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Ronald Fanelli whispers to a policeman at Phuket City police station

Phuket Bar Killing: Inside the Mind of the 'Mad Yank'

Sunday, July 25, 2010
SOME deep riddles remain about American Ron Fanelli, the former Naval officer and long-stay tourist who confessed to stabbing Sweethearts Bar hostess Wanpen Pianchai, stuffing her naked body into a suitcase and dumping it beside an isolated Phuket roadway.

At the Phuket City police station media presentation on Monday, Fanelli still seemed disoriented and shocked about his capacity to kill. Phuketwan asked him how he was being treated, then followed up: ''Mr Fanelli, have you admitted your guilt in this case?''

He replied: ''I have made a full statement of what happened. I don't want to go into it. I killed her. To gain the full context, you would have to read the full story. It was wrong. It was a horrible, horrible accident, in my opinion. I never intended to do any harm to this person.''

Fanelli said he came for a long holiday after quitting the Navy. ''I intended to stay for a couple of months and fell in love with the area,'' he told Phuketwan, adding that he was originally from New York.

Fanelli is said to have a Thai wife and a child, and part of his brutal treatment of Wanpen, police say, was because he was distraught. They had gone back to Isarn in eastern Thailand, leaving him.

Why did he go to Sweethearts Bar in Kata-Karon at 7am on June 18? Did he really first ask for the company of a katoey ladyboy?

Police were reticent to reveal details of Mr Fanelli's account because, as part of a deal to protect his Thai wife, the young child, and other family, he admitted his guilt, as long as the full circumstances of the killing were not revealed.

However, there's a gap of almost a week between Wanpen's disappearance on June 18 and the discovery of her body on June 24. Police say she was not killed until June 19. That's what Fanelli told them.

What happened in those 24 hours? What led to her death? A naked woman is hardly a threat to a grown man, even one who had been drinking. Only Fanelli's version can ever be told.

Now a columnist in the British newspaper, The Observer, has revealed Fanelli's past as ''Mad Yank,'' at one time a poker player of international standing.

''My old poker friend Ron Fanelli never seemed 'pretty quiet,' writes Victoria Coren. ''He was a noisy guy, opinionated. He broke all the rules of London poker etiquette by turning up at the casino, six or seven years ago, and sounding off right from the start. But I forgave him all the noise, because he was American. He was funny. I liked him.

''When I hosted a series on the Poker Channel, a niche chatshow with poker players as guests, I invited Ron to take part in several episodes because he was entertaining and outspoken. One episode had the theme of 'table manners': what is and is not acceptable behavior in a poker game. My opening question was: 'Ron, what is the worst thing you've ever done?'

''Ron replied: 'Me? I'm an angel. I've never done anything bad. Well, I guess I've made a few people cry. I don't like getting unlucky. There was that time I told everyone at the table I hoped they'd die of cancer. Other than that, I've never done anything bad.

''And he laughed. The other guests laughed.''

Mr Fanelli told Phuketwan on Monday that he was being fairly treated by police. This was no frame-up. Yet Ms Cohen shared our puzzlement at how the crime could have been committed.

''When I heard he had confessed, I thought he must have been coerced into it,'' Ms Cohen wrote.

''But then the police found the knife in Ron's house. He gave them the shorts he was wearing at the time of the murder. They took away his mattress. He pleaded that he had been drunk at the time. He said it was an accident.''

She explains his poker nickname.

''We called him 'the Mad Yank'. He was temperamental, but you don't give someone a 'mad' nickname if you mean it. It was just a joke. He loved it. I think the name might actually have been his own idea to begin with.

''I had an argument with him once, when he first started dating Thai girls. He told me that western women were 'strident feminists. Bossy and demanding. Asian women are docile, they understand what men want.'

''I told him not to be so bloody silly. I told him that women are the same the world over, and not to be fooled by the clever tricks of one who might be angling for marriage. (He did end up marrying a Thai woman. They had a child, in Thailand, and a few months later she left him.)

'Most poker players are lovable old sexists. Ron was a rightwing American who had served in the navy. I didn't take the argument seriously. Looking back now, it takes on a sinister tone.

