The Disappearance and Death of Dave Walker
THE INVESTIGATION WEEK ONE (Continued): The Augmented Cambodian, the Hunt for Salao Mao, Keswick, Ontario and the Strangest Thing Dave Ever Did.
As our ad hoc crisis-management investigative 'A-team' began to jointly work through the weekend of February 22-23, 2014, the second weekend of Dave's disappearance, there was a palpable split developing between some of Dave's friends who were ex-pat "South East Asia" hands, and those like myself who were not. There was a certain rhyme and reason to this. Certainly while based in Toronto my usefulness in investigating Dave Walker's disappearance in Siem Reap (which I had not even learned how to spell correctly at this point) promised to be as useful as 'tits on a bull.' I was not expecting to be doing any investigating at all, and focused on trying to marshal and wrangle the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department to pressure the Cambodians to investigate and/or invite Canadian investigators into Cambodian jurisdiction (to waive their own exclusive jurisdiction) as in the way the Cambodians had recently done for France, when it requested to participate in the investigation of its citizens found dead in Cambodia recently. (https://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives/french-judge-to-investigate-death-of-family-10924/ ). But so far, nobody from the authorities was doing anything. Period.
While I had not been to Cambodia or anywhere in South East Asia, I had worked in berserk 'war zones' comparable to Cambodia. I had a grasp on how a place like Cambodia was not going to be anything like North America. I also from experience working in places like Chechnya knew how frustrating it was to be "in the field" dealing with morons safely at home in New York or Toronto or London or Ottawa or Washington at "head office." Now I was sitting in a "head office" myself in Toronto 12 time zones away from Cambodia, a moron myself, thus my immediate tendency was to defer to the "people in the field."
"Please Don't Eat My Liver"
Richard S. Ehrlich in Bangkok, Thailand was not exactly "in the field" but close enough. Ehrlich essentially managed the search for Dave, acting as a "dispatcher" on several e-mail groups, including a small investigative group and kept us updated on news as it arrived and shared information on what became a "need to know" basis.
We had to proceed with extreme caution in order not make Dave's situation worse, not to 'spook' his kidnappers if they were still holding him into hurting him more or killing him. We believed--(at least I did)--that Dave was still alive.
Dave was the ultimate moving target survivor subscriber--if anybody had the chances in their favor of surviving captivity, then it was going to be Dave Walker. (Dave used to joke that his favorite first phrase to learn when studying Khmer was, "Please don't eat my liver." The way Dave's handgun snatching technique was a 'calling card' on movie sets, that phrase was Dave's calling card among the guerrillas. Dave's odds of surviving captivity were going to be better than average. While at the age of fifty-eight Dave's physicals grappling skills were no longer at their peak, mentally he would have been at his best prepared for anything. In the end, surviving is all about the mental overcoming the physical; plus luck and friends looking for you.
I was privy to all essential developing information on Dave's disappearance. The investigative group I belonged to consisted of approximately eight people moderated by Richard Ehrlich. Tammy Madon as Dave Walker's legal next of kin and power of attorney was a member of this group. Nate Thayer was a member. Sonny Chhoun was privy to some of the correspondence and generated some of it, although we often proceeded with caution with him for obvious reasons. Again, our major concern was that Dave was alive and being held prisoner and to proceed in a way that would expedite his rescue while mitigating worsening his captivity or endangering his life.
We chose to act on the information that Sonny Chhoun was furnishing us. At that point we had absolutely no other source of information trickling in; Sonny was our only source, and whether we could trust him or not, we were obligated to at least act on the information he was providing and see where it led. The discrepancies that later emerged in Sonny's story had not yet surfaced to our attention. As I had argued to the group, if Sonny was somehow behind the disappearance of Dave, the more he interacted with us, the greater chance there was he would make a mistake and expose himself. Real life is not like TV where some "mastermind" can mislead and misdirect an investigation forever. On the other hand, if Sonny was indeed the friend that Dave deserved, then perhaps he would be of vital importance in our finding Dave. It was a win/win scenario either way. I argued we should hope for the best in Sonny, but prepare for the worst. I had never met Sonny, I had no preconceived notion about him, other than the statistical possibility that as a business partner he would have to be thoroughly investigated sooner or later, no matter what. I owed Dave Walker not to trust Sonny no matter what until Dave was to be found.
