KO TAO MURDERS – THAILAND’S LEGACY

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‘Somewhere in this life there must be a place, an experience, an encounter, that changes everything!’
FLYING SPORRAN’S WEEKEND DIARY


These are the opening titles to the film trailer for ‘The Beach’ from the novel by Alex Garland, at one time a backpacker’s bible.

‘The Beach’ in question chosen for the film was ‘Maya Beach’  in Koh Phi Phi Ley but it could have been any of the more remote beaches in the Samui Archipelago of Thailand and in particularly Sairee Beach on Koh Tao.

And once against those words echo in a wry way in Thailand as they have done so many times before as the bodies of two more Britons whose only guilt it now seems was just being here were found brutally hacked to death with a garden hoe while one was raped by two men.

There is little evidence to show they were doing anything more than chatting and looking up at the stars.

‘I feel like I want to do something different but I end up doing the same thing’ (as everyone else) –  character played by Leonardo di Caprio as he ends up on The Beach;.

I am the only journalist in Thailand to have covered all the worst murders of Britons in Thailand over the last 20 plus years and my heart sank again this week in that ‘not again’ feeling.

Thailand does not learn and it is not going to learn. So we have to. People are again deceived by its seductive beaches, palms and smiles….all of which are wonderful but all of which can hide something quite different.

First in 1996 there was Joanne Masheder,23, from the Wincle, Cheshire, murdered by a monk Yodchat Suaphu in the grounds of Wat Tham Khao Poon in Kanchanaburi, where she was thrown into a cave.  The monk, it was later discovered had previously been jailed for rape and confessed to raping an Australian woman, but was never charged.

It was some time before her body was found and in the hue and cry the media were deflecting the fault away from Thailand.  “Insurance Scam Suspected’ ran a headline in the Thai Rath, suggested she was not dead at all, but foreigners wanted to collect the insurance on her demise.

Narong – tortured

Then in 2001 there was Kirsty Jones, also 23, from Brecon, Wales, murdered and brutally raped and sodomised in the Aree Guest House in Chiang Mai in 2001.

Thai Police rounded on the Burmese, picking out a tour guide called Narong taking him to a safe house where they tortured him but failed to gain a confession.

Amazingly I was led to the guide by a Thai journalist who said: ‘We can’t report this until you do.”  I did. Then the Thai press did.

Police also arrested a variety of foreigners from the guest house and had to let them go. The Police detective at the time said that, although the semen samples were Asian, the killer could easily have bought the sperm off a male sex worker.

There was no result to this investigation even though it was eventually taken over by the DSI. There is widespread believe that the killer of Kirsty Jones was protected.

Somchai with Vanessa before he ran he
ran her down and executed her in Kanchanburi

Then in 2005 a police sergeant, Somchai Wisetsingh, gunned down Vanessa Arscott, and Adam Lloyd, from Devon, on the River Kwai Road in Kanchanaburi.

They had dined in his  S&S restaurant and Somchai had got fresh with Vanessa. Adam has put him in his place.

First Adam was shot by the roadside and Somchai turned his car on Vanessa who was running away.

He ran her down crippling her then executed her as she held on to a police supporting electricity cables and shot her three times, once in the forehead, once in the face and once in the neck. Somchai claimed in his trial he hardly know Vanessa and had not talked to her. But our picture proved otherwise.

The Times

‘Her faith in her fellow man let her down’

Then in 2006 the body of 24-year-old Katherine Horton, from Cardiff, a student at Reading University, was found near Lamai Beach, Koh Samui, She had been raped and beaten to death and  her body had been pushed out into the water.

At the time I was ‘The Times’ correspondent and was surprised at the quaint headline they gave this story. But since then I have used the word ‘idyll’ a lot – but slightly tongue in cheek.

Katherine had innocently taken a walk along the beach at night, perhaps to look at the stars, but also to call and catch up with news from her mum.  The attack happened as she was talking to her mum who heard her screams.

A father signs ‘Evil Man from Krabi’.

Local police started rounding up locals and foreigners but a team was rushed down from Bangkok to take over.

They found the culprits. They were Thai fisherman who had even gone back to their boat and boasted of their deed to their colleagues.  Katherine, they said, was ‘roi’ – (aroi) Thai for ‘delicious’.  None had thought to tell police.

There of course have also been many other attacks and rapes which were not fatal, such as the rape of a 19-year-old Dutch model in Krabi after which her father composed the song ‘Evil Man of Krabi’ – and of course there have been many murders of British men.

There is a common denominator amongst all the young British women murdered. They all fit the demographic, pretty, intelligent, university educated, middle class and all had close loving families.

A shocked Aussie Nathan Foley – detained in the
Kirsty Jones case

They were not errant wild promiscuous women here getting drunk on beaches and throwing their clothes off.

All these were sensible level headed young women with great prospects ahead.

And each time their names were dragged through the mud by the Thai press and officialdom.

A policeman in the Kirsty Jones case announced that she probably had ‘consensual sex with her killer but the scene turned ugly when he demanded anal sex’, and here in Thailand the Thai press have depicted Hannah and David Miller couple as promiscuous, and that they were attacked by a mad and jealous gay boyfriend of David Miller.

Not only that but some foreigners on the island have been putting out the same story. It’s been appearing on the forum Thaivisa.com.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head has been doing an excellent job and at times I think he has had to hide his frustration as the blame has been put on the Burmese then on David Miller’s British friends, back to the Burmese, then back to the Brits…to the Burmese and a final admission that police still did not have a clue.

