The Disappearance and Death of Dave Walker:
THE INVESTIGATION WEEK ONE Part 5(Continued): Hiring and Firing the Private Investigator
As described in the previous pages, during the second weekend of Dave Walker's disappearance his friends formed a number of e-mail task groups, threads all moderated by Richard Ehrlich in Bangkok who acted as our dispatcher and 'assignment editor.' (See Page 5) The e-mail groups were layered by different tasks with a smaller investigative core group of approximately 8 people, including myself, Nate Thayer, Tammy Madon and Richard Ehrlich again as its moderator. This group was privy to most e-mails, even from groups that we were not actively contributing to or participating in. Eventually this group was restricted to four people: Tammy Madon, Dave's cousin and next of kin (NOK); Richard Ehrlich, Nate Thayer and myself, Peter Vronsky
Proposal to Hire A Private Investigator and Deploy Him in Cambodia
One of these e-mail thread groups was dealing with a proposal from Lovisa Inserra, a US-based Swedish filmmaker with experience in South East Asia and a friend of Dave Walker who she had met while developing a film project in Thailand.
Lovisa was as concerned as I was that no competent professional investigation was under way, other than our own investigative-journalist amateur joint effort. (See Page 5) As we waited in vain for the Cambodians to begin an official investigation, or for Canadian investigators to deploy from the Canadian Embassy, or perhaps even a joint INTERPOL investigative platform invoked, as that second weekend of February 22-23 approached since Dave disappeared, Lovisa proposed that we hire a professional private investigator and operative to help us with boots on the ground before Dave's trail got even colder. He had been missing now for a week.
We needed a person who was familiar with Cambodia, spoke Khmer, had contacts in Cambodia with the Cambodian Police and military and who could if necessary "operate" beyond an investigative capacity if it turned out that Dave was being held prisoner. We needed a combination of investigator - rescue specialist - and military contractor to assess the situation on the ground.
Not only did Lovisa Inserra organize and manage a crowd-funding campaign to raise the money necessary to hire and cover the expenses of such a professional, but she also had one in mind with whom she had previous experience while working in Thailand.
To my regret now, while I monitored this e-mail discussion and pledged some funds for the hiring of the investigator, I was too involved that weekend in hunting the "suspect" furnished to us by Sonny (See Page 6). I was essentially trying to push the Canadian government to make Dave's disappearance a priority and strategically overseeing the investigative effort with Tammy Madon from Canada while Richard Ehrlich oversaw and coordinated it tactically in the field from Bangkok, Thailand. As long as I was in Canada, I hesitated to micromanage anything overseas and did my best to stand back from tactical "field issues" such as, for example, whom to hire, to go into Siem Reap to investigate Dave's disappearance. That I thought would be best overseen by Richard Ehrlich and a few other people in Thailand and Cambodia nearest to the field. But I kept abreast of the discussion in the group as it occurred.
Peter Slade of Asia Risk Management
Lovisa Inserra had proposed that we immediately engage a Thailand-based former military contractor and private investigator to survey the scene of Dave's disappearance: Peter Slade of Asia Risk Management.
In the absence of any other professional investigation under way at the time, Peter Slade seemed like a perfect candidate to deploy into Cambodia to look into Dave's disappearance He was based in Thailand an hour's flight away and had experience training Cambodian military personnel and had extensive contacts in the country. He spoke Khmer fluently and over the last fifteen years had been involved in a number of kidnapping cases, murder investigations and fugitive searches in Cambodia. A former Vietnam War veteran and mercenary in Africa and the Seychelles, an undercover operative and recently a military contractor in Iraq, Slade had also served a five year prison sentence in Australia on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. In other words, Peter Slade had precisely the credentials needed to move effortlessly on both sides of the law, inside and out of the murky underworld state of Cambodia in a search for Dave Walker.
