The Disappearance and Death of Dave Walker
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE DISAPPEARANCE AND THE AD HOC COMMITTEE 'A-TEAM' TO FIND DAVE WALKER: THE INVESTIGATION WEEK ONE
By the second weekend (February 22-23, 2014)of Dave Walker’s unexplained disappearance things began to get urgent and appear much more sinister. We had hoped that Dave would show up with a shit-eating grin on his face and a "What, me worry?" story of why he had suddenly vanished. But that was not happening.
As the eighth day of his disappearance dawned, a Saturday, without a single clue or sighting, with still nobody from the "authorities", Cambodian or Canadian, actively investigating his disappearance, his friends around the world and family in Edmonton came together into several e-mail list “task forces” and began a joint effort to somehow as best we could respond to our friend and colleague's disappearance. We were all Dave's family.
Mats Stromberg designed a 'missing poster' and its printing and distribution was handled by one group, a HELP FIND DAVE WALKER Facebook Group was set up by Dave’s cousin Cathy Moore, the website www.finddavewalker.com was established by Colin Turner and Ronald Edward Turner from Last Gasp Books, the publishers of the recent edition of Hello My Big Big Honey. They were also prepared to post reward money if that route was going to be taken. Alan Parkhouse the publisher of the Phnom Penh Post ensured coverage in its pages. A fund-raising effort was initiated by Lovisa Inserra, a Swedish documentary filmmaker to hire a private investigator she was acquainted with based in Thailand and to deploy him on the ground in Siem Reap as quickly as possible before the trail got even more colder, as it appeared the Cambodians were doing nothing (and the Canadians even less.) I pledged $750 to round her out to $2,000 raised. On the mailing lists were Philip Blenkinsop, Al Rockoff, Peter Lynch, Nate Thayer, Noel Boivin, Terry Korman and a whole lot of other friends and colleagues of Dave's many of whom I had never met, or might not have identified from their e-mail pseudonyms. (My apologies if I have failed to acknowledged you in these pages.)
Caitlin Fisher, a York University professor who supervised Dave's recent graduate work there, made inquiries and lobbied on visits to Ottawa to her connections there. I in the meantime from Toronto pushed the Foreign Affairs Department to urge the Cambodians to not only start investigating Dave's disappearance but to offer them the help of RCMP officers, several of which were stationed in the Bangkok Embassy about a one hour flight away. I updated CSIS on the unusual circumstances behind the disappearance of their asset in the very same territory that was connected to his former tasks with them in Canada.
UNDERSTANDING DAVE WALKER'S DISAPPEARANCE
Our prime premise was that Dave was still alive. This was an urgent rescue operation--not a 'recovery' one. While it was possible that Dave had a medical emergency and local hospitals were being surveyed by friends, the more complex concern was whether Dave was being held prisoner in a kidnapping.
If Dave was still being held alive, maybe there was still time for his return "no questions asked" or even at a price. But as no ransom demands were made, we had to proceed with a vigor and urgency in collecting and sharing information but with a caution and discretion not to spook whoever might be holding Dave, into deciding to kill him and be done with it. It was of utmost importance to understand what had transpired.
The Menu of Scenarios
No ransom had been requested so far, and that suggested a range of very pessimistic scenarios because none of them involved holding Dave to exchange him for something. These scenarios included criminal, personal, political or business related motives or combination of. Except for the 'they are holding Dave to make him do something' scenario, most of these possible scenarios gave little hope that Dave was still alive.
Each of these scenarios called on a carefully organized kidnapping conspiracy, most likely requiring several perpetrators at the same time to subdue Dave in front of or near the hotel or at some place where he was lured to by somebody he trusted. Dave would not have been an easy victim to subdue one on one. On film sets, Dave on a challenge would 'snatch' a prop handgun out of a Toronto Police 'pay duty' officer's hand before he could pull the trigger. It was like watching some kind of fast-motion Steven Seagal. It was Dave's "calling card" on movie shoots or wherever hand-guns were around. He also used to demonstrate a technique of how to take down somebody searching or handcuffing you from a "spread legs and palms out position" cops routinely put suspects in when arresting or searching them. He learned all these techniques in the SAS while serving in Belfast.
