11 July 2024

Once idolized as a hero, the man known to millions as Uncle Pol of Ban Kokkork fell into disgrace this year when he was sentenced to 20 years in jail over the death of his three-year-old niece.

On December 20, the Criminal Court in Mukdahan convicted Chaipol Wipha (Uncle Pol) of negligence leading to the death of Orawan “Nong Chompoo” Wongsricha.

Although the 47-year-old continues to insist he is innocent and has secured bail pending an appeal, the fame and admiration he enjoyed for a couple of years has now turned to infamy.

Controversial ride to fame

Chaipol’s rollercoaster ride to fame began in 2020 after his niece went missing from her village in the Northeast province of Mukdahan and was later found dead in a remote forest. Chaipol first hit the headlines when he was accused of murdering the young girl. But he was by no means the only suspect in the village of Ban Kokkork.

As media outlets dug deeper into the case, some focused on Chaipol’s charismatic personality. With the media spotlighting his good looks and suave character, honed while working as a salesman, Chaipol attracted a huge number of sympathizers and fans. Most were also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Chaipol’s life then enjoyed an exciting and lucrative turn, as talent agents and advertisers sought to exploit his fame. He even got an opportunity to sing alongside look thung star Jintara Poonlarp in a music video. Donations also flooded into his bank account.

The suspect’s popularity grew so much that his YouTube channel, run with his wife, attracted more than 480,000 subscribers and about 200 million views.

Reality check

Only when Chaipol was slapped with an arrest warrant in 2021 did the media realize they may have played a role in transforming a murder suspect into a national celebrity. Since then, they have stopped treating him like a star.

To many observers, Chaipol began to show his true colors under renewed pressure. He quarreled with several former supporters and even scuffled with a reporter on camera when the warrant for his arrest was issued.

While the public obsession with Chaipol has declined, he continues to enjoy a following among hardcore fans. The company he founded in 2021 still generated more than 10 million baht in income last year.

But the guilty verdict handed down by the Criminal Court looks set to derail Chaipol’s bid for fame and fortune. After the verdict was issued, his popular and lucrative YouTube channel was taken down.

His wife told media that the couple was in the process of reviving the channel as it had amassed a huge following. But the couple eventually decided to create a new YouTube channel and produce content. Despite their promotional efforts, less than 20,000 subscribers signed up.

‘End the hero worship’

The backlash against the personality cult built around Chaipol was led by a former Narcotics Suppression Division chief Pol Lt-General Rewat Klinkesorn.

He cautioned content creators seeking to cash in on Chaipol’s fame to be sensitive to the feelings of the deceased girl’s mother.

“When you produce content, focus on facts and morality. Don’t just think about benefits or revenue,” he said.

Rewat also insisted the police case against Chaipol was solid.

He explained that while the evidence was not sufficient to convict him of murder, it was enough to convict him on two counts – including negligence leading to death.

He also suggested the girl might have died in a “black magic” rite conducted by the suspect.

“Chaipol is reportedly superstitious. The girl’s body was found in front of a cave. Was she brought there as a sacrifice?” Rewat queried.

The retired police officer has also refused to bow to pressure from Chaipol’s hardcore fans. He recently filed a police complaint against a YouTuber who criticized him and the police force following his comments about Chaipol.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk