Chapter Nine – The Last Executioner
I had now been in the job for several years, and had heard stories and reports of events that would turn even the strongest stomach. But the levels to which some people went, and the crimes they were capable of committing, never ceased to amaze me.
18 October 1978.
Bangrak Police Station in the district of Pathumwan.
Vichai Srijareonsukying and his wife Jitra, owners of the popular Somboonpochana Restaurant are filing charges against their former employee, Ginggaew Lorsoongnern, and two accomplices, for the kidnapping of their six-year-old-son. Ginggaew had been their domestic cleaner and the child’s nanny. They became more and more dissatisfied with her work until they eventually sacked her. A little while later she had turned up to collect the son from his school, one of her former duties, and brought him to Nakhon Ratchasrima province. He was probably delighted to see his nanny again and trotted off with her quite happily. Just before she collected him she had sent the ransom letter to his parents explaining what was happening and what was expected of them.
The couple was instructed to board a train and drop a paper bag containing the ransom money, 200,000 baht, at a designated spot between Pakchong and Jantuek train stations. The boy would be returned to them once they had the money. The kidnappers had marked the spot by putting a flag in the ground. Police officers accompanied the anxious parents with their bag of cash on to the train and they prepared to make the drop. Unfortunately it was a particularly dark night and the parents were quite naturally in a fragile state. As a result, they never saw the flag – and the money remained undelivered by the time they reached the end of the track.
The kidnappers, were anxious too, and desperate. They watched in disbelief as the train passed by the flag with nothing thrown from a window. Was this some sort of joke? Did they want their kid back or not? The men exploded in fury, reckoning that the parents were being advised by the police not to hand over the money. Looking for an outlet to vent their anger, they found one in the sleeping child beside them. Without a word a knife was plunged into his neck and torso. The woman screamed in horror and tried to throw herself over the little boy to prevent him being stabbed again but she was viciously pulled off him and physically kicked out of the way. There was nothing she could do, there were too many of them. She lay hurt and sobbing as the men dragged the boy off into the darkness to some farmland nearby. She discovered later that the child’s grave had already been dug, just in case.
Later, the coroner would report that soil was found in the child’s lung – he had been buried alive. He was lying on his side, two feet beneath the ground, with a bunch of flowers, incense sticks and one candle shoved between his hands. His hands had been tied with saisin, which is sacred white thread used by monks in a variety of holy rituals. Thais believe that the thread wards off ghosts or evil spirits and monks are usually invited to house warming parties to drape saisin around the rooms to repel any lingering evil spirits. The killers did not want to be haunted by the child’s spirit and were taking every precaution. Even later the woman, Ginggaew, would claim she heard him cry out for his mother from beneath the ground.
In time the police arrested six people, three women and three men: Ginggaew Lorsoungnern, Gasem Singhara, Pin Peungyard, Thongmuan Grogkoggraud, Thongsuk Puvised and Suthi Sridee. Three months later, on 12 January 1979, at 8pm, the following order was issued; Ginggaew, Gasem and Pin were to be executed; Thongmuan was sentenced to life imprisonment; Thongsuk who was married to Pin, and Suthi, were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
The first female executed by gun was Yai Sonthibumroong, who was shot at Bang Kwang on 25 February 1942, by Rhien Permgamlungmuang. Over 30 years later, Ginggaew was to be only the second woman to die this way. She would be the first woman that I would see executed, and she is the one that I will never forget for as long as I live.
On 13 January 1979, at 10.50am, the Superintendent of Klong Prem Prison, Prasarn Prasertprasart, and 15 armed officers brought Pin and Gasem in a convoy of three police cars to Bang Kwang. I was expecting their arrival. Each prisoner had four escorts assigned to him. The two men looked pathetic and miserable in their grimy prison uniforms. At the gates of Bang Kwang the cars were besieged by a small army of journalists and photographers desperate for information. The men shuddered in terror but were spared having to do any interviews as the gates opened, allowing only the police cars entrance. Once the two men were dispatched the same convoy left again for Lard Yao Women’s Prison to make their final pick-up.
She arrived at Bang Kwang at 11.25am, closely guarded by the director of the female prison and prison officer. Bang Kwang’s Superintendent, Tawil Na Taguatoong, and his staff were waiting to receive her in the Custody Office. She wore a long sleeved blouse and a simple skirt, and she looked absolutely terrified. There was a frenzy at the gates with journalists trying to get her attention, but the car swept past them.
