Koh Tao murder manhunt focusing on migrant labourers
Police clear 3 from Myanmar, release photo of prime suspect
published : 16 Sep 2014 at 20:00
updated: 16 Sep 2014 at 21:27
(Updated 8pm) SURAT THANI - Police are trying to identify an Asian man captured on a security camera who is now the prime suspect in the grisly murders of two British tourists on Koh Tao.
Surat Thani provincial police Tuesday also questioned six migrant workers from Myanmar -- and later cleared three of them -- as more than 100 officers fanned out across the Phangan district island searching for clues into the bludgeoning deaths of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, on Sai Ree beach early Monday.
The pair travelled separately to Koh Tao in Phangan district of Surat Thani province with friends and met while staying in neighbouring rooms at the Ocean View Bungalows, said Surat Thani police chief Kiatpong Khaosamang.
Police search rooms of Myanmar workers at In Touch resort on Koh Tao. (Photo by Supapong Chaolan)
"They went out to a bar and left together after 1am (Monday), according to closed-circuit TV camera footage,'' he told The Associated Press. Police released still images from the video showing what police said were the two victims walking together hand-in-hand.
The victims' battered bodies were found around 6:30am partially unclothed and beaten to death. A bloodied hoe was discovered 35 metres from the murder scene. They are believed to have been killed between 4am and 5am.
Police released a CCTV image of a man, believed to be Asian and 160-170cm tall, walking from the AC Bar to the beach around 4am. Video then captured him running back about 50 minutes later, Pol Maj Gen Kiattipong said
The timing and his rush could be linked to the murders, he said.
Meanwhile, investigators searched nine rooms used by Myanmar workers at the In Touch resort, located about 300 metres from Sai Ree beach where the tourists were killed. They seized four Apple iPhones -- two of them damaged -- and a pair of jeans with a blood stain for lab tests. Six Myanmar nationals were taken in for questioning and their DNA was collected by forensic police, Pol Maj Gen Kiattipong said.
"We are focusing on migrant workers because of the surrounding witnesses and evidence, including the video footage,'' Pol Maj Gen Kiattipong told the AP. "We are sweeping hotels, bars, businesses and residences of migrant workers on the beach to find the suspect."
Three of the male Myanmar migrant workers were ruled out of the probe Tuesday afternoon, Panya Mamen, chief of Provincial Police Region 8, told AFP.
"They were very far from the scene... it was probably not them," he said, adding DNA samples had been collected from the men.
A screen capture of a closed-circuit camera feed from early Monday shows a man whom police believed is linked to the murder case.
Pol Col Prachum Ruangthong, chief of Phangan police station, said investigators were also looking for a group of bar employees and had questioned a group of foreigners as well.
One suspect now ruled out was a British friend of Miller's, said Pol Lt Gen Panya said. He said police questioned him Monday and have dropped him as a suspect and are focusing mainly on alien labourers working on the island.
Pol Lt Gen Panya said late Tuesday that police now have also cleared a number of Britons who travelled with the victims of any involvement in the killings.
The murders - splashed across front pages of newspapers and tabloids across the United Kingdom - prompted the British embassy to dispatch consul Michael Hancock to Koh Tao to follow up the case.
On Monday night, about 100 local residents gathered on Sai Ree beach for a candle-lit vigil and said prayers for the young British couple close to the spot where their bodies were found.
Many residents and business operators on Koh Tao and neighbouring Koh Phangan said Tuesday they would wear black for three days to mourn the young tourists' deaths. A memorial service has been organised for 6:30pm on Sairee Beach as well.
Wannee Thaipanich, president of the Koh Phangan Tourist Promotion Association, said the murders could send foreign-tourist arrivals on the twin islands plunging.
Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered police to swiftly wrap up the case, as it has damaged the country's reputation as a tourist destination. Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan said police were working "to make an arrest as soon as possible," The Associated Press reported.
The bodies of the two tourists were sent the Institute of Forensic Science at Police General Hospital in Bangkok for tests. They reached Bangkok late Tuesday.
- Koh Tao
- Surat Thani