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Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Nightmare New Year: A Car Accident, Six Days Missing Memory, and Extortion

Nothing haunts more than the unknown. When a story leaves us with more questions than answers, more sleepless nights than satisfied solutions, the world feels a shade more sinister than we’d like.

1.

You’re a car lover, you live in Bangkok, and it’s the last day of 2020.

So what do you do? Take a day trip in your beloved ’94 Celica GT4.

The last day of 2020 — the cursed year that’s brought so much trouble to the world. Everybody’s got their 2020 story, right?

I’m sure you have yours.

Well, it’s time to tell Riiken’s 2020 story.

I’m going to be honest. When I heard it the first time, I didn’t quite believe it. It seemed too far-fetched to be true. Maybe dreamed up by an expat looking for attention. Maybe a story concocted to raise funds after a bad car accident that sent Riiken to the hospital.

After talking to Riiken multiple times for several hours, getting to know him and the details of his story — well, let’s just say: it’s the one story that’s legit given me chills.

He woke up in 2021. Opened his eyes and he found himself in a strange room on January 6th, a week well into the new year, with six days of missing memory.

But would 2021’s prospects be any rosier for Riiken?

The hospital was strange — a big room, a few people standing about that quickly crowded his bed. They handed his phone over and the first thing they asked for?

Money.

Not how he was doing. Not if he remembered anything. They just wanted money — and now.

Riiken’s cherished and prized Toyota Celica, a car he put so much love, attention, and work into? Demolished.

Hell, the older Thai lady who lurched over him at his bedside had the photos.

Yep, that was his Celica — smashed right into the back of a truck.

Only one strange thing — the crash photo showed his Celica with windows rolled up.

Riiken always drives with his windows down. Especially in the beautiful weather that Phetchaburi had on December 31st.

Oh, another thing: the photo has no apparent debris on the pavement at the crash scene.

She barked her demands into his ear in broken English.

“30,000 baht you pay,” she said. “And 5,000 baht I take you home.”

Insurance papers? Police reports? The lady had nothing.

Riiken was in a daze. The large room, which they told him was a hospital, didn’t seem like a hospital at all. The panic set in and then the fear.

They’d already got into his phone — he didn’t know how. And they wanted the money now.

Riiken reckoned that he should just pay them what they wanted. What else could he do? He had no memory of the accident. He had no way to get home. And he was outnumbered in this strange room.

His last memory, albeit fuzzy, was being up in the Kaeng Krachan Dam viewpoint enjoying the scenery.

The daytrip was the perfect end to a cursed year.

But as dusk drew down on the final day of 2020, the world that Riiken lived in would get a whole lot darker.

Riiken chose to go on the record.

This is his story. An original report from True Crime Thailand.


2.

Riiken chose to drive alone to the Kaeng Krachan Dam in Phetchaburi. It clocked in at just under 200 kilometers from his doorstep in Bangkok to the scenic viewpoint.

Driving time? About 2.5 hours.

Perfect day trip to cap off the dim year of 2020.

But for Riiken, the year hadn’t been so bad.

Mostly he did what he loved — worked on his Toyota Celica GT4.

It was his baby.

Riiken was a member of a local Bangkok car club for expats. He attended meet ups with the club once in a while. He mostly kept to himself but enjoyed the camaraderie and the passion for cars that the others members shared.

Working on his Celica was more than just a hobby for Riiken — it was what kept him going no matter what ups and downs life brought him.

To be fair, 2020 wasn’t all motor oil and wrenches for Riiken.

In December, some disagreements arose at his work with some colleagues.

Riiken worked as an engineer at a Thai company. He worked with fellow Chinese nationals as colleagues — both engineers like himself and managers.

He was considered a top engineer for the firm and did a lot of important work for the company. He normally kept to himself, did the job, got in and got out — back to home where he could work on his passion project: the Celica GT4.

Problems started to creep up at work and they escalated to the point where one of his colleagues blocked Riiken’s Celica in the office parking lot when he was trying to leave for the day.

What was the reason for it all?