Like us, Peter Slade had no information to go on other than what Sonny Chhoun, Dave's business partner, had been feeding us. (See Page 6.) Slade made no promises but offered to fly into Siem Reap, survey the location of Dave's disappearance, poll his contacts and informants in Cambodia and attempt to identify potential witnesses who might yield some clue as to what actually happened to Dave before proposing a plan of action if he thought one to be viable. It seemed a reasonable proposal no strings attached.
Could we trust Peter Slade?
The world of private investigators, military contractors, hostage and kidnap negotiators and bag men is obviously a treacherous one, filled with thieves, incompetents and con men and empty promises, and so it was natural for many to be skeptical and suspicious.
Although Lovisa had personally met Peter Slade and vouched for him, there were suggestions from the more seasoned South East Asia hands that Lovisa was too inexperienced and too sweetly naive to assess Peter Slade's credentials. It was decided that a more experienced member of the group based in Thailand would contact Slade and check him out. Alan Dawson was chosen for the task, a Canadian-born Vietnam War veteran who after his tour of duty remained in Vietnam as the Saigon Bureau Chief for the UPI wire service. He was in Saigon when it fell in 1975 and remained in Vietnam covering its skirmishes with China in 1979. Dawson eventually settled in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is an editor with the Bangkok Post. He was a personal friend of Dave Walker and with a lifetime of experience in South East Asia he had a highly tuned sense for detecting any kind of bullshit.
Dawson contacted Slade and spoke with him. Afterwards Dawson reported:
Peter Slade proposed to fly in for a day from Phuket where he was based to Bangkok, on Monday afternoon of February 24, and meet in person with Richard Ehrlich, Alan Dawson and whoever else could attend at the FCCT (Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand). The purpose was to have a 'meet and greet' between everybody concerned with Dave's disappearance and a "brainstorming" session on the best possible course of action to consider. This would be a preliminary meeting and we were under no obligation to retain Slade beyond this one day.
Considering nobody really competent or trustworthy was actually investigating Dave's disappearance in the field at the that moment, Peter Slade's proposal seemed to be a very low-risk but potentially high-yield option to invest in. Just getting Dave's friends in Bangkok all into one room, especially with our communications dispatcher and group coordinator Richard Ehrlich, I thought was great idea. And Peter Slade would provide a fresh prospective, perhaps ask a question that nobody else though to ask... seemed to me like a very low risk option in every way. At worst a few hours lost. As Dawson had said, it "certainly can't hurt." It was a 'no brainer' to bring Slade in for a day.
I would do that for Dave without a second thought.
But as that weekend approached the proposal seemed inexplicably stalled. No actual critical objections were being made. It was as if some invisible mute malevolent troll in the background was poisoning everything. It made no sense. For no explicable reason, no decision was being made. Frustrated Lovisa Inserra in an e-mail called on all of us for an urgent decision on the proposal, so that it could be confirmed with Peter Slade in time for him to be able to make a meeting in Bangkok on Monday. As it was, that Monday was going to be ten days since Dave disappeared and nobody serious was looking for him.
Lovisa Inserra had not only found an investigator for us, and raised the financing to engage him, but now proceeded to organize the meeting scheduled to take place with him in Bangkok on Monday, trying to wrangle as many of Dave's friends and associates in the region to attend the schedule brainstorming session.
Stopping the investigator: "as you can imagine, i am not the one to be deciding any of this"
And then things suddenly got very weird! Peter Slade was inexplicably sandbagged. One by one Dave's friends in Bangkok, except for Mark Laban, became "unavailable" for a meeting. A lot of Dave's Bangkok friends seemed to suddenly turn their backs and leave Dave for dead. I found this entirely inexplicable. Was it some kind of weird 'expat' mentality? Was it a rejection of Lovisa Inserra as an 'outsider'? What it some kind of politics? Dave deserved better. Personally I would have taken a meeting with the devil himself if there was even a slightest micro-chance of it helping Dave Walker.
