Real Life

Mum’s text terror: ‘Grl dead. Son suspect.’

Angela Haskell thought her son Richard had a happy New Year in Thailand. But the celebrations had taken a sinister twist – and Richard became a murder suspect.

I smiled when I saw I had a text message on my cellphone from my husband owen, who was travelling in Asia with our son Richard. I thought it would include some cheerful news about what they’d been up to on their holiday together.

But when I looked at the message, I was so shocked that I broke down at the Hamilton medical lab where I work as receptionist. The text said Richard (22) was in trouble. His female backpacker friend had been murdered on a beach in Thailand – and he was a suspect.

Every year, Richard spends a few weeks travelling around India with his father. This year, Richard then flew from India to Bangkok to meet Ben Greig, a work colleague, for a lads’ holiday in Thailand. The boys had been planning the trip for a while and were going to tour around the islands.

I called Richard on Christmas Day and he was still in bed. I think he had a bit of a hangover but he was having a good time so I was happy. The next time I heard from him, it wasn’t so good. He’d been drugged and robbed on New Year’s Eve. I was upset and worried about how he would cope with no money or credit cards.

Luckily, owen was stopping off in Thailand on his way home so I called him and asked him to help out Richard. A few days later, I texted owen but when he only sent back short replies, I had a horrible feeling.

“What’s wrong?” I wrote back. That’s when he replied with the message that brought my life crashing down.

“Sorry I sound short. Richard in strife. Friend got murdered on beach. Richard and Ben suspects. Interviewed by police last 24 hours.”

When I calmed down, I reread the message and saw that Richard and Ben were not being charged. “They are now clear after giving DNA sample,” owen texted. “Richard made me promise not to tell you so I have been worried for both of us. They are upset and scared. Trying to organise early flights home.”

I couldn’t continue working that day so went home to Cambridge to await more news. I was beside myself with worry. I’d heard so many stories about people being framed abroad so I was dreading the worst. I was petrified the police would use Richard’s DNA sample against him.

I sat there in the living room at home, clutching my cellphone and waiting for it to beep as each message revealed more of the nightmare. owen said the boys had met two English girls, Ruth Adams and Katherine Horton, on the ferry to Koh Samui island. They chatted for a while but parted ways once they arrived.

At the New Year’s Eve party where Richard was robbed, Ben had bumped into the girls and spent most of the evening with Ruth. The next day, the boys went to meet Ruth and Katherine for dinner. As they walked towards the girls’ beachfront bungalow, Katherine was talking to her mother on her mobile. She gave the boys a quick wave and walked up the beach.

Richard and Ben sat with Ruth and waited for Katherine to return. She never came back. The next morning, a jet skier found her body. She was still wearing her evening dress and had been raped, then hit over the head. A postmortem showed she had drowned. It was a terrible tragedy and such a waste of a young life.

Through owen’s texts, I learned that Richard, Ben and four Scottish backpackers were detained for questioning. They all gave DNA samples and were then released. But even then it wasn’t over.

The boys got on a bus to leave the island but it was pulled over by police and they were taken back into custody. I felt so helpless. I knew there was no way Richard could have done such a terrible thing.

This time, he was held by police for four days. The only comfort I had was knowing owen was there too, trying to get him home.

oaking very little progress with the authorities, owen decided to take matters into his own hands. The hut the boys were being kept in was disgusting so owen insisted on taking them to a hotel. To his surprise, the police agreed.

After a six-hour court hearing, owen got their passports back but the police asked them to stay on the island. Richard would later tell his dad about drunk police officers threatening him with a gun during interrogations.

The Thai Prime oinister was on TV saying the killer would be executed and the pressure was getting to owen, who decided to get the boys out of there immediately. When he told me they had got a taxi before sunrise and boarded a ferry, then stand-by flights home, I felt more relieved than I have ever felt before.

The boys flew straight to Australia, where Richard lives, and owen flew back to New Zealand.

Since then, two Thai fishermen have admitted to killing Katherine. It is such a sad, terrible situation and I feel for her family. So many young Kiwis go on oEs or adventures in Asia and this whole incident is a reminder that occasionally it can go horribly wrong.

But despite everything that’s happened, we are a family that loves to travel and we will go back to Thailand. As told to Jonica Bray

***Have your kids put you through a real-life nightmare? If you want to share your story, e-mail [email protected] or phone (09) 373 9431.

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