Riiken wasn’t used to conflict like this.

If anything, he tried to avoid it as much as possible.

After talking to Riiken on the phone in an interview, he came across as soft-spoken and didn’t have much of an aggressive bone in him. Just for the sake of full transparency, Riiken is transgender — a surgery he opted in for while in Thailand. He’d normally felt accepted while in Thailand.

Much different than in China, where he’d experienced jail, discrimination, and perpetual bullying at the hands of police and society.

Even after the events that transpired later on December 31st, Riiken didn’t seem to be angry — he seemed scared, sad, depressed, confused, but he didn’t wish harm on the people who extorted him.

One of the managers started to give Riiken some trouble, too. The conflict seemed to be personal and come out of nowhere. It wasn’t related to any performance or quality issues in Riiken’s work.

It was a couple people at the firm that seemed to single Riiken out. And they kept escalating the situation until Riiken decided it might be time to look for another job.

2020 was pushing him out of this job and into another. The new year was fast approaching, and Riiken figured he’d wait until the new year passed before seeking opportunities.

It makes sense. Most businesses take a break around the end of the year and make new decisions once the symbolic passage of time clicks into the next year.

New starts, new beginnings — that’s what was on Riiken’s mind when he chose to leave all his cares, worries, and troubles at work behind and enjoy a little day trip up to the Kaeng Krachan Dam.


3.

On a good day with no traffic, the drive from the Thung Khru district in Bangkok where Riiken lives to the Khaeng Krachan Dam view point is about 2.5 hours.

There’s nothing particularly memorable, stunning, or noteworthy along the way — it’s typical Thailand: once you pop out of the urban sprawl that spreads out west of Bangkok into Samut Sakhon, you’re driving through the average Nakhon Nowheres and rice fields that fill the Land of Smiles like chilies in a plate of pad kraprao.

Half way there the main route crosses the Mae Klong river right where it empties out into the Gulf of Thailand.

Once in Phetchaburi, it’s a short jaunt to the Kaeng Krachan Dam view point, which sits perched on the eastern edge of the namesake Kaeng Krachan National Park.

This happens to be the largest national park in Thailand, something I didn’t know before writing this story. It’s stumbling across bits of trivia like this that make for pleasurable journeys while writing stories for True Crime Thailand — it’s the little things, you know?

This national park, and especially the dam view point, make for a popular day trip spot due to its proximity to Hua Hin.

On the cool, sunny day — perfect driving weather — that Riiken chose to visit, the view point had a few people who had the same idea as him. It wasn’t overly busy. Not crowded. Pleasant and relaxing.

The perfect little spot to clear his head.

Riiken spent the afternoon taking his time to enjoy the scenery, getting in a few photos, and thinking about what the next year could hold.

Like most of us, Riiken hoped that 2021 would be filled with new hopes, new stories, new opportunities — just like any year — but with 2020 behind us, this new year felt a bit different for all of us.

With the troubles that Riiken had been experiencing at his work, a new year could mean a new job.

Either way, he knew that he’d be able to spend time working on his Celica, meeting up with local car clubs in Bangkok, and getting out for day trips around Thailand as he’d done for years since living in the country.

It’s exactly why he chose Thailand as his home.

China wasn’t exactly kind to Riiken. But he’d never had trouble in Thailand. Never any run in with the law. And never stepped on any of the wrong toes.

At least, that’s what he thought, and there was no reason up until December 31st, 2020 to think otherwise.

At around 6PM, the sun sunk into the horizon and dusk wasn’t far behind. It was time to leave. With renewed optimism and clear eyes, Riiken started up his ’94 Celica GT4 and started down the slope of the Tenasserim mountains and back into the lowlands of central Thai urban life.

Riiken remembers a few details from the start of his journey home.

There were few cars on the road. He wasn’t driving fast — he took his time. The route was mainly downhill. He drove with his windows down.

And that’s it — 2020 ends for Riiken just like this, around 6PM on December 31st, on the route back from the Kaeng Krachan Dam view point, the memories end.


4.

