The Tragic Story Of Bon
The story of Bon is the one of most sorrowful events that has occurred in my life. Let me tell it here. Bon is Amy’s younger brother. (Amy-Ae is my Thai wife). He has a twin, Wit. At the time of this writing Bon was 31 years of age. Bon is referred to by Amy as “Crazy Brother”. All of her brothers and sisters have names. Bon’s name is Crazy Brother. I have met Bon on numerous occasions and have found him to be very likeable. He is shy, does not speak much (because nobody talks to him), makes normal eye contact, appears sensitive, and in general appears quite normal. He helps his father on the rubber plantation and does other chores. I have seen no evidence of mental instability in Bon.
Bon completed 3 years in the university in Bangkok and according to Amy was quite smart. However at some point the stress got to him and, according to Amy, “he went crazy.” He dropped out of the university and returned home to work on the rubber plantation. He lost all his friends. Thai society labeled him as crazy.
At some point Bon ran away and was found in Bangkok. The family had great concern that he would do it again and as a result limited his income to 50 cents (15 baht) a day or a somewhat similar amount. While this proved effective in not providing the means to run away, it certainly created a lot of stress in his life by not allowing him any freedom nor did it give him any self esteem.
It is impossible for Westerners to appreciate the high/low factor in Thailand. While Western societies are basically horizontal with general equality, Thai structure is organized vertically. No two Thais can meet without each measuring each other's social height. Words like “Pee” meaning older brother/sister and “Nong” meaning younger brother/sister are used commonly to reflect who is senior/junior. Status is everything, invisibility is death. Bon does not have low status, he has no status. Bon is invisible.
In conversations Bon is ignored. Hellos and goodbyes are meant for people. Bon does not get hellos. His own family treats him as if he is nothing.
I have mentioned to Amy that I do not see the mental illness that it is claimed Bon has. He is shy and sensitive, but that is not mental illness. I have always made it a point to give him the same respect that I give to other family members. I have pity for him not because of his emotional condition but because of the situation he is in.
Amy related that Bon had attempted suicide. He did so by drinking some caustic liquid. He was hospitalized and suffered burns to his lips. The scars on his lips are still there.
The account of Bon's death are as follows. On the 26th of August 2006, Bon went to a wedding party. (I doubt this account of the story.) This is unusual as Bon is normally not invited anywhere. According to the story from Amy, at the party some boys came over and asked Bon if he had a girlfriend, is he going to get married etc Bon is a handsome boy. He had a girlfriend when he was at the university in Bangkok. The boys allegedly said why don’t you go to her, etc It was all too much for Bon. Bon knew his situation. To have it thrown in his face had to have been too much. Bon does not fight back. That is not his character. He went home, shaved, cleaned himself up and walked out to his old house. Bon’s old house was a wooden structure built on stilts. If is deep inside the jungle by a river. Years ago there was flooding and the old house was destroyed. Now just the remnants of the structure are there. Bon brought a bottle of whisky and sat near a well which was used years ago to get water. After finishing the bottle of whisky he got up, took off an old cheap pair of flip flops, sat on the edge of the well, and jumped in. (I need to note that this is the version of the story given to me… I tend to doubt it.)
The family became worried. They looked for Bon but could not find him. They hoped that he would turn up somewhere since he had run away before. Bon’s mother, Manun, consulted a fortune teller. The fortune teller said he is not outside presumably meaning inside a house or other structure.
Bon’s twin, Wit was also worried. Wit got sick and left the restaurant in Thung Song and drove his motorbike 30-40 miles in the rain to come to his father’s house to look for Bon. While searching Wit saw the Bon’s old pair of flip flops by the well. He looked in and saw Bon at the bottom of the well face down. He was found about two weeks after he was discovered missing.
This part of the story I find strange. Wit is a smart man. If he suspected that Bon may have been murdered, and that his father was involved, wouldn't it be likely that the body would be dumped in the well. Burying the body means a grave, overturned earth, questions asked. Furthermore, the only people who would go near the well would be family members…and now the only family members living in the house are Chalee and Manun. Wit was probably also aware of the family dynamics….for example if the father made comments about his dislike for Bon, etc. The point here is something made Wit drive 30 miles in the rain and look in the well.
