Eerie short story foretold expat's murder

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 August, 2006, 12:00am

An English farmer's tale of betrayal by a cheating Thai wife has echoes of his own grisly death

For wealthy English farmer Toby Charnaud it was meant to be an idyllic life in an exotic locale with a beautiful young Thai wife.

Instead, it ended brutally with Charnaud, 41, battered to death with clubs and an iron bar and his barbecued, dismembered body disposed of in a tiger refuge near the Thai-Myanmar border.

Charnaud's ex-wife Pannada, 35, and three of her relatives have been charged with his murder. The Petchaburi provincial court will announce next month whether she will face the death sentence for premeditated murder.

Although she says she was 160km away when her ex-husband was murdered, the court heard Pannada wanted Charnaud dead so she could inherit his fortune through their six-year-old son Daniel.

In a bizarre twist, Charnaud's sister Hannah Allen believes her brother may have foretold his own death in a short story he wrote for a Bangkok magazine. Rainfall tells how an expat's attempts to have his cheating, gambling Thai wife killed by a hitman backfire. 'The story is eerie. I am sure he had his suspicions,' Ms Allen said.

Charnaud grew up in Wiltshire in Britain and attended the exclusive Marlborough public school before turning to farming.

While on holiday he met Pannada, who was working as a Bangkok bar girl, and married her in 1997. The couple moved to England to run the family farm but Pannada became disillusioned and they returned to Thailand a few years later and bought a beach bar in the Hua Hin resort, south of Bangkok.

The relationship deteriorated as Pannada's gambling problem worsened. Charnaud paid off her #6,000 (HK$88,900) gambling debts and gave her an #11,000 divorce settlement.

Charnaud was lured to his death in March last year on the pretext of collecting Daniel from his ex-wife's new home near the Thai-Myanmar border.

Pannada, who reported her ex-husband missing to police in April, says she was in Bangkok at the time of the murder and denied she had any part in it. 'I was at the market and returned home to find my ex-husband's body,' she told the court. But she did admit to helping dispose of the body.

Three of her accomplices, friends and relatives, admitted 'murder with provocation', claiming Charnaud interrupted them as they were drinking whisky. Two others deny murder. His grisly end may have never been revealed had it not been for the persistence of his parents. They hired a Scottish private eye, who used mobile phone records to establish that Charnaud was at his ex-wife's home the day he disappeared.

In a letter to the court, Charnaud's mother, Sarah, said: 'We welcomed Toby's ex-wife into our home and family and to repay us by murdering my son is beyond comprehension.'

The following is an extract of Charnaud's short story Rainfall.

Guy's fingers trembled as he lit yet another cigarette, the previous one still smouldering in the ashtray. His hands felt clammy and he was sweating, despite the chill blast from the air-conditioning. There was a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was the most terrible thing he had done in his life, and the waiting was the hardest part.

He walked across to the window and stared out at the cityscape in front of him. Bangkok, shrouded in cloud. The rain had started and soon it would close in, relentless and oppressive. It had rained like that the night he had met her, nearly three years ago.

It had been a standard go-go bar, and they had sat down on the bench seats around the outside and ordered a couple of beers. One of the girls caught his eye. She was very petite, even for a Thai girl, with huge eyes. She smiled, a gorgeous, lopsided smile that lit up her whole face.

After her shift she came over, demurely holding out a dainty hand. 'Hello. My name Fon, may I sit down?'

He had known it would be difficult to get a visa for Fon to come to England, so had used the opportunity to do what he had dreamed about, to take off to pastures new. He sold his modest share portfolio and rented out his house and moved to Bangkok.

The problems with Fon started almost immediately. Nothing too much to begin with, and mostly about money. Then there was the not coming back to the apartment, or coming back drunk. They would fight, she would cry, and then would smile with that extraordinary, lopsided smile and look at him with those huge eyes and he would forgive her. Always. As she knew he would.

But it didn't get better. There were more problems and more fights. They made the decision to move out of Bangkok. They went to Hua Hin on the gulf coast a couple of hours south. They found a suitable business available, a small bar and restaurant. Fon would run it and it would provide her with her own source of income.

Instead, things soon got worse. It wasn't just the money, that was still as bad as ever, despite the business appearing to do well, but the lies started. Again they would fight and again she would cry and he would feel guilty.

Then came the stories of other men, customers in her bar, and an old boyfriend from her Cowboy days.

While they lived in Hua Hin he got to know Boy. Boy was a tuk-tuk driver, a regular Thai guy. They would play pool together and talk football, and they became good friends.

Then it came to him. There was a way of dealing with this Thai-style. He spoke to Boy. Boy said he knew how to deal with it. It was Boy he was waiting for now. There was a knock on the door. Peering through the spy hole, he saw Boy. He looked relaxed, he hardly even looked wet. He opened the door to let him in.

Boy looked at him, his gaze steady. 'Finish,' was all he said.

The heavy feeling in his stomach moved up to his heart and his eyes blurred. For the first time it was not just guilt or regret he felt, but real remorse. He couldn't look at Boy and turned away to pick up the money. '60,000,' he paused, 'I must go now, Boy.' Boy nodded as he took the cash.

Guy forced himself to look up. His eyes widened with shock as he saw the gun pointing at him. He didn't understand, couldn't take in what he saw. His last thought, bizarrely, was that the silencer was as big as the gun.

The girl slipped into the room. She was tiny with large brown eyes. She looked at the body on the floor, then at the man slipping the gun back into the waistband of his jeans.

The expression on her face was of regret, sorrow and bewilderment. It passed quickly and she turned to Boy.

'Come on, tilac, let's go,' he said. She gave him a quick, lopsided smile and took his hand as they left the room.