Swedish woman murdered in Phuket

Swedish national Hanna Charlotta Backlund, 26, was found murdered at Mai Khao in Phuket on Saturday. According to reports, the body was dressed in a swimsuit and her throat had multiple stab wounds. There were also lacerations to her back, midriff and hands.

Police said that this was an attempted rape. When looking for a motive for an attack on someone wearing nothing but a swimsuit and with no valuables on them, this is clearly not an attempted mugging. Police also said that a group of three or four people are responsible.

“Emma [Hanna’s friend] left the resort to buy some water and she told Hanna that she will join her sunbathing later. About 30 minutes later, she returned to find Hanna dead,” police told the Gazette.

Emma, told police that the pair often sunbathed topless. Although she said that they normally did it when no-one was around, it’s open to speculation whether this played a part in Hanna’s tragic death.

This is eerily reminiscent of the Katherine Horton incident in which the British tourist was raped and murdered on Samui in 2006. When that happened, Thaksin made a song and dance about catching the killers because of the potential impact such a case could have on tourism. Now that we have another young woman murdered in a possible botched rape, there really is nothing the current government can do to prevent a backlash.

With no witnesses and a recent spate in Phuket of unsolved cases involving murdered foreigners, this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. At least in the case of Katherine Horton her killers were brought to justice and given the death penalty.

At the moment, the Post, Nation and, obviously, the Gazette have picked up this story along with IHT.

Addendum: CNN has also picked this up.

Addendum II: Remember what I said about Thaksin stepping in to speed up the case after Katherine Horton was murdered? Well, we have a similar situation with this case. From The Nation:

Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat visited Phuket late Sunday night to ask police to speed up probe into the murder of a tourist on a popular beach of this island province.

Weerasak arrived at the Phuket International Airport at 11:55 pm to find out the progress of the probe into the murder of Charotta Hanna, 27.

Weerasak asked police to brief him the details of the beach and the attack.

Phuket Police chief Pol Maj Gen Decha Butrnamphet reported to him that the Phuket Tourism Association offered Bt100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the murder.

There is clearly some concern how much this will affect tourism, much more so than with previous murders. One hundred thousand baht is a hefty sum. I predict that there will be arrests made by the end of the week.

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20 thoughts on “Swedish woman murdered in Phuket

  1. Nothing about it in Dutch news. But we hardly hear anything about Thailand. I think it would need a Dutch victim or a serial killer before Dutch press will find it interesting enough.

    At the moment we have other "priorities", like the upcoming anti-moslim movie by a Dutch politician.

  2. Why might this be the straw that breaks the camel's back?

    If there is one thing I have learnt from my time in Phuket and Thailand, it is that tourist murders rarely have any effect on tourist numbers to any significant degree, if at all.

    Phuket is swamped with tourists, and the previous murders have not dented arrival figures in any way, if anything the complete opposite, and if a huge disaster like the Asian Tsunami has been all but forgotten by the masses, I really don't see those figures reducing, especially as we are entering low season now, and by next high season this will be long forgotten by most people who have read about it.

    I will add though that this is a terrible story and my heart goes out to her family and friends. Losing a family member overseas is terrible as I have experienced myself, and indeed just this weekend a neighbour of mine lost his own life at a very young age in unexpected circumstances.

  3. Yes it may well be big news, and maybe for good reason.

    Can you please explain what you mean by "..this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back" as I really don't understand what you mean. Are you saying that tourist numbers will potentially collapse in the coming months?

    I think this needs to be put in a bit of perspective. Yes it is a tragic event, but is the single killing of a woman in a remote part of Phuket reason enough for a family to cancel a holiday to a populated beach resort in say Patong, Karon etc.. I really don't think so, which is why I expect this to have little or no impact on tourist arrivals in the coming months.

  4. Swedish tourists make up the second biggest group of visitors to Thailand. If this isn't dealt with swiftly, those numbers could be jeopardized, which is why the tourism minister was here on Sunday and not for any other case in the past few months. I think there are only so many high-profile murders of foreigners that can happen before tourism begins to be affected.

    However, from what I've heard, they've already found a bunch of fishermen who may or may not be the real killers, so it's likely that nothing will happen in the long run.

