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Crimes that shocked the nation in 2019

Crimes that shocked the nation in 2019

THAILAND: There were plenty of high-profile criminal cases that captured the public interest in 2019. The year saw a serial killer strike again, a string of violent courthouse incidents, coordinated bomb blasts in Bangkok and Nonthaburi, a brutal murder driven by greed for money, and the tragic case of model-for-hire 'Lunlabelle' who was found dead in disturbing circumstances.

accidentsalcoholcrimedeathhomicidemurderpolicepoliticssexviolence
By Bangkok Post

Tuesday 31 December 2019, 09:00AM


Serial killer

The murder of Ratsami Mulichan drew enormous public attention because police said she was the sixth victim of convicted murderer Somkid Pumpuang, who was released on parole early this year.

Somkid, 56, was released on May 17 for good behaviour after spending 14 years behind bars for the murders of five women in 2005.

Police concluded he had struck again after Ratsami, 51, was found dead in a house in Khon Kaen's Kranuan district on Dec 15. The victim, who worked as a hotel maid, was strangled to death. Her body was found wrapped in a blanket, naked from the waist down.

After a massive manhunt, Somkid was arrested on Dec 18 on a Bangkok-bound train at Pak Chong station in Nakhon Ratchasima after a passenger identified him. Somkid was charged with premeditated murder, concealing a body, and theft. He denies the charges though police said he earlier admitted to killing Ratsami in a fit of anger.

Somkid was arrested by the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) and convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2005 for the murders of five women who were nightclub singers or masseuses at hotels in Mukdahan, Lampang, Trang, Udon Thani and Buri Ram provinces.

He was originally sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment because he confessed to the murders. At the time of his release, the Corrections Department said that Somkid was “a model prisoner.”

The case called into question the merit of the department's rehabilitation programme and prompted Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin to order the formation of a special committee tasked with monitoring current and former prisoners sentenced for “serious crimes.”

Courthouse violence

Violence in courthouses is rare, and the Oct 24 self-shooting by Judge Khanakorn Pianchana at the Yala provincial court sent shock waves through the country.

Judge Khanakorn shot himself in protest at alleged interference in a case he was handling. The apparent suicide bid occurred in front of a packed court after he acquitted five defendants and addressed the court in a speech that he broadcast live on Facebook.

The Judicial Commission decided to transfer the judge to the Research Justice Division with the Court of Appeal Region 5 in Chiang Mai following an initial fact-finding inquiry and ordered a probe to determine if Judge Khanakorn had violated any disciplinary codes.

While the self-shooting case put the spotlight on rules and regulations governing trial procedures, two other cases of violence exposed apparent flaws in security at courthouses.

On Nov 4, three drug suspects including an American shot and stabbed their way out of a court in Pattaya before they were tracked down in Sa Kaeo's Wattana Nakhon district. Ten others were arrested for aiding their escape.

Noi Nilthes surrendered to authorities along with two women who allegedly helped him flee. Bart Allen Helmus tried to keep police at bay by holding Sirinapa Wisetrit, his girlfriend and the third fugitive, at gunpoint. The American national ended up shooting himself and was later pronounced dead at hospital.

About a week later, three people were killed in a shooting at the Chanthaburi courthouse over a drawn-out land dispute.

Pol Maj Gen Tharin Chantratip, 67, a defendant in a 10-year civil lawsuit concerning blocks of land in Tha Mai district, drew a pistol and opened fire at lawyer Bancha Porameesanaporn and his team before he was fatally shot by Thanakorn Theerawarodom, a paralegal, who was later charged with murder.

Bomb and arson attacks

Bangkok and Nonthaburi were hit by a series of bomb blasts and arson attacks in August which targeted three strategic locations - state agencies, shopping districts, and the public transport system.

The attacks took place as the city hosted a meeting of Asean foreign ministers which was also attended by diplomats from the United States, China and other world powers. While few were injured, the violence posed challenges to police and security authorities.

According to police, the attacks were planned at six key venues and coordinated to take place simultaneously on Aug 2. However, one of the attacks was thwarted when police discovered a time-bomb planted in front of the Royal Thai Police headquarters on Rama I Road on Aug 1 and had it defused.

