Over the next few weeks, I wasn’t officially working on the case full time, but ended up being point-girl for many of the foreign media, all of whom had left Chiang Mai. I was being dined by visiting reporters from Reuters, had drinks with old timer journalists of Asia and was learning as much as one does at that impressionable professional age.
Some such as Bangkok-based Richard Saville of The Telegraph and the prolific Andrew Drummond were still around, both of whom would pop up every week or so to chase some breaking story…of which there was a never-ending supply. Drummond especially appeared to be privy to all manner of new leads and sources, often calling me at all times of the day asking me to follow up on one interview or another. Since I was being paid rather fabulously well, but mostly because I was obsessed and passionate about finding the killer, I was at his beck and call. Most of the work was sourcing quotes, following up on leads ranging from a friend of a cousin’s sister who saw a man standing under a tree smoking a cigarette on the night in question, to a passing tuk tuk driver who may or may not have taken Kirsty home that night (turns out she walked home), as well as getting footage and photographs from the local press to sell on – for great sums – to the foreign media, and of course, passing on the daily sound bites from the police, who were famously cooperative in mouthing off incredibly printable, and often offensive, nonsense.
It was all going on. Everyone wanted to be a part of the biggest drama in town. Neighbours would come up with past rumours about characters involved, friends would swing by and offer theories and insights, utter strangers who met Andy Gill once over a game of darts at the UN Irish Pub four years ago, would offer their tuppence. It was intense.
My relations with the Thai media was also odd. They initially saw me as part of the foreign contingent and spent their daylight hours trying to find out how much I was being paid. Obviously rather resentful that this young inexperienced upstart seemed to have landed herself such a cushy job, they reluctantly fed me all sorts of information in the hopes that they could sell photographs, video footages or special access to the international press, who were paying rates which were relatively outrageous. I ended up getting on very well with the gaggle of local reporters, as I had become useful, and I think that they realised after a while that I wasn’t going to be an ongoing threat, as it became clear in the first month or so that I am not cut from the hard news reporters’ cloth. There was a great sense of camaraderie during those first few weeks and months, though of course it was merely situational. Naturally, when the pressure was on it was each newsman or woman for themselves. Interestingly twelve years later many of the sweaty-faced crew parked outside the police stations and hopping on Honda Dreams to chase leads around town are now editors of Chiang Mai’s most prestigious publications, instead of swatting mosquitoes and mopping brows, microphone in hand, we now clink glasses of chardonnay at press conferences while fondly watching the new generation of hungry hounds do their stuff. And when I occasionally see them, we almost always talk Kirsty…shaking and scratching our heads in frustration and swapping tired theories.
Things became even less straight forward over the next few weeks. The original cast had pretty much long gone – Nathan Foley who had dinner with Kirsty, Stephen Trigg who heard Kirsty scream, Glen the crazy ex CIA Mormon and Stuart Crichton the heroin addict. Andrew Gill the guesthouse owner was still around, he had been fined 2,000 baht and jailed for visa overstay from the day they found him at the UN Irish Pub two days after the murder, so he wasn’t going anywhere and the police focused their efforts on trying to keep him in jail. Then there was Surin Chanpranet, the manager-slash-massage-teacher-cum-drug-dealer, who was the other remaining viable suspect. Narong was now a free man and pretty much protected by the media exposure, though interestingly enough a whole year and a half after the murder, in January 2002, Wales’s Dyfed-Powys police force revealed the results of their DNA tests which indicated that while it did not match Narong’s, the specimen showed remarkable likeness to his DNA and was thought to have belonged to a relative of his. This sparked a whole new avenue of investigation and we media scrambled to find members of Narong’s family who could possibly match the DNA. With other future dramas, this line of inquiry petered off with no follow-up.
Back to later in August 2000. Surin had an alibi for the night; his wife, Panthipa, who had suffered from a brain injury and was not quite all there, said that he was in their second floor room all night, apart from when they heard the noise coming from Kirsty’s room and went down to explore. Initially happy to receive all the media attention and ingratiating himself with the police, the loquacious Surin was a great source of many early news piece quotes, though his web of lies soon revealed his lack of practice in deceit. His stories ranged from the occult (Kirsty’s spirit featured regularly in his drunken ramblings) to an outrageous account he gave about five weeks after the murder that he actually saw, through twitching curtains, Andy Gill having sex with Kirsty, or at least, he amended, he saw him leaving her room…) by this point the man had cried wolf so often even the sheep weren’t bleating anymore.
