was repeatedly raped and tortured. She would be tied up and used as a punching bag, and was even beaten with metal bars. During one beating, Fan was kicked in the head approximately 50 times. Her captors irritated her wounds with spices and used candle wax and hot plastic to burn her legs and feet. She was forced to consume human waste. Through it all, she was required to smile, or else she'd receive even harsher treatment.
Sometime between April 14th and 15th, Fan went into traumatic shock and at last succumbed to her wounds. When her kidnappers found her body, they dismembered her corpse and boiled the remains. Most of the body was then discarded, but they kept her skull to sew it inside a Hello Kitty doll.
On May 24th, young Lau led the Yau Ma Tei police to a plastic bag containing Fan's remains. Chan was arrested, and his wife, Tse Pui-ling, was investigated for any involvement in the crime. No evidence tied her to the murder, and she was released. When news of the murder reached the media, Leung Wai-lun fled to mainland China, but on February 14th, 2000, the police caught up with him.
A six week trial saw the three men convicted of manslaughter. The jury found that Fan's remains couldn't prove that she was murdered, rather than succumbing to a drug overdose. However, while the men's intentions were unclear, the jury felt it clear that Fan died as a result of their actions. In exchange for immunity, Lau testified during the trial.
The men were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, though a review would not be held until 2020. Currenly, Chan Man-lok and Leung Wai-lun are serving their sentences in Stanley Prison. Leun Shing-cho managed to get his life sentence reduced to 18 years after an appeal. He was released from prison in April of 2014, but eight years later he was sent back for another year after sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.
In 2004, Fan's skull was returned to her family and at last cremated. The apartment building where Fan was held was demolished back in 2012. In its place stands a hotel that pays its respects to her life with the display of three Buddha portraits.