Teen con tragedy, net charmer nabbed, just deserts

Thanuphat 'James' Maneesri

Teen gamer thief now a killer

A Chiang Rai teenager is facing fraud charges after a young victim took his own life after losing all his money to him in a romance con.

Thanuphat "James" Maneesri, 18, of Huay Yod, Trang, drowned himself in a reservoir in the district on April 19. The youngster left a picture of a bank transfer slip on his phone, accompanied by the words "fed up".

The find led police on a trial which took them to the run-down family home of Ton, 17, of Wiang Chiang Rung district, Chiang Rai, who had befriended James in February as they played the computer game ROM.

After Ton ran out of money to buy new items in the game, he decided to impersonate a young woman to trick James out of money. He spent it all on his computer games habit.

His parents found a series of chats between James and the young "woman", Nam. She persuaded him to send 15,000 baht, money which James, who had finished Matthayom 6 the month before and was looking forward to starting university next term, had borrowed to pay for his school fees.

James, innocent in the ways of the world, was impressed the young woman had taken an interest. However, when she kept up her persistent demands for money and refused to pay any of it back, James, despairing of his plight and having cleaned out his bank account, took his own life. He left a warning message to the young "woman" which tragically went unheeded.

"Next week I won't be here anymore. I am going (somewhere) alone. Shortly you'll know for yourself [what I mean]," he wrote.

He also complained that she talked about money constantly. "When I say there's none, you don't give up. You pay it back or not, that's up to you," he said unhappily.

James' parents, who are rubber tappers, reported the lad missing on April 19. Police found his motorbike, flip flops and keys on the bank of a local reservoir where he swam regularly with friends. Police divers found the body after a 10 minute search. He had tied his left leg with nylon, no doubt to help ensure he drowned, as he was a good swimmer.

Messages which his parents found inside his phone showed "Nam" borrowed from him regularly. He would send 2,500-3,000 baht at a time. Towards the end he started to refuse, saying he had run out, but the demands carried on. The account he sent it to was in the name of a male.

His parents filed a complaint with Huay Yod police, asking them to trace the money trail. They contacted their counterparts in Chiang Rai after finding Ton was also named in the chats.

Crime Suppression Division police arrested him on April 25, and charged him with fraud and computer crimes offences. After Ton and his parents met the victim's family at Huay Yod station, police sent Ton to a juvenile detention centre to await legal action.

A team from Amarin TV, which covered the young man's mysterious death, also helped "rip away" Ton's mask, as one story put it.

On April 22, Amarin TV made a video call to Ton after noticing he had also appeared in James' chats, and was also the recipient of some of his money. Initially he told the media that Nam was his older sister; later he changed his story to say Nam was a gamer he met online.

His elder sister, he said, worked at a convenience store. Reporters noted that Nam, in her chats, said she also worked at a convenience store; Ton said he didn't know how to explain that.

Reporters said James transferred money to "Nam" via True Wallet, using the same phone number as Ton's own. Ton went quiet before reporters asked if he had actually faked being a young woman to chat with him. Ton replied: "I would never do anything like that."

They also asked him why the name Nam used in their Line chats was the same as Ton's own name on his ID card. He said when she was joining Line she asked to use his name. Reporters said, "So you do know her then," and he replied they knew each other only online.

When reporters said they had seen a transfer slip which showed that on March 2 James had sent "Nam" 2,500 baht, but he was actually sending it to a bank account of a man who runs a games shop, Ton owned up to the deception. "It's me. Nam and I are one and the same person," he confessed.

He had spun an elaborate tale saying Nam owed money, and needed help. In fact, Ton owed money from his games habit.

Suspect Ton

Ton said he was shocked to hear James had killed himself, and would like to apologise at his funeral but James lived a long way away. He said James had sent him or "Nam" 5,000 baht -- a claim disputed by the CSD, who said it was closer to 15,000 baht. There was just 60 baht left in the account where James kept money he borrowed from the Student Loan Fund for his school fees.

