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Murder in Chiang Mai – mother’s hopes for justice after 13 years remain strong

Thirteen years after Kirsty Jones was murdered in a guest house in Chiang Mai her mother remains optimistic that her daughter’s killer will be brought to justice. Kirsty, 23, was raped and strangled just three months into her two year around the world trip after graduating from Liverpool University.

Her killer remains at large despite numerous public appeals and a 470,000 baht reward. Mother Sue Jones refuses to give up hope and on the 13th anniversary of her daughter’s death said “I will not give up on Kirsty, she is my first born daughter and she deserves justice. I want to find out what happened to her that night and who killed her. I don’t suppose I will ever know why, but as her mother I believe there remain many unanswered questions and stages of the investigation that need to be followed up and investigated by the Thai authorities.”

Kirsty Jones 1Mrs. Jones went on to say that she thinks the net is drawing in on her killer with the help of Welsh authorities after the Thai police accepted their offer of assistance last September with regard to forensic tests. Officers from Wales brought semen and skin cell samples from the murder scene as well as the sarong that was used to strangle Kirsty back to the UK, although they have not yet found a match from Thailand’s 80,000 strong DNA database. However the investigators that visited Thailand also remain optimistic.

Despite years of heartache, Sue Jones says that her daughter’s death should not discourage anybody from traveling and maintains that travel made her daughter streetwise, confident and ready for the challenges life would throw at her. Kirsty grew up in a farming family in a tiny village near Brecon, and from an early age had set her sights on travel. Sue told the Mirror newspaper “At just 14, back in the early 90s before gap years became all the rage, Kirsty had already decided that she was going to take a year out to tour Australia before going to university. “For the time being, she satisfied her wanderlust with summer music festivals – Glastonbury, Big Chill and the Notting Hill Carnival. She had a pierced nose and wore big, baggy sweaters – she looked every inch the hippy chick she wanted to be.”

In 1996 Kirsty, then 18 set off to Australia with a travelling companion who she met through a classified as in her local paper. She returned home 11 months later a changed woman. Sue said that she had worried about her daughter being so far away, especially as this was a time before skype and email, but she thought it was good preparation for university and she left home a girl and came back a woman. Kirsty stopped off in Thailand on her way home from Australia and fell in love with the country and was determined to return once she had finished her studies.  When she completed her English and Media studies degree in 1999 she spent a year saving up for her big trip, a two year adventure through Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America.  Although the fond farewell was still hard for Sue, Kirsty now had email so they would be able to stay in touch, and as Kirsty was older and wiser she felt less reason for concern.

The journey began for Kirsty in May of 2000 and she sent word home every two weeks about her adventures in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Kirsty started her journey alone but was planning on meeting up with her best friend later on in the trip and expecting to mingle with lots of other backpackers along the way. By late July Kirsty was tiring of the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and decided to get away from it all and visit Chiang Mai. Sue got an email from her daughter telling her of jungle hikes, elephant trekking and hill tribes, she was having the time of her life. It was during a trip to Benidorm with friends that Sue and her husband Glen got the devastating news. They were getting ready to go out for diner when some friends knocked on the hotel room door and told the couple to sit down as something dreadful had happened. Sue immediately thought it was to do with either her or Glen’s parents and was shocked to find that her friends had seen a Sky news report about a murdered backpacker and recognized the pictures of Kirsty. All Sue could think about was getting home to her son Gareth who had been driving a tractor when he heard the devastating news on the radio. They flew home to a whirlwind of police, press and foreign officials.

Just two weeks later with the crime unsolved Kirsty’s funeral took place and hundreds arrived to pay their respects. Months of false hopes and shattered dreams started as the arrest of a British man who owned the guest house came to nothing. “I knew in my heart it wasn’t him,” Sue told the Mirror. “I had ­promised I wouldn’t rest until Kirsty’s killer was caught, but at first it seemed completely hopeless. “The Thai police didn’t have the ­resources that our detectives have, and there didn’t seem to be any leads. “It was incredibly frustrating, we were at a loss as to what to do.”

A breakthrough came in 2003 after ­British detectives from Dyfed-Powys Police joined the investigation and recovered a DNA sample from Kirsty’s sarong.

Kirsty Jones 2The identity of her killer was bound up in a tiny fragment of genetic code but, with no DNA database in Thailand, all police could prove was that he was Thai.

“I’d sit there and try to imagine this man, what he looked like and why he’d want to do something so awful,” says Sue.

Local sex offenders and guesthouse residents were sampled and the DNA profile was tested against victims of 2004’s tsunami disaster – with no success.

A year later, Sue and Gareth travelled to Chiang Mai to see Thailand for themselves and meet the Thai police investigating Kirsty’s murder. The trip also included a heartbreaking visit to the Aree guesthouse, where Sue went into the room where Kirsty’s body had been discovered. “I could see why Kirsty had fallen in love with Thailand,” she said. “It really is paradise. The people were lovely, they couldn’t do enough for us. “You can’t write off an entire country because of something bad that once ­happened there.” But losing Kirsty in such a way had left an irreparable wound. “Especially in the early years it was ­incredibly difficult,” says Sue. “The three of us would mark the ­anniversary by taking some flowers up to Kirsty’s grave.“The day before is always the worst. Sometimes I have to just go off on my own or shut myself away to be alone for a bit. “Birthdays are the same. Kirsty is always in all our thoughts.”

Even though 13 years have passed, Sue’s burning desire to bring the killer to justice has never diminished.

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