While murder suspect Supat Laohawattana has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of a couple in Phetchaburi, the case remains shrouded in mystery.
Jaramporn: Not as easy as CSI
Police investigators are gathering forensic evidence to establish the identity of three skeletons dug up from the suspect's pineapple orchard in Phetchaburi. They're also putting pieces of evidence together to see if their deaths were connected to him.
The three skeletons were the very first pieces of evidence for police to work on in determining if Samart Noomjui and Orasa Kerdsap, the husband and wife who went missing about three years ago, were dead.
The best method of determining whether the skeletons were the missing couple or not was to conduct a DNA test.
The test results could be used to compare with DNA traces of the missing couple's relatives, said Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn Suramanee, assistant commissioner general of Thai Royal Police Office.
DNA tests of bone samples are usually performed within 24 hours of a body being found so the body tissues and fluids can still be used.
However, this was not an option in this latest crime investigation.
"The 12th rib is the best sample of all when it comes to extracting the DNA traces from bones because it is a soft bone, like an ear bone," Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn said.
Leg and arm bones can also be used for the test, he said. But if the skeletons have been buried for a long time, thigh bones were the next best thing, he said.
This particular part of bone is crushed and infused in liquid nitrogen which helps separate the DNA traces.
The whole process of preparing bone samples to analyse DNA results take a long time to finish, he said.
Obtaining DNA test results, however, is only the first step of the investigation.
Even if it is proved the skeletons were those of the missing couple, it must be established how or if Pol Col Supat was linked to the case.
Witness accounts and other pieces of evidence such as a weapon would have to be examined and included in the investigation file.
"As we all know, no murder charges have been pressed against the suspect so far. Only theft and illegal detention charges have been laid against him," Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn said.
These initial charges were brought against Pol Col Supat because the pickup truck owned by the couple was found recently at a house belonging to his relative in Nonthaburi.
Some eyewitnesses told police they saw him take the couple away in a car before they were reported missing, Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn said.
The police examination of the Phetchaburi orchard skeletons has brought into the spotlight the process of identifying bodies handled by the Royal Thai Police Office's (RTPO) Missing Persons Management Centre.
More importantly, the DNA test could prove useful for the living as well, Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn said.
It would help identify the homeless and mentally ill people on the streets so their families can be notified.
The RTPO says that between 2002 and 2011, 1,168 complaints of missing persons were filed with the police; and between 2009 and 2011, the number of unidentified corpses found and reported to the police was 1,138.
"These cases are rather complicated and require a lot of money to solve. It's like assembling jigsaw pieces.
"And although it might not be too difficult to do, it is actually not as easy as has been portrayed in the CSI [Crime Scene Investigation] television series," Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn said.
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- Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham