Professional wrestling has had its fair share of tragedies over the years, but this tragic tale in Canada involving wrestler Nanjo Singh and his wife may be one of the least talked about.
Nanjo Singh and the Murder of his Wife, Betty: One of Wrestling’s Lesser-Known Tragedies
During my research for the Grappling With Canada program "Whipper Billy Watson – A Canadian Icon," one name was consistently linked to Whipper: wrestler Nanjo Singh.
While Nanjo’s accomplishments in pro wrestling are quite impressive, they are overshadowed by the brutal murder of his wife.
An Accomplished Wrestler
Nanjo Singh was born on July 24, 1930, in Punjab, India. He was soon adopted by Berama Singh and Dhan Kaur and moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
He was a high-level athlete, winning provincial championships in handball and wrestling during his formative years. Singh even qualified for the British Empire Games and started for the Calgary Stampeders, playing Offensive Guard for the 1951 season.
But none of these accomplishments rivaled the heights he could reach in professional wrestling.
Standing 5’10" and weighing nearly 250 lbs, Nanjo was an imposing physical presence.
In the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Nanjo developed himself into a terrifying heel, with his Cobra Deathlock captivating the fans.
He was a Sikh and wore a turban as part of his heritage. He also adopted elements from Islam, such as kneeling to pray to Mecca as part of his pre-match rituals to present himself as a foreign menace. Singh became one of the most hated heels in the early days of territory wrestling.
He drew so much heat, especially in Maple Leaf Wrestling, that he was stabbed, smoke bombed, burned, and jumped by fans multiple times.
Nanjo Singh was the reason the wrestling ramp was invented – in Maple Leaf Wrestling, they needed a way to get him to the ring and back as safely as possible.
Nanjo was also the reason for the first recognized cage match in Canadian history. Amazingly, the cage wasn’t meant to contain him and hometown hero Whipper Watson in mortal combat; it was to keep the fans out of the ring!
Nanjo drew massive crowds in Canada; paid attendance topped 12,000 dozens of times, with highs of 15,000-plus in the early ’50s.
He also had impactful gates in America as well. Traveling the Northeast, his rivals included legends of the ring like Lou Thesz, Jim Londos, Don Leo Jonathan, Man Mountain Dean, Pat O’Conner, Verne Gagne, and Frank Sexton, among others.
With a career that spanned from early 1930 to 1956, Nanjo moved with his wife, Betty, to Philadelphia, where he opened a taproom with the idea of retiring quietly. Unfortunately, two years later, that retirement dream turned into a nightmare.
The Murder of Betty Singh
On January 21, 1958, at 12:03 PM, 37-year-old Betty Singh was found brutally murdered in the apartment above the taproom owned by Nanjo Singh.
Detectives investigated the scene, finding Betty’s stripped and battered body on the couple’s kitchen floor. Blood trails led from the kitchen to the bathroom, where Betty’s clothes were recovered.
Betty was so horrifically beaten that her mother was only able to identify her based on particular scarring on her arms positively. Initially, Nanjo pleaded his innocence.
However, on January 23rd, Nanjo was charged with murder.
The trial began on April 7, 1958, in Quarter Sessions Court in Philadelphia. Nanjo Singh was found guilty of Second Degree Murder on April 23rd, 1958, for beating Betty Singh to death. According to court documents, the series of events unfolded as such:
During the evening of January 20th, a domestic dispute could be overheard emanating from Singh’s second-story apartment above the taproom.
Witnesses stated that they heard yelling and loud banging sounds coming from the apartment starting at 8:30 PM. The sounds started again at 9:30 PM, and at 10:30 PM, witnesses described the sound of dragging furniture coming from the unit.
Around 11:30 PM, Nanjo appeared in the taproom in his underclothes and instructed his staff to close the bar for the evening, and he went back to the apartment for the night.
The following morning Singh instructed his bartender to call a doctor for Betty, claiming that “he thought she was sick and may be gone.”
At 11:50 AM the morning of January 21st, a doctor was contacted, and at 12:03 PM, Betty was pronounced deceased.
It was determined that Betty’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. She was deceased 10 hours before she was pronounced dead by the doctor, who was called to the scene.
On Friday, November 14th, 1958, in front of a grand jury, Nanjo Singh was sentenced to 4-8 years in prison for the death of Betty.
One interesting fact pertaining to the American justice system is that the trial of Nanjo Singh was the first in American history where color photographs were presented as evidence to the jury.
It should be noted that a disputed fact from the trial regarded Nanjo’s alleged confession. Court documents show that County Detective William F. Hipple provided sworn testimony regarding a confession issued by Nanjo.
According to Hipple, he and another county detective, Michael Stanton, went to Singh’s taproom on February 7th, 1958, to investigate a complaint that Singh had threatened a man who had given the police information concerning Singh’s wife’s death.
Singh was out on bail at the time.
“When we got there,” said Hipple, “Singh was ranting and raving and acting like a madman. His eyes were glazed. He pounded on the bar with his fist.
“But finally, he agreed to go down to city hall with us, and on the way down, I asked him, ‘Why did you do it, Jo?’
“To that, Singh said, ‘How much can you take? She was drinking a fifth and a half every day. She went through $50,000 of my money. I gave her $600 to go to Florida, but I learned later she was in a hotel here with another man.’
“‘I didn’t mean to kill her,’ he said. ‘I blacked out. Now I want to die. I want to go to the electric chair.’"
Hipple testified that Singh told him he could have gotten rid of the bloodstained clothes, his own and his wife’s, if he wanted to. The witness said Singh admitted lying to detectives when he told them of finding his wife the next day.
It’s also worth noting that while Betty was deceased in their apartment, Nanjo slept for some time, made and consumed breakfast, and still waited hours to inform his staff to call a doctor.
By all accounts, Nanjo Singh served the better part of his 8-year sentence, although there is very little verifiable information regarding his physical time in prison.
Nanjo would return to Canada shortly after his release and be contacted by Jack Tunney to come back to Maple Leaf Wrestling to have a series of matches against Whipper Billy Watson.
Obviously, it was in poor taste to have a convicted murderer inserted into a top drawing position for a wrestling territory. However, one rumor, in particular, needs to be debunked.
There was innuendo floating around for years that Maple Leaf Wrestling’s promoter Frank Tunney bankrolled Nanjo’s release to come back and reignite the declining territory.
After extensive research, there is simply no evidence of that. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Nanjo being released from jail and coming back to spark a slumping Maple Leaf Wrestling was a complete coincidence.
Nanjo would go on to compete for a few more bouts, finally having his last match in November of 1966.
He would move back to Calgary, remarry, and rebuild his life. He ended up having many children and grandchildren and seemed to turn his life around.
Unfortunately, Betty Singh never received that chance.
And as much as we, as wrestling fans and historians, love the wrestling side, we must factually and honestly document the stories of these men and women, even when the facts are more disturbing than the best-written fiction.
As big a star, and as many crowds that Nanjo was able to draw and entertain over his long career, there is simply no way to separate Nanjo Singh, the wrestler, from Nanjo Singh, the murderer.
Listen to author Andy Dujlovic dive further into the story of Nanjo Singh on his “Grappling With Wrestling” podcast:
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles that delve further into the “underside of the ring”:
- Bruiser Bedlam – The Insane Crime Life of Wrestling’s Ion Croitoru
- Deviants: Wrestlers Jailed for Sex Crimes
- Ludvig Borga – The Surreal, Shocking Life of Tony Halme
- Evelyn Stevens – From Champion Wrestler to Murderer
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