Last week I discussed the way writers, among others, can gather up unconnected events, people and things and find an underlying theme that binds them together. The mental process involved also explains the infatuation with shamans, gurus, fortunetellers, palm readers and crystal ball gazers. Those who claim access to the hidden forces of the universe in the coupling of unrelated events that lends them a magical quality and promises success in love and business.
It can also be a good term to examine a police case.
Last week in Bangkok, the police received a complaint that hotel guest had heard the sound of ‘ghostly’ babies crying from a room. That’s right: babies. Not just one baby crying. The police immediately dispatched their ghost buster unit to investigate. It might seem strange that the police would rush to a hotel because someone heard babies crying. Babies are known to cry. At any given time, there must be thousands of crying babies in Thailand. Some of them may even sound ghostly.
But in this case, the ‘ghostly’ crying babies launched something not unlike a ghost busting SWAT team to the scene.
The Crying Baby Unit discovered the hotel guest wasn’t in the room where the reported crying had been heard. They couldn’t hear ‘ghostly’ crying babies either. The babies had apparently stopped crying or maybe there was a more sinister reason. Not satisfied they had an adequate answer, the police returned to the hotel several hours later. This time they found a British national, a twenty-eight-year-old ethnic Chinese man named Choe Hok Kuen, in room 301. (That could be a ‘lucky’ number for those who connect numbers associated with accidents, deaths, suicides and other misadventures with the number on lotto tickets.)
The police search earlier hadn’t turned up one crying baby that sounded like a ghost. Not even a non-ghostly crying baby could be heard. Hotel rooms tend to be small in size. I imagined the police looked around the room, maybe knelt down and had a look under the bed, checked out the bathroom. They found no sign of a baby, crying or otherwise. Room 301 was baby clean. But there was something new to search this time. Mr. Choe’s shoulder bag became the focus of attention. Inside, like in a good mystery, was a key to another hotel.
One of the police must have reasoned, “Could the suspect have stashed the crying babies in another room, in another hotel?”
There was only one way to find out. The police escorted Mr. Choe to the second hotel.
The police likely tossed the second room looking for crying babies and had no more luck than in Mr. Choe’s first room. Someone decided it would be a good idea if Mr. Choe opened his luggage. Just to be on the safe side as that was the only place left they hadn’t search for crying babies. After all, they did find a key in his shoulder bag. The MO of this criminal suspect was to keep incriminating evidence in some kind of a bag.
Instead of a crying baby, the police discovered as they opened Mr. Choe’s luggage, according to the Bangkok Post, “six fetuses wrapped in gold leaf and tied with religious threads.”
Rather than a crying baby, the police announced, “I believe it’s the world’s first body snatcher bust involving the commercial trade in fetuses,”
Following this investigative coup, the police interrogated Mr. Choe about the six dead babies in his luggage. He confessed to the police that he was a Master of Witchcraft. He didn’t say which university had conferred the master’s degree or if it was done through a correspondence course at a polytech in the East Midlands. Mr. Choe said he also had a website where he offered black magic and divination services, which could be ordered as easily as biscuits and a cup of tea from room service.
After Mr. Choe’s promotional and marketing statement was recorded, the police steered the conversation back to the six fetuses in his luggage. He must have raised an eyebrow and stared at them as if only a child could ask such a silly question. The babies—called kumarn thong (‘golden baby’ in Thai)—were essential elements in a black magic ritual. And he sometimes sold one or two fetuses to believers who wanted one for home ritual use. He bragged he sold one for a million dollars. It always comes down to money.
This hadn’t been Mr. Choe’s first time on shopping expeditions for kumarn thong. Since 2007, he’d been shopping in Thailand 16 times for dead babies. The police speculated Mr. Choe’s supply chain likely led to abortion clinics. An investigation is being launched to determine which clinics might be in the fetus selling racket.
Returning to the beginning of this essay, the market for kumarn thong is a classic example of apophenia. The gold leaf, the religious threads, Khmer writing on the dead babies—all unconnected items are vested with a magical über-connection empowering a person to succeed in business and love. This is the kind of connection that requires ‘faith’ or ‘belief’. It is without any testable foundation. Not experiment can confirm or deny the claims. It stands outside of science, logic or reason.
It is at the mad, extreme end of superstitious end of human belief systems. Who doesn’t wish for success in business and love? The answer—there are enough rich people willing to believe that a dead baby, a shaman, and a ritual will bring such success to keep Mr. Choe returning to Thailand 16 times in five years.
As for Mr. Choe, he faces charges of concealing human corpses, and could face up to one year in prison and a 2,000-baht fine. Only our black magic ghost story doesn’t end here. The six fetuses found in Mr. Choe’s room have been stored in the evidence cabinet at Plabpachai Police Station. A women police made an offering of red Fanta soda and yoghurt. Afterwards, several police officers at the station claim to have heard a whispering voice “the white chubby lady is very kind.” Stay tune for a follow up report as to whether the ghostly whispering and crying is next heard in the courtroom as part of the testimony in this case.