A 60-year-old former Perth resident faces the death penalty in Thailand after he was arrested over the fatal killing of a 46-year-old Hawaii resident in the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai over the weekend.
William Thomas Douglas, who claims to be a Vietnam War veteran, handed himself in to Chiang Mai police one and a half hours after shooting dead 46-year-old American tourist Gary Bruce Poretsky in an all-night Thai restaurant popular with local Chiang Mai residents.
Mr Poretsky, a native of Massachusetts, is reported to have gone to the Keari restaurant with a Chiang Mai female who he had befriended on his visit to the the northern Thailand city.
According to police Captain Somsak Pamthong, Poretsky’s arrived in Thailand two weeks ago with the main objective to receive dental treatment in Bangkok, where high quality dentistry is considerably less expensive than in the US or Europe.
“After he had the dental treatment he came here for a holiday”, Captain Pamthong said.
According to restaurant staff the victim was introduced to Mr Douglas by the the girl who was accompanying him, on the mistaken belief that one foreigner would enjoy talking to another.
Mr Douglas, a long-term resident of Chiang Mai, is fluent in the Thai language and has a Thai wife.
Questioned by this correspondent at the Chiang Mai police station, Mr Douglas said has been “working for the police” during his period in Thailand. Captain Pamthong said there was no evidence to support this claim.
Foreign expats in Chiang Mai describe Mr Douglas as somewhat of a loner and perhaps even a little unbalanced. He is known to have taught English at a number of local schools, though he does not have a work permit to do so, and is not believed to hold any formal qualifications as a teacher.
Eye witnesses say the two men began talking and the discussion rapidly escalated into an argument. Mr Douglas is alleged to have then withdrawn a 9-mm pistol and shot Mr Poretsky three times in the head and upper body.
Following the shooting Douglas fled the scene but a short time later handed himself in to Chiang Mai police.
According to Captain Pamthong, Mr Douglas admitted shooting the American, but claimed he had no intention of killing him.
“He said that he disliked American’s and thought ‘they talk down to everyone and consider themselves better than everyone'”, Captain Pamthong said.
This statement was supported by Mr Douglas who said from the Chiang Mai police lockup that he had shot Poretsky, “because I didn’t like him, he was crazy”.
From his lock-up cell Mr Douglas maintained his story that he was some kind of informer or under-cover operative for the Thai police.
Thai police have placed the Australian on suicide watch and said he is currently taking medication, though they would not disclose what that medication was or for what purpose.
Mr Douglas will be formally charged with premeditated murder at a sitting of the Chiang Mai court on Monday, March 24,. The charge carries a maximum penalty of death by lethal injection if Mr Douglas is found guilty.
He will also be charged with failing to have a permit to carry a firearm, and not having a licence for a firearm.
He is expected to be remanded in custody at Chiang Mai Remand Prison pending the outcome of a ballistics report on the gun, bullets and casings found at the scene.
Photos John Le Fevre
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
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