The Disappearance and Death of Dave Walker:
THE INVESTIGATION WEEK ONE Part 6 (Continued): Richard Ehrlich & Sonny Chhoun In the Middle
During that first week of crisis management, from the moment I called Dave's cousin and official next-of-kin Tammy Madon in Edmonton to inform her that Dave was missing and ask her to file a report with Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, Tammy and I stayed in contact several times a day by Facebook messages, e-mails and telephone conversations. (See Page 4.) We followed the course of events unfolding over the many different e-mail threads and did our best to stay on top of developments and plot an overall course of action. Both Tammy and I had full time jobs in Canada and there was a two hour time difference between her in Edmonton and me in Toronto. Tammy was working in a bank, while I was lecturing and advising undergraduate international relations history students at Ryerson University in Toronto. It was fortunate that my university was in a winter break week (Reading Week) the first week after Dave's disappearance but now classes were resuming and I had to return to a heavy teaching schedule.
One thing that is evident from the conversations I had with Tammy was that we were both disturbed by the central role that Dave's business partner Sonny Chhoun had in everything that we were being told of Dave's disappearance and everything that was being done about it. There wasn't anything specific that made us suspicious of Sonny at the time but having no evidence of any motive for Dave's disappearance, Sonny as the business partner kept coming into our peripheral vision. Statistically speaking, in the absence of Dave having a wife or girlfriend or being the victim of a random crime, "the business partner" is where many people felt the police needed to take a hard investigative look. Had police been looking...
"sonny says he needs to get permission from seim reap's *police* or *immigration* to collect the *three* items and/or everything else"
I was very uneasy as Sonny seemed to be becoming our 'boots-on-the-ground' go-to point man and was privy to all the investigative measures we were undertaking while being himself the only source of the timeline and circumstances of Dave's disappearance. (See Page 5) Soon Richard Ehrlich began lobbying for Sonny's innocence, in what I thought was naive and irresponsible to Dave. Nobody was really in a position to vouch for Sonny in the way Ehrlich had been undertaking to do until Sonny's story could be checked and investigated independently and professionally.
We did not know it at the time, but Sonny had already been deceiving us from the very beginning. While Sonny Chhoun in his sworn statement in March [see Page 2] admitted that he collected Dave's phone from his hotel room on Monday, February 17, according to this formerly confidential e-mail, on Thursday morning (11:48 A.M.) February 20, Chhoun was still telling us that the phone was in Dave's hotel room and was anxious to get permission to take not only the phone (already in his possession actually), but Dave's laptop and camera as well to "hand carry the *three* items to Phonom Penh..."
In a Facebook message (see sidebar) on February 20, 10:51 PM Toronto Time (February 21, 10:51 AM in Cambodia) Sonny informed me that, "I have the phone now." [My emphasis] "Now" suggesting he had just recently gotten the phone into his possession. This differs entirely from his sworn statement he got the phone on the evening of Monday, February 17.
It also conflicts with Dave Walker's ex-wife Praiwan's statement that Sonny called her on Monday afternoon (Tues morning in Cambodia) and told her he got her number from Dave's cell phone. (They had never met or spoken.) Sonny also told her that he began worrying about Dave going missing on Saturday, the second day, not Friday Praiwan insists, saying that if Sonny had told her that within several hours of Dave missing an appointment with Sonny, he demanded that Dave's hotel room be opened she would have thought that very unusual. She insists Sonny told her he demanded that Dave's room be opened on Saturday, the second day after Sonny said Dave missed their appointment.
"Miracles must exist for the man I love. Come on Dave...I miss you."
Next Richard forwarded to us this creepy missive from Sonny praying to "the super natural power, the moon, the sun, the water, the earth, which Dave believing in and miracles must exist for the man I love." The more Sonny proclaimed and wept, the more suspicious I became: it was all just too 'over-the-top' even for a Khmer Shakespearean.
I was getting concerned that nobody had taken an official statement from Sonny, pinning him down to a sworn version of his story.
Alan Parkhouse was wrong on that one. When I had contacted Foreign Affairs on the morning of Monday, February 17, it was already 11:00 PM in Bangkok and nothing was showing up on the Foreign Affairs computer network indicating that Dave was reported missing. Foreign Affairs would not even take an "official" report from me because I was not a family member. They promised to "look into it" but warned me that they would not be able to follow-up with me for reasons of "privacy" as I was not a member of Dave's family. I had to wrangle Tammy Madon to make the report that same late afternoon when it was already Tuesday morning in Bangkok. I would venture that Dave's disappearance became "official" for the Canadian Embassy in Thailand at around 1:00 PM Bangkok time on Tuesday, February 18. (See Page 4)
"sonny will be handling all those incoming calls"
Not only was Richard Ehrlich and whoever was directing him relying on Sonny's claims, but now they made Sonny's new cell phone number the one printed on the missing poster for people to call with tips on Dave's disappearance! Sonny would be taking in all local phoned-in tips in Cambodia regarding Dave's disappearance. Absurd!
But if anything set off alarm bells for me about just how naive Richard Ehrlich's trust in Sonny was, was Ehrlich's assertion in the below e-mail that $20,000 was "hardly worth executing the perfect crime to seize." I thought, "is he kidding? What fairy land world is he living in? I've been in finer and more civilized places than Cambodia where they will kill you for a cigarette, let alone for $20,000."