Riiken woke up six days later on January 6th, 2021. He was laid out on a bed in a large room. The place seemed dim and strange. His head felt fuzzy, but he had no obvious injuries: no broken bones, no cuts, bruises. Although after returning home he did later find a small incision on his neck, as if somebody had carefully cut his skin open and sewed it back up.

When he came to in this room, a few people crowded around his bed.

One was an older Thai lady who spoke broken English. She had his phone in hand and gave it to Riiken. Her instructions?

“You send 30,000 baht for accident,” she said. “Here is photo.”

That was his baby girl — the silver ’94 Celica GT4 that he’d spent so much time, attention, and money on.

There she was, smashed right into the ass end of a truck.

This wasn’t a love tap. The accident was full on and from the looks of it must have happened at full on speed. The Celica slipped under the back end of the truck’s bed, peeling off the hood (or the bonnet, as I know my British mates say), and crushing the windshield glass.

Riiken’s baby girl was a wreck.

“You pay 30,000 baht now,” the lady barked in broken English. “Extra 5,000 baht I take you home.”

The room seemed fuzzy, and so did Riiken’s head. He checked his phone. January 6th, 2021, nearly a full week into the new year.

He can’t remember how he got here. He can’t remember the accident.

His mind trotted back into the mental fog to his last clear memories: driving back down the mountainside, leaving the dam, taking photos, enjoying the scenery.

He recalled the drive down the mountain. Not much traffic, Taking his time, driving careful. Road conditions were clear — no rain, no fog, no natural hazards.

But what did he know? Six days were missing in his mind. That’s a lot of time.

Maybe he did get into an accident. It was hard to argue — the pictures didn’t lie.

Riiken reckoned that a head injury put him under and wiped out the six days from his memory. A short coma, perhaps. He didn’t know.

What he did know is that the lady by his bedside demanded 30,000 baht.

“You have accident,” she said. “See photo, your car, your car.”

Riiken opened up his phone. Tapped on his banking app. Asked the lady for her bank transfer details.

He wanted to go home. And the sinking feeling crept in of having crashed his car and now being in a strange place — he still didn’t know where he was.

And the people in the room? None of them concerned about his well-being. None of them asked: “How are you feeling?”, “What do you remember?” — nothing, just “Give me 30,000 baht.”

Well, no, scratch that — “5,000 baht extra for the ride home.”

Riiken sent over 35,000 baht.

And the woman gave him a ride home.

As the two left the building where Riiken had been for the past 6 days, he did catch a couple details: the building wasn’t multi-story like a hospital normally would be, it was a single-story building, and there were several other buildings that looked the same around it.

Riiken later learned that he had been in the vicinity of Yang Nam Klat Nuea subdistrict, Nong Ya Plong district, Phetchaburi province. He was able to pull up Google location details after arriving home, which placed him in this area.

The exact location isn’t 100% known.

In further research that I did about how Google location works, if Google Maps is not opened, the location service defaults to the least accurate method of determining location.

The three ways that location are determined are, in order of accuracy:

  • GPS: GPS accuracy can be up to several meters depending on your GPS signal and connection. Your phone must support GPS, have it enabled, and allow Google Maps access to it.
  • WiFi: WiFi (wireless network) accuracy should be similar to the access range of a typical WiFi router, or about 200m or better. Your phone must support WiFi and have it enabled.
  • Cell ID: Cell ID (cell tower) accuracy depends on cell tower density and available data in Google’s cell ID (cell tower) location database. Accuracy may be approximated at distances up to several thousand meters. Note: Some devices do not support cell ID location.

We can assume that Riiken’s phone was not open, as it needed a passcode to get into it. And thus that while he stayed in this room for six days, the GPS option, which is the most accurate method of determining location, was not active.

It’s unlikely for the same reasons that the phone was able to connect to a WiFi router.

And thus we must assume that the location given where Riiken was held for six days was determined by Google location services by Cell ID, which is the least accurate and depends on the cell tower density in the area.

But there is one thing for certain. For six days Riiken was held in the same place — where that place is, what the building was, and why he was held there, we don’t know for certain.

