Thailand’s Poisoned Prince
by Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- A mystery of a double poisoning, the corpses of two princes, a palace stuffed with valuables, an alleged "sex machine," and a group of rival wives is enthralling Thailand with its real-life, fatal soap opera and years of who-dun-it intrigue.
Consider the clues:
-- Prince Bhanubhandh Yugala, 85, died from blood poisoning in February 1995.
-- Later that year, the slumped body of his son, Prince Thitipan Yugala, was discovered containing poison, after he sipped a cup of coffee in the family's Bangkok palace.
-- Minutes later, his chubby 25-year-old wife fled the palace with her 19-year-old lover, a chestnut seller.
-- The adulterous widow initially confessed to the murder, but later recanted, claiming she didn't put insecticide in his coffee on that fateful August morning in 1995.
-- Two "common-law wives" of the younger prince, are currently claiming his estate.
In the latest twist on September 4, estate executors began appraising the antiques, furniture, art, household goods and various collectibles inside Aswin Palace, so a grand sale of the items can be held.
Proceeds from the estate -- estimated at more than half-a-million US dollars -- will be divvied up among claimants.
But not so fast, warns the two-timing widow, who is currently on trial facing a possible death sentence in the still-unsolved murder of the younger prince.
The former wife, "Mom" Chalasai Yugala, is popularly known by the affectionate nickname, "Luk Pla," or Baby Fish.
Baby Fish was also titled, "Mom," which is honorific for female royalty in Thailand.
But the traumatic story of how she got her nickname, and noble status, has broken the hearts of Thai society.
Baby Fish was dumped by her parents at the age of four, and adopted into the princes' royal, wealthy family as their servant.
At 14, she became a sex object for the coffee-drinking prince, who was 49.
"As if in a feudal age, Luk Pla was raped in her early teens by her adoptive father and master, Prince Thitipan, and thereafter was kept as his sex slave," the Bangkok Post reported shortly after her arrest.
"Dark and stocky, Luk Pla is not pretty by Thai standards. The prince, never shy about discussing his sex life, made her come across as a sex machine," added Bangkok Post Assistant Editor Sanitsuda Ekachai.
"When the prince announced his marriage to her, the high society bluebloods cringed to count her an equal. When the prince died from poisoning, all fingers pointed initially at Luk Pla, assuming she did it for money and better sex with her (new) lover," Sanitsuda added.
When Baby Fish's years as an alleged rape victim became known, sensitive public opinion, Thai feminists and at least two parliamentarians, began to sympathize with her.
They perceived her plight as a class struggle against rich, sexist members of high society.
At the time of the murder, Baby Fish, 25, was married to the 60-year-old younger prince, who was endearingly nicknamed, "Than Kob," or Frog.
In 1996, one year after Prince Frog's murder, she remarried her impoverished lover.
Prosecutors said Baby Fish admitted to the murder of Prince Frog after being strapped to a lie detector in 1997.
She later retracted her confession, and told reporters the same year, "I did not poison Prince Thitipan. I confessed on that day because of stress" during the interrogation.
The dead father and son princes were not in line to become Thailand's monarch, because they were mere cousins in an extended royal family.
Many years ago, Thailand's kings reportedly had been polygamous, resulting in about 100 lesser princes and princesses.
But the case attracted widespread fascination throughout Thailand because this Southeast Asian nation has a tradition of men juggling a bevy of "minor wives," or concubines -- sometimes successfully if the men's money holds out, but often disastrously when betrayal, jealousy and cash flows become entangled.
Just before Prince Frog swallowed his morning arabica, estate arbitrators had ruled he could inherit his father's palace.
But the potion killed Prince Frog before the ruling was legally executed, though he lay in a coma for eight days at a hospital before dying.
As a result, the palace remained in his father's estate, while lawyers wrestled with conflicting claims.
After two years of analyzing the insecticide, various peoples' motives, and other clues and testimony, police finally accused Baby Fish of poisoning Prince Frog.
In addition to her disputed confession, suspicion increased because Baby Fish allegedly failed to bring Prince Frog to a hospital for several hours after he first began gagging and frothing from the fatal java.
Baby Fish's trial continues, and she vows to clear her name.
Meanwhile, the elder prince's earlier death from blood poisoning was deemed not to have involved foul play.
But the later coincidence of his son's death by poison has raised some eyebrows.
Earlier this year, however, a court declared Prince Frog's two common-law wives -- "Mom" Oonruen Thammaset, and "Mom" Wasana Faikrua -- could jointly manage the estate, and be first in line to divide the proceeds after the upcoming sale.
Because the estate was dragged through proceedings for two years, the Supreme Court declared in April that accrued interest made it worth 850,000 US dollars.
Any money over that amount, after the sale of the palace, its valuables and real estate, would go to the elder prince's other estate claimants, the court added.