Sonny Chhoun's Accusations
Sonny claimed that when he persuaded the hotel to give him Dave's cell phone on Sunday, February 16, that he began going through the call logs and discovered that the last numbers were to and from Chandy "Andy" Long, a reputed Cambodian-Canadian criminal figure in Siem Reap's underworld (and a colonel in the Military Police), and from Long's 'gofer' and driver, Salao Mao, who also was a Cambodian-Canadian, an artist and a personal friend of Dave's who apparently introduced Dave to Long about nine or ten months previously.
According to Sonny, Dave had met with Long and Salao and Tori Green on Wednesday, February 12 to further a discussion of possible investors from Indonesia being introduced by Long to Dave (presumably for a finder's fee.) This was plausible. For as long as I knew Dave he was always chasing the mythical "film investors" who inevitably were from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia. He was always on the way to meet them in Toronto at some airport bar. Dave's very last private message to me on Facebook was on December 13, 2013, two months before he vanished: "We are getting more financial interest in The Poorest Man, so, hopefully we will soon be in pre-production and casting. Indonesia figures prominently, strangely enough."
Sonny stated that he had called the phone numbers in the log using Dave's phone but nobody picked up. When he tried the same numbers later from his own phone, Sonny claimed, Salao Mao picked up. Sonny found it suspicious that despite receiving calls from Dave's cell phone, when asked by Sonny if he heard from Dave, Salao said he had not. Moreover, Salao who was a close friend of Dave's, did not seem concerned to Sonny about Dave's apparent disappearance under such mysterious circumstances. Sonny reported that Salao was now on the run. Sonny told us he was putting together a posse to chase down Salao, who apparently was now trying to get his Canadian passport renewed, which had expired over the duration of his several year stay in Cambodia. [e-mail Feb. 22 ]
The Augmented Cambodian
Nobody knew who Salao Mao was. In fact, in Dave's cell phone, his number had been entered under "sao lao." I sat watching helplessly from Toronto as the investigation quickly turned to chase down this lead that Sonny offered up. There was little I could do here I felt, and essentially I had to yield to the South East Asia hands over there, who were closer to the situation. But that would suddenly change.
I thought it might be a futile thing, but I ran the name Salao Mao on Google just to see what would happen. There was hit! It lead straight to a three-part YouTube video called The Augmented Cambodian that Dave had posted in December 2009. The video was part of Dave's Masters program in Augmented Media at York University and its subject was Salao Mao!
I watched the video but nothing seemed of any
significance to me until I came to the third part and this image of
Salao Mao came up.
The Strangest Thing I Saw Dave Walker Do
Dave was eccentric. Our friendship thrived on each other's eccentricities. Dave did a lot of things that would appear "strange" to people in the nine-to-five 'straight' world. I did not live a nine-to-five world either, as I imagine many of Dave's friends did not. But the strangest thing I can remember Dave ever doing, was buying a house in the late 1990s in Keswick, Ontario.
It never made sense. Firstly, Dave was not big on owning property or being an "investor." Secondly, he had no plans to settle and live in Ontario. He spent time here from spring to mid-autumn working lucrative gigs as a union teamster (driver) on Hollywood movies being shot in Toronto before taking off for the winter to Thailand and later Cambodia. Thirdly, had Dave ever decided to buy a house to live in, it would not be in Keswick, a typically sterile sub-suburban recently built bedroom community housing development about 75 minutes north of Toronto. This was not "Dave Walker country." This was a nightmare suburban landscape totally alien to what Dave was into.
When Dave told me he bought this house, he never quite adequately explained why. The sense I got from him was this was a good place for him to "park" some of the money he was earning in the movie business, and that part made sense. I thought, perhaps Dave is taking a mature look at his future and is beginning in his late forties-early fifties contemplating straight world financial planning (as I was beginning to, being of the same age and professional temperament as Dave.) Dave never appeared to live in that house, and indeed, all of his work was in Toronto and during the period he owned the house he lived in a small basement apartment in a bungalow off Lakeshore Road in New Toronto on the west side of the city. We had planned going out one day to Keswick to see his house, but never got around to it. Between 1997 and 2000 I was working away from Canada overseas and did not see Dave much except for the few times I visited home, but Dave would tell me he still had the house. It was so unlike Dave. So strange. And somewhere in 2002 or 2003, Dave suddenly told me that he sold the house and "took his money out." And that was that. We never talked about the house again.