The older Thai woman and Riiken didn’t chat much on the drive. When I asked Riiken about how long it took to get back home, he said about two or three hours. A tow truck brought his beloved Celica along behind them.

When the woman dropped Riiken off, she didn’t say much else, but they did swap Line ID contact info.

And that was it. There was no next step, no expectation for further contact.

Riiken had no paperwork about the accident — none had been given to him. No police reports. No insurance documents. No medical records or receipts.

There was nothing official that Riiken could hold onto in his hands that could show that what happened on the evening of December 31st, 2020, was even real.

If anybody would ask him for proof of what had just happened, he’d have nothing to show them besides the story that was told to him by the older Thai lady and a few of the photos that were shown to him of his Celica smashed into the back of the truck.

Where the accident was, Riiken didn’t know. The damages? No idea. What hospital he received treatment at? Not the foggiest idea.

In fact, if he tried to explain what happened to anybody afterwards — say, the police — he’d have no proof of what happened. It’d be like telling a story, a fantasy, a figment of his imagination.

As if the whole thing happened in his dream.

Perhaps this was by design.

It was all too much for Riiken to think about at the time. His brain still felt cloudy and his body felt heavy.

And so Riiken stepped into his home and shut the door behind him. He shut the door on the strange events that had transpired that day and wanted one thing that could bring him comfort.

Rest in his own bed.

For after all, there’s no place like home and there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.


5.

The inability to point to any official document or record of what went down on December 31st, 2020, undermined my ability to believe Riiken’s story the first time I heard it.

I was tipped off to the story by a True Crime Thailand reader. I received a message from him on Telegram and he sent me a link to a post on a Facebook group for car enthusiasts called Expat Car Club Thailand.

I read the story on the Facebook group and found the telling to be intriguing, but full of holes. In fact, it almost seemed unbelievable.

Riiken laid out his story in 11 paragraphs and tacked on photos of his trip and other relevant info to the end of the post.

I spent the night running the details through my mind and weighing the possibility of this being a legit story with the possibility that it could be some sort of attention-seeking ploy, or worse, a ruse to kickstart donations.

Needless to say, I was skeptical — and so was my contact who informed me of the story.

We chatted about it back and forth for a day or two, and after some deliberation, I decided to take a chance on the story.

I reached out to Riiken and established contact. I told him who I was and about True Crime Thailand and the reason for contact: I wanted to know his story.

He was glad I reached out. He told me he wanted to tell his story.

It was late at night by the time he received my message and so we scheduled a call for the following afternoon.

I prepared a long list of questions that bugged me about the post Riiken put on the Expat Car Club Facebook group.

Did he go alone?

Did he drink any alcohol that day?

Why didn’t he ask where he was when he woke up?

Did he have any enemies?

Who was the woman, why didn’t he get her name?

Did he have a dash cam?

Why hadn’t he gone to the police?

There were more, but you get the idea. I planned to go into the call firm but respectful with Riiken. I didn’t want to disbelieve him, but I also didn’t want to go into the chat taking him at his word either.

We talked for about an hour and a half that afternoon.

I started from the beginning and asked everything I could about the accident, the days leading up to it, and the month after.

The conversation was very productive. I will summarize the essential points and share the ones that are relevant to telling this story.

One more thing: as I talked with Riiken, I took careful notes. Throughout the conversation, especially at points where I felt Riiken had hit an emotional point in the telling of his story, I’d jump back to another detail he’d given me and ask him about it.

My goal? Try to catch him off balance to see if he’d slip up and get the details wrong.

Riiken’s story, and the way he told it to me, remained consistent throughout the whole call. And it remains consistent to this day in other conversations I’ve had with him.

Now I’ll share Riiken’s story, with details as he shared with me: but summarize it in a breezy narrative form that is more or less chronological.


6.

The trouble started about a month prior to the accident. Colleagues at Riiken’s work seemed to have it out for him for no apparent reason.

When I asked Riiken why they were giving him trouble, he didn’t know himself. But they’d gone so far as block his Celica from leaving the office.

