Hell in Paradise: of Margaritas and Murders

Perfect weather, warm pristine waters, and cold-blooded murders.
Friday 27 September 2019
It's not all "fun in the sun". Photo: AFP

Islands have always been a top destination for vacations. The idea of getting a suntan by pristine waters while sipping on cocktails and enjoying delectable seafood makes for the ideal vacation for many. So much so, many would rather not make the trip back.

Stories of holiday-goers dropping everything back home and settling down on a holiday island is not an uncommon one. But for some, failing to turn up for their return flight, are for reasons not so pleasant. Although tourist deaths are apparently uncommon according to Lonely Planet, an average of 20 tourists die in each tourist destination every year. The reasons for the deaths include traffic accidents, drug overdose, drowning, alcohol poisoning and lately – selfies. As serious as these causes of deaths sound, they pale in comparison to the cold-blooded murders of tourists committed by those intoxicated with power, drowning in desperation or just downright evil.

The harsh and horrible murders of tourists have taken the world by storm, making headlines and inducing fear.

Margaritas and Murders.

The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is best known for its beaches, numerous resorts and nightlife, which are a magnet for British sunseekers who are after a bargain package holiday. In fact, hundreds of thousands jet out there each year. But these resorts have become a battleground for drug cartels which are fighting to control the region, making unsuspecting tourists collateral damage along the way.

According to reports by the UK’s The Sun, there was a body count of 130 tourists at the party beach resort of Playa del Carmen in just one year. In 2018 in Cancún alone, there were 540 murders. In fact, during one 36-hour spell in April last year, nine people were murdered there. Four months later, eight bodies were found after a cartel murder spree. Two of the victims were dismembered and disposed of in plastic bags. It is believed they were tortured, then burned, before being chopped up into pieces.

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Cancun is known for its beaches, numerous resorts, and nightlife. Photo: iStock

Last year Mexican authorities recorded 33,341 murder investigations across the country – the highest ever – and scarily, a 33% increase compared to three years ago. A death toll of this magnitude (with a majority of the killings committed away from tourist spots) is usually only seen in major conflict zones. The situation in Mexico is so dire that the government has called in the army to watch over its people.

In February 2019, five people were shot dead and five more wounded in Cancún after gunmen burst into a club called La Kuka and opened fire. Prosecutors allege that four men were seen entering carrying a long gun and three handguns and began shooting. Two of the injured were in critical condition. Reuters reports that violence has been rising as a whole in Cancún and the state of Quintana Roo amid reports of the Jalisco New Generation cartel moving into the area and fighting local gangs for control.

This cartel is just one among the hundreds which are fighting to take over the drug trade which continues to flourish in Mexico. Tourists visiting the country are advised to avoid going out to “seedy clubs” and pubs at night. In fact, the United States travel advisory to Mexico advises its people to avoid the beaches and even public transportation at night. This is because beaches have become the ground zero of cartel wars while public transportation, especially taxis, have been used for human trafficking or what is strangely called an “express sexual assault”.

Death Island.

When it comes to death while on holiday, Thailand hogs the top spot. According to Lonely Planet, drugs were one of the leading causes of tourist deaths in Thailand just over a decade ago. However, in the last decade, one particular island has witnessed the deaths of more tourists than the rest of the country put together. Koh Tao, dubbed “death island”, looks like a dream on the surface. Dive resorts boast crystal-clear waters and western tourists flock to its lively beach bars. However, among some foreigners, Koh Tao has taken on a more sinister reputation as at least nine European tourists have died or disappeared there since 2014.

The island known as Turtle Island hides a macabre secret where the local mafia allegedly rule. There have been enough deaths and suspicious disappearances to warrant the island’s own CSI franchise. The discovery of corpses in its waters has left the island with a different image of the usual “tourist trap”, and the very real fear that the local mafia is out of control. Though it is unclear when the violent mafia rule became prevalent, the island was plunged into the wrong kind of spotlight in September 2014 when the bodies of two backpackers identified as Britons Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were found on the beach.

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Thai workers carry the bodies of two British tourists on Koh Tao island in the Surat Thani province of southern Thailand on 15 September 2014. Photo: AFP

It appeared that the two had been bludgeoned to death and Witheridge had been raped before being murdered. In the hours after the bodies were found, officers failed to seal off the crime scene and close the island’s port. To make matters worse, gruesome pictures of the victims surfaced online.

A year after the deaths of Witheridge and Miller, two Myanmar migrants Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were accused of the murders and sentenced to death. This caused much uproar and the court’s decision was even reported by The New York Times, as the judgment by the Thai high courts faced heavy scrutiny, with many criticising the impotence of the government to take action against the mafia families who ruled the island in a not-so-discreet manner.

Not too long before their murders, British IT consultant Ben Harrington was found dead on the island in 2012. The cause of his death remains a mystery till now. It was reported that Harrington was on holiday with his brother Mark. On 30 August 2012, the inquest into his death blamed a road collision, when his motorbike crashed into an electricity pylon. He was apparently riding alone and when his body was found, neither his watch nor his wallet was recovered.

News.com.au reports that Harrington’s mother, Pat Harrington, has failed to retrieve any further information on his death despite trying for years with the Foreign and Commonwealth office. A coroner at the British inquest of Harrington’s death said that he was unsure if the death was caused by an accident. “Clearly it was a collision of some form but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to be satisfied that it was a definite accident,” he was reported as saying. Pat had also told reporters that she had read about criminals who use tripwires to trip people on their bikes in order to mug them. She also added that she doubted that the crash was how her son had met his end as they could not find any of his belongings on him.

The stories of Harrington followed by Witheridge and Miller were merely the surface of the sordid crimes that happen on the island. The death of 23-year-old Christina Annesley in 2015 perfectly captures the actual situation on the Island. The Samui Times had reported that the New Zealander’s body was found on the same beach where Witheridge and Miller were found and not only that, it also claimed that the islanders knew who was actually responsible for her death, but could not say anything for fear of retribution by the four mafia families.

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Sue Miller (R), Ian Miller (L), and Michael Miller (C) – the respective mother, father and brother of slain British backpacker David Miller – make a brief statement to the media after the verdict in the murder trial of David Miller, at the Koh Samui Provincial Court in Koh Samui on December 24, 2015. The Thai court on December 24 sentenced Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun to death for murdering a pair of British holidaymakers, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, on the nearby Thai island of Koh Tao in 2014, in a case that sullied the kingdom’s reputation as a tourist haven and raised questions over its justice system. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

Annesley’s father, Boyne Annesley, was told by locals that she might have been killed as she was seen asking pointed questions about the previous deaths on the island. After a series of glitches with the UK Foreign Office and authorities on Koh Tao, Boyne said he has no doubt there is more to his daughter’s death, and the lack of any evidence shows the incompetence of the investigation. “I asked for blood samples and they made it as difficult as they could. They wanted to charge me exorbitant funds to get them,” he was reported saying.

Other than Annesley’s death in the same year, British backpackers Nick Pearson and Luke Miller along with Belgian Elise Dellemagne, Swiss Hans Peter Suter and French Dimitri Povse were all found dead on separate occasions. Russian Valentina Novozhenova is still missing at the time of writing.

A corrupt government and the low reliability of the country’s police force ensured that the real killers have never been brought to justice and in 2017, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Thailand as one of the most dangerous places in the world.

This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s September 2019 issue from the article HELL IN PARADISE.

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