A sad story indeed: Death of the ‘innocent’ Swiss woman revealed as a senseless yet brutal murder at the hands of a man in the grip of drugs and what he called mood swings exacerbated by poverty caused by the Covid 19 crisis. Police officers are quite clear they have found the man responsible and the evidence appears both genuine and compelling, which will be of small comfort to her family in Switzerland.
Thai police brought the man who murdered and possibly raped Swiss tourist Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf before the media on Sunday after he was charged on two counts before the Phuket provincial court with her murder. Although the man denied he raped the 57-year-old, telling police he changed his mind after killing and stripping her in a stream near the Ao Yon waterfall in Phuket, he admitted stealing ฿300 from her bag. He quickly spent it on orange juice and marijuana. The unemployed technician told a dramatic press conference, at which he appeared live on video, that he had been haunted by the murder for days before police arrived at his home in Thalang on Saturday to arrest him on foot of a warrant issued by the court.
The murder investigation launched on Thursday, after the death of Swiss woman Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf was discovered that afternoon, was ‘wrapped up’ on Saturday and closed on Sunday when a 27-year-old unemployed technician and former kickboxer was charged before the Phuket Provincial Court with her brutal murder, on Tuesday last, in the early afternoon.
Man arrested by police in Phuket. Officials recruit locals to make the island safe for foreign tourists
It is expected that further charges will follow.
Police later convened a press conference at which they convincingly presented the case against the man charged following rising online speculation that the swift conclusion to the case suggested that the man was being made a scapegoat with authorities under pressure given the high profile nature of the murder and its potential impact on Thailand’s struggling tourism industry.
Police effectively counter online speculation that the accused was a scapegoat because of the high stakes
The police addressed the speculation head-on and stopped it in its tracks.
The press conference was addressed by Police Major General Nanthadet Yoinuan of Provincial Police Region 8 who introduced video stills and timelines concerning the sighting of the suspect on his red Honda Wave motorbike at a shop near the Ao Yon waterfall at 10.01 am on Tuesday last and then his departure from the scene, 3 hours later, at 1.06 pm.
Police displayed the CCTV stills of the defendant entering the area and leaving it on Tuesday last, the 3rd of August.
Senior Phuket police officer explains to the media that there was no other car or motorbike detected at 68 access points to Ao Yon at the time of the murder
He said that police had surveyed no less than 68 access points to the tourist attraction and there was no car or motorbike which had entered the car park at that time except for the one with the suspect wearing a black T-shirt, sunglasses and riding on a Phuket registered motorbike which also helped identify him as he was the registered owner.
This was the basis for the police focus on Mr Teerawat Thothip who lives in the Thalang area of Phuket.
The senior police officer said there was no one else detected accessing the location at the time of the murder.
Police obtained an arrest warrant for the accused on the 7th of August from the Provincial Court and, on this basis, the accused was brought in for questioning at Wichit Police Station in Phuket.
Arresting police discovered the suspect speeding
Earlier reports suggested that when arresting police were sent out to detain the suspect, they initially encountered him speeding and tracked him to confiscate his motorbike but then realised he was the man they had been sent to apprehend under the court order.
At the police station, senior investigators noted the suspicious behaviour of the accused when asked to make a statement on his movements last Tuesday.
It was not long before this statement itself revealed untruths and dissembling. His version of events did not stack up.
Suspect cracked after three minutes of questioning
It is reported that three minutes into an intensive interrogation, Mr Teerawat broke down and confessed to the murder of the Swiss woman.
Police had earlier discovered a newly inflicted wound and abrasions on the man’s waist area whose timeline matched the date of last week’s atrocity.
He told police the reason for his actions was sudden mood swings as he had not taken drugs in one week. His financial position was hopeless because of the COVID-19 situation.
Stress caused by financial problems and efforts to try to earn money during the Covid crisis
He said he was suffering from stress over financial problems.
Poverty is particularly acute in Phuket at this time on the island which is heavily dependent on foreign tourism and where most of the hotels are still closed despite the Phuket Sandbox with an occupancy rate across the remainder at just over 10%.
The average wage in Phuket reported in March by a deputy governor was just ฿2,000 per month, well below the Thai poverty line.
It is understood that Mr Teerawat was formerly employed as an air conditioning technician and had, of late, been trying to find work doing gardening and odd jobs.
Wife called in for questioning as local property business owner came forward as a witness saying the suspect had a waist affliction before the killing
Following the man’s confession, his wife was called in for questioning while an acquaintance, a property developer, came forward as a witness to suggest that previously Mr Teerawat had contacted him about a welt or a rash on his waist.
He suggested that this was before the incident last Tuesday and he did not think that the quiet, reserved man he knew would be capable of murder although he stressed he was ready to accept whatever conclusion the police came to based on the evidence.
Arrested for drug possession in October last year and jailed for nine months but given probation
A police background check on the suspect revealed that he had been arrested on the 5th October 2020 by police in Chalong for possession of methamphetamine.