  5. I really do not believe one murder will stop any significant number of Swedes coming to Phuket.

    Why? …because Phuket is an established market for Swedes. Thousands come here yearly, and they know exactly what Phuket is like already, they will not let one random killing of a national affect their holiday plans. They already know whether it is safe for them and their children. It's not like people are getting murdered in their beds or sitting on the beach in a busy area.

    The only reason for it to affect Phuket is if Sweden issue a travel advisory for Phuket and Thailand, warning people to stay away or travel with care.

    We can agree to disagree.

    Oh and tourism minister was here was he? Well I really hope the presence of a single man will make all the difference to the search for the killers. If anything it puts extra pressure on the police to find someone responsible, which in my opinion is not a good thing when there are plenty of scapegoats roaming around

  6. Roger, I think they've been put to death.

    Simon, well, this is it. There will be arrests, likely tomorrow. There have to be, but whether they arrest the real killers or some poor sods who get this pinned on them is anybody's guess. The police are already pretty certain they know who did it, even before DNA tests have been completed.

    This whole case is becoming formulaic. But anyway, we'll see what goes down tomorrow.

  7. swedish tourist are not the second biggest group of visitors to thailand.
    in the western view the tourist from east asia are often forgotten.
    just some data.
    2007 thailand has seen 126.492 tourist from korea, 119.234 from japan, 64.494
    from china.
    from europe, 77.278 from UK, 60.690 from germany, 56.712 from sweden and 45.920 from russia.
    66.464 from the USA and 58.195 from australia.

    check the statistics here http://www2.tat.or.th/stat/web/static_download.php?Rpt=nmt

    but sweden has 'only' a Population of 9 million, so we can say that thailand as tourist destination is most well known and most popular in sweden. one of 160 swedes have been last year here on holiday. for the UK is it one of 770, for australia one of 360.
    so i am with simon here, i doubt there will be an impact in the visitor numbers and specially not from sweden. maybe it's scares of the canadians, there have been only 19.165 visitors last year. so most of the canadians hear and know of thailand only as murderland from the "big news".

  8. Aha! Nowhere near second place then. I'm not sure where I got that idea from then. Maybe I was thinking second largest excluding Asians. But even then it's not right. I really thought there were more Swedish people here.

  9. Actually, Peter, I'm not sure about those figures. I think last year there were something like 12 million visitors to Thailand. There were five million in Phuket alone. Your figures are under 700,000. Something doesn't add up. I'll look into it.

  10. As someone who has researched tourism and murder data for Thailand, the Swedish market is very important and this murder could have a disproportionate effect than if it was another national. The Swedes also have longer holidays than pretty much every single developed nation on the planet, so while they might not be high-end spenders they stay for a long time and contribute a lot to the economy.

    First point is that Sweden is a very peaceful, civilised place with very few murders. Unlike the rest of Europe they've not fought a war for almost 150years and I believe the death toll in the Tsunami was the biggest loss of life for Swedes since their last war. Any death of a Swede is a big, big news there.

    Secondly is that in population terms it is a small country – only 9million – just a bit bigger than London. The imagery associated with a very violent murder of a young woman will profoundly shock what is mostly a rural nation and will be circulated widely.

    However, i would be very careful about making calls on how tourism will be effected. The long term issue with this is on image. The Thais and TAT have had a long-term strategy of the nation being the Land of Smiles. Sure there is some truth in this. But it is slowly being eroded – Thailand is slowly being perceived as a violent country, with coups, summary executions of drug dealers, backpackers being shot dead in the street by drunken cops and violent sexual murders of young women.

  11. Yes that's true. The Swedish market is clearly of value to Thailand. This story is apparently all over the Swedish media.

    As an update on the figures from Peter, those stats are only for January 2007. For 2007:

    Sweden 378,387, Germany 544,495, United Kingdom 859,010, U.S.A. 681,972

  12. Matt – just to give an insight into those figures – if they are from Thai sources they represent entries into Thailand not individual travellers.

    For example say 50,000 of the 860,000 Brits re-enter Thailand on visa runs etc 5 times a year that would add 200,000 to the final figure meaning the real number of visits would be 600,000. The UK government count the number of British residents who fly from London to Thailand and it is roughly 400,000 a year – this figure is the most accurate figure available.

