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Murder in Singapore?

Daily Inter Lake | February 23, 2013 9:00 PM


Shane Todd was found dead in his Singapore apartment in June 2012. Authorities reported the death as a suicide, but his parents believe he was murdered.


Shane Todd is pictured in 2010 as he graduates from the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he earned his Ph.D. His area of study was researching silicon-based transmission lines.

Halfway around the world in Singapore, a brilliant young electronics engineer with ties to the Flathead Valley was found dead in his apartment last June.

Shane Todd, the oldest son of Rick and Mary Todd of Marion, was hanging from a bathroom door when his girlfriend stopped by after she hadn’t heard from him for a couple of days. The Singapore police deemed the mysterious death an apparent suicide.

But the circumstantial evidence the Todds found at their son’s apartment, along with what they knew to be true about their son and all sorts of other far-reaching clues, didn’t add up to him taking his own life.

Shane was working for the Institute for Micro Electronics, a subsidiary of the Singaporean government-run Agency for Science, Technology and Research. A small hard drive the Todds found at their son’s apartment — information inadvertently left behind by police who confiscated Shane’s computers, cellphone and diary — detailed plans for a project that involved IME and Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies.

It was high-tech work.

The two companies planned to develop an amplifier device powered by a semiconductor material able to withstand heat and power levels way beyond silicon.

Shane had been worried for months that the project he was working on was compromising U.S. national security, his parents said. At some point he began fearing for his life. In fact, he had told his mother exactly what to do if she hadn’t heard from him for a week. She was to email him and if he didn’t call back immediately, Mary was to alert the U.S. Embassy.

Later, after having an American pathologist study photos of their son’s body and the autopsy report, a scenario quite different from the one given by Singapore authorities emerged.

They believe their son was murdered, that he fought off an attacker and died by a garroting.

It’s a plot that has all the ingredients of an international thriller.

Film producers already are nipping at the Todds’ heels for the rights to make Shane’s story into a movie. But here at home on their ranch near Marion, the Todds still are searching for the truth of what happened in Singapore.

Was their son killed for what he knew?

In the aftermath of their son’s tragic death, the Todds begged the U.S. government to investigate.

“I wrote to all the government agencies — the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA, the State Department. No one listened,” Mary said.

The Todds implored the national news media to cover the story. Again, their pleas fell on deaf ears.

They said the only elected official whose staff was helpful was Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Tester spokesman Dan Malessa said the senator’s staff was in touch directly with the State Department, the embassy in Singapore and with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Staff helped the Todds arrange their December meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Singapore and coordinated communications and a meeting request between the Todds and ICE,” Malessa said. “Our staff continues to monitor the situation with the State Department and to support the Todds as they work with various government agencies to understand what happened to their son.”

As the Todds sought to bring attention to Shane’s death, Rick got in touch with a friend who played golf with Raymond Bonner, an award-winning investigative journalist.

Bonner and a second writer, Christine Spolar, the investigations editor for the Financial Times, pored over every detail of the case. The Financial Times published an extensive report on Feb. 15.

Since then Shane’s story finally has reverberated with national news organizations. The Todds had just gotten off the phone with CNN when they stopped by the Daily Inter Lake on Tuesday for an interview.

“The more exposure, the better,” Rick said.

They believe generating interest in the case ultimately will lead to their goal of a congressional investigation.

Shane headed to Singapore in 2010 for a life of adventure after finishing his doctorate at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where he researched silicon-based transmission lines.

As he worked on IME and Huawei’s project to develop an amplifying device powered by gallium nitride, he became increasingly concerned that his work was compromising U.S. national security.

When Shane was asked to find equipment for the gallium nitride research, he found that Veeco, a publicly traded company in New York, could manufacture what was needed for the project, according to the Financial Times. He left Singapore to get training at the Veeco offices in January 2012.

A proposal drafted by IME that outlines Shane’s directive to train with Veeco engineers also noted that “Veeco has also stated that they will not directly transfer the best-known method recipes to our tool, rather we will copy the recipe firsthand during our visit,” the Financial Times’ article revealed.

“In a tender for the equipment, also found in Shane’s files, the GaN (gallium nitride) recipe is referenced: ‘Can share during training but not available for technology transfer,’” the article continued, adding another portion of the IME memo that stated “Any potential connection with Huawei would be problematic for Veeco and for IME because Huawei has been deemed a security risk by powerful U.S. lawmakers.”

A U.S. House intelligence committee last year warned, after an 11-month probe, that it suspected communications equipment made by Huawei could be used for spying, the Financial Times reported.

Shane became more and more anxious about his role in the project. He confided in his parents, telling them he was really worried. They told him to quit his job and come back to Montana. But Shane felt he had to honor the terms of his employment.