A security camera captured images of one of the assailants dropping a suspicious-looking object and this led to the arrests of Lu-ai Saengae, 22, and Wildon Maha, 27, who were nabbed on an inter-provincial bus in Chumphon on Aug 2.

The blasts occurred at Chong Nonsi BTS station near the King Power Mahanakhon building, the Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road, the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, and the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence in Nonthaburi's Pak Kret district.

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Police also reported small fires in the Pratunam and Siam Square areas which were later determined to be part of the coordinated attacks, while explosions on Rama IX Road which also took place on Aug 2 were later ruled to be unrelated.

Police initially linked the attacks to the insurgency in the restive South but refused to rule out a separate political motive. Muhammad Ilham Sa-i, 27, a third suspect, was arrested on Sept 2 in Narathiwat.

In November the three men were indicted on 11 counts including collusion in terrorism, organised crime, illegal assembly, attempted murder, illegal possession of explosives, and carrying explosives. They pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Bodies in the fridge

A manhunt was launched across several provinces for Withun Sitabut, 39, when police found the body of 58-year-old Wannee Jiracharoenying stuffed in a refrigerator at her second home in Chiang Mai's Chom Thong district, which she visited during merit-making trips to the northern province.

Mr Withun, the victim's chauffeur, became the prime suspect after surveillance camera footage showed a man driving the victim's BMW car and withdrawing cash from Wannee's bank accounts.

Within five days police tracked him down in Nakhon Sawan. When he was nabbed, Mr Withun was in possession of 1.2 million baht in cash. Police also seized a 5-baht weight gold necklace and a new motorcycle purchased with the stolen money.

During his escape, the suspect withdrew a total of 1.7 million baht from the victim's account and rented a car to drive on to Rayong where he and his girlfriend checked in at a luxury resort on Koh Samet.

He confessed to killing Wannee for money after she refused his request for a loan. He forced her to give him the pin code for her ATM card, fatally assaulted her, stashed her body in the refrigerator and covered it in quick lime to mask the odour.

According to police, the suspect's spending spree while on the run helped them track him down.

About a month later the public was shocked again when the remains of 42-year-old Yuree Thaowan were found chopped up and stuffed inside a freezer in a house in Bangkok's Bang Khunthian district while her son, Sira Somdej, 20, was found barely alive nearby with a gunshot wound to the head.

However, the investigation revealed that Sira, who was later pronounced dead at Nakhon Thon Hospital, was the only suspect in Yuree's murder. He apparently shot himself when a friend of his mother dropped by at the house and stumbled upon Yuree's remains.

The death of 'Lunlabelle'

The fate of model-for-hire Thitima “Lunlabelle” Noraphanpiphat was the most-talked about case this year after she died in disturbing circumstances.

Security camera footage showed Thitima being escorted by male model-for-hire Rachadech “Nam Oun” Wongtabutr to his sixth-floor room at a condominium on the night of Sept 16. Hours later he was seen carrying her limp body back into the lobby and placing her on a sofa, where she was found dead in the morning.

Since Mr Rachadech was the last person seen with Thitima, many netizens were convinced he was responsible for her death. The investigation and forensic examination held him accountable for her demise but he was not charged with murder.

According to an autopsy report, Thitima died from alcohol poisoning. Her blood/alcohol level was 418 milligrammes per 100 millilitres, enough to render an individual unconscious and/or cause death.

The case was solved but not without controversy. It turned out that Thitima had been hired to entertain guests at a house party earlier in Nonthaburi's Bang Bua Thong district where she reportedly became intoxicated.

Mr Rachadech, who was also present at the party, was charged with sexual assault, committing an act of indecency, and unlawfully detaining Thitima in a way that caused her death.

Questions over what really happened at the party grew louder after another model-for-hire present on the night stepped up to accuse a group of people at the party house of sexual assault.

Thitima's family also requested a second autopsy after questioning the original forensic findings. The results confirmed alcohol poisoning as the cause of death, with no trace of other toxic substances nor confirmation of sexual assault.

After three months, Thitima's body was cremated in early December and she was finally laid to rest.

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