Phuket murder suspect 'no scapegoat'

Phuket murder suspect 'no scapegoat'

Police say they have secured a confession

Caught on camera: The suspect is seen in footage from a surveillance camera near the scene of the murder.
Caught on camera: The suspect is seen in footage from a surveillance camera near the scene of the murder.

Police say the 27-year-old man detained on Saturday for the murder of a Swiss tourist at a local waterfall is a legitimate suspect and not a scapegoat as some netizens have claimed.

The man confessed to attempting to rape Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf though says he did not intend to kill her.

He ended up killing her by strangling her and forcing her head in the water after she resisted, according to a police source. She was lying face-down in the water among the rocks. Her body was covered with a black sheet.

The man, who lives in the area, had gone to the area to collect wild orchids and spotted the woman.

The suspect was identified as Teerawat Thothip, a resident of Thalang district in Phuket.

The suspect, known locally as "Bang Lee", told investigators he spotted the tourist when he went to the waterfall.

He said he became aroused and grabbed her, but the woman resisted. They fought, and he forced her head into the water until she died. He fled the scene, according to the source.

A criminal background check showed the man, a former professional kick boxer, was last year arrested and charged with possession of narcotic drugs.

National police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk travelled to Phuket on Friday with a team of investigators to oversee the case, the first serious incident to be reported since the Sandbox programme began on July 1.

Teerawat: Confessed, say police

He told reporters on Saturday that officers had some "good news" and the case was "all wrapped up". He will hold a news conference on Sunday to give more details.

Given the intense pressure on police to solve the case, online sleuths have been weighing in with speculation that officers would look to find a scapegoat quickly.

Pol Maj Gen Nanthadet Yoinuan, deputy chief of Provincial Police Region 8, said this was not the case, as investigators had obtained firm evidence.

Sauvain-Weisskopf, the 57-year-old deputy protocol chief of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland, was found dead wearing only a T-shirt and jacket at Tone Ao Yon waterfall in tambon Vichit of Muang district on Thursday afternoon.

The woman had arrived at Phuket airport on July 13 as a tourist under the Phuket Sandbox scheme, which began on July 1. It allows in vaccinated foreign tourists in an effort to help revive a sector decimated by Covid-19.

Police began tracking the suspect, who lived not far from the murder scene, after he was caught on security camera driving a motorcycle near the scene, said the source.

Prior to his arrest, the police spotted the man riding the motorcycle. They gave chase to simply seize the motorcycle for inspection. However, when the police pursued the man to his home, they realised he was actually the one they were looking for, said the source.

DNA samples were collected from the suspect and sent for inspection in Bangkok for matching with some DNA specimens collected from the body of the victim.

Pol Maj Gen Nanthadet Yoinuan, deputy commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 8, insisted the police have solid evidence to pursue the case.

Meanwhile, security in Phuket will be tightened for safety reasons, according to the police chief.

A survey was being conducted to identify tourist attractions in Phuket which may possibly lack sufficient security.

They will be closed temporarily as security is improved, while screening of visitors to the resort island at the main security checkpoint will be heightened, said Pol Gen Suwat.

Earlier, police released the timeline of the victim's activities since her arrival in Phuket, ending with her 18-minute walk alone from her hotel near Ao Yon beach to the waterfall, about 1.4 kilometres away, on Tuesday. After finding the body they took some people in for questioning. One of them acted suspiciously and had some bruises on his body.

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