''I have a photo of myself with the Mad Yank, from 2004. He was having a great time then: winning at poker, popular on internet forums, appearing on chatshows. He played it up, growing an exaggerated moustache and wearing sunglasses. I thought he looked funny in the picture. Staring back at it now, he looks like a killer.''

She writes that Ron had run out of money by 2006. ''His hot poker streak had fizzled out; he was kipping on friends' floors and borrowing money. His pride was dented. He was no longer the big success story. He looked for occasional work as a croupier, dealing cards to people whose money he had once won.

''When he met a 'docile' Thai girl, her deference boosted his damaged ego. The obvious move was to follow her to Thailand, living in 'paradise' (as he described it on his blog) where everything was cheap and he felt important again.

''But she left him. He married a different Thai girl, had a child, then she left him too. Ron was broke but still gambling. He was short-tempered. He demanded obedience. These women had no need of a difficult, impoverished husband in their own homeland.

''That wasn't the deal. They grew tired of deferring, with only that in return. If he couldn't be an old-fashioned provider, why be an old-fashioned housewife?

''When his wife left, Ron felt fooled and betrayed. The women who were supposed to make him feel important had made him feel stupid. It had all been a con. The anger and shame ran deep. He still had little money and no job. At this point, Ron started to use prostitutes. It was a power thing. He used more and more of them. After a while, hiring them for sex was not enough to make Ron feel powerful. He made them do sicker and kinkier things.

''He didn't know what had gone wrong. He was a clever, articulate, former military man. He used to win money in glamorous poker tournaments. He had been an alpha male. Now, here he was, stuck in a foreign country where he had chased a woman who left him; another had taken his child away; he was unemployed, skint and using prostitutes. Ron knew he was a man to be reckoned with, even if nobody else could see it. Even if his wife couldn't see it.

''No amount of hookers, no manner of kinky activity, could fill the hole where Ron's self-esteem used to be. He knew, now, that the women's obliging, flattering manners were just a pretence. That's just what women do to get what they want. He despised them for it. What he didn't understand was that the more he degraded and punished the girls, the worse he felt about himself. And the further he had to go to feel masterful again. It was a dark, twisted cycle.''

Ms Cohen offers some more thoughts on what she thinks made Fanelli a killer, a man capable of stabbing a harmless, naked woman to death. Only ''Mad Yank'' Fanelli knows for sure. And he is not saying.

The photograph of Victoria Cohen and Ron Fanelli and her column can be found at
Phuket Bar Hostess Killing a 'Horrible Accident'
PHOTO ALBUM The stabbing of a Phuket bar hostess was a 'horrible accident', says an American who has been on the island for three years and who says he was previously a US Navy officer.
Phuket Bar Hostess Killing a 'Horrible Accident'

Phuket Bar's Pain Ends But Killers Remain Free
Latest Murders involving expats on Phuket are rare but one of the worst, a double murder, was committed by a British man. Here's a Phuketwan update on the region's remaining mysteries.
Phuket Bar's Pain Ends But Killers Remain Free

Phuket Hostess Killing: Police Nab American Expat
Breaking News An American man has been arrested over the killing of a Phuket bar hostess and police say he has confessed to the brutal murder.
Phuket Hostess Killing: Police Nab American Expat

Phuket Bar Killing: Help Sought from the Spirits
Latest The spirit of a bar hostess whose naked body was found in a suitcase has been called upon to help solve the riddle of her murder. The prime suspect is a bearded, blue eyed expat.
Phuket Bar Killing: Help Sought from the Spirits

Phuket Terror: Bar Girls Fear the 'Sweethearts' Killer
Breaking News Police are hoping a 50,000 baht reward will bring a breakthrough in the murder of a Sweethearts Bar hostess. Bar girls around the island fear the killer may strike again.
Phuket Terror: Bar Girls Fear the 'Sweethearts' Killer


Comments have been disabled for this article.


I agree Thailand is certainly a magnet for sexist, foreign men. I often wonder if the Thai women are aware of the dregs they are settling for.

Posted by Horse Doctor on July 25, 2010 11:52


^^^ actually some of us are quite nice and 'liberated'!!

Posted by Mister Ree on July 25, 2010 13:24


Speak for yourself, Horse Doctor.

