Joanna Mendoza has every reason to consider herself lucky. She was the last girlfriend of a killer who on Tuesday was convicted of murdering two prostitutes in his Hong Kong apartment in the most horrific circumstances imaginable.
The petite Filipino bar girl was Rurik Jutting’s close companion until just a fortnight before he embarked on his killing spree. In an intense two-month relationship, he set her up in a flat in Manila and spent almost every weekend with her as he escaped the pressures of his high-powered job with Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
In a doting relationship that seems incongruous in the context of the horrors the Cambridge University-educated banker would soon graduate to, the couple discussed marriage and Jutting invited her to visit him in Hong Kong before their relationship came to an abrupt end.
Speaking for the first time about her relationship with Jutting, Mendoza’s testimony reveals the double life the murderer was living between Hong Kong, where his cocaine abuse spiralled out of control, and the Philippines, where he spent laid-back weekends with bar girls.
Poring anxiously over news reports of his trial in a hotel bar in Angeles City, where she has returned to work as an escort in the same bar in which she met Jutting more than two years ago, 27-year-old Mendoza (not her real name) says, with a sad smile, “Everyone tells me I’m lucky. They say I’m lucky because I could be dead.
“But I don’t feel lucky. I am more concerned why Rurik did that. I don’t understand it. I am happy I am safe, of course, but I really wonder why he did it. Was it depression? He never got mad at me. I never saw him get angry or even rude or show any sign of being violent.”
Jutting, 31, was last week convicted of torturing and murdering Sumarti Ningsih, 23, and Seneng Mujiasih, 26, in a cocaine-fuelled killing spree in October 2014. Articulate and thoughtful, Mendoza seems unable to reconcile the man who she describes as a kindly lover with a gentle sense of humour with the sadistic murderer who may spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“It wasn’t the Rurik I know who did those terrible things.” She says she has written to Jutting in prison and hopes to one day travel to Hong Kong to visit him. “I miss him and I still have feelings for him in spite of everything that’s happened. I would like to see him when the time is right.”
The unlikely relationship between the streetwise bar girl and the public-school-educated banker began when she met Jutting in the seedy Club Rio bar in Angeles City – a resort in the northern Philippines popular with sex tourists.
As far as the bar girls interviewed for this feature can recall, Jutting began visiting Angeles City in the spring of 2014, at first arriving with two Western friends and later making the 90-minute flight from Hong Kong almost every weekend by himself. Before Mendoza, he struck up a relationship with Ariane Guarin.
In Club Rio, where beers cost HK$10 and “lady drinks” HK$30, the wealthy banker would sit on a grubby sofa surrounded by Guarin and other girls before picking a small party to take back to his hotel.
Although overweight, the free-spending Jutting was an astonishingly good catch for a bar girl in the poverty-racked Philippines, where sex tourists are mostly low-income Asian and American divorcees.
“The first time I met him, I said to myself, ‘He is the kind of guy who is every girl’s dream in Angeles – he is a nice guy, he has money and he treats girls very nicely,’” says Mendoza, who has a nine-year-old son from a previous relationship. “He didn’t show any signs of being violent or even rude to the girls. I never saw him taking drugs – only drinking. He drank Asti Martini and San Miguel Light [beer].
“He liked because she was tall. The rest of us were kind of jealous but we were OK about it because was our friend and we were happy for her that he chose her to be his girlfriend.”
Jutting would pay for half a dozen girls at a time to leave Club Rio and stay with him at the ABC Hotel, motto “You Only Live Once …” There, he behaved like an indulgent sultan, plying his harem with food and drink, but usually spent the night only with Guarin while her friends – whose company cost him about HK$1,500 a weekend, each – slept together in the living room.
“We would stay with him for three days at a time,” Mendoza says. “We were very happy and felt very lucky we had met Rurik, and that he paid our bar fines [a payment made to a mamasan to allow a girl to leave the bar with a customer] even though we did nothing but eating and sleeping and drinking.
“If you ask any of the girls who stayed with him at the ABC Hotel, they will tell you Rurik was a good guy.”
