Police on Tuesday night arrested a 35-year-old man they say confessed to the murder of Dutch national Daphna Beerdsen and the brutal attack on her 19-month-old daughter in a burglary gone awry at their home just off Norodom Boulevard on Monday.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said yesterday that the suspect – who an unnamed police official identified as Chea Pin – was arrested at about 9pm on Tuesday at Wat Than pagoda, just a few hundred metres from the home of 31-year-old Beerdsen, a UN consultant. The man had been imprisoned twice before on charges of theft in 1997 and 2007.
“After a police agent in the local area identified and questioned the suspect, we arrested the suspect at the pagoda,” Chantharith said. “The suspect confessed to the police that he acted as a lone thief, and we found the laptop and mobile phone of the victim [with him]. There is no other suspect to be arrested.”
The suspect, he added, was a homeless person who slept at the pagoda.
According to police and neighbours, Monday’s killing was first discovered by a cleaner employed by Beerdsen and her husband, Joris Oele, also a UN employee. Beerdsen was found dead on the floor of the house, stabbed six times with a screwdriver.
Her daughter, Dana Oele, was found at her side, unconscious after having suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
The child was taken to Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital for treatment before being airlifted to Bangkok General.
A source at the hospital said on Tuesday that Dana underwent brain surgery once that morning, but the operation was unsuccessful, requiring a second surgery in the evening.
Bangkok General Hospital yesterday referred questions about child’s condition to the Dutch Embassy, which declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.
A source speaking on condition of anonymity, however, said yesterday afternoon that Dana remained unconscious, and that the family was still waiting for an update on her condition following the latest operation.
Police yesterday scrambled to organise a press conference at the victims’ home, where Pin, the suspect, was supposed to offer a re-enactment of the crime, according to the unnamed police official.
However, the briefing was called off after hours of waiting, because police wanted to wait until Oele, Beerdsen’s husband, returned from Bangkok, before holding the conference, the official said.
The police official went on to say that Pin had allegedly been robbing the house when he was spotted by Beerdsen.
Shouting ensued and the two briefly struggled before Pin allegedly stabbed Beerdsen.
Several senior police officials declined to provide information about the arrest yesterday.
Phnom Penh municipal foreign police chief Mom Sitha did not comment in detail, but said police “did successful work” and promised “a press conference as soon as possible”.
UN-Habitat, the agency that Beerdsen worked for, issued a statement yesterday expressing its condolences to Oele, who is also an employee there.
“All of us at UN-Habitat and in the UN family at large are deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Ms Daphna Beerdsen,” Dr Joan Clos, UN-Habitat’s executive director, said in the statement.
“UN-Habitat is supporting Mr Oele wherever we can and our heartfelt condolences go out to him and the couple’s family as they deal with this tragedy.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE