The infamous Pudu Prison in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has been a landmark in the city for many years with it’s imposing towers and unique murals painted on the exterior walls of the prison.
This prison was the site where death row prisoners were jailed prior to execution and where drug offenders were caned. In 2010 it was demolished to make space for an urban development project on what is now a prime piece of city centre real estate.
Prior to the demolition of the iconic walls of this prison I took the opportunity to record photographs of all of the mural paintings some of which are shown here.
Pudu Prison, in Jalan Hang Tuah, Kuala Lumpur, was built and designed in 1891 and completed 1895 led by British state engineer and Director of Public Works Department, Charles Edwin Spooner, at a costs of RM 138,000. It’s design was copied from the Kandy prison in Bogambia, Africa and shaped like a butterfly or X structure. It originally had 240 cells on three floors, but more cells were added over the years. The prison’s gruesome condemned cell is located at block D where those on death row were prepped before being hanged at the execution room in the same block. Between 1960 and 1993, 180 convicts were hanged there.
Pudu Prison was designed to house 600 inmates initially but with additional cells, its capacity was increased to 2,000. The Pudu Prison main entrance was situated in a two-storied building. The Administrative Offices was on the ground floor and on the top floor, six cells for European and Eurasian prisoners and two small rooms for storage of prison records. The female ward of the prison and the prison kitchen were separate areas on each side of the Administrative Block and leading from the main section of the prison were four three-storied wings. The prison hospital was close by, but separate from the main building.
The prison was used to house criminals including drug offenders and was a location for administering corporal punishment by rotan caning. The canings were administered in a special “caning area”, so marked, not inside the building but in the grounds.
After the fall of Singapore during World war II, from 1942-45, the prison became the central prisoners of war camp in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation. Many members of the Allied Forces and locals were tortured and beheaded, some heads stuck to poles for all to see.
There are rumours that Pudu Prison is haunted. There have been reports of a strange Indian man walking the halls of the prison and disappearing around the corner. Supposedly, screams have been heard from rooms where hangings have taken place, and there are certain areas of the prison that are far colder than others. Russell Lee, the author of the book series True Singapore Ghost Stories, included a story of a prisoner in Pudu Prison in one of his books. The prisoner reported hearing screaming from the rotan caning area, and he also heard the story that one prisoner committed suicide in order to avoid being caned. Supposedly his ghost stops the last stroke of the cane being given, and a prisoner personally reported this experience happening to him.
A prominent feature of the prison are the mural paintings on its outer walls done by former inmate Khong Yen Chong in the early 1980s. The wall murals of tropical scenes painted by the prisoners took them over a year to paint using 2000 liters of paint. The murals entitled the inmates to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records, for painting the world’s longest mural along the prison’s walls stretching out to more than 384m long and 4.5m high.
In 1981, the prison saw the execution of legendary robber Wong Swee Chin or “Botak Chin”. In 1985, the prison recorded its highest number of inmates at any one time with 6,550 which forced the prison authorities to arrange sleeping shifts for the prisoners. In 1986 Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, both Australian nationals, were the first Westerners to be hanged in Malaysia for the drug trafficking of heroin. Pudu jail had its last hanging in 1993 and the colonial era prison was officially closed in November 1996. All the inmates were then moved to the new RM170 million Sungai Buloh prison built by the UDA.
In early 2004 it was temporarily re-opened as an Alcatraz-style museum for the public to witness the prison ambience. Those who have visited the Pudu Prison described the cells as totally horrific. Each cell is equipped with a window only the size of a shoebox!
The land on which the prison structure stands has been earmarked for mixed development with 70% of the land used for a commercial hub and 30% for residential development although the old prison mosque will be maintained. It is planned that the Hang Tuah monorail station will also be integrated with the proposed development site to create easy accessibility for the public. The Urban Development Authority (UDA,) which reportedly bought the 7.65ha site for RMl00 million from the Government, will turn it into a commercial area which is expected to cost RM83 million.
Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia
Stuart Taylor of HighlanderImages Photography has been making images for over 25 years and can offer a diverse range of photo imaging services with a focus on Asia and a documentary/photojournalistic style. These services include planning and executing a photo shoot on location but importantly all the post-processing and image preparation needed for the specific finished media format required by the customer. Stuart’s experience and knowledge in all of these aspects makes HighlanderImages Photography a one-stop-shop for a comprehensive and professional image production service.
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2 thoughts on “Pudu Prison – The End of an Infamous Era”
So interesting to read about Pudu Prison, thank you for sharing! I remember always looking at the murals knowing that behind those walls was a prison. Too bad we both missed the museum period, it would’ve been very interesting to go in and see it with our own eyes. My friend claimed that they could see the hangings from their condominium but she most probably lied, wanting to make an impression I guess.
I visited the remains of Pudu Jail, just the gates and two towers in February 2019. I was researching my fathers wartime journey in south east Asia. My father was a member of the Special Operations Executive Orient mission, operating behind enemy lines. He was captured at Kuala Kubu and temporarily held at Pudu for a few months, Some of his friends managed to escape from Pudu Jail but were later recaptured and executed by the Japanese. These pictures are a sombre reflection of the place where my father began his 3 1/2 years of captivity at the hands of the Japanese.