Several trips ago I picked up the paperback book Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin and read it on the flight back to Farangland. I gave it to a friend when I was finished and he recently he returned it to me. I remember it being an entertaining (and frightening) read at the time but when my friend returned it to me I guess it sparked some sort of subconscious analysis I never really put into it the first time around.
Just to summarize the book without spoiling it:
Martin thinks he’s landed a huge oil drilling job in Thailand
Leverages himself to the hilt in order to get the job and get all of his men over there
Job was a scam and they’ve taken off with all his money
Wife, family, friends etc abandon Martin
Martin tracks down one of the guys who ripped him off
Con-man’s bodyguard and Martin get into a fight
Police find body guard dead
Martin does a lot of time in Thai prison
Without even going back and re-reading the book my suspicions about the authenticity of the story began to bother me. There were certain pieces that didn’t seem to fit. And without those pieces fitting there’s a good chance that Martin’s version of events are either a fabrication or the whole truth wasn’t presented in the book.
For instance, once Martin’s friends and family abandon him he marries a Thai lady and lives in Thailand for some extended period of time. He gets to know Thailand and how it works pretty well. He even evidences that fact by how he approaches some of his problems later in the story. Yet, several times in the story he is presented with a situation in which there is a Thai way to solve it or a farang way to get yourself into deeper trouble and he always opts for the farang way.
An example of this is that several times during his ordeal he is offered by the police and the courts a way out. He can pay them off and everything would go away. He hints that he doesn’t have the financial resources to do it and that for him it’s a matter of principle. Let’s start off with the “a matter of principle” aspect. You would have to be pretty stupid or pretty stubborn to try and fight the Thai legal system. He claims the police beat him senseless in order to get his confession. He has to know he’s not going to get a fair trial. How do you refuse to pay them off based on principle?
Perhaps he didn’t have the money. Well, I simply refuse to believe you can’t scare up a little cash in that kind of situation. I mean, if someone I hadn’t spoken to in years rang me and said he was in a desperate situation I’m sure I could scrounge together a few bucks to send his way. I know I could call ex-girlfriends, former co-workers, etc and get a few thousand dollars from each. Hell, if they have a phone number and it’s in my address book they’re getting a phone call from me. Literally, I would be calling people who I may have only met once at a conference and they had given me their business card. I mean, this guy had his own oil drilling company at one point. Oil guys tend to make better than average money. It seems inconceivable that he didn’t have enough contacts who had access to even a few hundred bucks that he couldn’t have bought himself out of the situation.
Once he realizes he’s 100% screwed the Chonburi police offer to give him bail for 300,000 baht (and bail here means he can get the hell out of Thailand and escape the charges). I mean, he knows that they’ve found the bodyguard’s dead body at this point and even in a Western court he would have some major difficulty proving his innocence. Yet when offered with the proposal he simply responds that he didn’t have that kind of money. We’re talking 300,000 baht, £5000, $10,000 USD . . . how the hell can you not be able to come up with that amount of cash when the stakes are that high? Hell, some people can raise that amount doing a walk-a-thon for breast cancer just from their co-workers.
He also leaves out details of how his marriage and business dissolved. He claims he stayed in Thailand to hunt down the guys who took him but doing a little research seems to show that the Dutch and English authorities would have loved to talk to him had be returned. While I don’t believe he was involved in the scam itself the authorities back home were at least curious and wanted to investigate his involvement. In fact, he glosses completely over that. He goes right from discovering he got ripped off to selling his wedding band to raise cash. He talks about all of the embassies and government agencies he went to for help but fails to mention that his own company was being investigated for possibly being part of the scam.
Then there’s the matter of the fight itself. Supposedly he’s caught the guy who ripped him off along with his bodyguard and he is driving them back to Bangkok so they can go to the bank and get him what’s left of his money. They stop on the side of the road to relieve themselves and the two guys jump him. Now, we’re supposed to believe that in the time it takes to take a piss that his wife’s four brothers pissed and then got in the back seat of the car and fell asleep and never woke during the fight or even tried to help him. In and of itself that would seem strange as the entire reason he brought the brothers was keep the numbers even in case of something like this happened.
While he’s not shy to pass out blame during his ordeal he never once mentions that had the brothers not fallen asleep none of what happened to him would have occurred. The con-man and the body guard would have never attacked him and had they attacked him the brothers would have been able to vouch in court that it was in self-defense. Yet not only does he not blame them in any way, but when his wife suggests that mentioning that they were there might cause some problems for them he never reveals their presence to the police.
Again this is a hard one to swallow because when the con-man tells his side of the story to the police he surely would have mentioned that there were four Thai guys also involved. He has no idea that Martin isn’t going to name the Thai guys. Yet he never once mentions that the police pressed him about this inconsistency in his story. I mean, wouldn’t the police at least ask how Martin was able to subdue two men? One of the guys was a bodyguard! He never mentions the police ever questioning him about a weapon so we’re supposed to believe that the Thai police never wondered how one scrappy little Irishman was able to force two other males to get in a car and take him to Bangkok?
Likewise he never offers or mentions anything about the brothers when he is initially questioned by the police. Yet, he claims that only later that his wife asked for the brothers to be kept out of it. When he first goes to the police station (before being tortured) he says:
I explained everything over and over again, in the smallest of detail. The interrogation went on and on for hours. But there were a few things I kept from them.
