Police in Thailand on Wednesday arrested a male model accused of taking an unconscious woman home, boasting online about his sexual exploits, and leaving her lifeless body in the lobby of his building.
Police brought charges of illegal detention leading to death, abduction with intent of committing an indecent act and molestation against 24-year-old Ratchadech Wongtabut in a case that has riveted the attention of the public and press.
The victim, Thitima Noraphanpiphat, 25, made a living as a “pretty,” the term for young women normally hired for events such as auto shows to pose seductively with products they are promoting.
Thitima, who used Lunlabelle as her professional name, was hired to attend a party from which Ratchadech left with her on the night of Sept. 16.
A media frenzy over the case has been fueled by the suspect’s provocative online posts boasting of past sexual conquests, including as he had Thitima in his room, and copious surveillance video showing him carrying the apparently unconscious victim.
Thitima’s family and boyfriend went to the media to press their case that her death involved wrongdoing and that the perpetrator be held to account. They acted as Ratchadech’s involvement was made public, and he initially had been questioned by police and released without charge after denying any criminal actions.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lt. Gen. Sutthipong Wongpin said at a news conference on Wednesday that Ratchadech acknowledged bringing Thitima to his apartment but said he had no intention to do her harm and did not realize that she was dead while she was with him.
Police announced Tuesday that Thitima may have already been dead by the time Ratchadech brought her back to his apartment.
They said Wednesday that an autopsy found that Thitima had died from extreme alcohol intoxication.
There had been speculation that Thitima was given a date rape drug such as GHB. But the drug rapidly disappears from the blood stream, making its presence difficult to confirm. Thai media cited police as saying none had been found in Ratchadech’s apartment.
Police are investigating others who may be involved in the affair, especially the owner and guests at the house where Thitima attended the party before she died.
Her death has raised interest in the dark side of the life of a pretty, when they can get into situations they cannot control.
Jaded Chouwilai, director of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, said the case reflects the high risks of abuse, both sexual and nonsexual, toward women in that specialized service sector.
The foundation has studied the cases of young women working as sales promoters at beer drinking outlets nationwide, including pop-up booths.
It found that all suffered some manner of abuse: being forced to drink large amounts of alcoholic beverages, molestation, and other physical and verbal attacks.
“In the case of Lunlabelle, it happened in a private place and she was there all by herself and heavily drunk. Therefore, her risk of being attacked was much higher,” Jaded said.
Jaded said that stereotyping and discrimination against this group of workers meant they drew little sympathy from the government and society at large.
“They need protection from being abused, just like other workers,” he said.