Thai police have arrested two migrant workers from Burma and charged them with murdering a British backpacker and a young woman with him. Police said they raped the woman repeatedly before bashing her head with a hoe and killing her, according to the Bangkok Post. The crime occurred in September on an idyllic secluded beach at Koh Tao.
Authorities told reporters that man appeared to have been beaten with the hoe first and dragged into the sea while alive. They said there was evidence that he died by drowning. Police told news outlets both men have confessed. A third person is also under investigation in connection with the murders.
The brutality of the crime and clearly the attractiveness of the couple generated massive international publicity, with the British media accusing police of bungling the investigation. It also outraged Thais, who worried about its impact on the country’s tourism industry. Thailand announced Tuesday that it would give tourists wristbands with their personal details, install more cameras and provide better lighting in tourist areas.
Even the Thai military ruler, Prayuth Chan-ocha, got involved, to his later dismay.
“They think our country is so beautiful and safe they can wear a bikini everywhere,” Prayuth said in a speech to government officials that touched on tourist safety. “Will it be safe wearing a bikini, unless you are not beautiful?” After an uproar, he apologized two days later, for “causing misunderstanding….I feel sorry for them and about the incident. I don’t want to see further losses.”
The two men were made to re-enact the crime in front of a crowd of onlookers, and were reportedly wearing helmets and flak jackets to protect them from violence. It was described as standard police procedure. Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen, a commander involved in the investigation, defended the crime scene reconstruction as an opportunity “to get a sense of what happened” to supplement the DNA tests and gathering forensic and CCTV evidence, the Telegraph said.
The victims were David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23. They were relaxing on the beach when the men, who had been drinking, allegedly set upon them, authorities said. Witheridge was a speech therapy student from England. Miller, from the channel island of Jersey, had been backpacking across Asia and Australia. The two reportedly had not known each other before meeting at Koh Tao.
Thailand hosts thousands of migrant workers from Burma and other countries. Authorities identified the two laborers only by first names, Wyn and Saw.
The investigation had stumped police for weeks. The resorted to taking hundreds of DNA samples from local residents and reviewed tape from 366 closed-circuit cameras. They caught sight of the two men on footage from a convenience store, police told the Post and ultimately made a DNA match between cigarettes and semen.
One of the men worked at a resort hotel and the other at a restaurant near the crime scene.
The Bangkok Post noted that Thai authorities “are frequently accused of framing migrants” from Myanmar and Cambodia “for crimes in the kingdom. “Police insist they are not scapegoating anyone for the murders. Both public officials and Koh Tao residents seem anxious to put the sordid scenes of the past 19 days behind them,” said the paper.
Correction: An earlier version said police had been stumped for months. It’s weeks not months.