And Richard's even more naive comment in the below e-mail that "sonny is already presumably financially well off. he drives a new landrover or four-wheel" actually put a chill down my spine about Sonny for the first time. It had the opposite effect than the one Ehrlich intended. Up until then I just looked at Sonny unemotionally, merely as a possible statistical probability in his being Dave's business partner that he would have to be carefully investigated, but I had no personal feeling about him, one way or the other, until I heard that. Ehrlich's remark about a new Land Rover put the hook in me. I didn't know Sonny had such luxurious tastes living in one of the poorest countries in the world. What kind of fuck-ass psychopathology needs a new luxury Land Rover in Cambodia, I wondered.
Ehrlich's comment made me go look into the "Land Rover." It was probably the Toyota RAV4 L (Limited) with the Animist Farm Films logo plastered on it posted on the Poorest Man Facebook Page. It's no Land Rover. It's a Toyota SUV but the L Limited is top of the line. Slick ride just the same. But even then, I was prepared to give Sonny a benefit of the doubt. If Sonny was indeed a fixer for visiting foreign film crews, it made sense to own an SUV capable of packing gear through all terrain including off-road in Cambodia and a prestigious vehicle would give visiting clients a sense of security in the professional success and competence of the fixer they had hired.
That's how it went on and goes on in my head with Sonny Chhoun. For every suspicion I had (and have today); I also had (and have today) a devil's argument in defence of Sonny Chhoun. Back then it was critical to the possibility that Dave might still be alive. We did not have a shred of evidence for him being dead. For Dave's sake I hoped that indeed Sonny was the friend that Dave deserved. I still want that today. I want that Dave was not murdered by anybody at all, and if he was murdered, then I want that it was not somebody he thought was a friend of his.
But what I want most is the truth. Not some Andre Gide French-ass the color of truth is gray kind of bullshit truth. I want to know the life and death kind of truth, the kind that leaves no gray in between. I want to know if Dave was murdered, or not; simple as that.
"i trust this is cool with all of you"
What shook me up the most about Ehrlich's 'Sonny can be trusted because he drives an SUV' e-mail was not that Sonny drove one, but the significance of it as understood and argued by Richard Ehrlich. It shook deeply my confidence in Ehrlich's judgement and worried me now as Tammy and I over the week had grown to trust and depend upon on his claim that he was a journalist with thirty years experience in South East Asia. See CNN Authors: Richard S. Ehrlich
Now according to that e-mail Ehrlich was not just keeping Sonny close to us anymore where we could watch what he does, he handed over to Sonny control of any incoming information in response to Dave Walker Missing posters, that Sonny claimed in his e-mail he had hung around the neighborhood of Dave's hotel, while searching for Dave with "30 people". It was a done deal; "i trust this is cool with all of you"; with a nice list of why the other sensible alternatives were impractical along with "evidence" of Sonny's apparent innocence. Yet at that same moment, my confidential informant on the ground in Siem Reap was reporting and asking that weekend about there being no posters hung:
"some fresh activity has begun and others are asking for us to all step back..."
When I received the next e-mail I should have been suspicious, but I took it like I took at first many things coming from Ehrlich's camp: I trusted it on face value in the belief that he was acting in Dave's best interests. I may have a Ph.d. and be an expert on the history of serial homicide, but when it came to people around me, I am still a trusting idiot.
This would not be the last time in this investigation that we would hear promises of "fresh activity"... reports of mysterious unnamed investigators "others are asking for us to step back"... dramatic developments "very twisted elements appearing...", etc., etc. While I was not entirely secure now in Richard Ehrlich's judgement, I at least still trusted in his integrity, in the mistaken belief that everybody was sincerely focused on only one thing--finding Dave--that it was all about Dave and about absolutely nothing and nobody else. I had no reason not to believe him, when Ehrlich claimed, that some new turn was developing in the investigation in the field, and again, I was not going to second guess from my nest in Toronto on decisions coming from the field in Cambodia. Except Cambodian was not where the decisions were coming from, but I did not know that yet.
When I was suddenly asked to cease contact with Sonny because "others are asking for us to all step back", I made no challenge, I did not even question who those "others" were, who were doing the asking. I did what I was asked. Sonny was being put into a protective fold by the very people who should have been very carefully picking over Sonny's claims and keeping him at arm's length from the investigation. He should have been the focus of the investigation, not its main point-man.
February 19, 2014
Peter Vronsky to Sonny Chhoun
Hi Sonny. This is Dave's friend in Toronto. Do you have by any chance the phone number for Dave's ex-wife Praiwan here in Canada? We are trying to find her.
Also, what happened to Dave's cell phone and laptop -- are they in the custody of the police?
February 20, 2014
I have his phone now, laptop and camera, belonging in still in the room
Thank Sonny. I hear help is on the way. Hope for best for brother Dave.
dave ex wife: priwan xxxx -xxxx
Will call her right now.
no answer - left message for her to call me
February 22, 2014
talked to Praiwan. Yesterday.
February 22, 2014
'Sao lao' may be Salao Mao.
February 23, 2014
Picture of Salao Mao attached
Peter Vronsky To Tammy Madon
February 19, 2014
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 Ehrlich 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?