Exaggerated and conflicting stories had made it into the papers, each one more dramatic than the other. She was all over the news, like some kind of film star. One paper added to the melodrama by describing how one of the men grabbed Ginggaew’s hand and forced her, with some slaps to her face, to stab the sleeping child. In one account the boy was strangled by Pin, who then hit the dying boy in the back of the neck with a steel pipe. Another paper quoted Ginggaew saying that Pin first stabbed the boy, and because he wasn’t dying quickly enough for the heartless man, grabbed the child and broke his neck. This paper described the child being found in the shallow grave with his head turned back to front. Very little of it could have been true, or even known. But certainly, none of it made easy reading, especially for young parents.
I remember that day so clearly. At 3pm a prison guard was sent to fetch the Chaplain, Phramahasai, from the temple. Ten minutes later the official visitors arrived: Sripong Sawasri, the Governor of Nothaburi; Gamol Porngul, the prison doctor; Cherdchai Wattanasil from Bangrak Police Station and the Execution Supervision Committee. At 3.30pm the registrar took the prisoners’ fingerprints and the photographer took their photos. Prathom, the executioner, arrived 30 minutes later, along with the Chaplain. Prathom headed off to the execution room while Phramahasai sttod silently, waiting for the Head of Custody, Rhienchai Vilaipid, to finishing reading aloud the execution order, which the three condemned then had to sign. The Chaplain began the 20 minute ritual at 4.20pm. The two men listened in silence with heads bowed, in acceptance of their fate. Ginggaew sat in front of them and was growing more and more distressed by the minute. She started to cry:
‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t kill the boy. Please don’t kill me, I didn’t kill him.’
She fainted several times after that and had to be revived with smelling salts.
At 5pm Ginggaew was selected to be brought to the execution room first. The escorts helped her to her feet but she immediately crumpled to the ground. She sobbed that she felt too weak to stand, let alone walk. She continued to black out repeatedly while the escorts wondered what to do. Eventually it was decided to use a van to carry her the 800 metres from the office to the execution room. Her escorts managed to lift her on to the van. They drove her as far as the gazebo near the execution room and then stopped to give her some time to compose herself. She sat facing the roof of the temple. There was a table beside her with flowers, candles and incense. The escorts blindfolded her and placed the flowers in her hand – they would be used for the final asking of forgiveness. As she approached the room she had to be revived from another faint.
I found this very difficult to deal with. Between us we finally got the stricken woman to the cross. She cried while they bound her at the waist, shoulders, and elbows. Her arms were brought up over the beam in a position of prayer. Still, she struggled and tried vainly to break free. The escorts pulled across the screen and fixed it so that the white square indicated where her heart was. They then stepped away out of range. I walked to the gun to load it and aim it at the target on the screen. I was aware that Ginggaew was still struggling. Normally once the prisoner was fixed to the cross they gave up fighting, but this was not the case with her. I secured the gun over her stifled sobs, locking it into position. When I was satisfied, I nodded at Prathom to take over. He took his position and at 5.40pm exactly he released ten bullets into Ginggaew’s body.
Doctor Porngul went up to her and checked for the pulse and retina response. As expected, he confirmed her dead. The escorts quickly untied her body, which was bleeding profusely from the chest, and laid her face down on the floor. She jerked and twitched a little. This wasn’t out of the ordinary but was distressing to witness. Her chest burst open and the blood looked like it would never stop flowing. They carried her into the morgue, the tiny room that we used just off the execution hall. I followed them just to make sure everything was alright. They placed her gently on the bed and we went out to prepare for the next one. What happened then will never leave me.
As the second prisoner, Gasem, was brought into the execution room, there was a sound from the morgue. I could see everything from where I was standing as the door was wide open – Ginggaew was trying to get up. The shocked escorts and I ran back to her. There was blood everywhere. One of the escorts rolled her over and pressed down on her back to accelerate the bleeding and help her die. Another escort, a real hard man, tried to strangle her to finish her off but I swept his arms away in disgust. We stood there watching her gasp for breath for I don’t know how long, it could only have been a minute or two. I was filled with pity for her. I couldn’t help thinking that she was dying the way that little boy had died – except suffocating from blood instead of earth.