I didn’t tell them who Chuck really was, because I’d promised not to involve him if possible. The Aussie expat who’d given me O’Connor’s number always wanted his part kept quiet, so I said that I’d just phone O’Connor’s house on the spur of the moment. It was a lie, but only a white lie. I kept my word, and that was more important.
Notice how he doesn’t mention lying about the brothers?
And when his wife comes and visits him in prison he says:
She asked me if I’d told the police about her brothers’ involvement. I said that I hadn’t and she begged me not to.
She said that if I even mentioned their names to the police, then they’d be arrested too. I promised I wouldn’t mention them.
It wasn’t as if they’d actually done anything anyway. It wouldn’t really serve any purpose to bring them into it.
Yeah, I guess having four eyewitnesses would really serve no functional purpose when you’re going to be tried for murder.
Another thing that doesn’t seem to quite pass the sniff test is that when they return to O’Connor’s apartment in Bangkok all four brothers go off to eat. Martin who has been cut and beat up in his fight with the bodyguard dismisses being concerned that O’Connor might try something else in his own apartment because the neighbors would call the police. So Martin has no objections when all four of his protectors decide to go to grab something to eat. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to have one or two boys go get something to eat and bring it back for everyone?
So there he is alone with O’Connor and his wife. He and O’Connor discuss going to the bank in the morning. O’Connor even gives him some checks to serve as collateral until morning. Then the wife says she will go get some food and bring it back for everyone. Martin mentions that she’s gone about 20 minutes before there is a knock on the door. So, how long have the boys been gone to eat? My guesstimate is at least an hour based on the flow of the story. Yet, he never mentions it. He never wonders why they brothers have been gone so long.
And when O’Connor cheekily suggests that Martin can stay in a hotel for the night and they can meet up in the morning Martin says “I told him that I was a big boy. I would sleep on the floor in front of the door.” No mention of the brothers and where they would sleep. Something just doesn’t seem right.
Then we have the dead bodyguard. He swears up and down that the bodyguard was alive when he left him on the side of the road. In fact, he thought the guy had run off. Yes, they fought but he’s positive that he was not the cause of the bodyguard’s death. Now, the problem I have with this is that he was arrested at the con-man’s flat back in Bangkok. The con-man’s wife made an excuse about needing to out and she told the police that they were being held hostage. One of the very first things the con-man did was finger him for the murder. The police went and checked for a body and later found one. How would the con-man know? Loyalty to your boss only goes so far. The guy didn’t commit suicide just so O’Connor could put Martin in jail. It seems equally unlikely that the con-man put a hit out on the bodyguard. Yet, Martin gives the question of how the body turned up very little ink. He also doesn’t seem to ponder how the con-man knew the bodyguard would be found dead. He never seems to dwell on these points nor does he ever seem to accept the fact that he may have indeed killed the man. I wouldn’t even fault the guy if he did kill the bodyguard in self-defense but the fact that he spends so little of his thought on how the guy ended up dead makes me suspicious.
The major flaw in his story is that he never really seems to convincingly explain any of the above. Yet those pieces are integral if his story is to be believed. He talks about wanting to prove his innocence and standing up for principle yet his story would barely fly in a Western court of law. You have a dead body, you admit to fighting with the guy, and you have no eyewitnesses to back up your version of the story while there is an accuser who claims you killed the man. Hmmmm . . . . guess what? You’re going to jail.
I would suspect that Martin did kill the bodyguard and he was fully aware that he had killed him. I’m even willing to entertain the thought that it may not have even been in self-defense. If it was truly self-defense then involving his brother-in-laws would not have been a problem. The only reason his wife would have asked him to keep them out of it is if he was asking them to lie or they had assisted in murdering the bodyguard.
I mean, this is a guy who is so consumed by rage that three years after being ripped off he’s still in Thailand trying to track down the guys who conned him. While his business, marriage, and life back at home might have fallen apart as a result of the con he was a relatively young guy who could have started over in a high paying profession. Instead he decides to stay in Thailand to seek his revenge.
In fact, he says the following:
Although I now lived in domestic harmony, I never stopped searching for O’Connor. He became my obsession. I checked his favourite bars and restaurants regularly and I continued to pay the motorcycle taxi boys to look out for him.
It doesn’t seem too farfetched that his obsession crossed a line at some point. Perhaps he even had plans to kill O’Connor (and O’Connor’s wife) once he had gotten his money. When he caught one of the other con men he described the incident like this:
“Hello Ronnie,” I said. “I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
He regained his composure hastily, and made an effort to remain nonchalant.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
I smashed him with a head butt.
I hit him again a few times, but the motorcycle boys pulled me away. It didn’t matter anyway; I had him and he wasn’t going anywhere.
So, this is a guy who isn’t shy to use violence even when not being threatened.
His story simply has too many holes in it for it to be legitimate. In my experience, someone who was telling the truth would be beating himself up for his poor decisions. He would have spent years asking himself why he let all four brothers go eat. He would be asking how he could have been so stupid as to let the brothers get in the back of the car and go to sleep while he left himself exposed and unprotected. These are the kinds of things that would eat away at someone telling the truth. But Martin doesn’t even pose the questions. In fact, he glosses over them which is something that someone who is trying to fabricate an excuse might do.
All in all the book is an interesting read but I shed very few tears for the guy. Even if the story is legitimate he brought most of the trouble on himself. He spends far too much of the book berating the corruption of the Thai system while failing to explore how many of his own actions put him exactly in the situation he was in.