Now seeing "Keswick" under Salao Mao's name in Dave's video, just absolutely floored me! Was this just some odd coincidence that the "suspect" that Sonny Chhoun was accusing, had a connection to Keswick? Was there a connection to the house itself? Was there some kind of "money" connection between Dave and Salao? Often 'following the money' is a key to explaining many things, including disappearances and murders. In the meantime, Sonny's posse hunt for Salao Mao seemed to be going nowhere. There were no progress reports, no status, no news, nothing. What happened with the posse we wanted to know?
"When a tiger comes, you must make a lot of noise or the tiger will come to you."
I decided I would take a shot from Toronto at flushing out Salao Mao and this Keswick link, especially since Keswick was seventy-five miles away from where I was. Without making any kind of accusations, I posted the above image of Salao Mao on the first FIND DAVE WALKER FACEBOOK GROUP that was set up by Dave Walker's cousin Cathy Moore. The context of the image, was here is a video by Dave. There was nothing posted that we were now "hunting" for Salao, but in the text I posted a message containing a quote of Salao's that appeared in the video, which I hoped would "flush" Salao into the open. The caption I posted read, "Salao Mao, the artist in Dave Walker's 'The Augmented Cambodian", recent photo taken in Keswick, Ontario: "When a tiger comes, you must make a lot of noise or the tiger will come to you."
Within a minute I got a ping on Facebook from one of Salao Mao's daughters living here in Canada, "Hey, that's my dad." She confirmed that they had all lived at one time in Dave's house in Keswick. It was not a coincidence. I remember also a deep feeling of sadness coming over me, because at that moment I believed that Salao might indeed be involved in Dave's disappearance and now his daughter, who was very fond of "Uncle Dave" and concerned about his disappearance, just inadvertently might have incriminated her own father in his disappearance. It was heartbreaking. At the same time, however, I had to suppress such feelings, as Dave was still missing, and we could not afford to get 'emotional.' Everyone had to be looked at, including Salao Mao... and including Sonny.
The "Brothers": Salao Mao and Dave Walker
If I had met Salao Mao in Toronto, I did not remember him from among the many Cambodian friends of Dave's I had met. When I first met Dave in the early 1990s he was driving a VW 'hippie' bus that was spectacularly painted with a jungle scene by Salao. That I remembered. It turned heads when Dave drove by. Praiwan, Dave's Thai ex-wife when she heard that Sonny was accusing Salao of having something to do with Dave's disappearance immediately dismissed the idea, saying, "Never. Dave and Salao were like brothers. Salao would never hurt Dave." And indeed, Dave was "Uncle Dave" to Salao's daughters, Dave was a frequent guest at family events, and everybody who knew them said, the same thing that Praiwan said, "They are like brothers. Salao would never hurt Dave." A few more life-experienced friends, said, "Salao would never intentionally hurt Dave."
The same way I did not really know Sonny and had no feeling either way about him, I felt nothing about Salao Mao; I had no feelings for him and no feeling against him. I could sincerely claim, I was objective about both Sonny and Salao. But just as there were things that nagged at me about Sonny, there were things that nagged me about Salao, beyond just the strange Keswick 'coincidence.' Firstly, Salao had not that long ago tumbled into a mid-life crisis, left his Cambodian wife of many years living in Canada and his family, and returned to Cambodia to perhaps "start again." There the middle-aged Salao fell for a beautiful young Cambodian woman. In my professional opinion as an investigative historian of homicide, middle-aged men in love with young women, especially 'high maintenance' young women, are capable of doing anything for love, including not only killing their best friend "brother" but even their own children. It is not unknown. Therefore whatever Dave and Salao had in Toronto, could be meaningless now. Secondly, even if Salao did not "deliberately" have anything to do with Dave's disappearance, considering the nature of Sonny Chhoun's accusations, nothing precluded Salao from having introduced Dave to his alleged gangster boss Chandy "Andy" Long with the intention of helping Dave finance his film and upon things going wrong, perhaps witnessing what happened to Dave. If Dave was dead, and Salao Mao had witnessed that, he was now trapped between his friendship to Dave (who might now be dead) and his loyalty to his boss Chandy Long.
Richard Ehrlich: "Because I have now been told we should not..."
The moment I confirmed Salao Mao's identity and an actual link to the house that Dave strangely owned in Keswick, I fired off a report to the investigative group, accompanied with pictures of Salao Mao that nobody had and a confirmation of his exact name and relationship to Dave and the weird connection in Keswick.