Meanwhile, Gasem had been shot. He died instantly from ten bullets. He had not resisted his death in any way, and spoke to nobody on the way to the cross. After the doctor confirmed that Gasem was definitely dead he checked on Ginggaew. Amazingly she was still breathing. It was a horrible, horrible situation. He told the escorts to put her back on the cross. The men complied, somewhat relieved to be able to just follow orders. It was a grim, nauseating job and they were covered in her blood when they turned to pull the screen across. This time the full quota of 15 bullets were used, and finally, she was dead.
You might wonder why we didn’t just shoot her where she lay, but it would have been against the regulations. Also, I don’t know that any of us could have stood so close to the young girl and pulled the trigger. As it was, the escorts moved as quickly as possible, each of us was concerned that her suffering should not be prolonged.
Pin had had to wait outside for ten minutes until Ginngaew was carried to the morgue for the second time. He was then brought in and tied to the cross. At 6.05pm Prathom pulled the trigger, sending 13 bullets into his back. The doctor went to check on him and discovered that he too was still alive, only just, but still breathing all the same. I loaded the gun again and Prathom shot a further ten bullets, this time killing him instantly. We were all in need of more than one stiff drink that evening.
In the bar that night, my colleagues repeated what I had been thinking, that both Ginggaew and Pin had suffered like the child had suffered, with neither of them dying immediately. I couldn’t begin to imagine the fear and pain that the little boy was subjected to. How a grown man can kill a six-year-old is just beyond me. By now I had three children of my own, and flashes of them when they were six and seven burnt into my head as I knocked back beer after beer. They were still babies at six years – babies who could walk and talk and who only expected people to treat them well. They hadn’t learned to be suspicious yet.
Later in the newspapers the victim’s mother spoke about Ginggaew. She said that she hired her to do the housework and mind her son. However, she found her to be lacking as a housekeeper – she spent too much time with the boy.
There are a couple of reasons why Ginggaew had such a terrible death. Firstly her heart wasn’t on the left side as with most people. She most probably had Kartagener’s Syndrome, which is when a person is born with their heart on the right-hand side instead of the left. And even if it was she wasn’t secured firmly enough to the cross so she was able to move around, therefore the bullets would miss their target. It showered the importance of binding the prisoner as tightly as possible, for their own sake. I has my doubts when she was first pronounced dead. I thought I could detect some strain in her neck, and maybe that’s why I followed the escorts to the morgue. The head should normally flop backwards with the cross being the only support for the limp body.
I am constantly asked about Ginggaew. She didn’t think she deserved to die because she never physically harmed the child, not fully understanding that she was liable as an accomplice. She didn’t get on with the couple; then they fired her and there was some discrepancy over her last wage packet. She wasn’t highly educated and felt aggrieved over how she had been treated. She had minded their son for two months and formed a close attachment to him, and was perhaps even angry at being separated from him. So, unfortunately, she poured out her anger to her boyfriend who was an ex-con. She was also having an affair with Pin, who was married to Thongsuk, who received life imprisonment. He was a bad see through and through. It was such a shame that Ginggaew ever got mixed up with him. His plot had led directly and indirectly to the deaths of four people, inclyding his own. At 28 he had a wife and a girlfriend – some women just like the dangerous types I suppose. If she has confided in a decent person she might have been merely encouraged to find a better job. Instead, her boyfriend came up with the kidnapping plan – which was to go completely awry beside the train tracks on that dark, awful night.
She was executed by a summary order, issued by Prime Minister Thanin. This meant that there was no opportunity to build a defence and appeal for leniency in a court room. She was sentenced to death by the government and that was it. If you asked me whether I agreed with this I would have to say no. I think if it had gone to court it would have resulted in her being sentenced to life imprisonment.
She didn’t kill the boy; she became part of something that was completely out of her control and experience. She was guilty of kidnapping but a lawyer would have pointed out how she was badly kicked when she tried to protect the boy, and how she was treated by her employers in the first place. I suppose the government had to make an example of her, to warn any other domestics against this behaviour. We still have a few cases today of servants assaulting or killing their employers because they are being badly treated. At the end of the day you have to respect others. The case got widespread coverage because of the child, and the government probably felt they had to be seen to respond as efficiently as possible.
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