Police Link Healer Murder to ‘Sorcery’ Rumor

An elderly traditional healer found dead in a pond in Kompong Thom province this week is believed to have been killed over rumors he was a sorcerer, local police said Thursday.

A search party discovered the battered body of 81-year-old Hem Ty in a 3-meter-deep pond on his cashew nut farm in Prasat Balaing district’s Doung commune on Wednesday night, according to district police chief Chhin Chhum.

Mr. Chhum said Hem Ty’s family began to look for him when he failed to come home for lunch after a trip to his cashew farm about a kilometer from his home. The man’s children noticed a pool of blood in front of a hut on the farm and went to police.

“At about 8 p.m. we found his body in the pond after a fishing spear we plunged into the water caught on his shirt,” he said, adding that after examining the body, police determined that the victim had been beaten and struck with a sharp object before his death.

“He was beaten and chopped multiple times…. Two times on the back of his head, two times on his right temple and one time on his right hand,” he said.

Hem Ty had been dogged for months by accusations of sorcery, leading police to believe that the rumor played a part in his death, although no arrests have been made so far, Mr. Chhum said.

“We believe his murder involves his job, because local people have accused him of being a sorcerer who practiced black magic that caused their relatives’ illnesses and deaths,” he said.

Police suspect that multiple people were involved in the murder, but heavy rainfall on Wednesday impeded their investigation.

“I think there is more than one killer, because his body was carried 12 meters from his cottage and thrown into the pond to destroy the evidence. We have to investigate the scene further, because Thursday evening it was raining heavily and evidence could have been lost,” Mr. Chhum said.

Commune police chief Hun Soeun said Hem Ty’s strange behavior at a teenager’s funeral had recently intensified villagers’ animosity toward the old man.

“I don’t know what was wrong with him, but three months ago a 17-year-old girl died and during her funeral, Grandfather Ty lifted the sheet from the body and rubbed his hand on the sole of the girl’s foot,” Mr. Soeun said.

His action led some villagers to accuse him of trying to steal the girl’s spirit.

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