Because she spoke better English than Guarin, then 22, and the other girls, Mendoza became the unofficial translator for their nights out. Then, in August 2014, “He said he was coming on Thursday morning and asked if he could pay my bar fine and I said, ‘Yes, OK.’ The next day he called again and I asked if he would pay the other girls’ bar fines and he said, ‘Just yours.’
“When we met he said his relationship with didn’t work out,” Mendoza says. “He was supporting her and she wasn’t working but they were no longer together. So I let him pay my bar fine and we went back to the ABC Hotel.”
That was the beginning of their relationship.
“I slept with him. The sex was good and there was nothing unusual about it. Rurik was very sweet. He is a good lover.”
Before splitting up with Guarin, Jutting had sent her home to live with her family on a monthly allowance of about HK$9,000. He now set Mendoza up with a similar allowance, to live with her family in Manila, to where he would fly most weekends, meeting her in a hotel.
Although a friend of Guarin, Mendoza was pragmatic about the impact of their relationship when Jutting asked her out. “I told myself, ‘I am working in a bar, so what should I do?’”
Mendoza says that what started out as a purely monetary transaction developed into a genuine relationship based on humour and food. “We had good times together – not only
the sex,” she says.
“He made jokes sometimes and would tell me, ‘Oh Joanna, my monkey.’ I would say, ‘You tell me I am very beautiful and now you tell me I am a monkey.’ Rurik replied, ‘I am teasing you. I love you.’
“We were always laughing together. When we were in the Marriott [Hotel] he said, ‘Now, Joanna, this is a very big hotel and you are very small. I don’t want you to get lost’ … It wasn’t all about sex and it wasn’t all about money. I really enjoyed the time we were together.”
Speaking in the tone of an indulgent spouse, Mendoza recalls: “He was worried about his body. He said, ‘I will go to the gym,’ and I said, ‘No way. If you go to the gym you will be a good-looking guy.’
“I told him, ‘It’s better that you eat a lot. I wanted him to get bigger and bigger so I wouldn’t lose him. He was handsome but I liked him when he was big. He has a cheeky face and I like it.
“We liked the same food – salmon steak and garlic prawns was our favourite,” she says. “We would eat garlic prawns in the ABC Hotel and salmon steak in the Marriott.”
Jutting spoke of marriage with her only once, Mendoza says. “He told me, ‘No babies until we get married.’ I said OK.” She adds, “I agreed with him even though my mamasan [at Club Rio] told me, ‘It’s much better if you get pregnant with Rurik.’ But I wouldn’t do that.”
Over time, their weekends together would increasingly be interrupted by calls on his BlackBerry phone, says Mendoza.
“He didn’t really talk to me about work and [when he did] I didn’t understand what he was talking about,” she says. “He just said he had stress because he had lots of meetings.”
The only people she saw him lose his temper with, she says, were Marriott room-service staff, when they delivered a wrong order.
Although she insists he was relaxed in her company, Mendoza describes Jutting as acting strangely during their final weekends together – sitting up through the night reading books on astronomy while swigging Asti Martini from the bottle.
“Our relationship was difficult because people were trying to destroy us,” Mendoza says, referring to friends of Guarin. “Rurik was weak at that time. I loved him.
“I said to myself, ‘Anytime he leaves me, I will accept it.’ I prepared myself for what was going to happen.”
Jutting ended the relationship with Mendoza by email in mid October, just weeks after asking her to visit him in Hong Kong. The break up came after a catfight between her friends and those of Guarin, says Mendoza.
“He told me, ‘I don’t have any plans to see you for now because there’s a lot of things and stuff I have to do and I am not going to the Philippines for a while.’”
“I replied and said, ‘It’s OK. I understand. I want to thank you for being a nice guy to me even though we had only been together a short time.’ I told him, ‘I really enjoyed being with you and I will never forget you – I really won’t forget you.’”
“I was heartbroken,” she says. “I was in love with him. I had been in love before but never like I was with Rurik. He was special. Even though he was a foreigner, we understood each other. We saw eye to eye and we had the same sense of humour.
“He finished it because of the pressure he was under at work and because too many friends [of Guarin] were sending him messages and he was confused. He thought it was better to end it so that no one would send him any more bad messages.”
