Taking part in a true crime TV documentary profiling Thailand’s “second” serial killer
In early 2005 the body of a masseuse was found strangled to death in a luxury hotel in Mukdahan, a provincial city overlooking the brown Mekong River in Northeastern Thailand. Over the next few months, the cadavers of more masseuses and karaoke singers turned up in other parts of the country in what may be only the second case of serial murder in the history of Thailand.
The first such serial killer was See Ouey Sae Nguan, a Chinese immigrant who went on a carnage and cannibalism spree in Bangkok’s Chinatown and the eastern seaboard around Rayong province in the late 1950s. His preserved corpse is on display at the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medical Museum in Bangkok.
Since I wrote about him in the non-fiction collection Bizarre Thailand (2010) and later in a fact-weds-fiction novella called “The Legendary Nobody” in The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand (2014), the directors of a true-crime show about the “masseuse murders” contacted me to serve as a consultant.
For the program—entitled The Masseuse Murders and originally aired on the Asia Crime Investigation channel—the producers also did a series of interviews with many of the investigating officers, who discuss how the investigation proceeded and how they caught a couple of very lucky breaks that broke the case open.
In-between the restaged murder scenes are clips of police file footage that show the crime scenes, next to CCTV footage of the killer entering and exiting various hotels—with enough forensic details to keep CSI geeks happy.
Between these parts, I am asked some of the usual questions about Thailand on subjects like prostitution and more unusual topics, like the traits associated with serial killers, such as pathological lying (think John Wayne Gacy), the swapping of identities (think Ted Bundy), and a delusional belief that they can never be caught (think Jeffrey Dahmer) which inspires more and more reckless behaviours that often gets them caught in the end.
Those parts of the program are okay. I don’t always agree with myself, though, or the way that these parts are edited together. After appearing in a host of TV shows and documentaries I often wish that I could edit my conversations myself.
For me, the real highlights of The Masseuse Murders are the interviews with the different women talking about their deceased friends. In Mukdahan, a colleague of the slain karaoke singer, Warunee Pimpabutr, talks about the difficult life she had and yet remained such a cheerful and lively soul. Her boss, and the owner of the bar, Imchit Paklau, relates how Warunee—just 25 at the time of her death and the only person in her family with a job—had five brothers and sisters who had to walk many kilometers to school every morning. One of the reasons she was working in the karaoke bar was to buy a motorcycle for her siblings so they could drive to school instead of walking.
Far from being portrayed as passive victims, these women are framed as fighters and survivors. During a police reenactment of one murder, a masseuse says, the serial killer Somkhit Pompuang is attacked by a female colleague of the slain woman. And Imchit makes no bones about it when she says that the killer deserved the death sentence he got.
It’s easy to glorify, or to moralize about the sex trade in Thailand, but the reality is more banal. Imchit says, “I spend so much time with these girls that I know nobody is here by choice. They do it for their parents and siblings. So please be sympathetic.” The documentary’s writer and director Mayurica Biswas took that advice to heart.
Serial killers are notorious for debasing their victims in some way, either physically or emotionally, or through sexual acts like sodomy intended to make these pitiful characters feel superior to those they slay. That’s another reason why so many of them, like Somkhit, enjoy using their bare hands to kill. Then they can feel the victim’s pulse throbbing in their throats, savour the fear in their eyes, watch their death throes stop and their bodies go limp.
In taking lives they have granted themselves the godlike powers of life and death—powers they have so often been denied in their own wretched lives on the margins of society, like this chronic scammer who pretended to be a talent scout for a big music label, among other guises.
Best of all, The Masseuse Murders—which bears the fingerprints and hallmarks of a woman’s sure-handed and sympathetic touch—goes a long way to restoring the dignity of the women who died at the hands of a remorseless serial killer and conman.
NOTE: Now available online, The Masseuse Murders is a true life crime documentary that features interviews with Thai policemen, and an appearance by author Jim Algie, who stands in as the token farang expert on serial killers and the flesh trade. You can watch the program in its entirety here: www.dailymotion.com/video/x2egdw9_crime-investigation-asia-the-masseuse-murders_tv