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The Belanger sisters: now another alarming double death in Vietnam

Phi Phi Riddle of Dead Sisters Grows With 'Insecticide' Claim and More Deaths in Vietnam

Friday, August 31, 2012
PHUKET: The mysterious deaths of Canadian sisters Audrey and Noemi Belanger on the holiday island of Phi Phi were caused by insecticide, police said yesterday.

No more details are available at this stage, a Thai officer said, although it has been 12 weeks since Audrey, 20, and Noemi, 26, were found dead in their room at a solid, respectable resort on June 15.

Since then, as autopsies on the women were carried out first in Bangkok and then in Canada, secrecy has enveloped the double fatality.

Beyond saying that insecticide has been found in the bodies of the women, police in Krabi, the mainland province closest to Phi Phi, have little to add.

It could be three months before official results are revealed if ever, Krabi Town Deputy Superintendent Colonel Jongrak Pimtong told Phuketwan yesterday.

All the signs in the room at the Palm Residence Phi Phi were that the sisters died a horrible death from some kind of toxic substance. Much speculation has followed about everything from an allergic reaction to a serial killer.

The tragedy of the Canadian sisters mirrors the equally mysterious deaths on Phi Phi of Jill St Onge, 27, and Norwegian Julie Bergheim, 22, in May, 2009.

Comparisons have also been made with a series of unexplained deaths - coincidentally or not, mostly involving young women - at and near the now-demolished Downtown Inn in the Thai city of Chiang Mai last year.

One big difference is that the father of the most prominent of the Chiang Mai victims, 23-year-old new Zealand tourist Sarah Carter, conducted a very public campaign to find out what killed his daughter.

The Thai authorities were forced to instigate a full and proper probe, with regular updates on their findings.

Although there was no formal conclusion, the likelihood is that pesticide killed Sarah Carter and the others in Chiang Mai.

Pesicide in Chinag Mai, insecticide on Phi Phi . . . Whatever the killer, it was no ordinary bug spray.

Could someone have doctored their drinks? Others with Ms St John and Ms Bergheim also fell ill and survived, as did the companions of Ms Carter.

Phi Phi is renowned as a rites-of-passage destination for 20-somethings, and it transforms from a haven for day-trippers in the sunshine to a less beguiling party island after dark.

Alcohol is just one the many ingedients that Phi Phi's party people mix in their ''buckets.''

Each bucket is a concoction of all kinds of juices and substances that are mixed into containers of various sizes and usually sucked through straws all night long.

There is no evidence, however, that Ms Bergheim and Ms St Onge, who fell sick in adjacent rooms at the same Phi Phi guesthouse, shared a meal or a drink.

Ms St Onge was cremated but Ms Bergheim's body was returned to Norway where a second autopsy that extended over a period of months failed to produce a reason for her death.

It is believed that the post-autopsy tests for the Belangers have concluded in Bangkok but are continuing in Canada.

Public Health Department officials in Thailand say they check for contaminants in the Phi Phi ''buckets'' once a month but have found none.

That could mean an inordinately large dose of pesticide or insecticide was inhaled, swallowed or absorbed by the Belanger sisters some other way.

Unlike Sarah Carter's father, the parents of the Belangers, despite the shocking double loss, are maintaining a consistent silence, probably on the advice of Canadian authorities.

When asked a series of questions this week, a government spokesperson in Canada responded: ''Our thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of the Canadian citizens who passed away in Thailand.

''Canadian consular officials in Bangkok and in Canada are providing consular assistance to the family.

''Our officials are in contact with authorities both in Thailand and Canada and will continue to liaise closely with them.

''However, out of respect for the family and to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned, further details on this case cannot be released.''

Despite the calm in Canada, fresh alarm surfaced earlier this month with reports of the deaths of two young women in Vietnam, an American and a Canadian of Vietnamese extraction.

There is a sense of deja vu about the reporting of the riddle in thespec.com, the online news site of a respectable Canadian publisher.

''[Cathy] Huynh, 26, . . . and Kari Bowerman, 27, of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, died suddenly and mysteriously in Vietnam while on vacation together from their English teaching jobs in South Korea.

''Both were healthy young women before travelling to Vietnam, according to their families. News reports in Vietnam said they had been vomiting and sought help at a local hospital, where they died - Bowerman first on July 30 and then Huynh on August 2.''

The report adds: ''In Texas, Bowerman's sister Jenny Jaques is not only in shock and grieving, as is the Huynh family in Hamilton, but she is also angry and frustrated at not being able to get information about what happened.''

Little has been reported about the case since, and the same can be said of the Belanger sisters mystery.

Despite the deaths and the continuing mysteries, disquiet does not appear to have affected tourism to Phi Phi.

