The Masseuse Murders details the deadly deeds of a serial killer in Thailand. Interview subjects include the Thai policemen who worked on the case, prostitutes who worked with the victims, and Jim Algie, who provides background details about serial murder and the flesh trade.
In early 2005 the body of a masseuse was found strangled to death in a luxury hotel in Mukdahan, a provincial city overlooking the brown Mekong River in northeastern Thailand. Over the next few months the cadavers of more masseuses and karaoke singers turned up in other parts of the country in what may be only the second case of serial murder in the history of Thailand.
The first such serial killer was See Ouey Sae Nguan, a Chinese immigrant who went on a carnage and cannibalism spree in Bangkok’s Chinatown and the eastern seaboard around Rayong province in the late 1950s. His preserved corpse is on display at the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medical Museum in Bangkok.
Since I wrote about him in the non-fiction collection Bizarre Thailand (2010) and later in a fact-weds-fiction novella called “The Legendary Nobody” in The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand (2014), the Indian directors of a true-crime show about the masseuse murders contacted me to serve as a consultant.
For the program, which originally aired on the Asia Crime Investigation channel, the producers also did a series of interviews with many of the investigating officers, who discuss how the investigation proceeded and how they caught a couple of very lucky breaks.
BEHIND THE CRIME SCENES
In between the restaged murder scenes are clips of police file footage that show the crimes scenes, next to CCTV footage of the killer entering and exiting various hotels, with enough forensics to keep CSI buffs happy.
Between these parts, I am asked some of the usual questions about Thailand on subjects like prostitution and more unusual topics, like the traits associated with serial killers, such as pathological lying (think John Wayne Gacy), the swapping of identities (think Ted Bundy), and a delusional belief that they can never be caught (think Jeffrey Dahmer) which inspires more and more reckless behaviors that often gets them caught.
Those parts are okay. I don’t always agree with myself. After appearing in TV shows or documentaries I usually wish that I could edit my conversations.
For me, the real highlights of The Masseuse Murders are the interviews with the different women talking about their deceased friends. In Mukdahan, a colleague of the slain karaoke singer, Warunee Pimpabutr, talks about the difficult life she had and yet remained such a cheerful and lively soul. Her boss, and the owner of the bar, Imchit Paklau, relates how Warunee, just 25 at the time of her death and the only person in her family with a job, had five brothers and sisters who had to walk many kilometers to school every morning. One of the reasons she was working in the karaoke bar was to buy a motorcycle for her siblings so they could drive to school instead of walking.
Far from being portrayed as passive victims, these women are framed as fighters and survivors. During a police reenactment of one murder, a masseuse says, the serial killer Somkhit Pompuang is attacked by a female colleague of the slain woman. And Imchit makes no bones about it when she says that the killer deserved the death sentence he got.
It’s easy to glorify, or to moralize about the sex trade in Thailand, but the reality is more banal. Imchit says, “I spend so much time with these girls that I know nobody is here by choice. They do it for their parents and siblings. So please be sympathetic.”
Writer and director Mayurica Biswas took that advice to heart.
DEBASING THEIR VICTIMS
Serial killers are notorious for debasing their victims in some way, either physically or emotionally, or through sexual acts like sodomy intended to make these pitiful characters feel superior to those they slay.
That’s another reason why so many of them, like this man, enjoy using their bare hands to kill. Then they can feel the victim’s pulse throbbing in their throats, savor the fear in their eyes, watch their death throes stop and their bodies go limp.
In taking lives they have granted themselves the godlike powers of life and death – powers they have so often been denied in their powerless lives, like this chronic scammer pretending to be a talent scout for a big music label, among other guises.
Best of all, The Masseuse Murders, which bears the fingerprints and hallmarks of a woman’s sure-handed and sympathetic touch, goes a long way to restoring the dignity of the women who died at the hands of a remorseless serial killer and conman.
You can watch the entire show here. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2egdw9_crime-investigation-asia-the-masseuse-murders_tv
This story originally appeared in the Bizarre Thailand column in the March 2017 issue of Bangkok 101 magazine.