Reporters met the grieving family at Wat Bang Di where the funeral was held. James' father, Pichet Maneesri, 42, took reporters back to their single-storey cement home, where he showed them James' school shirt and photos which James took with his classmates. A good student, James had won an exam place at a university in Surat Thani.

At the temple, Charunee Choojit, 40, the young man's mother, said she found it hard to believe Ton could try so hard to part James from his money.

"I would rather he had died instead of my son. I want this young man to know he is responsible for taking someone else's life," said Ms Charunee.

Nattapong, 19, a friend of the victim, said James had seen a picture online of "Nam", but the two had never spoken.

On April 23, reporters also visited Ton's family in Chiang Rai. His father is a labourer, who split up with his wife when Ton was still young. Ton is one of two sons.

"I go to work during the day and leave Ton alone at home. I didn't know he had borrowed money," he said, apologising to James' family. Ton, he said, has thalassemia, a blood disorder, is frail physically, and has a psychological disorder. The case continues.

Jaeng's lucky streak comes to end

Police have arrested a fugitive from the law accused of conning gullible admirers out of millions of baht.

Nipaporn 'Jaeng' Yuenmark

Police Region 5 police on April 21 nabbed Nipaporn "Jaeng" Yuenmark, 33, in Mae Rim district, Chiang Mai. They were acting on a court warrant issued last July after a victim in Saraphi district complained she had conned him out of 200,000 baht.

The victim, unnamed in media reports, said they met online early last year. When she claimed her parents had died and needed help with the funeral costs, he sent her money. When she abruptly severed contact, he realised he had been conned and alerted police.

As police investigated they found Jaeng had another outstanding embezzlement case against her, dating from May last year. Preecha, 53, former boss at an auto parts maker in Saraburi, complained to Sao Hai police of an internet con in which Ms Jaeng duped him out of his savings with a written promise she would one day be his wife. He sent her 4 million baht despite having never met her.

As reported on these pages earlier, the payments included 80,000 baht to help with her parents' funerals (she claimed once again that her parents had died), and 1.3 million baht to help her buy some land. He took the money from an early retirement payout, a vehicle loan, and credit card.

Despite her claims that her parents had died, reporters tracked them down to a humble farm in Lampang. They said Jaeng had moved to Chiang Mai, where she married and started a family, and now worked in Malaysia. They were shocked she would do such a thing and appealed for her to come forward.

In relation to the Chiang Mai case, Jaeng obtained bail and failed to turn up for sentencing. The court intended sending her to jail for six months but instead issued a warrant for her no-show.

When police caught up with her on April 21, she denied fleeing the law, saying the court sent the summons to her family home in Lampang so she did not see it. She said she lives in Chiang Mai with her boyfriend of three years. He is a public servant in Mae Rim, and she exports baked longan goods. Police took her to court to answer the charges.

Justice delayed still tastes sweet

A fugitive wanted for defrauding rice farmers of 200 million baht was arrested in Chiang Mai with just hours to go before the 10-year statute of limitations in the case expired.

Region 5 police nabbed Taweesak "Oud" Saengkorm, 60, on April 25 on a warrant issued 10 years ago minus one day, thanks to a chance finding in a computer.

Mr Oud admitted fleeing the law after more than 100 farmers in Bang Sai, Ayutthaya, complained to police that he had bought their rice without paying for it.

The suspect was a middle man, selling the rice to local mills, where he gained a reputation as one of the best-paying agents in the Central region. However, he also had a gambling habit, which he fed with their earnings at a casino across the border.

Taweesak 'Oud' Saengkorm was arrested while he was selling Thai desserts from a cart.

Mr Oud was caught selling Thai desserts from a cart on the side of the Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road in Saraphi. Media images showed police presenting their warrant to a stunned looking Mr Oud, who said he thought the statute of limitations had expired.

His life of deception came unstuck after Mr Oud, who has no health insurance, asked local health volunteers for a Covid test. When they put his name in the computer they discovered he had a warrant against his name and alerted police. He will now answer to the fraud charges laid on behalf of the farmers.

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