Posted by Paulie on July 25, 2010 17:28


That's the sometime tragedy of the dark side of the foreigner-thai relationship - two lost and desperate souls trying in vain to rise up against staggering odds.

Posted by JingJing on July 25, 2010 19:18


And again. Excellent coverage. Thank you Phuketwan.

If it is true, what was written, Phuket was lucky to get the guy after his first time. That sounds like a serial killer starting to run. Good job, Phuket police. Now put him away.

Posted by Lena on July 26, 2010 02:13


Thank you for this post and the link, I found both pretty thought provoking.

I don't think that Thailand is a magnet for sexist, foreign men. I see it more as an environment that seems to foster disillusion in some or delusion in others. People come here to live a dream and for some when that dream is not reality they foster a different reality to justify staying and their actions get more skewed. When the chasm grows too large there are problems (drugs, alcohol and in this case murder). I have often wondered what causes there to be such a high percentage of people here who seem to be living in a fantasy world. Is it the environment or the makeup of those who come here? I could tell many stories but ... I once knew a successful lawyer from France who dated soup cart girls here. I asked him if he dated market girls in Paris and he told me "of course not! We would have nothing in common and they would only want my money." I had known him in Paris as a successful, hard working, intelligent, cultured guy. He died here a broken hearted, itinerant drunk. As she said in the article ''I told him not to be so bloody silly." is always disregarded. I am told I am jaded. I wish I knew how to help some of these people (and there are a lot of them). I think posting articles like this helps but not sure if anyone listens.

Posted by Ya Think Doctor? on July 26, 2010 15:31


Your comment proves my point - I am a woman but you assume I'm a man, no doubt from the "Doctor" portion of my avatar.
And I would never assume ALL foreign men are the same, in fact I met a liberated guy just a few years ago.
He actually would put his dirty laundry in the basket so his wife could collect it more easily.

Posted by Horse Doctor on July 27, 2010 08:25


Is this my Horse Doctor from Ukiah?

Posted by peter rawai on July 27, 2010 11:38


A good friend of mine married a Thai lady he get to know at a Christmas party, where she took care of the host's kids. They clicked and now have a family with two nice kids of their own. Lately his company got bust and with it his income and most part of his money. And the amazing thing is, his wife now stepped up, opened a shop, took over some other low invest businesses and now she is a successful Thai business woman.

Without her husband, his knowledge and his money, she would have never had the chance to excel. Because being poor and having to feed your family every day keeps you from accumulating the necessary money and knowledge to start a venture, that would have made her respectable in your eyes, I guess. Even some market girls in Paris could do better, if they were more lucky in their upbringing.

Posted by Lena on July 27, 2010 16:02


"And the amazing thing is, his wife now stepped up."

Why is this so amazing to you Lena?? isn't this what most wives do??

Posted by another steve on July 28, 2010 09:02


Rawai Peter,
No, I'm from US. Do you have a horse here that needs care?

Posted by Horse Doctor on July 28, 2010 09:28


the story ms coren writes about mr fanelli is just from her imagination. phuketwan read the whole thing but decided not to quote stuff they did not want to put in their own article like this(from the original article): "That is the story I have written for Ron in my head. I know he ran out of money. I know his wife left him. I know he posted on internet forums about all the kinky things he was up to with Thai hookers. I know he has confessed to this murder. I don't know anything else. I have no idea how he felt, or feels, about anything."

Yet, Phuketwan decided to quote her story like she knew him and like the story was the truth. she has had no contact with him for years.

So, like she said herself, she does not know anything about what happened other than what she has read/heard from the news

if you do not believe me, read the original article. the address is at the end of phuketwan article and see for yourself

Posted by not coren on August 6, 2010 11:54

Editor Comment:

As you can see from the article in the Observer, the author knew Ronald Fanelli from the poker circuit. The only reason we didn't quote more was because we didn't want to be accused of plagiarism. You are misreading her column. As the Phuketwan piece said, there are more of her theories in The Observer than in our extracts. Unfortunately she makes one large error. She says the body was dismembered, which was not the case.


