Detective Manickam: The cop who busted gangsters for breakfast

Retired detective sergeant-major A Manickam has thrilling stories of his days as a cop. (Manickam pic)

His instinct was right again. As detective sergeant A Manickam was snooping around the Raja Uda area of Butterworth, he spotted the wanted robber on a high-speed motorcycle.

Revving up his trusty scrambler, with detective corporal K Loganathan riding pillion, he immediately gave chase.

Manickam drew almost level with the robber and, without flinching, flung himself upon the man, effectively bringing him and his vehicle down.

Loganathan, familiar with the antics of his partner, had jumped off the bike the moment he sensed Manickam was about to leap. Manickam sustained minor injuries, but, just like in the movies, the hero managed to get his man.

This was in the early 80s when Butterworth and Prai (now spelled as Perai) were notorious for gangsterism and crime.

If today, one hardly hears of gangs and armed syndicates in both places, it is a testament to the courageous work of Manickam, now 74, and policemen like him.

Manickam’s daring exploits are truly the stuff of legend.

On Jan 1, 1980, Manickam received information that a wanted gang leader would be going to Bagan Ajam to collect extortion money.

With Loganathan riding pillion, he set off on his scrambler.

Soon, they spotted the convict, who had been released about eight months earlier, and gave chase.

The gang leader reached to his waist as if to draw a pistol and the detectives, while still on the bike, fired, bringing him down in a hail of bullets.

They then recovered a pen-pistol from the dead man, and had rounded up six members of the gang which police believed had been responsible for about 30 robberies in Penang and Kedah.

Newspaper clippings detailing the Jan 1 incident. (Manickam pic)

On another occasion, the detectives, who by then had been given the name “Starsky and Hutch” after the famous cops of the popular eponymous TV series, were riding along Jalan Bagan Ajam when they spotted a wanted man on a bike.

Manickam, who was on the opposite side of the road, did an abrupt U-turn and gave chase on his scrambler.

As the man weaved through roads and lanes and kampung houses, he hit a dead end and, getting off his motorcycle, fled on foot.

While Loganathan ran after the suspect, Manickam retrieved the bag that the man had dropped only to discover two guns in it. He then joined Loganathan and the duo managed to apprehend the man who was later charged, found guilty and hanged.

Newspaper clipping of Manickam receiving the Pingat Jasa Pahlawan Negara in 2019. (Manickam pic)

On yet another occasion, detective M Mahendran rode pillion with Manickam as they chased down a drug pusher.

As Manickam crashed his scrambler into the suspect’s motorcycle, Mahendran leapt at him and brought him down. All three were injured and received outpatient treatment at the Butterworth Hospital.

Then, there was a shootout outside a factory in Perai, where Manickam and his then-boss, Butterworth OCPD Supt Tuffile Nawab Din, barely escaped being killed.

I was at the scene just minutes after the shooting outside the factory and was able to see evidence of what had transpired.

Manickam had received information that robbers would strike at the factory that day, which happened to be payday.

In those days, managers of firms would withdraw money from the bank and return to pay their staff in cash.

Manickam informed Tuffile and they laid an ambush beside a mangrove swamp a short distance away, with one police officer stationed inside the factory office, and five others outside.

Two armed men arrived on a motorcycle and walked into the factory office, but upon seeing the police officer, they rushed out. By then, Tuffile and his men had stormed into the compound to corner them.

Instead of surrendering, they fired, missing Tuffile and Manickam by a whisker. The policemen returned fire and the two fell dead.

A report on the shootout. (Manickam pic)

When I first went to Butterworth as staff correspondent for the New Straits Times in 1983, I heard people mention Manickam’s name in awe.

Manickam, who joined the police force at 19, served in Butterworth from 1974 to 1985 and again for seven years from 1987.

He earned a reputation for fearlessness during the first few years. Even today, many old-time residents of Butterworth and Perai will tell you that he was instrumental in decimating the many gangs in the two areas.

During my stint in Butterworth, I saw how detectives like Manickam, Loganathan and Mahendran, backed by Tuffile, brought many criminals to book.

From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, Butterworth and Perai were notorious for gangsters and gang clashes. The mention of Raja Uda would elicit fear among residents, as would the mention of Perai.

You had to watch your step if you were to enter these places.

