The bodies of young British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, discovered on a Thailand beach last month, may be the work of at least two Burmese migrant workers. Found on the island of Koh Tao on Sept. 15, Miller, 24, and Witheridge, 23, appeared to have suffered severe head injuries.
The investigation advanced considerably after DNA testing prompted one of the workers to admit to killing the two foreigners. Senior officer and Major General Kiattipong Khawsamang confirmed that two of the apprehended men confessed to the killings while a third detainee denied any involvement. Both accounts provide by the confessing men matched.
The backpackers’ bodies were semi-naked when found. Two different semen samples were collected from Witheridge’s body. A bloodstained garden hoe was discovered nearby and is thought to be the murder weapon. Over 200 DNA samples were taken from people on the beach. The test results are expected within 14 hours.
Miller, from Jersey, died from a blow to the head and drowning, while Witheridge, from Great Yarmouth, died from head wounds. Lieutenant General Panya Mamen says the suspects raped and killed Witheridge while the third witnessed the murder.
The detainee, with the surname Soe, denied participation in the Thailand beach murders to which the migrant workers but admitted to being the suspect seen on television in connection with the case. He was detained when he exited a boat from Koh Tao in Surat Thani, a ferry port on the mainland. The other two were detained on Koh Tao as well. DNA samples were taken from all of them.
The double murder prompted a fervent police investigation, but three weeks into the case, police had not made an arrest and offered a £13,000 (700,000 baht) reward for leads to catch the killers. Thailand, which is heavily reliant on tourism, received worldwide media attention. An unsolved case, if not the killings itself, could deter tourists.
Early on, investigation efforts were more chaotic. Media caught on to Thai police trying to bribe a taxi driver to give false evidence against a football team from whom DNA samples were collected. Pornprasit Sukdam, the taxi driver, claimed they beat him up when he refused. He says they offered 700,000 baht (£13,300) for a fake witness statement regarding events leading up to the deaths of Miller and Witheridge. Sukdam apparently complained to District Chief Kobchai Saowalak and requested protection from the officers who intended to question him again.
Many Burmese migrant workers were in Thailand and investigated for the murders initially. Also, a pair of British brothers travelling with Miller were questioned but eliminated early on as possible suspects.
Investigative effort resulted in a more focused search so as police narrowed down suspects. Police suspect sexual jealousy was the motivation behind the murders. From a review of reports, police learned Witheridge and Miller had a confrontation in a bar with a Thai man prior to their murder.
Pumpanmuang conferred with British ambassador to Thailand Mark Kent and plans to hold a press conference on Friday. As of right now, two migrant workers have confessed to the Thailand beach murders, but there is a possibility others are involved. Results of the DNA test will likely corroborate the confessions. Thailand remains hopeful that the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller will not deter tourism. Either way, justice may be served for the two British natives.
By Charice Long