In ‘The Witch of Wanchai’, Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison is the backdrop for an interrogation scene. As Detective Ian Hamilton walks the corridors of the old prison he feels the ghosts of Stanley’s past haunting its passageways of white-washed concrete walls and heavy, gray metal doors. “Stanley Prison was opened in 1937, and new layers of paint could not mask the years of pain and cruelty that had transpired there. ‘Black Christmas’, 1941, the Japanese had taken over Stanley, and prisoners were starved, tortured, and executed. Ian always felt uncomfortable walking the prison corridors, felt like he had stepped into a scene from a vintage horror movie, the ghosts of the unfortunates floating around him.”
Ian’s uncomfortableness is understandable. Stanley is the oldest prison still in service in Hong Kong. In 1941 when Hong Kong fell to Japanese forces after the seventeen day Battle of Hong Kong the Japanese turned Stanley Prison into an internment camp. They crowded over 3,000 detainees into a facility designed to house a maximum of 1,500. With food rations that a sparrow would have difficulty surviving on, rampant disease, beatings and executions, life was hell and many succumbed. In Hong Kong the spirits of people who have not been attended to properly by relatives or who have died unnaturally are called ‘Hungry Ghosts’. In many people’s minds, legions of these ravenous ghosts roam the cell blocks set behind the eighteen foot high walls of Stanley prison. In the ‘Witch of Wanchai’, however, these ghosts are the least of Ian’s worries. He has a real-life serial killer to deal with.
“The Witch of Wanchai’ is a story about a serial killer preying on Indonesian domestic helpers. As life imitates art, just before I completed ‘The Witch of Wanchai’ the news that a real serial killer, Rurik Jutting, a banker living in Wanchai who was murdering Indonesian domestic helpers, came out in the Hong Kong press. Mr. Jutting is currently residing in Stanley Prison.