BANGKOK – Two Thai men suspected of killing a 60-year-old Australian tourist on the resort island of Phuket admitted to the crime Tuesday, saying they meant only to slash her pocketbook strap and never meant to stab her.
Police led the suspected slasher and his alleged accomplice, who is accused of driving the motorcycle used in the attack, to re-enact the crime at the spot where Michelle Elizabeth Smith was killed last week. Smith was among 11 people from the western Australian city of Perth who traveled to Phuket on a survey trip for their travel agency.
A crowd of about 200 people shouted angrily at the men, who were handcuffed, accusing them of bringing bad publicity to an area that depends heavily on tourism.
Amid tight police security, Surasak Suwannachote, 26, showed how he allegedly jumped off the back seat of the motorbike and wielded a replica knife as he re-enacted the attack. Such re-enactments are common in Thailand.
"I was trying to cut the strap of the bag. I didn't know (the knife) would actually strike her. I only found out the next day," Surasak told reporters. He said he had attempted similar robberies on several occasions, sometimes successfully.
Surveillance footage shows Smith and another woman walking down a street in the popular Phuket district of Karon last Wednesday when two men passed on a motorbike. The man on the back seat jumped off and tried to steal her bag, repeatedly stabbing her when she resisted but failing to get the bag. The two women walked away, and Smith later died of a stab wound to her chest.
The other woman, 45-year-old Tammy Lee Lynn, suffered a gash on her arm while trying to aid Smith. She required hospitalization but was well enough to return home.
The suspected motorcycle driver, 37-year-old Surin Tabthong, apologized Tuesday. "I made a mistake that day. I didn't think," he said. "I was reckless and things got carried away. It was a mistake."
Thailand's top police officials are involved in the case, showing the importance authorities have placed on tracking down the killers in an attempt to protect the country's tourist-friendly image.
Police Gen. Pansiri Prapawat, the national deputy police chief, told reporters that the suspects' confessions matched the accounts of witnesses and evidence police had collected, including video surveillance from six different locations. Police say they have also retrieved the motorbike and clothing worn by the attackers but have not yet found the weapon. The suspects said they threw the knife away shortly after the attack and then fled.
Police arrested Surasak on Monday in Chumphon province, north of Phuket, and arrested Surin on Sunday in Samut Sakhon province, just outside Bangkok.