The British owner of one of Phnom Penh’s most popular Western bars was stabbed to death by an intruder at his home early Wednesday morning, while his girlfriend, a New Zealand national, was left seriously injured, police said.
David Mitchell, the 36-year-old owner of the Ginger Monkey bar on Street 178, died around 12:15 am in his apartment above the bar, after being stabbed three times in the chest and once in the neck, said Municipal Autopsy Police Chief Prach Nhat.
Jane Nye, the 29-year-old managing editor of the Cambodian Scene tourist magazine, was flown to Bangkok after being slashed across her face, ears, throat and arms, Prach Nhat said.
Mitchell is the second foreign national working in the hospitality business to have been killed in recent months. On Nov 28, French national Allan Romagnoli, 49, who owned the Palm Resort in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, was found dead with head injuries inflicted by a meat cleaver.
Police arrived at Wednesday’s crime scene at 12:30 am and an hour later arrested Tong Chen, an 18-year-old homeless youth, who they found washing blood off his hands and arms outside the National Museum, said Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth.
“This burglar went to steal something from the victim’s house, but the woman woke up and yelled for help,” Touch Naruth said. “Then her boyfriend came to fight with the burglar, and the offender used a knife to stab his chest and kill him on the spot.”
Tong Chen has confessed to the killing, and police found the weapon—a long kitchen knife—outside Mitchell’s home, Touch Naruth said.
“The offender confessed that he went into the foreigner’s house to steal something and had no plan to kill the victims. But it was bad luck for the victims,” he said.
Tong Chen is being held in Daun Penh district police station and will be sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court today, Touch Naruth said. He faces life in prison if he is found guilty of the attack.
A British Embassy official declined comment on the case.
Mitchell came to Phnom Penh two-and-a-half years ago from Walsall, near Birmingham, in England, and is survived by his mother, father and older sister, a friend said.
Brandon Davis, the Canadian manager of the Ginger Monkey, which won the Cambodia Pocket Guide best bar award in January and is popular among both tourists and expatriates, said he entered Mitchell’s apartment shortly after the attack.
“I saw an ambulance pull up, and then the landlord started screaming ‘David, David,’” Davis said, adding that nothing had been stolen. Mitchell’s apartment had been burgled earlier in the month, he added.
Davis said he took Nye to Calmette Hospital, then to SOS International Medical and Dental Clinic.
“She said she went to use the bathroom, which is outside, attached to the balcony, and she was attacked,” Davis recalled. “Dave came out after she screamed. The attackers went after him, and she got away. She figured she’d been screaming for half an hour.”
“He died saving her life,” Davis said.
On Wednesday morning, a handful of friends sat inside the Ginger Monkey, tearfully comforting one another.
Stephanie Bryant, a 26-year-old NGO worker, said she had been horrified when she saw Nye after the attack. “Jane is my best friend,” Bryant said. “She just kept saying, ‘is he really dead?’”
Ken Wilcox, another friend of Mitchell, expressed regret over his death.
“He was supportive, brought everybody together,” Wilcox said. “I wish we had been a little more there for him.”
At Rory’s Pub, which is on the same street, owner Rory Barry said Mitchell had no enemies and would be missed for his generosity.
“He never fought with anybody,” Barry said. “He just gave away beers. That’s the worst he ever did.”
Bretton Sciaroni, president of the International Business Club, said the attack would be unlikely to deter investors. “This is just one of these tragic things that happens in big cities,” said. “It’s not part of a trend.”
A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit released in October, partly based on the city’s crime rate and security, ranked Phnom Penh as one of the world’s worst places to live.
The survey ranked the capital 122 out of 127 cities, putting it two places behind Zimbabwe’s capital Harare and just a few places ahead of Port Moresby in Papua New Guineau, which was at the very bottom of the list.
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)