He was later sentenced to 9 months in prison and fined ฿15,000 but given probation on both counts.
During Sunday’s press conference, the press was silenced when the senior police officer revealed that the suspect would address them himself via a video link from another room where he was gathered with his wife and a legal representative.
He told police that when he arrived at the Ao Yon waterfall having parked his motorbike, he first observed the foreign woman sitting on a rock with her legs in the stream at the secluded spot.
Live video testimony at the press conference of the accused to the press admitting his guilt openly
He said he climbed higher in search of wild orchids but could not find anything suitable to sell.
Making his way back down, he again came across the Swiss woman, the victim, Ms Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf who, he said appeared to be swimming naked in the pool.
The accused in between apologizing to the people of Thailand and the family of Ms Sauvain-Weisskopf, then began to suggest that the object of his attack was robbery.
Earlier reports suggest he was aroused at the sight of the woman bathing in the stream near the waterfall
Earlier reports suggested that he told police that he had been aroused and decided to rape the woman. He said he had attacked and overpowered her.
On Sunday, Mr Teerawat told the press and media gathered at the conference room of the Provincial Police Region 8 headquarters that he approached the Swiss woman using stealth and grabbed her neck from behind with both his hands.
Woman fought back against her cowardly attacker and both were flung into the stream where he was injured
He then struggled with the woman who fought back against him. This led to both being flung into the stream according to the killer causing him to hit against rocks and suffering the new injury to his waist.
He then used his grip on the Swiss tourist’s head to push it underwater until she succumbed.
He told police that he then removed Ms Sauvain-Weisskopf’s denim short pants to commit rape but changed his mind, leaving her naked from the waist down as she was found later by a passerby.
It is understood that police are awaiting DNA results and other forensic information which is being analysed in Bangkok and that further charges may be brought against the accused including one of rape.
Swiss tourist suffered broken bones in her neck after being strangled according to the initial autopsy
Police have revealed that the initial autopsy results conducted at the Vachira Phuket Hospital show that the Swiss woman had been strangled and had broken neck bones. Sand was found in her respiratory tract.
Mr Teerawat told the press conference that he placed a black sheet of tarpaulin over the body of the Swiss woman with a rock on top.
He then proceeded to check her bag and found ฿300 which he stole while he tossed her shoes into the nearby forested area.
Spent the ฿300 he stole on orange juice and drugs
He said he then left the crime scene and had stopped at a shop to purchase orange juice and ice for which he paid ฿40.
He then drove his motorbike to another stop where he met up with friends. There, he purchased smoking materials and marijuana for which he paid ฿254 before he went home to his wife to resume his normal life.
He described his existence in the intervening days as a walking nightmare as his wife had told him about the news on Thursday, revealing the murder. He had been haunted by guilt.
This was days before police arrived on Saturday to take him in for questioning.
Governor of Phuket thanked the Prime Minister for sending a high powered police unit including the police chief to Phuket last Friday to solve the case
The press conference heard from the Governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew, who expressed some relief that the perpetrator had been arrested for the crime which had shaken the island and caused so much damage.
He thanked the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, for quickly sending the police chief to Phuket together with elite officers of the Royal Thai Police who successfully solved the case.
He singled out National Police Commissioner, General Suwat, for thanks and observed that he had come to Phuket personally to supervise and direct the investigation.
He described the incident as a tragedy and one which was heartbreaking for people both in Phuket and Switzerland.
Crime Suppression Division’s Hanuman unit deployed on Saturday to conduct a crime reenactment at the waterfall amid tight security and fears for suspect
The press conference heard that, on Saturday, the Crime Suppression Division’s Hanuman Unit was deployed at Ao Yon waterfall as the police brought Mr Teerawat back to the scene of the crime.
Officers outlined how the police chief had timed a walk in the victim’s footsteps from her hotel, The Moorings, to the waterfall which took approximately 18 minutes.
Police then carefully examined all the timelines to ensure that they matched as they led the accused through his actions last Tuesday.
Police had deployed the armed Hanuman tactical force out of fear that angry locals would turn on the man after reports circulated that the crime reenactment was taking place.
The accused freely admitted his guilt during the exercise.
He was taken back to Wichit Police Station where formal proceedings were launched to bring him before the court.
Police commissioner, in a powerful address, expressed condolences both personally and on behalf of all Royal Thai Police officers to the victim’s family
The national police chief spoke to the press conference in English as he again expressed not only deep sympathy to the victim’s family at the loss of Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, the innocent 57-year-old tourist from Switzerland but also expressed condolences on behalf of all the officers of the Royal Thai Police.
He said he knew nothing could replace the human life that had been lost. All the police can do is track down criminals and bring them to justice.
However, he gave a commitment, on behalf of the force, that it would strive to uphold the law in Thailand not only to protect the Thai people but also foreigners and tourists staying within the kingdom’s borders.