Phuket authorities are offering a 200,000-baht reward for information leading to the arrest of the rapist and killer of a Swiss tourist whose partially nude body was found at the foot of rocky waterfall in the southern province Thursday.
Police are urging anyone with information that could point to who attacked 57-year-old Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf and left her body under a black tarp at Ao Yon waterfall in Wichit District to call the 191 hotline.
The reward offer comes as authorities stepped up security for its “sandbox” tourists, both to protect those on the ground as well as the tens of thousands of hotel reservations that have been booked through October under the “sandbox” scheme Thailand is depending on to restart foreign tourism.
At a news conference in Bangkok on Friday, Royal Thai Police spokesman Pol. Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen said investigators are waiting on autopsy results to confirm if the deputy head of protocol of the Swiss Federal Assembly was, in fact, raped and how she died.
Police also released a timeline of Sauvain-Weisskopf’s movements, enabled by a tracking application she and other “sandbox” tourists are required to keep on their smartphones. The timeline, however, showed nothing remarkable.
On Aug. 3, the day she was presumed to have been killed, Sauvain-Weisskopf walked out of The Mooring Resort Hotel in Wichit around 11:25 a.m., headed toward Ao Yon Beach.
At 11:48 a.m., she walked alone on Ao Yon-Khao Khat Road toward the Ao Yon waterfall. She was shorts, a white shirt and dark shoes, with a long-sleeved shirt tied around her waist and carrying a dark rucksack.
She walked 18 minutes, covering 1.4 kilometers. She was later found dead in the stream at the waterfall at about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. She was bottomless and jeans shorts and panties were found nearby, which were not what she was seen wearing in CCTV footage.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed his condolences to the family of the woman, urged police to devote all efforts to quickly solving the case and ordered government agencies to increase support for tourists while tightening safety and public-health measures.
Phuket Gov. Narong Woonciew and top police and local officials led a Friday night memorial service at the beach.
The murder casts a pall over Thailand’s so-called Phuket Sandbox program to try and bring fully vaccinated foreign tourists to the previously popular tourist destination, which has been struggling massively during the coronavirus pandemic.
From the start of the program at the beginning of July through the end of the month, 14,055 visitors traveled to Phuket, generating an income of 1.925 billion baht, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
But Thailand’s raging coronavirus third wave and the increasing amount of restrictions being put on Phuket residents and sandbox tourists are scaring travelers away, with bookings slowing appreciably this month.
Security fears could exacerbate the slowdown. Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn was quick to get out in front of those, even as the cost of acknowledging that it may appear Thailand is closing the barn door after the horse has fled.
“The incident should have never happened to anyone,” Phiphat said. “We must have safety measures at all tourist attractions in Phuket, both popular places and natural attractions. “I want staff screen people entering and exiting these places. We need to set the entrance and exit at the same point so it will be easy to screen.”
“You can say this is wau hai lom khok (lock the stable door after the horse is stolen),” the minister said. “Every incident become a lesson. We still need to learn and apply what we learn all the time.”
‘Thailand Needs to Be Safer’
He called on locals living near tourist sites to be the “eyes and ears” of authorities and report anything suspicious.
Phiphat said he suggested to a top police and government officials that more CCTV cameras be installed around Phuket and begin checking personal information and criminal histories of all sandbox arrivals. He admitted, however, that such a measure may upset potential visitors.
Whatever steps are needed to be taken, the tourism minister said, “the sandbox must continue”. It’s simply too important for Thailand’s crushed tourism industry to suspend it.
But Phiphat also acknowledged Thailand has a long way to go toward making tourists feel safe, saying the country is ranked 110th out of 150 popular destinations for tourist safety.
“We may not be able to do so this year, but I expect that we can make it next year,” he said. “This is to tell the world that we are taking a step up for tourist safety.”