The murder on Thailand’s Koh Tao island of two young British citizens, David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, could have happened on any tropical island with little police presence, coupled with a strong local mafia. Two Burmese illegals have been charged with the murder, but rumors are rampant that youths well-connected to the local power establishment were responsible. Let’s see what comes out in court. One of our WoWasis staffers nearly had this happen to him and his wife a few years back. It was in the Caribbean, probably a similar situation to that faced by Miller and Witheridge. Here’s his story, and four strong recommendations:
“The island was off the coast of Central America, where a local strongman owned a few restaurants and places to stay. I was 24, my wife was 21, and she was a beauty. There was very little police presence on the island. All law enforcement, as it was, was in the hands of the strongman.
“We were staying at one of his beach bungalows, and he invited himself for lunch, buying us a few rounds. He tried to give my wife a palm-reading, but I told him sorry, I’m the only one allowed to touch her. We had come to do some snorkeling and he offered to take us out with a couple of friends the next day. We said yes.
“Later that afternoon, I ran into his daughter, home from college for the month. I told her that her father seemed pretty accommodating. She gave me a rather cold look and said ‘There’s a lot you don’t know. I’d be a lot more careful if I were you.’ And she walked away.
“My wife and I talked about it over dinner. I didn’t like the way he was getting touchy-feely with her, and his daughter wasn’t his biggest fan. It was beginning to look dodgy, and I could see me getting killed out on the boat, fed to the sharks, then her getting raped and murdered, shark food also. And no one we knew back in the states would even know we’d been to that island.
“So I told her — since we’d pre-paid our bungalow — let’s go now, this very minute and get to the mainland, about three miles away over the water. I went down to the pier, where the motorboats were moored. They did a busy taxi business between the island and the mainland. But none of them would take us. None. I suspected they’d been warned, and that what I perceived was on tap for us might very well have previously happened to others.
“I went back to the bungalow, told my wife to pack now and lock the door. I had seen a boat or two on the other side of the island, and would hike over. I found a kid, maybe 12 or 13, and told him I needed to get to the mainland fast. He said he couldn’t. I offered to pay him double. He nervously looked around in all directions, and asked ‘When?’ I said ten minutes and there’d be another passenger. And it worked. We made it back.
“That island, we found out later, was a classic old pirate enclave. In those years, a lot of people were disappearing in the ‘Bermuda Triangle,’ in the Caribbean, victims of thieves who rape, murder, and steal, then scuttle the boats of their victims. The crap about supernatural reasons for disappearances was a smoke-screen. Lots of murdered people disappeared forever, bodies never found. Food for barracuda and other sea predators.
“David Miller and Hannah Witheridge weren’t as fortunate as my wife and I. Whether they were killed by the Burmese, the island mafia, or someone else may or may not come out in court. But here are four suggestions for travelers to islands, when young beautiful females are in the mix.”
1) Take phone photos of everyone you meet, and email them to someone you know and trust. Group photos are really good. A murderer won’t kill someone whose picture folder includes one of him.
2) Plan an emergency way off the island. Ask around. Determine if there’s another pier that carries passengers on an ad hoc basis, and figure out how you’ll get there if you need to.
3) Carry bribe money in a money belt and use it only for extreme emergencies. You may need to buy your way out of a jam when an ATM isn’t near, or you can’t afford to be seen.
4) When possible, stay around large groups of foreigners, and if isolated, keep a sharp eye for others in your vicinity.
Plenty of people play in the islands and have a great time. Documented murders of travelers still fall into the “rare” category, but forewarned is forearmed. Above all, do watch out for warning signs, such as local men being a little too friendly, touchy-feely wise.