The other scenario involved a spontaneous kidnapping as a result of an escalating argument. An unplanned kidnapping afforded also a possibility of Dave being still alive and a "no questions asked" negotiation for his return if the confrontation was somehow cooled by the kidnapping but had not resulted in his being killed.
There was also a scenario that Dave was accidentally hit by a vehicle and the driver took him away, dead or alive, in order to avoid trouble with authorities; especially hitting a foreigner. This too would be a spontaneous disorganized kidnapping and maybe even subject to a "no questions asked" return of Dave still alive if he was only injured.
And these were just the tip of the iceberg that lay beneath Dave's disappearance.
The Khmer Rouge (KR) Scenario
Other possibilities included that Dave's proposed film 'The Poorest Man' about an Oskar Schindler-like Khmer Rouge village chief who used his power to save people was embarrassing and inconvenient to all the former Khmer Rouge killers who were now integrated in Cambodian government and business and were claiming "they had no choice." Dave's The Poorest Man would expose them as liars. At worst his film would perhaps make them fear that they could yet become subject to genocide charges, at best his film would expose them to their business or political rivals who could use their lies against them. Life is cheap in Cambodia. You can get killed for a cigarette.
The problem with the Khmer Rouge scenario was that the KR no longer functions on a formal organizational level--it moves in different ways; it is more of an "old boys" network assimilating into the government bureacracy, other political parties, police, and business--which perhaps even makes it more dangerous. The profile of a KR assassination is typically a shooting from the back of a motorbike--Colombian style. Making Dave "disappear" would have been an ambiguous message if Dave was being "silenced" for proceeding with his documentary.
The Haing Ngor Murder and Los Angeles Cambodian Lazy Boyz Gang "Dicer" Scenario
Dave a month earlier posted an update on his website to an article he originally published in the Phnom Pehn Post about the 1996 murder in Los Angeles of his friend Cambodian actor Haing Ngor by members of the Cambodian Lazy Boyz gang from Long Beach. Entitled "Howls From the Gang Unit" the article inadvertently exposed the identity of a Tiny Rascals gang member currently living in Phnom Pehn by attributing his comments to his street name "Dicer". Dicer had been deported to Cambodia by US authorities and revealed to Dave what he learned of the Haing Ngor murder while incarcerated in the L.A. County Jail Gang Module with the killers. By commenting to Dave, an outside, Dicer violated gang culture that could result in retaliation against his family still living in California. What Dave did not know was that Dicer while playing professional chess under his gang name in Phnom Pehn at the Victory Bar was linked on chess websites to his real name as he was also on another website which includes his photo. Thus Dave's website became a link exposing Dicer and his real identity to his indiscreet remarks to Dave. While this was not Dave's "fault"--he had no intention of exposing Dicer, people have been killed for a lot less in gangland.
Only a thorough police investigation could have even taken at least a look in this direction to see if there was anything to it.
The IRA Scenario
There was even a scenario that Dave bumped into expat retired I.R.A. insurgents who killed him as payback for his having served in the controversial British Army urban reconnaissance unit in Belfast during The Troubles. Of course, if that was the case, one would think there was a pyramid sky high of murdered ex-British veterans if I.R.A. retirees were taking them down in vengeance for everything the British had perpetrated in Ireland.
What we knew
One thing we universally agreed on was that Dave's disappearance did not involve a 'domestic' personal issue: there was no girlfriend (or boyfriend) or domestic conflicts. Dave had been flying solo since his divorce from Praiwan in the mid-1990s and was living alone in Cambodia. In the time I knew Dave, when it came to women he was virtually a monk. It was uncanny because Dave was often surrounded by women who cared for him.
THE AD HOC 'A-TEAM' TO FIND DAVE WALKER COMES TOGETHER
An ad hoc joint investigation and rescue committee was formed by a group of friends and acquaintances, including myself, drawing on our own skills, experience and available contacts. Among Dave's friends were investigative journalists, war photographers, private investigators, former spooks, travelers, smugglers, 'contractors', adventurers and other assorted talents for navigating through wild places in dangerous times. There was even a World War II veteran of O.S.S. operations in Burma against the Japanese who pitched in to help.