    The Swedes don't tend to stay long term in Thailand the same way as the Brits do – sure there are a few who stay but Swedes like to live in their own country (with 8 weeks paid holiday a year and amazing cradle to grave welfare programmes, wouldn't you?) unlike the Brits.

    So, those figures don't take into account various factors. I would spin the UK figure down to about 600,000 and the keep the Swedish figure roughly where it is, increasing their importance as market share.

  13. Yes that's quite right. The official tourism figures come from the number of entries. I think I have some figures about how much each groups spends. That's a more telling factor. I'll try and dig that up.

  14. There's a manhunt for the killer now: Phuket native Akkaradej “Chon” Tunkae. He's hiding in Chumphon apparently. I've never known the police to be so efficient.

  15. upps, my fault. it was late yesterday.
    the statistics differentiate also between mode of transport, arrival per air or on land. yesterday i was just wonder about that the arrival on land borders was so low, given all the visa runners, but didn't realize that i just open the excel sheet for the month january and not the whole year. the statistics given by the TAT, sourced on immigration data are not complete useless, still good for get the 'big picture' for example how many east asians come here, compare to western tourists.

    with the 'correct' data now we can say that around one of 25 or one of 30 swedes have been here in 2007. so the swedes really know thailand form a holiday experience and not just from the 'big news'. sure, it's terrible news and frightening on the other hand stays the own personal holiday experience with family and kids and for a lot of them was it not the first time in thailand.
    sad thing murder happen, but this is only a singular event and not the rule.
    i think thailand is still a save place for holiday and there is no hunting season for 'farang' as some other argue on other boards. no other nation in the world knows that better then the swedes. do you stay away from the beaches now or want to leave phuket because it's life-threatening danger? it's more likely that a canadian will change his holiday plans, but i think not the swedes.

    would be very interesting to hear some figures how much each group of tourists/nation spends on their stay, how big is their contribution to the economy.

    most interesting is the public awareness of the expat community like on thaivisa.com for example, or also here, on these murder cases. how is the reaction if a english girl get killed or a canadian, compare that with the russian women in pattaya or the japanese woman in ayutthaya. lots of people knows the victim name form years ago in chiang mai, or the samui case. nobody seems to care about the russian women, remember their names. the japanese woman doesn't had make 'big news' in the west, but she was a tourist like everybody else.

  16. What I was told by the UK Embassy in BKK is that the murder rate in the British ex-pat community in Thailand was comparable to the domestic Thai murder rate. In effect this is, according to the last published figures, 8X the murder rate in the UK.
    When saying this it should also be said that death by murder is statistically still very unlikely and that most UK nationals murdered over the last few years were residents killed mostly by people they knew or were connected with. Stranger murder of the kind in this case of the Swedish woman is, fortunately, still very low. Murders of UK tourists was also very low – basically as a foreigner resident in Thailand you are much more likely to get murdered than a tourist.

    But the problem is this – marrying marketing to reality. Anyone who has spent much time in Thailand knows how violent it can be – all statistics back this up (ok less street crime but a staggering amount of homicides). So when that violence inevitably hits the headlines it damages the image – stabbed, raped bodies on beaches don't sell holidays and even if it puts off 5% of Swedish tourists that is a huge amount. Couple that with the damage done to the image of Thailand in Canada (drunken cop shoots and kills young man) and the other murders and you are presented with a pertinent issue.

    When I researched my recent article on murders of Brits in Thailand I also looked at figures of deaths/murders of UK nationals in South Africa and India – both these countries are arguably at similar levels of development (uneven in India) as Thailand and attract a very similar amount of UK tourists and UK resident ex-pats. Year on year the death by accident and death by murder rate of UK nationals in both was consistently lower than Thailand.

    Sure, you can look at who is attracted to Thailand and the risky behaviour people engage in but ultimately, if you believe that lives are worth saving (even of drunk farangs etc) it poses a question – how can this rate of death be lessened? The Thais barely even want to admit it exists and there seem to be plenty of farang residents who collude with that (most with business interests here). Will it change? Doubtful. But one murder too many might just hit the tourist market so hard one day that a change will have to come….

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