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Phi Phi riddle: Ryan Kells and Jill St Onge were planning to be married

Phi Phi Riddle: Pursuing the Deaths of Two Tourists

Sunday, June 28, 2009
NORWEGIAN police are reported to be keen to pursue the case of the two young tourists who died mysteriously on the holiday island of Phi Phi almost two months ago.

Officers in the home town of one of the victims, Julie Bergheim, are said to be agitating for a second autopsy in an attempt to solve the riddle of the Laleena Guesthouse.

Other avenues of investigation so far have failed to explain what caused the deaths of Miss Bergheim, 22, and American Jill St Onge, 27.

It was on the weekend of May 2-3 that both women fell ill at Laleena and later died within hours of each other in the small Phi Phi hospital.

The women, each with a travelling companion, occupied adjoining rooms at the guesthouse. There is no evidence that they met or even exchanged a nod during their holidays.

Miss Bergheim and a younger female friend from Norway had been staying at Laleena for several days, but Miss Onge and her boyfriend, Ryan Kells, 31, checked in that Saturday. Within hours, she was dead.

The young Norwegian woman and Mr Kells also fell ill, the woman seriously. But they survived.

According to people who say they have seen the results of autopsies conducted in Bangkok, the results are inconclusive.

Police Lieutentant Pantanan Sangtong, who is leading the inquiry, told Phuketwan that he understood there were traces of medicines in both women.

In Miss Bergheim, he said, the autopsy produced signs of medicine she had been taking, apparently for epilepsy. In Miss St Onge's case, he said, there were traces of pain-killers sometimes taken for joint-pain.

He did not mention alcohol or recreational drugs of the kind said to be popular on Phi Phi. Nor was there any mention of the mixture of alcohol, pep-drinks and fruit juice favored on the island.

Phi Phi has a reputation for all-night parties and binge drinking, although this does not mean that all tourists who visit the island indulge in that kind of behavior.

Mr Kells has specifically rejected that notion. He believes his wife-to-be died because of something present in the room, possibly a gas, and that he only survived because he spent less time in the room.

The Norwegian survivor, who was more seriously affected that Mr Kells, has not spoken publicly.

Having been in intensive hospital care for several days, she probably has the most comprehensive understanding of what the two dead women endured.

Yet to come are the results of laboratory tests on chemicals and cleaners of various kinds, sampled from the Laleena Guesthouse three weeks after the deaths.

That inquiry, allegedly requested belatedly in frustration by the US and Norwegian embassies, was led by Police General Noppadon Kantakanit, a senior forensic officer from Phuket, a much larger holiday island about 90 minutes by ferry from Phi Phi.

It is unusual in Thailand for a policeman from one province (in this case, Phuket) to intervene in an investigation being conducted in a neighboring province (the less well-known province of Krabi, of which Phi Phi is the prime tourist attraction.)

Preliminary tests were also made immediately after the deaths on samples collected from guesthouse chemicals and cleaners. We have to presume these tests were inconclusive.

Adjoining ground-floor rooms 4 and 5, where the two dead women and their companions stayed, were the only two rooms where guests were affected, although the air-conditioning system also linked to other rooms.

The guesthouse proprietress slept in a ground-floor room nearby, without consequences, and says she subsequently slept in one of the impacted rooms with no ill effects.

Miss St Onge's body was cremated in Bangkok after the autopsy, but a selection of tissue and blood samples was taken back to the US, where reports say an independent examination found signs that her lungs had been seriously damaged.

Suspicion has fallen on the possibility of a deadly gas, perhaps from a water-waste treatment plant close to the guesthouse.

But the guesthouse prorietress, her housemaid and two children slept in a room situated between Rooms 4 and 5 and the waste plant, without falling sick.

Mr Kells says he was bundled off Phi Phi with undue haste after the incident. His fiancee was in a bodybag in the bottom of the speedboat.

It is not known how the body of the Norwegian victim was conveyed to Bangkok, where the subsequent autopsies took place. Her companion was certainly still too ill to organise travel arrangements.

Noting the rights to privacy of the families involved, and aware that this is a Thai investigation, officials at the US and Norwegian embassies have had little to say.

In the 21st century, on a popular island tourist destination, two people cannot simply be recorded as dying, as one official has been reported as saying, in ''a freak accident.''

There is a cause of death. There has to be one.

If Thai investigators cannot determine what killed these two young women, perhaps the Norwegian police will.

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Comments have been disabled for this article.


I sincerely hope that these mysterious tragic deaths will be thoroughly investigated, maybe by the Norwegian and American governments ?? Please do not let this be ''brushed under the carpet.''

Posted by elizabeth on June 28, 2009 22:48


Best report yet, thanks for clarifying the " No conclusions.." I'd like to say painkillers found in St Onge could be ibuprofen or similiar over the counter remedies.

Perhaps the presence of compounds made the two women more susceptible.

Posted by Christy on June 29, 2009 07:50


I believe the answer you seek is Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
It is odorless and tasteless.
Blood would be bright red color at death, like highly oxygenated blood. Only my visions.

Posted by Mouse on June 30, 2009 21:59


Everyone seems to be an expert with an answer. I am sure if it was that easy the authorities would have found it by now. It is definitely not in the interests of Thailand's economy for tourism to keep secrets in this case and if they had the answers I am sure they would report them.

Posted by Laura on July 12, 2009 12:56

Monday June 17, 2024
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