Weeks into the investigation and all we had were rumours, gossip, obfuscation and dissemination of fiction as fact and fantasy as theory.
Soon, however, and against all forensics evidence, there would be a prime suspect, and for the next few months, his life would be hell. Please read the next chapter on the first and only official arrest of a murder suspect in Kirsty Jones’ murder.
A visit from Dennis Gillman, The Palm Reader
I had a meeting with palm reader Dennis Gillman today at Dunken Donut in the Phucome Hotel building. Odd place to meet, but Dennis says that it makes him nostalgic for America, what with its harsh coffee, soft donuts and diner ambiance.
I remember meeting Dennis the first time a few days after Kirsty’s murder. Joe Cummings, one of the most celebrated travel writers and retired Lonely Planet legend, introduced him to me, of all places, at the police station during one of the early days of milling around waiting for news. I can’t quite recall Joe’s involvement in the case, but know that he has been an avid follower of its development over the years, and I suppose as Lonely Planet guru, he would have known the backpacking scene, and presumably Aree Guesthouse, well.
“I remember meeting you inside the police station, we were surrounded by reporters,” said a soft spoken Gillman over a squidgy blueberry donut and badly brewed coffee.
“I had met that odd ex Mormon elder [Glen, one of the early suspects and guest at Aree Guesthouse] somewhere and he was reading Carl Jung. I went up to him and said that I too loved Jung and we had a chat. He then invited me to his room at Aree, this tiny guesthouse where I would never have gone otherwise. I remember having to walk over bodies of people meditating and doing yoga on the way to his room to borrow three Jung books. In fact, I then returned about five days before Kirsty’s murder to borrow another three books. It was at that time, when I was leaving the guesthouse, that Glen shouted out to everyone there that I was a palm reader so I was asked to read their palms. I read every single suspect’s hand except for Andy Gill’s. I had never met a more messed up group of people! I saw murder in the hand of Gill’s ex girlfriend, Mam. In fact when I told her she said, yes, I have killed someone. But it was before Kirsty’s murder, so it must have been someone else. Surin, the guesthouse manager also had very dark things in his palm.”
It all came flooding back to me. I had completely forgotten Gillman’s involvement in the early days of Kirsty’s case, simply because so much was going on at the same time. I do recall now being introduced to Gillman at the police station and as he was regaling me about his recent palm reading of all the then-viable suspects, Andy Gill steeped up to the bars of his cell. Gillman then asked Gill if he could read his hand and Gill’s response was, “I have been asked so many things, I may as well do this too.”
“So, I asked Andy Gill to hold up his palms, this was only a few days after his arrest for visa overstay,” said Gilman. “And I saw murder. I have been convinced until now that he was behind Kirsty’s death. It was funny though because then the police got really upset and started shouting because they saw me stand in front of Gill with his hands up in the air and they thought that I had a gun and was threatening his life!”
Over our donut, and twelve years later, I had to tell Dennis Gillman that it was impossible for Gill to have been the culprit simply because forensics evidence doesn’t seem able to support it. But it was an interesting anecdote from those crazy, frenetic, early days of the trial when we were all grasping for some kind of meaning. Gillman still maintains that Andy is a dangerous man, but concedes that he may not be guilty in this particular case.
Interestingly enough he also reminded me that around that time there was also a rumour that was published in many local newspapers that Kirsty was put in that downstairs room because it was directly below Gill’s or Surin’s rooms – I can’t quite remember, I think it may have been Gill’s – and that the owner/manager duo were secretly filming backpackers through a hole in the floorboard. Police combed the guesthouse for footage, but never found any evidence, and though a local farang expat said that there was some footage online, it never materialised. It was suspected for a few weeks that the two were involved in an underground pornography ring. But again, that rumour slash theory was soon abandoned.
I remember ending the day by inviting Joe and Dennis to my house for a few drinks later that evening and had my own palms read. I don’t think I will go into that. Let’s just say that I didn’t have murder on my hands…and twelve years later, as he read my hand an hour ago, I remain murder-free. Nice to know.