Police have arrested a 32-year-old Cambodian man who they say has confessed to killing Dutch national Daphna Beerdsen, 31, and critically injuring her 19-month-old baby in the family’s Phnom Penh home, where the bloodied bodies were found Monday morning.
“We have arrested one guy who committed the murder of the Dutch woman,” said Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith, National Police spokesman.
“He has confessed to his actions.”
Lt. Gen. Chantharith said that the suspect had entered the Tonle Bassac commune home of Daphna Beerdsen at around 3 a.m. Monday morning and attempted to steal a bicycle.
“During his actions, [Daphna Beerdsen] saw him stealing the bicycle and shouted for help,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith said. “That is why he stabbed her with the screwdriver.”
Lt. Gen. Chantharith said that Phnom Penh penal police made the arrest around 10 p.m. Tuesday in Daun Penh district’s Wat Botum pagoda. He said the suspect was in possession of the victim’s handbag and some personal documents.
Police provided no further details of the investigation Wednesday. Phnom Penh deputy police chief Chuon Narin said police would hold a press conference on the arrest today.
Daphna Beerdsen, a former consultant with the U.N., was at home alone with her baby daughter, Dana, on the night of the murder. Her husband, Joris Oele, had left Phnom Penh on Sunday afternoon to coordinate a two-day climate change workshop for U.N. Habitat, his employer, in Sihanoukville.
Dana was also attacked in the home invasion and was airlifted to Bangkok Monday night to receive treatment for serious head trauma and stab wounds to her body.
“[The suspect] also confessed to stabbing the baby on the body. It is unclear why,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith said.
A doctor who treated Dana at Kantha Bopha hospital in Phnom Penh on Monday, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak with the press, said that Dana “was nearly dead” when she arrived at the hospital.
Contacted Wednesday, a representative of Bangkok General Hospital, where Dana was airlifted to around midnight Monday, said that the child was alive and in the intensive care unit. The hospital representative declined to be named because she was not authorized to share medical details of patients.
“Dana is in our hospital and we are taking care of her,” the hospital representative said. “She is alive but she cannot breathe herself.”
Dana was found by the family cleaner lying alongside her mother on a bloody, tiled floor inside the house around 9 a.m. Monday morning. The cleaner, Keo Somaly, 28, said she first alerted the landlord, Ken Sambo, who lives in the same alleyway off Norodom Boulevard, and then Prampi village chief Run Chantha.
Ms. Somaly claimed Tuesday that, despite her objections, police let the child lie at the scene, obviously in need of medical assistance, for between 20 to 30 minutes before allowing her to be taken to the hospital by a neighbor via motorcycle-taxi. Contacted Wednesday, Ms. Somaly said she was in shock when she made those claims against police, and that it was the village chief who ignored her calls for the child to be rushed to hospital.
“At the time, I didn’t know who was commune police and who was the village chief, I just know that they told me not to touch anything in the house because they are afraid of losing the evidence,” Ms. Somaly said.
Mr. Chantha, the village chief, admitted Wednesday that he had denied the child medical assistance for some time.
He said that he had notified Tonle Bassac commune police upon learning of the murder but was not authorized to interfere with the crime scene before they arrived.
“Ms. Somaly arrived first and then Mr. Sambo and I arrived but we did not touch anything because we did not want to affect the evidence,” Mr. Chantha said.
“About 20 minutes after we arrived, the commune police came and allowed a foreign man who is friends with the victim to take the child to hospital,” he said.
Steve Morrish, a former Australian police officer whose local NGO Sisha has trained hundreds of Cambodian police in crime scene investigation techniques, said that under no circumstance should the health of a person be sacrificed for the sake of the crime scene.
“One of the first things we teach, and one of the first things that all police should learn, is that the preservation of life comes before the preservation of the crime scene,” Mr. Morrish said.
Despite this rule, Mr. Morrish said he could understand Mr. Chantha’s position, and that the gravity of the situation may have caused him to deny the child medical assistance.
“Authorities often won’t act until the boss tells them,” Mr. Morrish said. “That is how they are taught.”
“And especially in this case, where a foreigner has been murdered, police and authorities may have gone into panic and made poor decisions.”