I joined on as Dave's personal friend of 25 years and as an experienced investigative historian specializing in serial homicide. I held a Ph.d. in criminal justice history from University of Toronto and prior to that I worked fifteen years as an undercover field operative in investigative television news and documentary productions in places like South Africa, Russia and Chechnya. As the author of a definitive history of serial homicide and its investigation I was familiar with the principles of profiling behavior, geographic profiling, investigation of kidnapped and missing persons and other police procedure and investigative techniques related to serial homicide investigations.
Working all together and sharing our resources and
information, this team made for a formidable force of investigative
talent, skills, resources and experience. An A-Team for Dave. Dave
was one of our own and we were going to do everything in our power to
find Dave, and together we could do it.
The weekend of February 22-23 unfolded in multiple time zones as Dave’s friends were
spread around the globe. My own zone in Toronto Canada was twelve hours
behind Cambodia and two hours ahead of Edmonton where Dave’s cousin
Tammy Madon lived.
Dave had literally walked out the gate and "vanished into thin air" as the cliché goes.
I had my own "professional" investigative concerns about the lack of response from the authorities but you did not have to be a Ph.d. to know that the longer authorities waited, the colder Dave's trail would get. This was not being investigated the way urgent missing persons cases are. Dave's disappearance needed to be investigated as urgently as that of a missing child.
Dave's hotel room had not been sealed as a potential crime scene. His laptop remained in his room. His cell phone was in Sonny Chhoun's custody as of Sunday February 16. Not only had Sonny made entry into the room but at least one other person had persuaded management to allow them into Dave's room and search it, a blogger in Cambodia who goes under the name LTO (LTO Cambodia: A barang in the Land of the Khmer http://ltocambodia.blogspot.ca/). Dave's room was not under police seal.
No investigator armed with Dave's was canvassing the area of his disappearance in a search of witnesses. No statements were being collected from the hotel staff or the Five Sons staff. Eight days later, tourist witness who might have seem Dave, could have already left the country days ago, migrant workers in the area moved on. Witnesses forget the day when they saw what they saw, the longer it takes to get their statement. (Although Dave disappearing on Valentine's Day could have been a helpful memory hook.)
Nobody had walked the area as a crime scene where Dave disappeared, to survey it if there were any signs or evidence of a kidnapping, accident, confrontation, dropped items. Dave was skilled in martial arts and if anybody attempted to force him into a vehicle there would be signs of "blood and fur." But was he forced or lured?
Dave's water bottle, the one he was seen leaving his room with in particular obsessed me. Where did the water bottle end up? With Dave? Or did it become separated from Dave and when and where. We needed to follow the bottle as we looked for Dave. If Dave got into a vehicle with somebody he knew or trusted he would have kept the bottle with him, but if he was ambushed and forced, then likely he dropped the bottle at the scene (unless he used it as an improvised weapon) and even so, in the end he would have dropped it once he was subdued. During the survey, there would be an eye out for a capped bottle still filled with water lying among the trash on the roadside or in a ditch, with Dave's DNA on it or perhaps even the assailants too.. But now eight days later recycling scavengers would have long likely picked the roadside clean of plastic. Nonetheless, I tried desperately to get somebody in Siem Reap to just take a shot and look:
A person in Siem Reap had kindly volunteered to take photographs for me of the area where Dave disappeared and surveyed the road if perhaps there were any security cameras in view. There were not.
It was like investigating by remote control. Very few of us if any were actually in Siem Reap. A few were as close as Phnom Penh. Some in Bangkok.
In the meantime, our joint A-Team to find Dave Walker began doing what we can in solving the mystery. We first turned to the center of the universe of everything that we had been told happened on the day Dave Walker disappeared, our source of the known timeline, Sonny Chhoun, Dave's recent business partner. Sonny was in Siem Reap. And Sonny had Dave's cell phone and its call logs and he was now feeding us the information he claimed he had found on it.
Our reliance on Sonny troubled me. Everybody who had previous contact with him vouched for his good character but I had not met him. I had nothing for or against Sonny. I did not know him. I was objective but suspicious of the business partner. And I was not the only one suspicious of Sonny. Over the previous year many of Dave's friends had heard about the "chicken farm" endeavor and thought it strange. Things did not add up. Premium priced organic chickens in Cambodia? But that was Dave... Sonny on the other hand was an unknown factor in this "chicken farm" story.
