Police arrested them last Thursday (Aug 30), ending their 15-year spree of robberies which had seen the duo make off with more than B20 million worth of stolen goods and cash.
The couple had become notorious for using their pet dog as a decoy while a knack for forging ID cards had seen them evade the law until investigators found them at a rented house on Phahonyothin 52 Rd in the capital.
Thiyata Bunrueang, 38, who accompanied her husband Aphichat, 42, to the Provincial Police Region 1, held a Shih Tzu in her arms but said it was not the one taken with them on their “shopping” trips.
“More than 50 victims have complained to police about their crimes – about 10 robberies a month on average over 15 years,” said Lt Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, chief of Provincial Police Region 1.
It was a Shih Tzu, named Tua Lek (little one), which was the key to their rouse, according to investigators.
The couple took the pet dog with them when they went to a target shop. They pretended to be customers asking questions about products and, sometimes, placed many orders.
The dog was simply left to sniff around, run about and explore the store.
“This was to distract the attention of the shop owner,” Lt Gen Suwat said.
“When the dog caught the victim’s attention or they became busy packing goods for the couple, the suspects quickly snatched valuables and suddenly left.”
Such a trick was employed for the last time on Aug 7 when the pair, together with Tua Lek, went to an agricultural equipment store in Pathum Thani. “In just a short time, they made off with up to B400,000 in assets,” Lt Gen Suwat said.
Pathum Thani was just one province on their shopping list. Bangkok and provinces in the East and West all reported appearances of the dog holders, according to police.
“The couple has already confessed to the crimes,” said deputy national police chief Gen Chaloemkiat Siworakhan, who was present during the press conference.
Investigators found that the dog was indeed not the first method of distraction the pair had employed. In the beginning, they had used their daughter to similar effect, earning them a previous soubriquet of the ‘child-cradling thieves’.
“However, when their daughter grew up, they switched to lovely little pet dogs.
“At this stage, we will not take legal action against their daughter,” Gen Chaloemkiat said.
One victim, who asked not to be named, also presented police with evidence of how his toy balloon shop was robbed.
Footage from a security camera showed Aphichat arriving at the store with his daughter. While the child strolled around causing the seller to become unaware of his assets, the suspect snatched a purse and concealed it on his person before making a swift exit with his daughter, the victim claimed.
Many of the couple’s victims have complained about the crime spree on the Jor Sor 100 traffic radio station. However, having no clue about the couple’s whereabouts, they believed it would hard to arrest them.
Even police admitted it took a long time to nab the pair due to their adeptness at forging identity documents and changing their address.
The couple used identity cards taken from “people with faces similar to them” to acquire cars and rent houses, Lt Gen Suwat said.
Reportedly Aphichat's wife, also known as Usa Kasemmani, used the proceeds of their crimes to undergo cosmetic surgery, which further made her difficult to apprehend.
According to media reports, she also liked to show off her lavish lifestyle together with her Shih Tzu sidekick on social media.
A check on their backgrounds found Aphichat and his wife were wanted under a total of 14 arrest warrants, but investigators had failed to even come close to catching the pair until late last month.
However, on Aug 27, following a tip-off, police seized assets and documents believed to belong to the suspects. The items – 18 identity cards, 10 ATM and credit cards, 55 mobile phones, 55 brand-name bags, various types of jewellery, one pistol and two cars – were found at a luxury house in Nonthaburi’s Pak Kret district.
Police said the couple had managed to escape just minutes before officers’ arrival.
However, the investigators later gathered important clues that led them to the arrest of the two suspects at a rented house in Bangkok’s Bang Khen district on Aug 29.
The pair, who were almost assaulted by angry victims on the day they went to Provincial Police Region 1, refused to talk to the media and are currently under court custody in Pathum Thani.
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