But when, in the interests of balance Jonathan produced a northern Brit who told us all that this was an isolated incident and that Koh Tao was a wonderful, peaceful , serene..choose your word, idyllic island, I almost choked on his Mancunian accent as I had to listen to him prior to broadcasting on the Today Show on BBC Radio 4.  My reply was tweeted extensively.

“It’s not an isolated incident,” I said. “We have had quite a few people murdered here over the last 20 years,’ I replied and then listed them – and there is more to that island than palms and beaches.

Later on I told BBC Good Morning Scotland the same. And then on came BBC Radio 5 Live who wanted to talk about the ‘outrageous’ remarks made by Prime Minister General Prayuth about women wearing bikinis.

The British Embassy found the time to question his remarks and send a diplomatioc letter and I’m guessing here that there are a few Brits in Thailand who wish the Embassy would do the same for them.

Here’s a quick reminder: The General said:

 “Tourists think that Thailand is beautiful, safe and that they can do anything they want here. That they can put on their bikinis and go anywhere they want. I ask, can you get away with wearing bikinis in Thailand? Unless you are not beautiful?”

The British media, led by the Daily Mail (banned in Thailand) went berserk.

The General apologized:

 “I am sorry with what I said and if it has caused any ill-feelings. I just wanted to warn tourists that we have different traditions and they have to stay on their toes.”

I duly replied that yes in the normal context those remarks could be considered outrageous but in the Thai context not so much. In Bangkok for instance Thai women will be reluctant to get into a taxi alone late at night.

My Thai friends for instance, book drivers they know when going home late. There is a safe taxi service – you just pay another 20 baht (40p).

I said I was sure nobody had a problem in Thailand wearing a bikini on a beach during the daytime when many other people were there but that might be foolish at night alone.

Again the interviewer rounded on me asking how could I not consider it scandalous. I said that while I did not necessarily agree with the way General Prayuth put it I could see it from his point of view – the real scandal was the investigation.

And then along comes LBC ‘Well of course we know this is an isolated incident Andrew…..’ now by this time I am really fired up…..No it is not that isolated!….I said reeling off the murders again.

My host ended with the final line: ‘Well I guess it cannot help having a military junta’ was his closing remark. The audio line was cut before I could reply to that one.

All in all a helter-skelter week. I know personally several of the parents of kids murdered in Thailand and we sort of keep in touch. One who has been less frequently in touch because she has followed every step the FCO has told her (and got nowhere) is Kirsty Jones’ mother Sue. She is in touch on Facebook. She will know exactly what these people’s parents are going through.

Above are the outlines of British women killed in Thailand – Add other foreigners to the list and it looks much grimmer.  This week there has been an unreported case of a Spanish woman being raped after getting in a taxi on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. 

While I did not cover this murder (below) of a young Swedish woman in Phuket, a reader has asked me to include it.  After the incident the local authorities said they would provide whistles to give to women in the event of an attack. The idea lasted about one day.

THE MURDER OF HANNA BACKLUND



PHUKET: On 15 March at 1 P.M., the officer-on-duty at Tha Chatchai in Phuket, Pol. Lt. Col. Somkhid Khaosingh, received a report that a young foreign woman had been killed in the vicinity of Mai Khao Beach in Moo 1 Tambon Mai Khao, Amphur Thalang, Phuket. Having notified his superior officer, he hurried off to the crime scene accompanied by Pol. Col. Withayadej Worakhilok, Deputy Commander for Phuket province, Pol. Col. Sakchai Limcharoen, Commander at Tha Chatchai Police Station, Pol. Col. Nopadol Kantakanit, Superintendent of Forensic district 44 (Phuket), a team of rescue workers from Kusolkam foundation in Phuket, and a team of investigators.

The crime took place on a desolate stretch of beach about 1 kilometer from Mai Khao Bungalows. The police found the body of the deceased, a foreign woman, identified as Miss Hanna Charlotta Bäcklund, age 27, from Sweden. She was wearing a black bikini top with the cords at the back undone, and light blue bikini briefs. 

On her left hand was a deep wound from a sharp object. Her neck had two stab wounds from a pointed knife entering all the way into the trachea. She had a wound at the lower left side of her ribcage from which blood had seeped all over the ground. No traces indicating a rape were found. When the police arrived, the victim’s 30-year-old travel companion Emma Storman, also Swedish, was found crying next to her friend’s dead body. 

The police gave the rescue workers clearance to take the body to Thalang Chansut Hospital. While the police were busy investigating the crime scene, five young men, seemingly feigning ignorance of what had happened, came to get a closer look at the body. They were taken in for questioning by the police; it was found they were not involved, but the police recorded their statements before letting them go.

Emma Storman gave a tear-filled testimony, saying she had been travelling in Thailand together with the deceased and that they had stayed at Mai Khao Bungalows for about 1 week before the time of the incident. 

The deceased and her friend were having a meal at the beachside restaurant belonging to the bungalow complex when Hanna invited her friend to come for a walk along the beach. Emma declined, staying behind with the owner of the complex. Hanna went for a walk by herself not taking any personal affects. When she had not returned after about 30 minutes, Emma became worried and asked the owner to help look for her friend. When they found her body with stab wounds, the police were notified. Emma had never imagined this was how her friend would meet her end. (Translated from Thai)



Andrew Drummond has been contributing to ITN News, Sky News, London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Sun, BBC Today Programme, BBC Scotland, on the recent murders in Koh Tao.

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