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Man denies killing, burying wife

David Lam pleads not guilty to strangling Susan Lam with a necktie in their Rowland Heights home.

December 28, 2007|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

A Rowland Heights man accused of killing his wife and burying her in his backyard in 2005 pleaded not guilty to murder Thursday after being apprehended last month in Indonesia, authorities said.

Police allege that David Lam, 55, strangled his wife, Susan, 51, with a necktie after the couple argued about his gambling debt and that he then fled the country.

Lam was arraigned in West Covina and is being held at the Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles in lieu of $1 million bail.

Investigators found Susan Lam's body wrapped in black trash bags and tape with a necktie knotted around her neck Sept. 23, 2005, in the backyard of the couple's home. Lam traveled to Singapore five days earlier. He had requested an impromptu two-week vacation from the Bicycle Club Casino in Bell Gardens, where he worked as a floor man, authorities said.

Indonesian police captured Lam this fall on Batam Island in an apartment where he had been living with a brother and other family members, according to the FBI's Los Angeles office. Lam was born in Indonesia.

David and Susan Lam met in Vietnam, according to court files, and fled the country in 1978, becoming naturalized U.S. citizens in Chicago before moving to California.

In the residential neighborhood where the couple lived, neighbors rarely saw Susan Lam, according to a homicide bureau report. She was close to her family and dependent on sister Pauline Cheng for transportation.

Cheng refused to comment.

Several years ago, Lam's luck at the stock market took a turn for the worse. Coupled with a gambling problem -- he was fond of pai gow, a domino game, according to court files -- the couple was forced to file for bankruptcy and give up their home.

In 2005, Lam borrowed $50,000 to pay off gambling debts. Court files noted that he gambled for most of Sept. 11 at the Bicycle Club.

Lam told Cheng that he returned home that day and argued with Susan about his gambling debt. Afterward, Lam said he stayed away from the home all night and returned the next morning to find Susan and a large suitcase missing, according to investigators. Lam suggested that Susan was probably headed to Chicago. But Cheng, hearing no word from Susan, reported her missing Sept. 13.

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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