The Chaweng police were called and one of the men had to enter the well to get Bon out. He wore a respirator. I assume he had to go down head first as the well is so small. It is only the width of a big man’s shoulders. I guessed that, if it was suicide, Bon probably died of sewer gas, the reason for the police wearing a respirator. But it could also have been because of the terrible stench. A rotting body in the jungle heat is going to give off a terrible odour. There was no autopsy, blood test or anything of the sort. Sewer gas is common in wells. Sewer gas is hydrogen sulfide and one of its origins is from decaying organic matter. Hydrogen sulfide is heaver than air so it concentrated in trenches, and other low areas. In high concentrations only a few breaths will render a man unconscious. The rescue squad said the body was very badly decomposed. This meant he had died quite some time ago.
On September 6th we received the phone call that Bon had killed himself. We left Greendale at 10:00 AM on September 7th 2006, flew to Minneapolis, than to Tokyo, than to Bangkok, arriving at 1:00 AM on September 9th. We rented a car and immediately drove to the south to Amy’s parent’s home. It was an 8 hour drive and we got there at 9 in the morning…36 hours after we had left Greendale. I must point out here that I have had, in the latter stages of our marriage, a fear of going to Amy’s parent’s house. The reasons for this are numerous.. Amy’s threats against me, her threats of suicide, my suspicion of her possible involvement in a murder, the fact that she may feel that she would financially gain by my death, the many murders of foreigners by their Thai spouses, the Jim Thompson story, my own paranoia of Thai people, and certain other things that Amy did, (wanting me to buy a condo in Thailand, the motorbike scam involving her and her sister) and other things. When we arrived at the house I was somewhat relieved to see the sign indicating a funeral.
On September 11th 2006 we got up, went to Thung Song and than to Chaweng for the cremation. Amy walked over to Bon’s casket. Next to the casket was Bon’s radio which was playing his favorite station, a half opened pack of cigarettes to carry into the next life, and a tray of food along with a cup of coffee. There was an envelope with money…probably more than Bon had ever had in life, which he could take with him and spend in the next life. Amy talked to Bon more than she ever did when he was alive. She stirred his coffee and shuffled the items on his tray as only Thais do…moving them from one place to another and than another. There was a Buddhist ceremony and than Bon’s casket was loaded on the back of a pickup truck for the ride to the temple and ultimately cremation. Suddenly a load crack filled the air followed by another, and another. I turned to see a man with a handgun firing 10-12 shots into the air.
We took Amy’s sister Eel with us to the cremation. As we drove in a caravan, she told Amy, and Amy told me, than Bon had been going to a doctor in Nakhon Si Thammarat for his mental problem. Recently he was given a “white paper”. There are different colors of paper, red, yellow, white, which classifies the seriousness of the mental condition. He was given a white paper meaning that he was normal.
We got to the temple and entered a large hall which was open on three sides to the air. As a family member I sat in front. The ceremony had 5 monks dressed in orange sitting at the front and chanting. The two on the right were young boys. The one on the far left was old, perhaps 80. The next one was a typical old monk that would gracefully adorn any travel poster of Thailand. He was old, perhaps 70, round head, thin, veins showing throughout his neck and face, square shouldered and, while chanting, was very intense. The monk in the middle was striking. He was big for a Thai, even big for a Westerner. He had a special look almost as if he was Western. There was something magnificent about him which set him apart and made him look like the only position that he could ever hold would be that of a leader. His hands shook constantly as if he had Parkinson’s disease. I wondered what kind or even if, he received any form of medical treatment.
After the ceremony we walked over to the crematorium. Bon’s casket had already been unloaded and carried up the stairs to the entrance to the crematorium. Amy’s uncle said a few words and read of the list of relatives and where they were from… “Kuhn Robert, Kuhn Waraporn, Wisconsin, America”.
Than 4 people were asked to place a special cloth on the casket. I was one of them. Than each person in attendance climbed the stairs to the casket and place a special artificial flower on it. Than the workers came to do their dirty work. They donned white rubber gloves and began to lift the body out of the casket. You could not see the body but you could see the workers struggle. Bon’s body was badly decomposed. Amy said you could see the actual body but the workers advised against it. We did, however walk up to the body. It was covered. There were clothes which Bon would wear in the next life along with a pair of good shoes. The body was placed in the crematorium and the door to the oven shut. The ceremony was finished at 2:30. The scheduled start time for the burning was 3:30. As we waited I looked off into the distance. The jungle was overpowering. Monstrous trees rose high into the sky while nearby a denuded piece of property lie, probably the work of illegal logging. The air was sweltering and although we were shaded by the trees, the heat from the hot afternoon sun penetrated the shade making it somewhat unbearable. Most of the people left except for the family. Won, Amy’s sister who was sold (or given away) was the only family member to leave. A small group of men pulled out a bottle of whiskey and drank.
