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Jill St Onge and Ryan Kells . . . a holiday that ended in death and mystery

Phi Phi's Tourist Deaths: A Lingering Riddle

Saturday, May 1, 2010
ONE YEAR on from the mysterious deaths of Jill St Onge and Julie Bergheim on the holiday island of Phi Phi, we cannot tell you what killed them. Two young women, both still in their '20s, died from causes unknown, on one of Thailand's best-known tourist destinations.

It is doubtful that anyone on Phi Phi this weekend will mourn the two young women, one from the US, the other from Norway. From all accounts, the people on Phi Phi would prefer to forget the two dead tourists and the riddle surrounding their demise.

Yet in Norway, they will remember. And in parts of the US, and in the hearts of their loved-ones, their deaths will not be forgotten.

Phuketwan is not inclined to forget, either. Tourists are supposed to come to Phuket and the Andaman to enjoy their holidays, not to have their lives snuffed out.

As journalists, we sometimes struggle to explain these matters, because people are almost always reluctant to tell us what they know.

However, Ryan Kells told us back then about the haste with which he was pushed off Phi Phi, with the body of his dead fiancee, Jill St Onge, in the bottom of a speed boat.

The two dead women and their companions had been staying in adjoining rooms at the Laleena Guesthouse on Phi Phi. Ryan and Jill had checked in on Saturday, May 2.

Julie Bergheim and her friend Karina Refseth had been there for a few days, enjoying the social life on Phi Phi. Before the Monday, both women were dead.

The couples never met, yet they shared the same agony. Karina Refseth fell ill and narrowly escaped the same fate, and only gave an account of her thoughts about that weekend many months later.

For Ryan Kells, the pain continued. Although he and Jill were long-time partners, the US Embassy in Bangkok would not and could not acknowledge him as family, even though the couple were to be married, which is a sad reflection on outmoded attitudes.

The Norwegian embassy, on the other hand, is believed to have driven further investigation and insisted on a second autopsy in Norway. While St Onge was cremated in Bangkok, Bergheim's body was sent home.

It is not possible for us to say that the Norwegians necessarily mourn citizens who happen to be lost overseas more than Americans. But perhaps they do not have as much experience, and as a nation, they consist of a tight-knit, loving community.

Yet even the best forensic science in Norway, exploring every possible option, could not determine what killed Julie, and therefore probably Jill.

Over the past year, we at Phuketwan have talked to many people in search of the cause of the deaths, in Thailand, in the US and in Norway. We wish we had the answer.
Phi Phi Mystery Deaths: The Room Maid's Account
Phi Phi Photo Album Thai guesthouse maids have a way of knowing what goes on and the maid at the Laleena on Phi Phi was close to two mysterious deaths. This is her account.
Phi Phi Mystery Deaths: The Room Maid's Account

Dead Tourist 'Pushed off Phi Phi': Boyfriend
Latest The boyfriend of an American who died in strange circumstances along with a Norwegian woman on Phi Phi has rejected suggestions that they argued.
Dead Tourist 'Pushed off Phi Phi': Boyfriend

Why Pursuing the Truth Matters for Tourism
Opinion/Analysis Does it matter if the truth is never known about mishaps that kill tourists on and around Phuket? It matters because of trust. Only once the whole truth is told can trust be restored.
Why Pursuing the Truth Matters for Tourism

Phi Phi Riddle: Embassy 'Fails to Ease Ryan's Pain'
US Embassy Responds In a passionate message, the father of a Phi Phi deaths riddle survivor makes a plea for answers. He also criticises officials on the popular holiday island and the US embassy.
Phi Phi Riddle: Embassy 'Fails to Ease Ryan's Pain'

Phi Phi Deaths Riddle: That Last Hour at Laleena
Latest Having previously given a brief account, the Norwegian survivor of the Laleena Guesthouse sickness that killed two tourists talks at length for the first time, criticising investigators
Phi Phi Deaths Riddle: That Last Hour at Laleena

Norway's Professors Pursue Phi Phi Killer Riddle
Latest The enduring mystery of why two young tourists died on the holiday island of Phi Phi may yet be answered. Two forensic professors have been working on the case since June.
Norway's Professors Pursue Phi Phi Killer Riddle

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Jill's family has some commentary on the case, 1 year on, here:
http://jillstonge.blogspot.com/2010/03/been-about-year.html

Posted by L on May 1, 2010 21:38

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Julie Bergheim and her friend Karina Refseth had been there for a few days, enjoying the social life on Phi Phi. Before the Monday, both women were dead

Both these women did not die - you should correct this story.

Editor: In context, there's no confusion. I'd already said which women died. Isolate any paragraph in any report, and you'll fail an editing test.

Posted by starsailor on May 1, 2010 22:48

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I feel so sorry for the families, they will never know what happened to their daughters.

Posted by Jamie on May 2, 2010 01:24

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Thank you for honoring their memory.

Posted by Len on May 2, 2010 08:27

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If there is one thing they know how to do on koh phi phi it is bury bad news.

Posted by steve on May 2, 2010 10:15


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