S’pore all-girl gang was hired to attack mistresses in the 1960s

They were called the Red Butterfly.

By Joshua Lee | January 28, 2018

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Singapore was occasionally terrorised by the Red Butterfly (Ang Hor Tiap), an all-girl secret society gang.

According to anecdotes, members of the Red Butterfly were known to use their belts as whips to maim or disfigure their victims. Newspaper reports also stated how members of the Red Butterfly were known to use acid bombs, sticks, and knives.

Via NewspaperSG.

Ironically, the same newspaper report also said that red butterflies signified good fortune and happiness in Chinese legends.


Via NewspaperSG.

Made up of girls between the ages of 16 and mid-20s, they worked as bar girls, prostitutes, and dance hostesses.

Business of extortion

The Red Butterfly was notorious for exhorting protection money from other hostesses in the Cecil Road area.

Failure to pay would result in a beating.

Aside from earning protection money, the Red Butterfly also generated income via their signature service: Going after mistresses.

Scorned women who were cheated on by their boyfriends or husbands could come to the Red Butterfly for help (for a fee, of course) in teaching their mistresses (or other woman) a lesson, usually a verbal warning, or at most, a beating.

Apparently, victims of the Red Butterfly were known to be so afraid that they did not dare to even testify or go to the police when the members were hauled up by the authorities.

Getting in

Just like other secret society initiation rites, new members had to drink a concoction of rooster’s blood mixed with their own blood.

Ex-members also spoke of how new members had to subject a victim to a brutal beating before being granted access.

Once successfully inside, each new member gets a blue or black butterfly tattoo either on their shoulder, thigh, or groin.

Initiation rites. Via NAS.

Only the head of the Red Butterfly, known as Madame Red Butterfly had a red tattoo.

By the mid-1960s, the Red Butterfly, along with other secret societies were disbanded by the police.

But it was up till the 1970s, secret societies were still the syndicates behind much of the organised crime back then, including chap ji kee, opium dens, gambling dens, and brothels.

Arrest of a major secret society in the newspapers. Via NewspaperSG.

While the secret societies have died out today, most ex-gang members scoff at the so-called “gangs” today.

An ex-member of the Red Butterfly reportedly said:

“Look, these girls don’t know the difference between being tough and acting tough. They’re just craving for attention, which they get when they hang around in a group and make noise.

Top images via NAS and NewspaperSG

1819 is a labour of love by Mothership.sg. We tell stories from Singapore’s history, heritage & culture. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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