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Sarah Carter's death is as mysterious as  the deaths of two young women on Phi Phi in 2009

Fifth Mystery Death in Chiang Mai Riddle: Laleena Link?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
A FIFTH mysterious death has been revealed as Chiang Mai's ''fatal attraction'' begins to impact on the city's ability to appeal to tourists.

The death of 33-year-old American Mariam Soraya Vorster, who was working as a guide in Chiang Mai, means that five deaths took place within six weeks - and authorities have yet to find believable causes for any of them.

The first death that came to public notice was that of 23-year-old Sarah Carter, who died in a Chiang Mai Hospital after she and two friends required treatment for a strange malady that was first attributed to food poisoning.

Since then, more deaths and revelations of other fatalities that preceded Ms Carter's demise have triggered increasing concern in Thailand, in Ms Carter's home country of New Zealand, and in Britain, home of George and Eileen Everitt, who died suspiciously at the Downtown Inn, along with Thai Waraporn Pungmahisiranon.

Khun Waraporn died two days before Ms Carter and the Everitts died less than two weeks later.

Ms Vorster's death on January 11 has just emerged, making five deaths in six weeks.

The cases bear a more than passing resemblance to the mysterious deaths of two young female tourists who took ill while staying in adjoining rooms at the Laleena Gueshouse on Phi Phi, a popular holiday spot a ferry ride from Phuket, in 2009.

The women - American Jill St Onge and Norwegian Julie Bergheim - died within hours. No cause of deaths has ever been established. Two other tourists fell ill, and one, Ms Bergheim's Norwegian companion, almost died.

As the latest series of mysterious deaths widened, Ms Vorster's husband Tony Pandolo told the New Zealand Herald that his wife was fit and healthy and became sick with symptoms of food poisoning before she died. She was staying in a different Chiang Mai hotel, but the symptoms were the same.

"I kept asking about the health department, or what the next steps would be with the restaurant," Mr Pandolo said. "No one really seemed to know, and it turns out no one really did anything.

"Soraya had an autopsy at University Hospital in Chiang Mai on January 12 or 13 and we still have no results."

The Everitts' almost simultaneous deaths were ascribed to coincidental heart attacks, something most onlookers and relatives find difficult to believe.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully is demanding answers. McCully said the reponse from officials was ''less than fully convincing so we are going to ask the appropriate further questions.'' He now wants ''further scrutiny.''

Some further forensic work is still to be done on samples, he said. ''We are looking forward to seeing that too.''
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


Yes, there is a Laleena link.

It's clear now that some kind of poisoning is being done, by who or why is a mystery, which is probably why the authorities are playing dumb.

Posted by JingJing on March 9, 2011 12:25

Editor Comment:

That's a pretty big call, JingJing. Nothing we've seen takes a connection that far. The more obvious and less scary explanation is that the authorities are unable to explain the causes - which is scary enough.


Andrew Drummond is reporting that the authorities have concluded the four other deaths were just a coincidence.

"At the press conference at Chiang Mai police headquarters today Chiang Mai Governor Pannada Disakul tried to allay fears of tourists caused by the four deaths in one hotel last month by saying: ''We have to admit that these deaths coming one after another, are nothing more than coincidence."

I personally wonder if there are more Thai deaths that have gone less noticed.

The lack of concern not only to find the cause but prevention of further deaths is disgusting.

I have left a review on TripAdvisor for the Chiang Mai Downtown Inn mentioning the deaths. Not sure if it will get published. Someone else stuck a milder review that did get published.

Condolences the the shocked and heartbroken families.

Posted by VFaye on March 9, 2011 12:31


I wonder if Khun Chutima could ask the important tourism people at the ITB Berlin this week about how they plan to protect the lives of the tourists they are hoping to attract; and properly and honorably investigate the deaths of those who meet their demise here. The families of all these people deserve much more than this! The TAT promo phrase 'Amazing Thailand Always Amazes You' is starting to take on a rather ironic and dark meaning.

Posted by Lana on March 9, 2011 12:33


One question that might be asked is 'Who owns the resort?' Is it a high level figure, police chief, etc? Considering the amount of skulduggery that goes on it's not unfair to believe there's a cover up going on.

Posted by Graham on March 9, 2011 14:32

Editor Comment:

The five deaths have all been reported. What's of greatest concern is the lack of an adequate explanation of the causes of the deaths. The answer lies somewhere between coincidence and conspiracy, but without the causes, connecting them is not yet possible. The hotel owners are as anxious as everyone else to know the answers.


I know this is a lot to ask of the Thai Authorities, but could they ask western doctors be flown in to conduct these autopsies? There is a pattern with the deaths, there has to be something that can be found. Since not all 5 were the same hotel, there may be something in the community, such as food products found near both hotels?

Posted by Lee on March 9, 2011 15:32

Editor Comment:

I can't imagine there would be objections - provided other governments or relatives met the cost. In the Laleena Guesthouse cases, the Norwegian woman's body underwent a second autopsy in Norway, involving a couple of the country's best pathologists. They were unable to solve the mystery. The Chiang Mai authorities are desperate to know the cause. Sometimes killers leaves no footprints.


The NZ press report two deaths as caused by mycorditis - a swelling of the heart muscles which resembles a heart attack but coronary arteries are not blocked.
See website

Myocarditis is an uncommon disorder that is usually caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal infections that reach the heart. The most common cause of myocarditis is infection of the heart muscle by a virus. The virus invades the heart muscle to cause local inflammation. After the initial infection subsides, the body's immune system continues to inflict inflammatory damage to the heart muscle. This immune response actually prolongs the myocarditis.

The following is an article on viral myocarditis usually caused by the coxsackie B virus (via contaminated food or water).
If the virus escapes from the intestines to say the heart, the immune system apparently over-reacts and causes severe heart problems and swellings even after the virus has more or less disappeared.

Posted by wb on March 9, 2011 22:30


This article is very important, as the first step is to acknowledge that there is a strikingly unusual and disturbing series of deaths. The next step is to mount a SERIOUS investigation. Thus far, the local agencies are not up to the task. Soraya Vorster's mysterious death is obviously related, yet news linking her death to the others came from family and media channels rather than from local public health agencies. This is further evidence that the local authorities are either unable or unwilling to mount an adequate response. Travelers beware.

Posted by Liz Gifford on March 9, 2011 22:50


I was gonna go to Chiang Mai for Songkran.......... I think I'll stay in Phuket.

Posted by Rocco on March 10, 2011 09:14


It is a big call. Russian FSB testing, they probably spread it out across the countries in the area. Look into other countries for the link. Tourists don't just die from mystery illnesses across the board. It'll never be solved though. These people didn't deserve it, whatever is happening.

Posted by JingJing on March 10, 2011 14:56


I stayed in the Downtown Inn last month for 3 nights. I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, except that it wasn't the cleanest hotel Ive been in .It has terrified me to think I may have put my family in danger of death.
Surely the foreign embassies must be forced into doing something about this?

Posted by elizabeth on March 10, 2011 16:22

Editor Comment:

Embassies are reluctant to interfere, and rightly so. There isn't a lot they can say or do.


Dear Mr Editor, do you mean there is nothing to be done? I just googled the story, and guess who the owner of this hotel, and many others is?

Posted by elizabeth on March 10, 2011 16:57

Editor Comment:

Unless the owner is a superb forensic pathologist, there's not much he or she can achieve. Everything else is rumor and supposition.


Her name was Soraya Vorster Pandola. She was not from Seattle she was from Berkeley, CA.

Posted by Rebecca on March 11, 2011 08:25

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