What was intended a holiday in paradise after a semester in Australia turned fatal for twenty-two year old Drammen-native Julie Michelle Bergheim. Along with fellow tourist Jill St. Onge from Seattle in USA the young Norwegian woman died short after having experienced breathing-difficulties and terrible stomach pains on may the 8th. According to the Thai authorities both women were transported to the hospital on Krabi but nothing could be done to save their lives. Julie’s friend, with whom she was visiting the island also fell ill, but luckily survived and was sent to recover on a Phuket hospital.
Since the two women died within hours of each other and had lived on the same beach resort, Laleena Guesthouse, on the island, it quickly led to speculations about something on the resort could have coursed the dead and due to the investigations, bars and restaurants on the island have been examined, and the resort where the women stayed was closed down.
This theory was rejected by Rat Chuped, the owner of Laleena guesthouse, who stated that her facility had nothing to do with the tragedy and that he personally believed the women’s deaths was coursed by heavy drinking. The Thai police also rejected the theory and quickly stated that they believed badly cooked food to be the explanation.
The main suspect of the Thai police was Cassava, a very common vegetable in the Asian kitchen, which produces poisonous Prussic acid when not cooked properly. The theory of the Thai police increased plausibility after the Thai authorities stated that there has been found cyanide – a bi-product of Prussic acid in the stomachs of both women, a statement which reportedly later has been withdrawn by the police claiming that the statement was coursed by a mix-up by the Norwegian newspaper Nettavisen.
“There are no traces of cyanide. … This may be a misunderstanding by the Norwegian newspaper,” a police source in Krabi told the Andaman Times.
However Nettavisen, says it is supporting its report that cyanide was found, based on reports it received from Thailand. If the vegetable indeed is the killer, the two women on Phi Phi wouldn’t be its first victims. The plant is infamous for its deadly acid. In 2006 25 Philippine children was reported dead after eating snacks made of Cassava.
After the Cassava-story was denied another food-poisoning theory was proposed. On Monday the 25th of may, the Phuket Gazette quoted a police commander as saying blood samples from both women indicated possible food poisoning from seafood.
But both the sea-food and the Cassava-story was meet with massive scepticism, and Ryan Adams, the fiancée of the American girl, who later has become one of the investigation’s biggest criticizers found the explanation unbelievable.
“I don’t think the Thai authorities have done anything. They just wanted to get her body off the island“, he wrote in a posting on the St Onge-family blog, adding that he believes fumes emanating from a nearby water treatment plant just behind the guesthouse to be the explanation.
“I think that Jill was poisoned by a chemical from that plant. She spent about five more hours in the room than I did. She was just breathing in the fumes for so long. The only reason I did not get deathly ill, is that I kept getting these short breaks from the air in the room“, he explains. The police-report has not changed the mind of Ryan Kells.
“I am 99.9 percent sure she did not die of food poisoning. It is unlikely that they were the only ones the affected if that was the case. Jill suffocated to death. I am not a doctor, but I know when someone can’t breathe“, he states.
Saturday the 30th of May, the Phuket Wan newspaper reported that investigators visited the Laleena Guesthouse, taking samples and removing filters from the air conditioning units in the rooms where both victims had stayed.
The missing lung tissue
And the mystery continues. A pathologist hired by the families of the women to investigate the mysterious death of the Norwegian and American women in Phi Phi Island independently has recently stated that the lung tissue from the women has gone missing.
“He said her lung tissue was gone, no one knows what happened” said the brother of the American woman, Robert St. Onge. The pathologist has not determined what caused her lungs to fail, but members of St. Onge’s family stated that the pathologist’s findings, though preliminary, are enough to contradict statements made by Thai investigators that the two women were victims of food poisoning. Dr. William Hurley, medical director for the Washington Poison Center, is also sceptical that food poisoning could have been responsible.
In food poisoning cases, he said, “…usually what kills you is the dehydration, not the toxin. Food poisoning is not something that typically kills someone this quickly. It takes days.” Adding that ingestion of a variety of chemicals could have caused Onge and Bergheim’s sudden deaths, Hurley said, and could be consistent with the condition of the lungs. But without further information, he said, it is impossible to say what killed the two women.
According to a Seattle newspaper Thai authorities will not allow Jill St. Orge’s family bring her body home for an independent autopsy, and instead are planning to cremate her body. The dead of the two young women remain a mystery and according to most newspapers it is unlikely that the explanation ever is found.