Batheay district, Kompong Cham province – In the village where Lim Yim grew up, where few roads are more than half a car’s width, life is dominated by the rhythm of rice farming. Many young people spend nearly all their waking hours tending to their family plots.
And in Chan Koung village, as in many other parts of rural Cambodia, the highest praise for a daughter is that she is “gentle” and “does not go around town” but stays at home with her family.
Lim Yim was very gentle and never went out around town, her parents say. She spent nearly 11 hours every day in the fields, from 6:30 am to 5 pm, and always bicycled straight home afterward. The 25-year-old was about to do so on Feb 15 when she was murdered at sunset, possibly by a fellow rice farmer, in a still-unsolved case that has convulsed Chan Koung with fear.
Even at a time when every week brings fresh news of a horrific assault on a woman or child, the brutality of Lim Yim’s death stands out.
She was raped, beaten and scratched over her entire body, even her eyeballs. Her vagina was filled with dry meadow grass, then set aflame, possibly while she was still alive. Her attacker tied the red-and-white strings of a fertilizer bag around her neck and dragged her body around the rice paddy—again, while she may have been alive.
“Her bruises were like this,” her mother, Seth Ith, said yesterday, drawing a circle in the air the size of her hand and wincing.
Her father and sister found Lim Yim face down in the dirt at 10 pm that night, after she never came home from the fields. Her clothes and personal effects were torn and scattered, but as soon as her father, Kim Lim, saw her right shoe lying in the grass, he knew that his daughter had died.
“My feeling told me my daughter was dead, but I never expected she would also be raped,” he said, rolling cigarette after cigarette and smoking them down to his fingertips.
“I’m really suffering that my daughter passed away not in an normal way but in a very brutal way and I saw it with my own eyes,” he continued.
“My body became weak, and I lost control when I saw that someone had made my sister suffer so,” said Lim Yim’s younger sister Lim Yoeurn, 21.
Lim Yim and Yoeurn were best friends and went to all the village dances together. Normally, they went to the rice field together too but her sister had recently suggested they alternate days so that Yoeurn could spend more time relaxing at home with her baby son.
Lim Yim’s older sister, Lim Yen, 34, her head freshly shaved in mourning, said she still could not fully grasp her sister’s death.
“I always think that she’s still alive but just went to the field,” she said. “Then every evening, I expect her to come in and realize once again that she is actually dead.”
District and commune police said yesterday that they were still investigating the killing and had few leads. The fertilizer bag strings found at the scene are still the main clues in the case, according to Lanh Satya, provincial penal bureau police chief.
However, authorities have apparently begun to profile the killer, picturing him as a man of about 30 who cultivates dry-season rice and likes to “go around town” drinking, said village chief Sath Im. Mr Im thinks the culprit must be married—otherwise, he would have simply married Lim Yim after raping her.
“I assume the offender might have a wife already, which would make him unable to be responsible for what he did to the victim. So he had to kill her to eliminate the evidence,” he said.
Police have compiled a list of 10 men who farm dry-season rice and are calling them in for questioning but have not yet homed in on a suspect, according to Troap commune police chief Mom Savuth.
“After investigating, the victim was not involved in any revenge or love. So it is a bit difficult to find the offender,” he said.
Meanwhile, authorities are recommending that families keep their daughters even closer at hand than usual. That was the only concrete measure that Bith Kimhong, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, could recommend to nervous locals last week.
Most feel that they do not need the warning.
“We’re scared of the ghost of the body but most of all of the attacker,” said Lim Yim’s aunt, Kim Koeun. “Even men are afraid to go to the rice fields except in groups of 10, but we are women so we never go anywhere at all, even to get something for our business. It’s not fair, but what can we do?”
A young neighbor, 22-year-old Im Phos, agreed: “I’m scared of the ghost and especially the offender,” she said. “He must be the most cruel person. Even though I didn’t see the body, I know that. We don’t know what to do. We just stay home and don’t even tend our rice fields.”
But Lim Yim’s parents are not just scared for their safety, they are increasingly worried about getting by without their main breadwinner.
“Now no one is responsible for our living,” her father said. Do you want to make a donation to us? Now I lost the girl. So I don’t have power or energy to do anything anymore.”
“Oh, I miss my daughter very much!” his wife cried. “I know that I’ll never eat as much as I did when she was still alive. She helped me with everything. She never made me disappointed.”