Neighbors of the only suspect in last week’s brutal murder of a 19-year-old girl said on Monday that they had still not been interviewed by police, despite having eyewitness accounts of the days leading up to the teenager’s killing.
Residents of Phnom Penh’s Street 95 said that 23-year-old Sun Kimheng—who is currently in pretrial detention for the murder of Lim Sreypich, whom she met on Facebook—was a quiet young woman who had only recently moved into the neighborhood.
She owned a Toyota Highlander that she could be seen driving to and from home every day and had a boyfriend whose friends often came to drink beer at the house—which is located in a leafy, affluent neighborhood.
While police insist Ms. Kimheng acted alone in the murder plot, the victim’s parents have said they believe more than one person was involved and that powerful, well-connected people are behind an alleged cover-up.
“The police never questioned us,” said a guard at Share, an NGO housed in a villa directly opposite the rental house where Lim Sreypich was murdered.
Giving his name only as Sieng out of fear for his security, he also said that Ms. Kimheng had just moved into the house less than two months before the murder took place.
“In the weeks before the murder, I saw many men go in and out of the house but I don’t know what they were doing. Every day I saw people coming and going. Many people came to drink. Maybe friends of the girl’s boyfriend,” he said.
“I didn’t know the girl but…I saw her come out of the house every day. She’d been here about two months. She had a Highlander she always drove,” he added.
Another neighbor, who would only give her name as Dy and owns a small shop on Street 95, said that because Ms. Kimheng had only moved into the neighborhood one or two months prior to the murder, she had not really known her.
“But she did sometimes come in her pajamas and buy some rice from my shop. I can’t tell you about the personality of the suspect. She never chatted, she was a quiet person,” Ms. Dy said, adding that she had seen her, along with Lim Sreypich on the very day of the murder.
“I saw the suspect and the victim get out of the car and go into the house,” she said.
The wooden house rented by Ms. Kimheng is split—one side is her rental apartment, and the other side is occupied by the NGO Japan Team of Young Human Power (JHP). JHP was closed Monday for a national holiday, but a cook from the house next door to the NGO said both the NGO and Ms. Kimheng rented the building from the same landlord.
“Police never came here to question us,” said the cook, who only gave her name as Sokchea, because she also feared for her security.
“I saw the suspect’s boyfriend or husband on the evening of October 23, outside the front of the house. He was wearing shorts and clipping his nails,” she said.
Lim Sreypich is believed to have been murdered sometime that afternoon.
Police said that Ms. Kimheng had met Lim Sreypich roughly three months prior to the murder on Facebook, and had invited her to her home to talk about setting up a clothing business on October 23.
Ms. Kimheng then, acting alone, allegedly strangled the victim with a piece of rope until she fell unconscious, taped up her mouth, put her in the trunk of her car, drove her to Kompong Speu province, and dumped her body in a canal. She then phoned the victim’s parents—who are wealthy car dealers—demanding ransom money for a daughter they believed was still alive.
When Ms. Kimheng went to meet the parents at a bank on Monivong Boulevard to collect the agreed-upon $16,000 ransom on Wednesday, police were waiting and arrested her. After Ms. Kimheng implicated three other people, including her boyfriend, during questioning, police arrested them too. On Friday however, after holding the three alleged accomplices for just two days, police let them go free, saying Ms. Kimheng had acted alone.
The police have not revealed any details regarding the identities of the three people they released.
Police on Monday reiterated that they believed Ms. Kimheng acted alone. “Whether the victim’s parents believe or not, that is up to them,” said Eng Sorphea, Phnom Penh penal police chief.
When told that a neighbor had claimed to have seen the suspect’s boyfriend outside the house on the day the murder is believed to have occurred, Mr. Sorphea replied: “We originally arrested four people, including the boyfriend, but after we investigated we found they were not involved in the case and allowed them to go back home.”