Richard Ehrlich responded with an e-mail that surprisingly stated,
Could you also please *erase* any mention of *Salao Mao* because i have now been told that we should not make it publicly known on facebook or email or among the public or even the angels that we know that is the name of the guy who we were earlier calling *sao lao*. that seems to be one of the biggest things -- keeping that name out of public domain entirely while they search it themselves instead of having others who will make him aware of being looked for. (e-mail, Ehrlich to Vronsky, Feb. 23, 2014)
Again, my tendency at that stage of Dave's disappearance was to yield to the guys I believed were investigating in the field without debating or arguing. I immediately pulled the posting as was asked. There were many urgent things happening at that moment and I did not feel this was the time to 'second guess' Ehrlich's dispatch or even ask him who exactly "told" him not to make this public so that "they search it themselves instead of having others...". I assumed it was somebody in the field looking for Dave, not somebody like me several thousand miles away half way around the globe.
But I did not like this turn in the investigation. Salao already knew he was being hunted, after all Sonny had put a number of calls to him and he apparently was on the run. The wise thing to do would be to spread his picture and name around and get as many people as possible to start chasing him down and flush him out. This was especially important if Dave was still alive, to let both Salao Mao and his boss Chandy "Andy" Long know that we were "on to them" and that if Dave was still alive, their future would be better if Dave remained that way. If Dave was already dead, I could not care less if we 'spooked' them into hiding. What I wanted to ensure, was that if Dave was still alive, that they knew we knew who they were. They were not going to be able to cover their tracks by simply killing Dave. It had to be clear to them that it was too late to kill Dave and if they had Dave alive, better for them to negotiate a "no questions asked" return, maybe even take a "rescue reward."
I did not realize it at the time, but Richard Ehrlich was no longer in control of the investigation. Maybe he never was. He was taking instructions from somebody else on how to proceed.
Cancelling Dave Walker's ATM Card [Updated March 10,2015]
Ehrlich now further eroded my confidence in him when upon hearing Sonny's new claims that Dave was now being held prisoner so that his bank account could be drained, Ehrlich advised Tammy to immediately cancel Dave's ATM Card. (Richard Ehrlich to Tammy Madon, e-mail, February 22, 2014) This was a foolish thing to advise. If Dave was being held alive to drain his bank account, of what use was Dave going to be to his captors once his card is cancelled? It is rudimentary knowledge when somebody disappears while travelling, you never cancel their ATM Card. It might be the only thing keeping them alive and sometimes the only thing that can still provide a link to a disappeared person. What's a few thousand lost dollars compared to Dave's life? But Tammy Madon, as a bank employee, had already expeditiously frozen Dave's ATM Card without Ehrlich's sage advice before anybody could stop her on February 20, two days earlier. (Madon to Vronsky, e-mail, Feb. 20, 2014)
When Caitlin Fisher heard that Dave's ATM Card was cancelled by Tammy, I could hear her voice sink in despair, "of course, poor Tammy in Edmonton could not know any better. You never cancel an ATM Card of a person in trouble when travelling." Not wanting to be divisive or lay blame, I did not mention this had also been the 'expert' advice being dispensed by Richard Ehrlich.
As all this was happening, in the meantime, the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok had stirred and on that second weekend since Dave's disappearance, a vice-consul flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap to look into Dave's strange disappearance.
Facebook Conversation with Tammy Madon
(Continued p. 3)
2/22, 7:17 pm
Tammy, I go back to work on Monday after having this week free. Perhaps we should talk on the phone Sunday evening to sum up any priorities you think we should address in the upcoming week, as I get locked into a lecture hall away from phones or e-mail. It might be quicker for us to talk on the phone. Okay to call you Sunday evening tomorrow? Hopefully you might have more news as well by tomorrow night.
Yes. Hopefully. I spoke to a person named Nate Thayer. He knows Dave and has given me some good contacts. He has helped search for others missing in Cambodia. He also gave me a list of questions to ask and demand answers from the Canadian government officials. Hopefully I will get somewhere
2/23, 1:57 am
Hopefully yes. I tried submitting the tips we collected to the Consul in Siem Reap, but she has still not responded to my e-mail.
Tammy I am losing track of all these players, but we need the police doing this, not me Mr. Amateur detective trying to persuade the daughter to give her father up... this is sickening. The conversation taking place under the Saloa Mao photo on HELP SAVE DAVE WALKER.