The below e-mails speak for themselves how it all
came to a grinding halt as Richard Ehrlich "declined"
to come to the meeting, washing his hands of it all, because as he said,
"i am not the one to be deciding any of this."
On Sunday we found this e-mail waiting for us from Lovisa:
Lovisa Inserra today is too kind a soul to reveal what troll hyena cur threw itself at her resulting in that apologetic e-mail from her, but shortly afterwards her name vanished from the e-mail distribution lists and from the search for Dave.
Alan Dawson suddenly dropped out of the group with this cryptic e-mail:
"[He said] if I was to go to Cambodia & investigate this case that he would circulate my background, etc. to all relevant authorities & others to instruct them not to assist me in any way."
Perhaps I should have micromanaged after all. With hindsight I now regret that I was not on top of what had been occurring behind the scenes to sabotage and block Peter Slade's involvement in helping us find Dave. Slade was left dangling on Monday morning, sending last minute e-mails from the airport at Phuket regarding confirmations he still had not received. Only one person met with him when he arrived in Bangkok.
I had been too involved in other pressing issues in Canada with Dave's disappearance and with so many urgent things occurring in the next two weeks, it would take me several weeks before I followed-up on what exactly happened with Peter Slade and why his assignment suddenly came to a crashing halt. I contacted Slade directly for the first time on March 7 to inquire.
Peter Slade responded immediately with a lengthy e-mail in which he explained:
An earlier inquiry to Lovisa Inserra about what had occurred received a similar response from her:
All this was coming out ten days later but at the time it had happened, I had no idea who Nate Thayer was or that he was claiming to be the family's legal spokesman and "in charge" of the investigation. Nor did I know he was threatening to block Peter Slade and ensure nobody talked to him if he attempted to investigate Dave's disappearance. While I had heard the story of how Pol Pot had been found in the jungle in 1998 by an American freelancer, I had never heard Nate Thayer's name itself. In the masses of e-mails that circulated that weekend his name was one of many dozens and it had not caught my attention or stood out for any reason. In fact when I first became aware of there being a Nate Thayer, I kept mistakenly referring to him as "Nate Taylor".
I did not know of Nate Thayer but I was about to come into direct contact with him. That weekend as Thayer was behind the scenes sabotaging Peter Slade's attempt to look into Dave's disappearance, Tammy Madon on the advice of the Foreign Affairs Department decided to appoint myself and Thayer as family spokespersons. Thayer would be removed as spokesperson about twelve hours later at the request of the Foreign Affairs Department, and only I would remain as the spokesman, but over that brief period that Nate Thayer and I were co-spokespersons I became better acquainted with "Nate Taylor", who he was, what he does and how.
From: Peter Slade Feb 21, 2014 6:56 :
Thanks for the update. From all the e-mail traffic, etc. I can see that there is genuine concern to resolve this situation & obviously that's the whole aim. Having said that, if he is simply
wandering around like a lost sole or something similar, then it could
well bare fruit. However, if there has been ''foul play'' then what is
presently developing could well send the bad guys under ground as
there has been multiple people with a variety of ''skill sets''running around doing what they feel is right, but could well be creating additional problems. I know everyone has there heart in the
right place & please don't thing I'm being negative - I'm not.
I'm just starting to get concerned after 8 days that the e-mail traffic has created a situation where decisions are being made independently & to some degree actioned. What ever happens should be co-ordinated & seriously thought through before anyone hits the street & starts asking questions. The fact that all his gear is still after 8 days just sitting in the room amazes me & backs up what I said fromthe onset ! Authorities / Embassy Rep.s should have collected all his gear 7 days ago, looked at any recent communication traffic on his
computer / phone & then back tracked that info. Who knows who has
tampered with this even as we speak & will never know now.
As I said before, local authorities / embassies have already demonstrated there level of performance from an investigation point - Dismal is what comes to mind at the moment ! I have no idea who LTO is & what his / her experience in Cambodia is, so I won't even get into making any comments.
