A 'tug-of-love' with deadly consequences

Oswald Duvel wound up half-naked and shot to death on the side of a road near Bangkok. It was an ignominious fate for a well-liked and respected businessman _ and an end that those closest to him say came about thanks to his devotion to his son and determination to be a part of his life

Fifty-year-old South African businessman Oswald Duvel was highly respected, intelligent, generous, successful and well liked by the many friends he'd made in Thailand.

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS:Hercules Duvel with his son after the press conference in Bangkok.

To those who knew him, his life should never have ended the way it did. His burly body was discovered next to a partially dug grave in the foothills of Saraburi province 80km north of Bangkok on Sept 30. He was wearing only his underpants and a wristwatch and had been killed by three shots to the back of the head.

Police believe his execution was carried out by his former wife, Karachin Duvel, her ''half brother'' Surasith Panchathepmongkol and Duvel's mother-in-law, Woraporn Panchathepmongkol, who friends allege played a key role in the murder.

''When he was first with Karachin he said things were good, even great sometimes,'' said a close friend of Duvel's who used the pseudonym Peter.

''But whenever he got back from travelling for work and she had been with the mother-in-law things would turn to sh*t.''

SADDENED SIBLING: Hercules Duvel at a press conference in Bangkok on Sept 30 in which he defended his slain brother.

Duvel's brother Hercules told Spectrum via email that his brother provided well for Ms Karachin and her family ''even beyond what was agreed upon''.

''To me it appeared to be about money right from the start, however Oswald cared for them and would not hear any negative remarks like that.''

Hercules said the requests for money from Ms Karachin and her family were frequent ''I'm not sure who was the motivator behind the repeated requests for money,'' he said. ''Tan [Karachin] used to send me text messages accusing my brother of arguing with her and her mum. This was verified by Oswald not to be the case. Oswald was not someone who even raised his voice.''

Police say that the mother-in-law will now turn prosecution witness against her own daughter and Mr Surasith, the alleged shooter. And Pun, the three-year-old boy who was at the centre of a bitter custody dispute between Duvel and Ms Karachin and her family, is now reportedly in the care of his mother, who is out on bail, and Ms Woraporn at their Rangsit home.

Peter believes that it was Duvel's love of Pun, and his frustration at the boy's mother and grandmother blocking access visits that led to the South African being lured to the fatal ambush. Peter said he spoke to Duvel on Sept 28 about his plans to pick up Pun the next day for an access visit.

He said there was ''no way'' Duvel would have gotten into a vehicle if another man had been there as the South African had earlier been attacked by three men in the Rangsit area after an access visit. According to police re-enactments, Duvel was sitting in the back seat of a Toyota Fortuner 4WD next to Ms Karachin when Mr Surasith popped up from the behind the seat and shot him in the head. Mrs Woraporn was sitting in the front seat of the vehicle.

Peter believes the killing was poorly thought out. ''They committed a murder in their own car. He was worth more to them alive than dead.''

THE QUIET ACHIEVER

Duvel was born and raised in the picturesque town of Piet Retief in the timber growing region of Mpumalanga province in South Africa.

His brother Hercules, one year younger than Oswald, remembers growing up in a stable and loving home with their parents and four sisters. ''We took family vacations together, usually to the beach where we enjoyed countless hours of fun and play,'' Hercules told Spectrum via email.

Hercules says that his brother had an easygoing nature, even as a youngster. ''Oswald seemed to be the one who did not sweat the little things since childhood,'' he said. ''Oswald never [sought] any undue attention. He was more reserved as a child.

''My father trusted Oswald from an early age with responsibilities because he could.''

Those same traits would seem to have carried over into adulthood. Oswald had travelled the world extensively working as a processing engineer and consultant to large multinationals.

Based in Thailand, he worked for the South African company CCI and the platform they developed _ TRACC _ helped companies in countries as far-flung as China and Indonesia improve their operational practices.

''He always knew that the way to make great improvements to business was to engage people and get them to want to improve things and to use a structured approach to figure out how to do that,'' wrote Barry Elliott from the Institute of Management Consultants Thailand in a tribute to Duvel published in the Bangkok Post.

''He always knew the way was to educate people in new concepts and principles and to coach them on how to implement them.''

Mr Elliott said: ''Oswald introduced to this part of the world a fresh approach to improving a key link in supply chain management, namely production. In so doing, he brought an enlightened way to improving the way people do things in many production operations across Asia.''

Another friend, bar owner Keith Hancock, in an online tribute said Duvel had lived through some of South Africa's darkest days.

''He saw violence and stood against it,'' wrote Mr Hancock. ''He went to university in Pretoria at a time when Pretoria was never out of the news. He went on to build, with his partners, an incredibly successful company offering management training and advice to businesses all over the world.''