Riiken got in touch with an attorney and was prepared to take on his employer if the abuse continued.

When I asked Riiken if he believed this could be related to his accident, he said yes — but there was no way to prove it, and he hesitated naming the firm he worked with for obvious reasons.

He added one important detail here, though. While he was in the supposed hospital for six days, his employment contract was terminated. His employer didn’t have to pay a month’s salary for terminating the contract, which was normal in Thai employment law. Riiken hadn’t shown up to the job and thus it was assumed he quit the contract, relieving his employer of paying the month’s salary.

I took note of this and continued the questions.

I asked Riiken if he had any alcohol that day. He didn’t. I asked if he accepted any drinks, even a soda, from anybody at all on his trip. He hadn’t. The only thing he consumed that day were some snacks from a 7-11 and a bottle of water.

I couldn’t help but think that somehow Riiken had been drugged. But if he didn’t drink something that knocked him out, then there’d only be a few other ways to have delivered something to put him under. I put that line of inquiry to the side and carried on the conversation.

I asked if Riiken went alone. He said he did, as he mostly did things alone. He had a few friends in Bangkok, mostly Thais, mostly people he’d known for years since he’s lived in the Land of Smiles for about 7 years since having his surgery here in 2014.

I asked if he had any known enemies. Besides the recent problems at work, he didn’t know of any. I’ll repeat that again: besides the ones at work.

Riiken seemed to think that he may have stepped on the wrong toes with people at his office. Maybe they had mafia contacts. Maybe they did this to scare him.

It surely wasn’t a big pay day that they were winning. I asked why he thought the old woman at the supposed hospital asked just for 30,000 baht.

Riiken said it was odd because that was basically all the money he had to his name. After sending over the 35,000 baht to her, he was broke.

I asked if he knew the woman. He said he didn’t — he’d never seen her before in his life. But he did add that the reason why he posted on Facebook on February 10th was because she’d gotten back in touch with him on Line.

She’d been harassing him for another 30,000 baht, a full month after she’d dropped him off at his home in Bangkok.

I asked Riiken if this was the case, and if his suspicions that he had been drugged were true, why not report this? Riiken told me he was scared and there was little proof of what he was saying.

All he had were some photos of the accident, some messages from this woman, and 6 days of missing memory. He had no paperwork that he’d been in an accident, no insurance documents, no medical records of what hospital he’d been to, no police report of the initial accident — nothing.

He also feared that when he was in the hospital he’d been given illegal drugs. He didn’t want police to give him a drug test only to find that he had illegal substances in his body.

Further, in the back of his mind he feared that this was the work of a mafia or scammer group.

Instead of going to the cops, he decided to consult with a trusted Thai friend. They gave him the advice to hold off going to the police for now and lay low instead. That felt right for Riiken.

Honestly, he told me, he just wanted the whole thing to be done with and in the past. He was willing to bury the memory and walk away from it all, chalking it up to a strange freak accident, some of the details left unexplained.

All he wanted to do was get back to work, fix up his Celica, and carry on with the normal and happy life he’d had in Thailand up until December 31st, 2020.

I don’t want to go into the weeds about my own thoughts here, but I’ll just say this: I spent the past couple weeks thinking about Riiken’s reasoning as to why he didn’t go to the police. At first it seemed to indicate his story wasn’t legitimate — but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would’ve done the same.

Honestly, if this had happened to me, I’d probably get a one way ticket out of Thailand ASAP.

I asked Riiken if he thought about leaving Thailand. He told me no. This was home. And besides, China wasn’t a good place for him. And his family didn’t want him back there anyway.

There were some details about the accident that I wanted to know. Did he have a dash cam? No, just a GoPro, and it wasn’t turned on. And besides, it had been destroyed in the accident.

What were his last memories? Driving down the mountainside, windows down, enjoying the fresh and cool air.

Where was the accident? Riiken didn’t know. At some point the Google location data just turns off and he’s then at the spot in Yang Nam Klat Nuea sub district for six days.