"As you can see from the article in the Observer, the author knew Ronald Fanelli from the poker circuit. The only reason we didn't quote more was because we didn't want to be accused of plagiarism. You are misreading her column. As the Phuketwan piece said, there are more of her theories in The Observer than in our extracts. Unfortunately she makes one large error. She says the body was dismembered, which was not the case."

Yes she knew him from before he moved to thailand. i am not sayin she didn't. I can't say if those parts are true or not.

the last paragraph in her article that is from her experiences starts "by 2006, we all knew..."

From the next paragraph onwards the story is, like she said, "written for Ron in my head".

I didn't like the way she changes from truth (as she knew back in london) to making up stories of ron's time in thailand without warning about it in advance. it gives a very wrong picture about the whole thing and makes the column ridiculous.

Obviously you, the editor, can't know which parts are true but if she says so herself then maybe you shouldn't quote them as truth.

and no, i am not the one misreading her article, you are. at least the part where the story changes from truth to made up stories like i mentioned

Posted by not coren on August 6, 2010 13:58

Editor Comment:

I think you are reading too much into a brief writerly comment she makes in passing while telling readers at length about the Fanelli she knew. People who must have known Fanelli in London and Thailand have yet to challenge this account. We have no interest in distorting the events.


Lena: I think you misinterpret my comments. It is not a question of respectability or, really, economic backgrounds. But Pretty Woman was only a movie, real life is different. The fact is men come here, get involved with women who's profession is paid relationships and are unprepared to accept the realities/consequences, or even recognise the possibility that there is any danger, as in my deceased friend.

To consistently have relationships with people that you have nothing in common with, cannot communicate with, share no common bond other than intimacy is illogical. To pay them to stay with you and suggest that this is love (it's their job) is to test the foundations of sanity. Even in a relationship where both people speak the same language, communication is difficult and forming a true bond a challenge that takes years. Yet, here I see people who believe they have a deep understanding with someone who they have known a very short time, can't converse with, have nothing in common with, have developed no trust with and have no idea what their real values are.

It does not make one side a bad person, it is just a recipe for disaster. Is it any wonder that the statistics show very few successes? Yet these men wonder what went wrong, blame everyone but themselves and head down the same path, repeatedly getting angrier and more frustrated all the time. I don't believe that the author of the article missed many points whether from speculation or knowledge and I think there are far more potential "mad yanks" out there than most realise.

Posted by Ya Think Doctor? on August 6, 2010 14:00


Is it that hard to spell peoples name's correctly?

Posted by Bobby Brown on August 6, 2010 14:42

Editor Comment:

Yes, when you are relying on people for whom English is a second language, and when one is talking to another over the telephone. If you haven't ever had a problem with a misunderstanding because of a different language, it may seem difficult to appreciate. However, as with ''Donal'' and ''Ronald,'' Phuketwan explains its mistakes: others just go back and cover over theirs.


"People who must have known Fanelli in London and Thailand have yet to challenge this account"

then what do you think I am doing here? I said I didn't know him from his London times.


Posted by not coren on August 6, 2010 16:07

Editor Comment:

I have no idea what you are doing here.


good to see the editor is still arguing with his readers, goodbye

Posted by kev on August 6, 2010 17:08


@Ya Think Doctor: "The fact is men come here, get involved with women who's profession is paid relationships". Before that: "I once knew a successful lawyer from France who dated soup cart girls here. I asked him if he dated market girls in Paris and he told me "of course not! We would have nothing in common and they would only want my money." "
Hard working poor women only want your money? Pretty Woman a movie, and all poor girls' profession is paid relationships? But of course love is sex and friendship. To think that poor women do not long for that also is just sad.

@Another Steve: If you read Ya Think Doctor's post before mine, then it should be, shouldn't it? Ain't it amazing, a poor Thai girl did not suck the little money left out of her husband and let him rot drunken in his dirt. Thai women in general are strongly family minded, even when poor. They are the real caretakers, can work hard and long if necessary. And I am really angry if you (Ya Think) equate dating paid relationship women with dating soup sellers or market girls. That is snob at best and sexist at worst.
"Is it any wonder that the statistics show very few successes?" What statistics? Your anecdotal one? The mixed couples I know seem to be more stable then a lot who are European only.

Posted by Lena on August 7, 2010 06:31

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