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Rooms 4 and 5, downstairs at Laleena Guesthouse, Phi Phi

Norway's Professors Pursue Phi Phi Killer Riddle

Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Laleena Phi Phi Photo Album Above

THE BEST forensic scientists in Norway are now trying to solve the year's most mystifying puzzle: what caused the sudden deaths of two young women tourists who occupied adjoining rooms in a guesthouse on Phi Phi, a tropical island paradise.

Two Scandinavian professors are attempting to put the pieces in place to resolve a mystery half a world away, a riddle that has so far eluded the best scientific endeavors Thailand can muster.

It's unusual to have scientists from one country become so deeply involved in a police case in another country. But then, the Phi Phi deaths are, as far as Phuketwan is able to tell, unique.

How did they die? Why did they die? These are questions that so far have no answers.

Norway is a relatively large country with a small-population, a nation that takes precious pride in maintaining a sense of community.

Life is treasured. Such is the level of concern about what took place involving Julie Bergheim at the Laleena Guesthouse on Phi Phi back in May that Norway decided on a diplomatically unconventional response.

With one or two possible exceptions, everybody wants the case solved. Norwegian Julie Bergheim, 22, and an American, Jill St Onge, 27, were young women in the prime of their lives before that strange weekend in paradise.

The family of the American woman is just as keen to have the case solved as Julie Bergheim's family. After all, Jill St Onge was on what amounted to a pre-nuptials honeymoon with her husband to be, Ryan Kells, when they both fell ill at Laleena.

The difference is a vital one. The Norwegian scientists have a body. The Americans do not.

In the aftermath of the two sudden deaths on Phi Phi, the bodies of both women were taken to Bangkok, and subjected to autopsies. Jill St Onge was cremated soon after at a Buddhist temple. Julie Bergheim was transported home.

Phuketwan has been led to believe that officials at the Norwegian embassy in Bangkok, where the ambassador and staff never give journalists any information, actually played a key role in orchestrating the second autopsy.

THE EMAIL was short and to the point: ''You are correctly informed that I, together with a colleague professor of forensic medicine, have been given the task to perform a second autopsy on the deceased in question, which has been done. The case is not yet concluded, but even when it is, we shall not be allowed to disclose the results to anybody else than Norwegian Police.

''Sincerely yours
Kari Ormstad,
professor of forensic medicine, MD, PhD''

And that was that. Our follow-up email, requesting the name of the other professor and the date of the second autopsy, brought no response.

Public Prosecutor Sjak Haaheim was a little more forthcoming when we telephoned. He knows that the practice of starting a second inquiry into a police case in another country is highly unusual.

As the leading prosecutor in Julie Bergheim's home county, it was his approval that was required for a second investigation, more properly called a ''survey,'' to commence.

Did it come because of the large groundswell of interest in solving a case involving a young Norwegian traveller, that national sense of community? Probably.

''My decision,'' Mr Haaheim tells us, ''was strongly motivated by the wishes of the family.

''We are not in any way putting a case for doubt on the Thai autopsy. It is just a second opinion. I decided there was a need to open a 'survey' case.''

The two forensic science professors performed the autopsy in June and have been working towards a set of findings ever since. The findings, says Mr Haaheim, will be presented to the family first, then made public.

Results may be sent back to the Thai authorities ''through diplomatic channels.'' At this stage, exactly what the reaction might be among the Thai investigators can only be the subject of speculation.

Of the four people who fell ill that weekend at Laleena Guesthouse, two are dead. Ryan Kells has told his version of events in an online blog.

He maintains that he noticed a chemical smell when he and Miss St Onge checked in that Saturday. He believes a gas made them both sick, and killed Miss Onge.

The other person with first-hand experience of what happened is Miss Bergheim's 19-year-old friend, another Norwegian, who also fell ill and only recovered after treatment in intensive care.

She has never given a public account of what happened. Mr Haaheim says he considered interviewing the woman, but it was decided that her privacy and her wishes should be respected.

What the 'survey' team has that the Thai investigators did not have is access to Norwegian medical records and, Mr Haaheim says, ''other information.''

SO THERE are three pockets of concern, spread across the globe, as the investigation remains at a standstill in Thailand and the 'survey' continues in Norway.

From the western seaboard of America, the Onge family has made it known online that they were not happy with the Thai autopsy report, which consisted of just three pages when they were expecting about 20. The material had to be translated into English first at the US Embassy in Bangkok, another time-consuming element in the process.

Some of the documents are confusing. This is especially the case with results of an ''environmental quality test'' made on June 13, six weeks after the deaths, that showed the presence of several gases in samples taken from Room 6 at Laleena Guesthouse at 1.35pm, but nothing in a slightly different test at 1.43pm.

The owner of the guesthouse, Rat Chuped, still maintains that there was nothing in her establishment capable of causing death.

She has no explanation for the illness that struck four healthy young people in adjoining Rooms 4 and 5 that May weekend.

Tourists are back now, staying in those same rooms, as if nothing unusual ever happened. Phi Phi is about an hour by ferry from Phuket, and the number of visitors is beginning to rise now for the holiday high season.
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Comments

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Why is the Norwegian woman who survived not willing to explain the events that happened in public? Surely she can give valuable information to help solve what happened.

Posted by Ivan on October 7, 2009 20:21

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Ivan~ I agree, why is the other Norwegian woman not questioned or her account of the events made public? Her account of events could give insight to two peoples' death, one of those her dear friend who she lived with in Australia for a period of time, who became her travelling companion, etc....

Screw her desire for "privacy" Two lives have been lost, and she may be able to help.

Posted by curious on October 22, 2009 10:32

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Please consider the possibility Ms Bergheim's companion has spoken to Norwegian investigators.
Far more likely local press simply aren't privy to an ongoing investigation.

Posted by MediaWatcher2009 on October 23, 2009 07:50

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no way is it finished, some of us are not as dumb as the thai government think we are, long path ahead, but its coming

Posted by jimbo on May 5, 2011 19:14


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