An Unsolved Murder Case Is Bad Abstraction

Yuhang Zhang

PhD Scholar
Goldsmiths, University of London

‘I'm not afraid of death but I am afraid of murder.’
-The Conversation
, 1974

I have been looking into the problems of the macabre, catastrophism and inhumanism along with my recent theory-fiction practices. My theory-fiction project, ‘Black Water: Unsolved Murder and the Outside’, focuses on forensic materials in unsolved murder cases and theorises on the ‘bad abstraction’ that unfolds the agencies of otherness. In this journal entry, I will give a short example to elaborate on this project.

Elizabeth House Double-Murder Case

“Blood trickling into a neighbour’s flower bed led to the discovery yesterday of two badly decomposed bodies cemented into the window-box of a Causeway Bay flat […] The bodies […] both of men and believed to be Chinese, had their hands tied behind their backs with chains, and cloth tied round their heads and bare feet. They were found wrapped in a bloodstained sheet, one on top of the other, head to toe,” South China Morning Post, 1 April, 1984

‘Located in Gloucester Road, Elizabeth House stands right next to Cross-Harbour Tunnel connecting Hong Island and Kowloon, the first and busiest road tunnel in Hong Kong. With the huge Panasonic neon sign on the top, the building is hard to miss.’ Elizabeth House, 2008. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Here is some additional information about this unsolved case:

- Apart from the two corpses, the police discovered several copies of magazines, two beer bottles, a chain of keys, a screwdriver with a pack of screws, a 5kg hammer (believed to be the weapon), and three name cards among other things.

- The witness, a couple from the neighbouring apartment, first described the blood as ‘black, rancid water oozing’ from the sink on their balcony.

- The two victims were identified as George Chia Soon-seng, age 27, and his brother Steven Chia Soon-fa, 32, heirs to a wealthy goldsmith’s chain in Singapore.

An abstraction could be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. A good abstraction denotes an abstractive schema where factual elements, complete with a defined signified or function, construct analytical lines that build up to a unified plane of narrative or space-time. More importantly, a good abstraction has a proper origin or a clear-cut end. A solved murder case could indeed be a good abstraction. Supposing that Elizabeth House Double-Murder is a solved case, the key material evidences become meaningful signifiers (the 5kg hammer is the weapon, the name cards and magazines contain finger prints etc.) that develop into analytical lines leading to an offender profiling, motives, and actus reus. And then, the origin (the perpetrator’s identity) and the end (their fugitive state) are reached.

In contrast, an unsolved case, like the Elizabeth House Double-Murder Case, is a bad abstraction. None of the forensic elements can be entered into narratological analysis: there is no origin to depart from, no end to reach, no neat time-space to be woven, no culprit to be apprehended. Instead, the hammer, fake passports, and name cards sandwiched between two decaying bodies are separate and evasive indexes of numberless bogus companies, insurance frauds, and malfunctioning magic spells. Each with its own feral agency and runaway tactics, they leak through the porous structure of risk capitalism in Hong Kong and are never to be found in the missing person’s report in the immigration department or customs agencies.

Against the conclusion of ‘thanatropic catastrophism’, a bad abstraction somehow goes against the idea that an entropic acceleration dooms us all. The supreme horror of an unsolved case is that an Outside force eviller and more abundant than entropy is operating within the system once the system gets going. Its destination is not a total annihilation by an implosion of massive unconsumed energy. Rather, even the most minimalist material, once it is put in place inside the system, devises its own agency to create an otherness that in turn unfold more otherness, which finally divulges into an alien universe pregnant within. The murder is just a beginning.

‘AI image generator works as a bad abstraction in some sense. ‘Prompts’ are often severed from its original context and put into an utterly alien picture. ‘Floor Plan of Elizabeth House Double-Murder, corpses discovered under flower bed’, published on The Kung Sheung Daily News, 1 April 1984. Image courtesy Hong Kong Public Libraries. Re-rendered by DALL·E.

Coverage titled ‘Dreadful double corpses discovered under flower bed’, The Kung Sheung Daily News, 1 April, 1984. Image courtesy Hong Kong Public Libraries.

Diagram of Elizabeth House Double-Murder Case, work in progress, ‘Black Water: Unsolved Murder and the Outside’. Image courtesy of Yuhang Zhang