THE THAI CONNECTION

PROSECUTORS WILL SAY NARCOTICS PLAYED NO ROLE IN THE TEMPLE MURDERS. THE EVIDENCE SUGGESTS OTHERWISE.

Task-force investigators contacted Bay Area authorities, but apparently were unable to establish any solid links between the Join Sun heroin seizure and the temple murders. Still, the heroin seized in Hayward originated in Thailand, and sources on the task force say some investigators were convinced the Buddhists were killed in retribution for the seizure.

"There may have been some tie [to Phoenix]; we'd been working on that," says Rolin Klink, a U.S. Customs agent in San Francisco. "We haven't found any tie that we can prove."
And what of the mysterious "Phet" and the Placentia telephone booth? John Albano, of the Phoenix office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, says those avenues were not pursued.

"When this whole thing started, because of the sensitivity of it, we just left that completely up to the County Attorney's Office," Albano says. "As far as I know, we never initiated any investigation on our own; it was housed out of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. I don't think we have anything at all to add to it."
Temple telephone records obtained by the task force revealed that at least five calls had been placed from the temple to a private residence in Placentia in the six months prior to the murders. Two calls had been placed the week before the murders. Included were calls from the temple to South America, Florida, Las Vegas and Southeast Asia.

Nine days before the temple murders, someone at Wat Promkunaram called the Thai Tepparod restaurant in Hollywood. The restaurant, which closed recently, was owned by two Thai citizens, one of whom--Bruranasombat Chow--is now a fugitive wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with the contract murder of a police informant. An FBI spokesman says that though there are no outstanding warrants for Chow's arrest, he is believed to be involved with the heroin trade in Florida, Las Vegas and New York.

And there are other troubling coincidences. In March 1991, two men--Kwok Yin-kat and David Sun--were arrested in Hong Kong for allegedly attempting to smuggle heroin into the United States by hiding the drug inside statues of the Buddha. According to the DEA, the smugglers' plans were to have monks carry the icons through customs. Since the statues were used in the celebration of "Buddhist Lent" (which in 1991, began on July 28), the smugglers apparently assumed U.S. Customs would not scrutinize traveling clerics. There are at least 43 Thai Buddhist temples in the U.S., nearly all of which received visitors from Thailand during that time.

Though the two men were arrested in March, the DEA source said other smugglers employed similar methods of importing heroin.

In April, Pairuch Kanthong--Wat Promkunaram's chief priest--had journeyed to Thailand to visit his family. Task-force investigators say when he returned to Phoenix, he brought with him several cases of Buddha statues to be handed out to temple members during the observance. Some of the statues were still in the temple the morning the bodies were found; none bore any trace of illegal narcotics.

The high priest brought more than the Buddhas back from Thailand. He also brought a fey 21-year-old Thai with long, silky black hair. This was Chirasak Chirapong, the mysterious young man whom temple members and neighbors would come to know as "Boy."

@rule:
@body:Arizona's Thai community is small and scattered. According to the 1990 census, there are only about 1,300 Thais in the state.

"No two of us live close together," says Amporn Somsin, a Scottsdale physician who serves on the Wat Promkunaram board of directors. "We hardly see each other."
Language was an obstacle in the murder investigation. Many temple members do not speak English, and others have no more than a rudimentary grasp of the language. In addition, several of the Buddhists were new to the temple; few temple members knew these victims very well. Even those who were in frequent contact with the monks were unable to supply much information about them.

To identify the bodies, investigators recruited Choosin Bhandvansee, the chairman of Wat Promkunaram's board of directors, and Samchad Hiranrat, a former monk. While Hiranrat speaks no English, he is one of the few people who knew all temple residents. Bhandvansee, despite his position, knew little about the monks' families or personal histories.

Hiranrat told detectives that the abbot brought Chirapong--Boy"--to Arizona as a favor to the young man's rich aunt. She apparently wanted the monks to straighten him out. Temple members told investigators that in Thailand, Boy had grown wild and lazy. He had a taste for Western culture, flashy clothes and possibly drugs. His aunt believed a summer under the tutelage of monks of Wat Promkunaram might be his last shot at redemption.

But there are indications Boy did not follow the monks' ascetic example. While he is remembered by temple members as polite and easygoing, sources close to the investigation say he was bored with the routine of the temple and not particularly interested in holy work. Task-force members say he often carried large amounts of cash that he flashed as a roll. He liked American movies and music. During their search of the temple, detectives discovered a cache of X-rated videotapes presumably belonging to Boy.

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