In the end my advice was to leave Sonny in the loop and follow up on his information and see where it leads. If Sonny really was a true friend of Dave's then he would be of essential help; if on the other hand Sonny was feeding us misinformation to cover his own role in Dave's disappearance, then the more he inserted himself into the investigation, the better the chance that he would eventually make a mistake and expose himself.
Facebook Conversation with Tammy Madon
(Continued p. 2)
Wed, Feb 19. Tammy Madon told me on the phone that the RCMP had been "calling around" looking for her but did not leave a number to call back.2/19, 9:56 pm
Hi Tammy, did you get a chance to talk to the RCMP... any sense who called them in -- or what they might be thinking?
2/19, 10:26 pm
No. They couldn't figure out who was trying to contact me
2/19, 9:56 pm
So the RCMP were not able to find you here in Canada at home? That says how much help they are going to be. I am on Edmonton CBC Radio first thing tomorrow morning at 6:10 -- if you hear anything in the next few hours let me know here. I will check before I go on air. I am going to bed soon here.
Also Tammy, if the RCMP do end up finding you and you talk with them. The scenario that everybody jumps to first is that Dave worried some Khmer Rouge perpetrator that he might be exposed and he did something to Dave. It is plausible, and many might rush to this conclusion.
I am very wary of Sonny, Dave's partner.
Everything we know, and everything the Cambodian Police know, is based on Sonny's statements. I have messaged him on his Facebook page about where Dave's laptop and cell phone is currently and he has not responded. Dave apparently sunk $20,000 into a chicken farm, and my bet is that Dave's name as a non-citizen is not on the deed.
To us this maybe a dirt farm with no electricity -- in Cambodia this is Shangra-la. Everybody over there is warm and fuzzy on Sonny, he has a good reputation, etc. I never met him, so I cannot say.
The thing is, what happened to Dave does not appear to be a Khmer Rouge style. They just roll up on somebody on a motorbike and shoot them. Dave it seems like got into a vehicle with somebody he knew and trusted. We don't even know if anybody has walked the route there to see if there is a minimum sign of a struggle - a shoe, a water bottle with Dave's fingerprint.
If you talk with the RCMP urge them to have the Cambodian police look very closely at Dave's business partner. I hate to say it, because everybody is saying Sonny is working really hard in looking for Dave, and beating the bushes everywhere for him and is very upset -- but I don't care. Sonny needs to be looked at carefully. And right now, he is the "go-to" guy on the scene.
This is between me and you, although I have in less frank terms hinted to Richard Erlich the same thing. I also sense it between the lines from several journalists... they linger just a little longer on the "business partner." Statistically speaking, when you get hurt, it is usually by somebody close to you, either personally or professionally. I just find it odd that Sonny in his search of Dave has not checked into his Facebook, since this is all being run on Facebook.
2/19, 11:10 pm
You know I thought the same thing. As soon as this all started I tried to friend Sonny so I could see if he could shed light on this. He had not responded and there had been no contact from Sonny to me or anyone . This is very odd. I assumed though that he may be out of cell phone area.
I agree. Is there any way we can get the police to investigate him?
2/19, 11:24 pm
That's why we need Foreign Affairs to be in closer touch with you -- so that you can run something by them like that. Have you thought of maybe phoning the official in Bangkok whose name has been in the press as speaking for the Embassy there on Dave? They are twelve hours ahead of us, its 11:30 AM there. Goose them on the laptop and cell phone, Dave's things, etc. For God's sake, you are the next of kin, should they not be talking with you at least once a day...
2/19, 11:40 pm
Yes you would think they should. I'm going to call again in a few min. As soon as I have more news Ill let you know
So I was able to talk to someone at Canadian Foreign Affairs and he said I need to call the Councillor Case Officer for South East Asia in the morning. He could not release info to me yet but will be able to after I speak to the Councillor
2/19, 11:54 pm
Thanks -- I'll keep spinning the story on radio tomorrow how this is a mystery and we are all urgently waiting for Foreign Affairs to tell us something - anything.
Tammy! I just thought of one more thing. Try calling the hotel Dave was staying at. Surely they must know the most, being right at ground zero where this is happening.
2/19, 11:56 pm
Good idea. Ok thank you