But he reckons that the place where he last thought he was had to be about 20 kilometers from Yang Nam Klat Nuea.

Riiken told me that the woman had been calling him almost non-stop the past few days from February 7th until February 12th when I talked to him for the first time on the phone.

She wanted another 30,000 baht to be paid. She sent photos of the accident and demanded to be paid.

This unsettled Riiken, as she knew where he lived, and if her intentions were crooked enough, she could do anything to him. I asked again if he was thinking of leaving his home. He told me no, he had nothing to lose now, and he wasn’t afraid.

Riiken told me he was looking to get another job at a company owned by a Thai friend. That friend told him that once he started work, he’d help Riiken go to the police. This comforted Riiken.

I ran through these details multiple times with Riiken, double and triple checking to make sure I understood his story. After speaking to him for over an hour and a half, I also wanted to make sure that he was comfortable telling his story.

I asked him several times, in different ways, if he felt comfortable going on the record.

He told me he did.

He wanted to tell his story.

Maybe, he told me, it would help somebody else some day.


7.

I sat for a week after talking to Riiken and didn’t do much with the info. I wanted the details to marinate and swish about a bit in my mind to see what would bloom.

I spent many nights just flipping through my notes, the photos that Riiken had sent over, and searching around for similar cases that might explain what happened to him.

I found nothing.

But something about his story haunted me. I mentioned this in the intro, but this story gave me chills. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it has something to do with fear of the unknown and the unexplained.

I have no reason to doubt Riiken’s account. I questioned him several times over the span of several weeks. His story remained consistent. He was willing to go on the record. And I saw no benefit for him in making up this story.

My personal theories of what happened ran the whole spectrum.

The needle bounced back and forth between wildly divergent possibilities.

Maybe somebody had drugged him, kidnapped him, and held him for extortion — not just for the money, but to terrorize the man.

Or maybe it was just an accident. He hit his head. There were no visible injuries, but the brain doesn’t need that to be knocked about: that all happens on the inside of the skull anyway.

The problem with that is Riiken still has no documentation that the accident even happened. He doesn’t know what hospital he received treatment at. And there were no police reports.

Further still, would a hospital release a patient whose brain was still foggy like it was when he woke up? Riiken told me his head felt cloudy for a full three days after he woke up on January 6th.

And why was this woman still blowing up his phone for another 30,000 baht? I mean that’s not life changing money.

It seems improbable that somebody would go through all the trouble of drugging somebody, staging an accident, and keeping him for almost a week just to get 65,000 baht out of him.

Could the motivation be more sinister than that?

I put myself in Riiken’s shoes. And I ask you to do the same.

You go for a day trip out to a scenic viewpoint.

You’re driving home just as dusk sets in.

And the next thing you know, you’ve woken up in a strange room with a woman you’ve never met before in your life demanding 35,000 baht. There’s no police report. No insurance papers. She’s waving a phone in your face with pictures of your car wreckage.

You have six days of missing memory. Time that’s completely unaccounted for except for six days that Google location logged in an inaccurate location from cell towers.

Close your eyes and put yourself in that scenario. What do you feel?

If I’m perfectly frank, it horrifies me.

And that’s why I’ve decided to tell Riiken’s story.

I don’t have the answers. Riiken doesn’t either.

I know that there will be doubters who read this. And that’s fine. I keep my own doubts, too.

But something about this story still haunts me.

Riiken chose to tell the story so that maybe someday it could help somebody.

I’m telling the story because I want some help myself.

Do you know of a story that’s similar to this that’s happened in Thailand?

If you do, feel free to get in touch with me at truecrimethailand@gmail.com

It would be helpful to hear about it.


Next steps for True Crime Thailand

My only goal is to continue to put out interesting, informative, and entertaining stories about true crime in Thailand.

Many of the stories that I put out are given to me by tips from readers.

If you have your own true crime story that you’d like to be told, feel free to get in touch.

I’m also looking more stories from the past, especially murder cases of farang in Thailand, that I know you’ll enjoy.

Until the next story,

True Crime Thailand

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