His friend Peter said Duvel had ''earned his quid'' working for companies like BP and Castrol which had taken him around the world.

''He'd been everywhere,'' Peter said. ''We used to play a drinking game where you'd have to guess a place he hadn't been. If you lost you'd have to skull a drink. He almost always won.''

Socially, Duvel was drawn to the camaraderie of the close-knit members of the Siam Cricket Club and his company was the major sponsor of its cricket team, the Parrots.

After Duvel's cremation service on Oct 7, which was attended by Hercules and two of his four sisters who flew in from South Africa, the club held a wake and floated the idea of making him honorary patron.

''The events of the past week have been massive for everyone who was associated with Oswald in the Parrots,'' the club said on a tribute posted on its website. ''We have lost someone so very dear to us, and of course he will always be remembered by all whose life he came into contact with.''

MAD ABOUT THE BOY

FATHER: Murdered businessman Oswald Duvel.

As Duvel's relationship with Ms Karachin deteriorated one thing became important to him and that was the welfare of Pun, their son, and what would happen to him if his father was no longer around.

Peter said the only time he ever saw the usually reserved Duvel ''a bit stressed'' was when his ex-wife's family denied him access to Pun, which they would sometimes do for months on end.

Various reports stating that Duvel had won custody of Pun could not be confirmed by Spectrum. An official from the Pathum Thani Family Court said the case had been settled via negotiation before Duvel's murder. He declined to say whether either party had been granted sole custody.

According to Peter, the couple's divorce was finalised on Sept 3 with a 30-day cooling off period to follow.

Thai media reports said the couple had separated but not divorced. A legal adviser at the Family Court said that under such circumstances they would normally share custody of the child.

Mr Hancock said that a few weeks before his murder Duvel, who had a new partner, Beam, seemed happy and relaxed as he sat in his bar. He said Duvel told him he had won custody of Pun and was planning a new future.

''I warned him that his ex would not take defeat lightly, my exact words to him were, 'Take Pun and Beam and leave Thailand, at least for a while'. He thought I was being overdramatic,'' said Mr Hancock.

Both Mr Hancock and Peter said Duvel had ''done the honourable thing'' in going through the Thai courts and meeting his child support commitments.

''Every month he gave them 20,000 baht, but it was more likely to be 30-40,000 baht to care for the boy,'' said Peter, who added Duvel had set up his ex-wife in a noodle restaurant.

After their arrest, the three murder suspects told the Thai media that Duvel was abusive to his ex-wife and son.

Peter said that during the Family Court hearings Ms Karachin's side produced a ''patsy'' who testified Duvel had held his son over a pot of boiling water. However, when asked to point out Duvel in court he could not identify him or say where the purported incident took place. His testimony was dismissed.

Peter added that Duvel had only ever expressed praise for the Family Court and its officers, saying it had never shown bias because he was a non-Thai and always made the welfare of the child their main priority.

But even though he had access to the boy, Ms Karachin was making life difficult for him. Peter said that when Duvel travelled to Rangsit on a Saturday to pick Pun up he was often given a specious excuse as to why he couldn't see his son.

''They'd say you can come and see him, but every time they'd make up some bullsh*t story so he couldn't see him, like the little boy was in hospital,'' said Peter.

''But they'd say 'Can we have more money?' They knew they had the trump card.

''He'd say 'I love that little kid, I've got to see him.'''

MESSY BUSINESS

Duvel isn't the first foreigner to come to Thailand, meet a local woman and find himself in a bitter custody battle.

But statistics are impossible to obtain as the juvenile and family courts say the information is classified and individual case files are not accessible.

The Juvenile Observation and Protection Department, which reports to the courts, said last year there were a total of 3,045 divorce cases involving custody disputes over minors nationwide.

Duvel's family are now greatly concerned for the welfare of Pun. When they visited Thailand earlier this month police could not even confirm the boy's whereabouts.

''I do not know where Pun is,'' Hercules Duvel told Spectrum. ''I hope he is well ... In the pictures he looks to be a friendly and spirited boy. I shall be happy to care for him in our home should that be asked for. The courts will be deciding what is best for him.''

Hercules Duvel, who lives in Australia, also went to lengths to try and clear his brother's name of the abuse allegations.

''It is only natural that the accused will come up with anything to defend themselves,'' he said. ''The allegations of the accused while understandable are also completely unfounded. They are fighting for their lives. They need to find and propose a justification for this senseless killing.''

Peter said that his friend had once asked him to to always keep an eye out for Pun.

''Please, if anything happens to me I don't want my boy selling fruit on the street,'' he told Peter. ''You've got to take the boy and give him a life.''

Peter added that ''Oswald was a bit soft, but he was nobody's fool.''

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