BANGKOK (Reuters) - After a three-year hunt involving cutting edge technology and police on three continents, it was dogged detective work and a Thai transvestite that finally led officers to Canadian pedophile suspect Christopher Neil.
Thai police Colonel Paisal Luesomboon, who arrested Neil in the dusty town of Nakhon Ratchasima, 250 km (150 miles) northeast of Bangkok, said the 32-year-old knew the game was up and surrendered without a struggle.
“He said he knew he was on an Interpol arrest warrant,” Paisal told Reuters. The only other words Neil spoke were to confirm his name.
His companion at the time of his arrest was a 25-year-old “katoey” -- the Thai word for transvestite or transsexual -- a friendship that proved key to the manhunt.
After an alert from Interpol, Police Lieutenant Colonel Phanthana Nutchanart sent his men to trawl transvestite hangouts in Bangkok’s Patpong red-light district and the seaside town of Pattaya, infamous as a haven for misfits and perverts.
After seeing a picture of Neil taken by security cameras on his arrival at Bangkok airport a week ago, transvestites in Pattaya said they had seen him with a 25-year-old cross-dresser called Ohm.
But the pair had already fled the eastern seaboard town, dubbed “The Old Whore of Asia” since the days of the Vietnam War, when American GIs would come in their thousands in search of euphemistically phrased “R&R”.
Police traced Ohm’s real name on Thailand’s national citizens database, found he came from the northeastern province of Chaiyaphume and -- crucially -- got his telephone number.
They then started going through his phone records, allowing them to chart the pair’s progress from Pattaya to Chaiyaphume and ultimately Nakhon Ratchasima.
The last number dialed on Ohm’s phone was to a friend in Nakhon Ratchasima, who eventually told police Ohm was trying to rent a house in the province and passed on the address.
It was a low-tech end to a manhunt that started three years ago in Germany, when specialist child crime officers found images on the Internet of a man raping young boys in Vietnam and Cambodia.
The man’s face was digitally “swirled” but officers in Germany’s BKA federal crime office unscrambled the image with cutting-edge technology that neither they nor Interpol are prepared to discuss.
Even with an identifiable face, however, police were little closer to catching the suspect, who was in no Interpol or national police database. Some of his victims were believed to be as young as six.
“We carried out exhaustive inquiries in an effort to identify this man, but those were unsuccessful,” Bangkok-based Interpol case officer Michael Moran told a news conference.
“So we simply went to the people, and asked the people to help us find this man. And that was successful,” Moran said.
Around 350 people responded to Interpol’s unprecedented international Web appeal for information that might help them identify the man in the photographs.
Within days, Neil, who was teaching English in South Korea, had been named by five sources on three continents.
“The irony that we used the Internet to publicize our message is not lost, in that he or somebody originally posted images of him abusing children on the Internet,” Moran said.
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