At 3:30 the burning began. Amy’s father walked over to look into the peephole. Amy asked me to look in and I saw intense flames. There were two ribs sticking into the air. Apparently the rest had been burned. As I walked away I turned and watched the smoke exit the long stovepipe chimney. As it dissipated I could not help but think that Bon is now free.
September in the south is the rainy season. It rains almost every day making the area ideal for rubber growing. During the entire 7 days of the outdoor ceremony, it did not rain once. But as the cremation began, clouds started to cover the area. Amy and I stayed about ½ hour after the cremation started. We than drove back to Amy’s father’s home. It was less than a minute after we arrived that it started raining. It was as if the Gods were crying for Bon.
We than drove to Chaweng to Amy’s father’s house. Our plan was to spend some time with Amy’s parents before we started out for Bangkok where we would stay overnight and catch the 6:00 AM flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. While there we took a walk back to see the well. It was a series of concrete rings placed one atop the other. Jub said there were a total of 14 rings. I estimated that each ring was 1 ½ feet high. There were two rings above the ground so I estimated the well to be about 18 feet deep. The circumference of the rings was about the size of a broad man’s shoulders. There was a piece of plywood on the top, secured by a stone and a couple of pieces of wood. It seemed that even if someone was not overcome with gasses, no one could hear the cries for help….. if there were any. The well was in a very thick jungle area about 50 yards from the house.
The plan was to have several monks come over and coax Bon’s spirit out of the well. Once done, the well would be covered with dirt. As I walked next to the well Amy cautioned me to be aware or Bon’s shoes. I looked down to see a cheap pair of black flip flops which, in Thailand, would probably cost about $1.00. They were badly worn.
I could not help but analyze this whole situation albeit through Western eyes and the roles played by each party. Chalee did not give Bon money because he thought Bon would run away. On the other hand the lack of money only caused Bon’s self esteem and independence to go way down. In hindsight one could easily say he should have gotten more money. After all he was doing a lot of work on the rubber plantation. But, his history of running away was such that to give him money posed a risk. Was there discussion between the two regarding a raise? In the Western world I think there would have, in the Thai world, no. By keeping Bon working at the rubber plantation it isolated Bon even more.
Many things have crossed my mind regarding why Bon committed suicide and why did he do it in that terrible fashion. Did Bon see no way out? Would his life be that he would continue to work for a pittance at his father’s rubber plantation? Did he feel that everyone classifies him as crazy no matter what the doctors said? I think the answer to that last question is yes. In Thai society Bon is placed in the lowest of positions. I think Bon saw no way out. He would always be considered crazy. Society painted him into a corner and death was the only way out. On the other hand did Bon really want to kill himself? Unlike a gunshot to the head, jumping into an unused well is no guarantee of death.
There was no suicide note.. Perhaps that is a Western trait. Studies have shown that only 25% of Americans leave a suicide note.
In the book, Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology, the author states that 4 out of 11 people survive jumps from a height of 4 stories. Four stories would be about 40 feet. Bon fell only 18 feet and than there may have been something cushioning his fall…and he fell feet first. The more and more I think about it, it would have been impossible for Bon to have died from the fall. That leaves sewer gas, or murder… with the body being thrown in the well. Remember, there are few autopsies in Thailand. Amy related later to me that her neighbor, Maew, was spreading rumors that Amy’s father killed Bon. I originally felt that Bon committed suicide but the more and more I thought about it I began to wonder, to question, and now, with time, I am leaning to the belief that Chalee killed Bon. Why? Did Maew hear a gunshot in the night? (Chalee did own a 9 mm Beretta). And when one considers that Chalee gave away (or sold) their daughter Wan, it made me wonder even more. The burial of Amy’s 2 year old sister, by Chalee, on the property also entered into my mind.
To jump down a well is a strange way to commit suicide. To place a body in a well is an almost perfect hiding place. And in the olden times it was common to throw a murdered body down a well. Even now the internet relates murders, even here in the United States, where the body was thrown down a well. The fact that Bon allegedly took off his shoes before he jumped down the well does not make sense. Why would someone take off their shoes before jumping down a well? Is it more likely that in the effort to toss the body down the well, the flip flops came off his feet? Amy had told me of a previous event which she implied that her father murdered a man. These are all things that are impossible for a Westerner to comprehend. Unless there is an autopsy done (there wasn’t), or, an investigation as to whether there is sewer gas in the well and the extent of it (there wasn’t), no one will ever know. As time went on and I began to view things from a distance and, albeit through a different lens. I began to believe more and more that Bon was murdered….by his father. It entered my mind that Wit may believe or at least question, “Did my father kill Bon?” In all of the pictures I took of the family, and I took many, not one has Wit looking at the camera. He was always downcast….and wouldn’t you be also if you suspected your father of killing your twin brother?