Crowded ferries still come and go each day to the scenic island from Phuket, about two hours' sailing away. Many of the passengers are young women.

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Thanks for the update, was waiting for it. Still strange to me that there are only 2 cases, if pesticides involved...

Posted by Resident on August 31, 2012 11:34

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If it was insecticides maybe it was something like the Thais use against the termites. Whenever the pest control is coming to spray against the termites, I have headake and belly pain for at least two days, even I open all windows and doors. It will be much worse if they spray against termites and the tourists close everything and just use the aircon.

Just an idea.

Posted by happychris on August 31, 2012 12:01

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I still think these deaths may be linked to boot leg booze, name brand spirit bottles refilled with backyard made hootch.

Posted by Richard on August 31, 2012 16:03

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Don't mind about their deaths: Phuket, Chiang Mai, Phe Phe and Thailand are safe, until you misteriously and burnt die!?!
Be careful Ed. about safety!?!

Posted by Coralie on August 31, 2012 19:48

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Canadian government just posted a travel warning about drinks containing DEET and the news is reporting DEET poisoning... http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/story/2012/08/31/montreal-sisters-die-thailand-insecticide.html

Posted by Harvey on September 1, 2012 06:17

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Canadian news says a local Thai concoction of cough syrup,DEET, coke + local ingredients to get high.Did someone mix super strong for them or maybe someone just spike their drinks with DEET insect repellant they see handy - just for a laugh. Too bad their companions get away thanks to lax police and immigration.

Posted by Anonymous on September 1, 2012 08:48

Editor Comment:

That's anonymous guesswork, which is the most useless kind. No conclusion can be drawn at this stage about how the insecticide reached the sisters' bodies.

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There's a report on the Canadian news (CBC) that says it was a DEET overdose from DEET mixed in Coke cocktails.

Posted by Anonymous on September 1, 2012 09:45

Editor Comment:

Yes, we reported their claim today. The ''cocktails'' part is likely to be guesswork, and alarming guesswork at that. There are various ways chemicals can enter the body. Drinking it is just one of them.

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Is it strange that ONLY females are dying ?
When I was living on Phuket I know of a lot of Thai men using date rape drugs as a way of picking up farang girls for sex. Date rape drug = drain cleaner.

Posted by Danny on September 2, 2012 03:51

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Since the cough syrup with pseudo ephedrine is only available at hospitals, this mixture may need some more spice. Maybe the girls are the victim of a new mixture, for good reason not tested by the brewer? Btw. Ed. Except in PW, where else is it only a expectation, that the girls got deed drinks?

Posted by ??? on September 2, 2012 08:52

Editor Comment:

No idea what you mean by that question, ???

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This is why you should NEVER buy (or accept for free) ANY alcoholic drinks in Thailand that don't come in a sealed bottle that you can see opened in front of your eyes. And never leave an opened drink unattended even for 1 second or someone will put something in it.

Posted by Dr Michael on September 3, 2012 20:32

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@ Dr Michael

That's being a bit paranoid. Besides when does anyone have a drink in a bar and not let if out of sight for 1 second ?

Being cautious and careful is prudent but no reason for mass hysteria.

I've got a spiked drink once but that was on Boracay in Phils. Realized it in time, threw up immediately and made it back to the safety of my hotel.

Posted by Andrew on September 3, 2012 22:26

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As a physician with a personal interest in toxicology, who has traveled throughout Thailand (including staying in a guesthouse in Chiang Mai), and who has worked in a hospital in the developing world, I am a little skeptical of the leading theory that an organophosphate-based insecticide is a definitive answer to what has happened (though I would definitely still consider it a possibility.) The recent onset of these deaths, the geographic clustering of cases (clusters have also occurred in Chiang Mai and Vietnam), the relative homogeneity of victims (predominantly young, attractive, female tourists), and the unusually high case fatality rate (environmental toxins normally sicken many more people than they kill), all suggests something more sinister. I also mean no disrespect to the hardworking medical personnel and coroners in Thailand, but I seriously doubt that these facilities have the resources to diagnose (or rule out) the enormous variety of possible etiologic poisons. Diagnosing poisoning in an unsuspecting victim can be a challenge even for top tertiary care academic institutions here in the States. Claiming that a diagnosis of insecticide poisoning can be made based on specific chemical levels in the body after death has occurred is simply not based in reality.

Posted by Eric on September 17, 2012 03:18

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Reasonable deductions Eric however DEET is not an organophosphate nor does it possess any cholinergic effects in toxicity.

Posted by Nick on September 17, 2012 07:42

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Why don't they check for Phostoxin poisoning,( Aluminium phosphide )?

Posted by Dun on September 17, 2012 12:04


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