Thailand’s ‘death island’: Tourist deaths prompt police corruption concerns

Many check in to Thailand's island paradise of Koh Tao, but some never leave. Photo: Getty
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The backpacking destination of Koh Tao is quickly becoming known as “Death Island” after several tourists were found dead or murdered in recent years, prompting suspicions of police corruption.

Tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were murdered on the southern Thailand isle in 2014, but five other deaths – written off as suicides or freak accidents by local police – remain shrouded in mystery.

In the last three years young adventurers have been found hung in the jungle and even half eaten by tropical lizards.

The plot now thickens after a video published by The Sun re-emerged, in which a friend of Mr Miller recounts his life-threatening encounter with the Thai mafia in a bar after Mr Miller and Ms Witheridge were killed.

David Miller and Hannah Witheridge.

In footage filmed inside a Thai bus, Sean McAnna of Shott, Lanarkshire, told the reporter he was a “bit drunk” on the party island before he was interrogated and threatened by three men.

“Then they just said to me, ‘It was you who killed them. You’ve got two peoples’ deaths in your hands. We know it was you. You’re going to hang yourself tonight and we’re going to watch you hang. You will die tonight.’

“So I just ran. I just left,” he said.

Mr McAnna said he believed the Thai mafia needed him as a “scapegoat” and wanted the murder to be a “westerner”.

The then-25-year-old backpacker said he genuinely thought he was going to die and called his mother and sister to say his goodbyes.

“I told her that I loved her and I would try to make it home,” Mr McAnna said about a phone call with his mother.


Two Myanmar men have been convicted for the murders of Ms Witheridge and Mr Miller, and were sentenced to death.

The interview footage also follows the death of Belgian backpacker Elise Dallemange, 30, who was found in the island’s jungle on April 28 this year “partially eaten by animals, wrapped in T-shirts”, according to local reports.

Koh Tao police have since been ordered to reopen the investigation into the death, but responded, “This news is so old already; it has been misunderstood. There is no more to say,” according to The Sun UK.

Mr McAnna’s claims about his encounter with the Thai mafia in September 2014 have also cast doubt on the death of Ms Dallemange.

Elise Dallemange.

The Sun reported a mysterious fire broke out in the 30-year-old’s room and she had fled the hotel before her body was found a week later.

Her death was confirmed as suicide, but her parents have alleged wrongdoing.

There was also Frenchman Dimitri Povse, 29, who was found hanging in island scrub on New Year’s Day in 2015. His death was also ruled a suicide.

Eight months before Mr McAnna’s mafia confrontation, fellow British backpacker, 25-year-old Nick Pearson of Derby, was found dead floating in the ocean.

The Sun reported Thai police ruled out foul play, but the young man’s parents said officials did not investigate any witnesses and believed he was murdered.

Other recent deaths on the island included South East Londoner, Christina Annesley, 23, who allegedly died of natural causes in 2015 after mixing antibiotics and alcohol, and Luke Miller of Newport who was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool at Sairee Beach in January 2016.

Read – Are Days Numbered For The Thai Tourist Industry?

The Australian government’s Smart Traveller site advises exercising a high degree of caution when visiting Thailand and urges travellers to be avoid local and homemade cocktails “which may be made with narcotic or poisonous substances”. – The New Daily

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