Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In the Paradise of True Crime, the Thai Press Would be King

There are very few kinds of books that I will not read, but the backs of cereal boxes hold more allure for me than volumes of true crime. When I worked in a bookstore, that was the section I pretended wasn't there. When a customer would ask me where it was, I'd take them there as rapidly as possible, refusing to ask the bookseller's leading question, "Are you looking for anything in particular?" because I was afraid they might tell me. In detail.

But there's no avoiding true crime in Thailand--it's the staple of the daily press. Although I miss the juiciest stories because I cannot read Thai, the English language papers often have a story that would make Ann Rule, the Queen of True Crime writers, salivate like Niagara Falls.

The first assault against humanity-- and perhaps good taste as well-- that I noticed in my morning paper was the husband who was castrated by his wife when he was in a stupor induced by a jubilant night on the town. He managed to get to a hospital, severed member in hand, and it was surgically reattached, with the victim saying his story should be a warning to all straying husbands. 

He was fortunate. Many wives throw the errant appendage outdoors where it's carried off by neighborhood dogs--and I know this because during my time in Bangkok, I read many of these stories and concluded that in Thailand Lorena Bobbitt would be a household saint.

A more conventional true crime scenario occurred just before I left for my seven-year stay in the States, so I'm unclear about the way it ended. A prominent doctor and university professor took his wife to dinner where she rapidly became so befuddled that he took her home, telling the waitress that his spouse was unwell. That was the last time this lady was ever seen.

Later accounts said the doctor had purchased a large quantity of garbage bags and rubber gloves before his wife diappeared.  Human flesh, cut into pieces, was found in his apartment, about 14 pounds worth,  and DNA proved it had once been on the body of the doctor's wife.

However the courts would not issue a warrant for his arrest because of inconclusive evidence--a person could after all survive the loss of fourteen pounds, although this weight loss was more extreme than the average regimen. The doctor, when I left the Kingdom, was still a free man.

Recently a severed head was found hanging from a rope tied to a city bridge. The police didn't rule out suicide, which I thought was amusing, until my friend Rodney pointed out that when suspended from that height, the body's weight  would tear it away from the neck. The body was soon found in the river below, was matched with the head, and was obviously torn, not cut, off.
A suicide note was then found to be credible and the case was closed.

Now the press is engulfed with the discovery of a woman who had been declared dead after the tsunami. Her husband had identified the body, it was cremated, their young children, who were beneficiaries of her life insurance policies, reaped the financial benefits, and life went on. The police were suspicious of the death, however, because the husband was unconcerned about any possessions that may have been found on his wife's corpse before it was cremated. Since she was a woman who habitually wore very expensive jewellery, this raised the eyebrows of local authorities and a red flag to the national Crime Suppression Division--especially when the dead wife's DNA and fingerprints weren't found on file with the Thailand Disaster Victim Identification unit.

When a woman was found repeatedly applying for replacement ID cards which were denied because her fingerprints didn't match those of the name on the card that she asked for, and who resembled the dead wife but was without the distinctive birthmark on the face that had characterized her, the case went from cold to hot. Police followed one of the dead wife's children after school let out and found the woman alive and well, living with her family in the heart of Bangkok.

Police believe the wife's face had been altered by cosmetic surgery performed in China and that the hoax was prompted by substantial debts that the woman had incurred and was reluctant to repay.

And then of course the most prominent true crime story involves a politician of the highest level, a fugitive from justice who is refused entry to many of the world's nations and who uses modern communication methods to hold meetings with his faithful followers at home. The ending of this story is still waiting to unfold--and the Thai press will be there every step of the way. After all, that's what keeps us buying papers--true crime, the savior of the free press.


Tokyo Ern said...

Those are quite shocking stories. I think Japan and Tokyo in particular are trying to join that bandwagon. I already mentioned the Akihabara random killings. The following month a man who was neighbors to a single woman in an apartment complex came under suspicion of killing her. When the girl disappeared this guy talked to the press with a smile but was found that he killed the woman, hacked her to pieces and tried to get rid of her body by flushing it down the toilet piece by piece.

Janet Brown said...

Yes, they are shocking and frequent in this corner of the world.

Will Yaryan said...

Did you read about the body parts that were found floating in the San Saeb Khlong the other day?

Janet Brown said...

Oh god no--I missed that one, but if it has legs it will come up again--(sorry, I don't usually do puns but true crime makes me nervous.)