Just a fortnight later, a friend messaged Mendoza to tell her Jutting had been arrested for murder, attaching links to Hong Kong news websites reporting his arrest.
“I sent Rurik a message on Facebook,” she says. “I said, ‘Rurik, is it true? Did you do that? I know you’re a nice guy and I can’t believe you would do this.’ I didn’t receive any response because he no longer had his phone after police arrested him.”
Both Guarin and Mendoza are back working in the bars of Angeles City, unable to escape the life that led them into the embrace of a sadistic killer. Guarin declines to talk about Jutting.
“I’ve put all that in the past and I just want to get on with my life,” she says, as she takes time out from the club in Walking Street where she dances on a stage before going back to the hotels of customers who have paid her HK$500 bar fine.
Mendoza says she has used some of the money Jutting gave her to put her son in a better school and to take a hospitality course, completed last year, she hopes will lead to a career in the hotel industry.
“I’m thankful to Rurik for what he did for me,” she says. “He gave me and my son the chance of a better future and I will never forget him.”
Such a future would be denied to Sumarti and her young son, Muhamad Hkafizh Arnovan, when Jutting cut the Indonesian woman’s throat in October 2014.
The making of a killer
A former colleague of Rurik Jutting has described how the high-flying Briton descended into a dark world of cocaine addiction and violent abuse in the months leading up to the murders.
Jutting went from being a role model who made big profits for Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML), with his high-risk trades, to a drug addict struggling to juggle his habits and a high-pressure job.
In the first detailed account of events in Jutting’s workplace in the run-up to the murders, the colleague – a senior American banker who personally knew Jutting and his bosses – says it was “part of the tragedy” that no one intervened to help before the murders.
“He had a big drug and alcohol problem. It was also well known that he was a sadistic and frequent client of the prostitutes at sex clubs in Hong Kong and Macau,” the ex-colleague says.
“Suddenly, taking home prostitutes wasn’t enough of a thrill. It was all about bondage and humiliation of the girls – pouring burning wax on them and using whips.
“Rurik was a thrill seeker and the quest to treat the girls more extremely coupled with the drugs he was on may have contributed to the tragedy that happened.”
Jutting, who moved to Hong Kong from London in 2013, worked in the high-risk trading area called structured equity financing and specialised in making multi-hundred-million-US-dollar loans to tycoons in Asia secured by stocks in their firm, the colleague says. He describes Jutting as “very smart, very aggressive, brash and occasionally very shouty” but insecure and constantly seeking reassurance from management.
“Like a lot of these young guys, he wasn’t seasoned enough to be truly secure about what he was doing from a market-risk perspective.”
At his trial, it emerged that before he called the police after his second murder, on November 1, 2014, Jutting phoned an unnamed boss – or ex-boss, as it appears the banker resigned at some point between the two murders – at BAML and told him, “I am in a lot of trouble, you need to do something about the reputation of the bank.”
The colleague says there had been “a collective shudder” at BAML when Jutting was arrested for the two murders.
“We had a young guy who was really going off the rails and was starting to get very antisocial in his behaviour. Someone should have checked to see if that was a healthy situation. Someone should have got involved.”
Friends of his first victim, Sumarti Ningsih, meanwhile, say they have been racked with guilt for not preventing her from falling into the hands of a killer who had previously abused her.
On the Sunday before her disappearance, Sumarti and her best friend, Sarah (not her real name), had been among a group of a dozen women who shared a dim sum meal with Jutting at a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Another of the women present at the meal says, “Rurik had spent the night before with Sumarti and she had vivid bruising up the side of her neck. I took her to one side and asked her about it and she told me Rurik liked to strangle her during sex. He also liked to hit her.”
Jutting and Sumarti argued openly at the lunch, the woman says.
“Sumarti was obviously very unhappy with Rurik. He kept telling her to go home with him at the end of the meal but she refused to go and told him he treated her badly. I think she left alone, without him.”
Five days later, Jutting finally persuaded Sumarti to go to his flat. She would not leave alive.
Three weeks later, Sarah, who had frantically searched for Sumarti before learning of her death, was rescued by police while threatening to throw herself off a seven-storey apartment block opposite the high rise in which her best friend had met a slow and terrifying death. Simon Parry