When I looked at the well, it had a wood cover over it. Only many years later did it enter my mind that, at the time Wit discovered the body, was there a cover over the well? That would mean with 100% certainty that Bon’s body was thrown into the well and the cover placed on it. Was that the reason Wit was so depressed? Did he come to the conclusion that his father killed Bon? And why did Wit, the night he discovered the body, drive about 30 miles at night, in the rain, to his father’s home and look down the well? Did he suddenly suspect his father? Wit knows the family problems. Did he know of or sense a conflict between Chalee and Bon? Did he suddenly suspect that a well is the perfect hiding place for a body? It was strange that while Bon’s body was in the well for almost 2 weeks that the father could not smell the rotting corpse. After all, Chalee worked on a rubber machine right near the well. I checked some internet sites to get information on the decomposition of corpses. Heat, humidity, and exposure to the elements, all cause a body to decompose rapidly. One news program told of a corpse rotting in a closed apartment. The news reporter was standing on the street 30 feet from the enclosed apartment yet he said the stench was overpowering. Other residents said they could smell it 50 feet away from the apartment. And in the jungle, the air hangs heavy. How could Chalee not smell the corpse? Secondly, what about animals? Wouldn’t there be flies, etc, entering the well?
Murder is common in Thailand. Lack of investigation by the police is also common, particularly in the remote areas. And if Amy’s father has influence in the village (which he does) there certainly would be no investigation.
One day in the United States, Amy and I were watching the show “Judge Joe Brown”. He rules on cases involving unpaid bills, rent due, contracts, etc. While watching the show I asked Amy, “What do they do in Thailand when someone borrows money and does not pay it back?”. Her matter of fact response was, “They kill them” said as calmly as one would talk about brushing their teeth. Not only did that comment give me cause for alarm for my own personal safety but it gave me some insight into the thinking of the Thai mind….That killing is “normal”.
In December of 2006 we returned back down to the south for the 100 day ceremony. In Thailand there is a celebration approximately 100 days after the death. It cannot be held before the 100th day but can be held within a reasonable time after the 100th day. The monks were consulted to determine the best day for the ceremony. The best day (as determined by the monks) was actually the worst day. Amy’s sister in Bangkok could not come because she had to work. Her sister Oi who owned a restaurant in Thung Song held an employee meeting the morning of the ceremony and could not come until late in the ceremony. The restaurant Oi owns is quite successful and there seems to be no reason why she had to have a meeting at that time. The restaurant could have closed and people would have understood. In addition, Wit, Amy’s brother, who works at the restaurant, could not come because Oi made him work. Wit arrived much later. He was very clearly depressed. Was there a reason Oi held the employee meeting the morning of the ceremony? Was it to embarrass or protest against her father?
Prior to the ceremony the monks had to be picked up and taken to the ceremony (which was held inside Amy’s parent’s home). I was to pick up two of the monks, Amy’s father picked up the other two. They were picked up from two different temples. Five and nine are considered lucky numbers in Thailand. This is not like the American lucky number 7. In Thailand 5 and 9 are much more significant. Five monks were supposed to be at the ceremony but only four came. Another bad sign. Was the reason only four monks came the monks way of saying, “bad luck to you for killing your son”? There should have been plenty of monks available. And if you consider that the monks were consulted as to what was the best day for the ceremony, and this was all done far in advance, and there were two temples of monks available. Why did only four monks show up??? Something was not right..
The ceremony took place in Chalee and Manun's home and started with the usual chanting, etc. But Jub (Amy’s brother) was missing.. Even Wan, the sister who was given away, was not there. The only family members present were the father and mother (Chalee and Manun) and Amy, and Eel. Suddenly in the middle of the ceremony Jub appeared. Naked to the waist, he was wrapped in a bath towel. He was barefoot. It so happened that he was in the shower when he heard the ceremony start and than he came out….dressed as he was. It could not have been a more worse day.
And little did I know that when I left to go back to Bangkok, it was the last time I would see my mother and father in law. Amy and I separated forever in April 2007. It was all very very sad.