To eliminate the gangs, Manickam and Inspector Boo Bak Teck, who was the officer in charge of the secret societies branch, began detaining and sending bad hats to detention centres at Pulau Jerejak and Simpang Renggam.

The alternative was to place them under restricted residence elsewhere using the Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance 1969.

Altogether, they prepared more than 200 files on these gangsters.

By 1985, they’d succeeded in drastically crippling the gangs and by the early 1990s, gang fights were unheard of.

A newspaper report praising Manickam and his magnificent feats. (Manickam pic)

I asked Manickam if any of the guys he had sent to jail or dispatched to detention centres or “buang negeri” (placed under restricted residence in other states) had ever tried to seek revenge or accosted him after serving time.

No, he said. Most would acknowledge him and some would even update him on where they were working or what they were doing.

There were cases where he would spot some of them at eating outlets and when he went to pay his bill he’d discover that the former felon had paid for him too and left.

Once, when he was transferred to Temerloh, Pahang, a policeman told him someone had come to see him. Manickam went out to the enquiry office of the police station to find a person whom he had once recommended to be placed under restricted residence.

The man, originally from Butterworth, smiled and told him: “You sent me here and now the police sent you here.” They both laughed.

The former gangster told him that after his two-year restricted residence period was over, he had decided to stay in Temerloh and make a life for himself. He then invited Manickam for lunch and took him to visit his small factory.

More newspaper clippings of Manickam’s exploits. (Manickam pic)

But, as Manickam, a father of three, told me, the police don’t just send someone away to a “foreign” place under the Restricted Residence Act; they also look into the wrongdoer’s needs.

Manickam himself had often helped those who were sent to Butterworth from other places to cope, by assisting them to find accommodation and work.

This way, he could also keep an eye on them. These restricted residents were grateful to him for the help.

He had a soft spot for young offenders involved in minor crimes. If he caught someone who had two or more cases, he would recommend to the OCPD that the youth be charged only for one and then advise the youth to plead guilty – but only if he was certain that the youth was in the wrong.

Manickam helped many young criminals stay in jail for shorter periods this way, so that they could get a second chance. Years later, some of them would meet up with him and thank him for giving them a chance to reform.

“Our intention, the police’s intention, was not to punish them but to reform them. There is no point in punishing as it doesn’t solve the problem. But it’s different with drug addicts, it’s very difficult to reform them,” said Manickam.

But it was not just criminals that policemen have to handle. Once, Manickam and detective Raja Sivam rushed to Jalan Bagan Luar upon hearing that a man had run amok and was threatening people with a knife.

He lunged at the two detectives about 10 times as they tried to talk him into giving up.

Finally, Manickam picked up a piece of wood and as the man rushed to stab him, hit his hand, causing the knife to fall. Raja Sivam pounced on the man and brought him down.

The two detectives marched the man to the nearby police station as about 300 people who had gathered there cheered.

Manickam receiving the Darjah Johan Negeri from Penang Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas. (Manickam pic)

Manickam, who joined the police force upon completing the Lower Certificate of Education, took optional retirement at age 50. He was then a sergeant-major.

Why? Frustration, he said.

“I was called for an interview for the post of inspector eight times. I cleared my law and other requirements, and twice, I was even told to go for my medical which I also cleared.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get the promotion. Eight times, no joke. I felt let down for I had performed well, and had commendations from the Penang chief police officer and even the IGP. I was frustrated. I began asking myself if this was fair. Finally, I decided to go on optional retirement.”

Manickam then became a safety and security manager at a hotel. He worked in the hotel industry for many years before being pulled in by the Penang government in 2011 to help with its Pasukan Peronda Sukarela or Penang volunteer unit, which was forced to disband by the federal government in 2014.

Manickam receiving an award for bravery and excellent performance from then-IGP Tun Hanif Omar. (Manickam pic)

Today, Manickam helps out the iSejahtera unit set up by the state welfare authorities, tasked with helping the poor.

Over the years, he has received several awards including the Pingat Pangkuan Negara, the Darjah Johan Negeri from Penang, and the Pingat Jasa Pahlawan Negara.

He has also received best police officer awards in Penang and performance awards from the inspector-general of police and the chief police officer.

Sadly, they don’t make policemen or detectives like Manickam anymore. He is a rare breed indeed.