For what it's worth, it's day 8 & no indicators one way or another.
Here are my present thoughts:
1. If Dave is wandering around / shacked up somewhere, then at some
point in time, someone will spot him & there more than likely will be
a happy ending. If that being the case, I think that would more than likely have already happened.
2. If it was a kidnap / ransom, we would have already heard from
someone no matter how vague. Reason being is that to hold some in a
kidnap scenario long term is a real headache for the ''bad guys'' as
they have to feed, take care & ensure that the location is secure. The
longer it plays out, the greater the risk ! As each day paces, it
would appear that this is also not the case.
3. In the course of what ever work Dave was doing recently or for that
matter sometime in the past, he has possibly & unintentionally upset
someone where they feel compromised or at risk of what ever ??? And foul play has been played out !
If it were either # 1 or # 2, then going to the media & hitting the
streets, etc. is very valuable. In the case of # 3 it is reckless & as
I said, send the bad guys ''underground'' I'm not saying that there is nothing that can be done to still resolve the situation, but it has to
be done very different to what is presently happening.
Anyway, that's my take on things at this point & hope that someone
takes control of the situation & makes some solid decisions in how to
move forward. If you feel that it may be productive to chat with Richard, I'm ok to do so & if yes, then maybe you could do so as you did with Alan Dawson. Just food for thought ? Chat soon & many thanks again for the update.
Asia Risk Management - Thailand / Cambodia
Mobile: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx - Thailand
+xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx- Cambodia
From: Lovisa Inserra
Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 3:23 PM
To: peter slade
Cc: Richard S Ehrlich <email@example.com>
Norwegian airline has internet! What would it cost for you to go to Bangkok. I'll transfer 150 usd right away if Richard and Alan agree to
meet you. Richard?
Feb 21, 2014 10:30 from Peter Slade
Lovisa & others,
Appreciate the update & open to what ever everyone think is best & just as importantly they are comfortable with. As I mentioned previously, I can see from the e-mail traffic there is a genuine concern & effort to sort this incident with Dave Walker out ASAP.
Lovisa in good faith reached out to me as a friend to see if there was any way I could contribute & after a brief chat & being able to get my head around the situation, I said that I would do what ever I could to assist. Whether that be simply advice or ''boots on the ground'' In the end, that's a decision to be made by others - I have little control over that.
Reason for suggesting a face to face with both Richard & Alan was simply as I can see from the present e-mail traffic that they have been productive in a range of thoughts / suggestions which I fully agree with. As such it does create ongoing discussions with all on the cc chain to look at options, etc. I still believe that someone should
represent the majority of parties simply to have some input in controlling the direction things go & what should / should not happen.
It is obvious that everyone is deeply concerned & wants this situation
For my part at present, is to provide any useful info through Lovisa at this stage via e-mails / Skype. There have been comments & again so there should be in reference to myself in terms of credibility, etc. I respect that & in the end, others will have to make a decision on that. By mentioning a face to face was to hopefully remove any doubt in that area & then discuss what could be done in addition to what is already being done - On the face of what I presently know, there are a number of things that could be done but it requires boots on the
That's it for me for now. If those mentioned feel a meeting would be a
positive move forward then I'm receptive to that. If not, I respect that decision also. So I think we need to clarify that straight away & it will avoid additional e-mail chatter ! Skype as I mentioned is also an option ?
If it is agreed that I go to BKK, I would need $400.00 USD to cover ticket, expenses, etc. As a matter of urgency, the best way to send
funds would be via western union, otherwise a bank transfer won't happen until early next week ! I look forward in hearing back from everyone on any matter they wish to discuss further.
Asia Risk Management - Thailand / Cambodia
On Friday, February 21, 2014 4:48 PM, Lovisa Inserra wrote:
I will pay the 400 if they decide to proceed.