11 July 2024

Everyone following one of the most brutal and deadliest robberies in recent Thai history was expecting anything but what has actually been panning out. When a respected, good-looking and well-mannered school director said just a few days ago that he wanted the bad guy to be busted, nobody thought he would become the prime suspect himself.

In a matter of hours after Prasitthichai Khaokaew, 39, was arrested in connection with the robbery and murders at a gold shop in a Lop Buri department store on January 9, everybody was talking about his expensive shoes that apparently gave him away, and addresses and contact numbers of people close to him went viral on the social media. Most of all, everyone was stunned.

Everything seems to come straight from thrillers: Prasitthichai’s respectable career as a school headmaster in Sing Buri; The selfie that was taken after the Lop Buri bloodshed; Photographs of a man who appeared to have everything — good look, good body, good family and good profession; a crime that fits the stereotype of suspects who are poor, desperate and have nowhere to go; the jaw-dropping twist; and the lingering sense that it is not quite over yet.

People horrified by the shocking gold shop crimes were looking somewhere else. Except the police, that is. The robber-killer covered up every part of his body. Well, except his feet. The shoes were unique and expensive, and they apparently matched those in one of the suspect’s photos. Combining the shoes with the rather unique gun and its silencer, as well as the way the robber/shooter walked as seen in CCTV, there was no turning back for the investigators.

Prasitthichai has had a problem in one leg, which led to an operation and makes his walk characteristic and unusual. The robber/shooter’s movement seen in CCTV was mostly swift and agile, but many people noticed similar moves of the legs and feet.

After his arrest, Prasitthichai was initially quoted as saying that he was suicidal in the face of certain kind of trouble. He allegedly said that he had done it because he wanted to be gunned down in extra-judicial killing. Questions abounded regarding this, though. If he really wanted to die, why did he run away? Why didn’t he just wait there after committing the horrific crimes and fire some more shots when police arrived?

Police found golden necklaces robbed from the gold shop hidden in his father house, further weakening the reported “suicidal” claim. Investigators also had reportedly gone to a shooting range that Prasittichai frequented, and discovered some shells that matched those retrieved from the scene of the crimes.

The “suicidal” claim did not fly in the face of one crucial piece of evidence, though. The weapon used was expensive and of high quality, a CZ 75 SP-01 9mm completed with a unique silencer, meaning it was also easy to trace. A genius or meticulous plotter would not have resorted to an easily traceable firearm. Unless, of course, he was a sloppy planner or he could not care less.

The gold shop robbery left three killed and four others injured. CCTV clips of the incident were in TV news for days, and when Prasitthichai’s mother-in-law watched them, she reportedly teased him for walking just like the masked man she had seen on TV. He allegedly replied that he would never flush his future down the toilet like that.

A few days after that alleged comment, Prasitthichai was arrested by members a newly-formed S.W.A.T group called “Hanuman”. He was purportedly driving to work in the morning of January 22. A few bullets were found in the black BMW Series 5. No firearm was found, however. The gold shop gun had been allegedly borrowed from — and returned to — Prasitthichai’s father, according to police, who also said the getaway motorcycle belongs to Prasitthichai’s father–in-law.

Police said he “confessed to everything”, and from the press conference on Thursday, January 23, his phone-in to the national police headquarters collaborated that. He said he fired shots “to intimidate and clear the way” and the two-year-old boy’s death was purely accidental. The motive was some financial and personal problems. “I’m sorry,” he said, before telling the police chief that he would like to finish the phone-in.

Police said that while the gun belongs to his father, the silencer belongs to Prasitthichai himself. One main question about the silencer was asked by a reporter at the police press conference and remained unanswered: If he did want to “intimidate” passers-by before the robbery, wouldn’t loud shots be more effective?

Police said they had started concentrating on the gun and silencer almost immediately after the robbery, as the equipment was unique and rather expensive, which could help them narrow down the list of suspects and scope of the investigation considerably. They began seriously focusing on him about seven or eight days ago after a major tip-off. For all Prasitthichai’s alleged attempts to “appear normal” after the gold shop incident, his walking problem and love of shooting were no secret.

His own Facebook account also gave away a few crucial things, like shoes and how he moved about. A warrant for his arrest was approved by court on January 21, one day before his arrest. He allegedly said he had planned to give himself up on January 24 after finishing some “school business.” During the phone-in, he said he regretted what he did, insisting that the boy must have been killed by a deflected bullet. The other killings were either impulsive or a result of jammed trigger, some news reports quoted him as saying.

He insisted that he had plotted and done it alone. That claim is supported by police, but just for now. At the press conference, senior police officials said there was no evidence “at the moment” to link the crimes to others, including the suspect’s father, a former police officer who owns the gun.

A mini timeline is surreal. One day after he allegedly committed the gold shop crimes, he went back to be among the children at his school. One day after that, he took a beautiful selfie and posting it online with a comment on Children’s Day. A few days after that, he took part in a local family-style sporting event.

It culminated, of course, in the solemn police press conference, which generated a feeling that it’s not quite over yet and more surprises are in store.

 

By Tulsathit Taptim