“You have to understand who Shane was,” his father said. “He was a man of honor.”

Shane had given IME a 60-day notice that he would be leaving, then agreed to work another 30 days to train someone on the equipment with which he had been working.

He had also told his parents he was worried that if he left early he wouldn’t be able to “get his money out of Singapore,” Mary said.

By early April 2012, Shane’s state of mind prompted him to consult with a psychiatrist in Singapore, who noted Shane’s “increase in work stress with progressive difficulty coping.”

The doctor noted his low mood but didn’t witness any suicidal “ideations,” the Financial Times investigation revealed. The psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant and told Shane to come back in three weeks, but he never returned for a follow-up appointment.

“The heartache for both of us is so great,” Mary said, recalling her son’s anguish those final weeks.

She said she “asked him all the mom questions — are you eating, are you sleeping, things like that.” Then she point-blank asked: “Do you want me to come?”

He said no.

Mary keeps replaying that conversation in her mind.

“I wish we’d gone,” she said.

Shane had purchased a plane ticket back to Montana, where he planned to spend a month or two at the family ranch decompressing before he started a new job with Nuvotronics, an American research firm that collaborates with the Department of Defense and NASA.

A week before he was to return to the United States, Shane was dead.

The Financial Times’ story details the police report, which stated Shane had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, “bolted 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 off a chair, the police report said.

The Todds met with the Singapore police as soon as they arrived. As authorities shared two suicide notes, they immediately were suspicious. The text sounded nothing like their son.

“One [note] praised IME and its management,” the Financial Times wrote. “Another apologized for being a burden to his family. Neither sounded like Shane.”

Mary said Shane had never been a burden to his family. “He had excelled at everything he put his mind to,” she said.

As for praising his employer, Mary said Shane had confided “he hated the way IME was run and the way its top management treated people.”

What the Todds found at Shane’s apartment further solidified their theory of foul play.

“The front door was open and there was no evidence of an investigation — no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches.”

And nothing in the bathroom matched the description in the police report. There were no bolts or screws in the wall; the toilet was in a different location than what the report stated.

In the rest of the apartment it was clear Shane was wrapping up his life in Singapore. Boxes were packed; there were clothes in the dryer. His plane ticket was on the dining table.

Shane’s colleagues said he had been upbeat on his last day at IME, the Financial Times reported.

The Todds’ Christian faith has buoyed them as they’ve tried to piece together the details surrounding their son’s death.

“We feel we’ve been led by the hand of God with each step,” said Mary, a licensed Baptist pastor who leads a satellite church of the Paloma, Calif., First Baptist Church at the Todds’ airplane hangar at their home.

Rick is a pilot for American Airlines. He has been coming to Marion since his father bought a 160-acre ranch there when he was just a boy. The Todds spent their honeymoon at the Marion ranch and moved there full time two years ago.

From finding Shane’s hard drive to having connections to an American pathologist for consultation, many details, they said, “have been supernaturally given to us.”

Rick’s family was in the mortuary business and he worked for a time as a funeral director. That gave him insight has he studied his son’s body postmortem. He knows what suicide victims look like after death, and Shane’s body looked nothing like that.

“Shane looked beautiful, his face and eyes were clear,” he said, adding that his lungs were of normal weight, not as heavy as a suicide victim’s lungs would be.

The Singapore police maintained bruises on Shane’s hands were blood-pooling stains, but Rick believes his son’s hands were bruised as he fought off an attacker. The marks on his son’s neck also don’t coincide with a hanging, he added.

A coroner’s inquest into Shane’s death is expected to take place in March in Singapore, and the Todds will attend.

“Our fear is for our country,” Rick said. “We realize the type of stuff he was doing. We don’t want someone else’s child” to be in this situation.

The Todds continue to question the Singapore authorities’ investigation. They’ve offered to send a copy of the hard drive contents to the Singapore police in exchange for the contents of Shane’s two laptops that still are in police custody.

On Wednesday, though, the Singapore police issued a statement saying it was them who gave the Todds the hard drive. “That’s categorically a false statement,” Mary said.

WHAT’S LEFT in the wake of the tragedy is a family that is still grieving.

“We’re a very close family,” Mary said.

The Todds and their other three grown sons — John, Dylan and Chet — will attend a retreat next month aimed at helping them “walk through grief.” With the money Shane left, they’ve started a family business, Truman Investments, as a way of honoring him and staying connected.

Mary finds comfort in a dream she had during a pastors’ retreat last September. She saw Shane walking through the door; his face was “glorified,” she said.

“We kissed and hugged. I could even smell his breath. I believe God gave me a picture of him, and that’s a wonderful gift, whether it was a dream or a vision.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at

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