Kickboxer, chemist, CIA man - the many tales of Herbert La Fon

Kickboxer, chemist, CIA man - the many tales of Herbert La Fon

The main suspect in the body in the freezer case has a long and complicated history, but how much of it is true?

by any other name: Herbert Craig La Fon travelled under multiple aliases and nationalities, has been wanted in the US since 1979 and was arrested after a shootout in Bangkok.
by any other name: Herbert Craig La Fon travelled under multiple aliases and nationalities, has been wanted in the US since 1979 and was arrested after a shootout in Bangkok.

For decades, Herbert Craig La Fon appears to have deceived many of the people around him. But when the police peeled back the black plastic sheets to reveal the dismembered male body stashed in a freezer at his Sukhumvit Soi 56 home, he broke down.

"We were shocked. That's when we realised that [Mr La Fon] shot one of our officers because he was hiding a body," alleged Pol Col Nithithorn Chintakanon, deputy commander of the Tourist Police Division. "When we opened the sheets, he showed signs of distress and started hitting his head on the wall and twisting his hands on the handcuffs. It was like he was trying to cut his veins."

After his arrest on Sept 23 following a police raid and shootout, Mr La Fon, 63, remained silent. He and two other Americans, James Douglas Eger, 66, and Aaron Thomas Gabel, 33, were charged with five offences relating to passport forgery and the gruesome discovery of the frozen body parts. They have denied all the charges.

In the days following his arrest, Mr La Fon's true identity remained concealed after several different passports with different details -- at least one UK and one US -- were found in a safe at the Sukhumvit Soi 56 house. His identity was only confirmed to Thai authorities on Wednesday when the FBI checked its fingerprint database at the request of police.

Pol Col Nithithorn said Mr La Fon started talking and told police interrogators that he was a war vet with a background in chemistry and had produced weapons for the army. He also claimed he had lived in the UK as a child before relocating to the US, where he has citizenship. By Friday, police alleged he admitted he was involved in the dismemberment of the body, but denied murdering the victim.

In the neon-lit go-go bars and nightclubs of Patpong, those who drank with Mr La Fon say they heard similar stories from him, but doubted they were true.

"He hasn't been in the US in over 20 years and hates America. Blames Vietnam for ruining his life," said one bar customer. "At times he has made claims of CIA ties but my friends who do have ties have always said [Mr La Fon] is full of sh*t."

When the story broke, several people who knew Mr La Fon and Mr Eger contacted Stickboy Bangkok, a nightlife website.

"The people I know who knew this pair didn't spend time talking to them, as they didn't believe much of what they said," said Stickboy. "All who did know them were shocked to learn what they were involved in."

Others says Mr La Fon largely kept to himself. At a bar on Patpong Soi 2, Mr La Fon and Mr Gabel were known as the "Sang Som" gang for ordering the cheap local rum, according to staff. They sat at the bar talking quietly and never mingled with the bar girls. Mr Eger also visited the bar, but he sat at a separate table and arrived later. Visits would last hours before Mr La Fon paid the bill.

Mr La Fon was well known in the Patpong go-go bars, including Goldfingers, which closed several months ago.

News of his arrest shocked many who knew him, including the owner of the Soi 2 bar.

"I was surprised, because he didn't come across as an aggressive person," said the Thai owner, adding that Mr La Fon had been a regular customer for two years.

Earlier this year, Mr La Fon told the owner he now had a job. After that, he only visited once a month, the last time in August.

According to a 2001 FBI wanted poster, a federal warrant was issued for Mr La Fon in June 1979 in Baltimore, Maryland, in connection with credit card fraud.

FBI information showed he used 16 aliases, had extensive martial arts training and is a kickboxer.

The poster said he owned a sporting goods business in Mexico and speaks Spanish. It said he was "armed and dangerous".

The US embassy declined to comment on details of the case due to the sensitivity and privacy issues, saying only that "Thai authorities did make specific requests and US law enforcement agencies are responding appropriately".

Mr La Fon's immigration data is unknown, and police believe he has travelled using fake passports. One of the passports seized identified Mr La Fon as William Peter Johnson, one of his listed aliases in the US.

The raid came a week after tourist police arrested a suspect who confessed to purchasing a fake passport in front of the five-storey shophouse in Sukhumvit Soi 56.

Police surveilled the townhouse and when they were certain people were living there, they asked the court to issue arrest warrants.

Officers alleged they found six pistols, crystal meth, marijuana, seven passports belonging to Mr La Fon and barrels of chemicals inside a 4x5m mini laboratory. "We are figuring out whether the lab is used to make fake passports or if it's a front for something else," Pol Col Nithithorn said.

A further search revealed a locked two-metre-high freezer on the ground floor of the shophouse. When officers opened it they found a male body wrapped in black plastic sheets and cut into six pieces. The body has been sent to Thammasat University Hospital for an autopsy.

The three Americans are charged on five counts, including attempting to kill an official on duty, resisting arrest, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, forging official documents and concealing a corpse.

Immigration records show Mr Eger travelled in and out of Thailand 148 times between 2013 and 2015. In June, he applied for a one-year non-immigrant visa.

Mr Gabel entered Thailand 11 times from 2013-2014 and had been permitted to stay in Thailand until June 2017 under a marriage visa he applied for in May.

Frequent visitor: The suspects visited Goldfingers Bar until it closed.

Cooling off: Herbert Craig La Fon, 63, suffered injuries during the Sept 23 raid.

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