TWO men have uncovered what they say may be the remains of Vietnam War-era photographer Sean Flynn, the son of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn who went missing in Cambodia in 1970.
Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reported Saturday that the two men – 29-year-old Australian Dave MacMillan and 60-year-old Briton Keith Rotheram – had discovered the remains in Kampong Cham province’s Phka Dong village, based on a tip from a local villager who claimed to have witnessed in 1971 the execution of a foreign prisoner matching Flynn’s description. Previous witness statements, though never verified, have suggested that Flynn might have been killed by lethal injection in Kampong Cham’s Krauch Chhmar district in 1971.
Based on photos seen by the Post, the remains include clothes, teeth and bone fragments. MacMillan told the Daily Mail that an unnamed expert had concluded that the teeth suggested dental work performed in the US during the middle of the 20th century.
US embassy spokesman John Johnson said Sunday that MacMillan and Rotheram had given the alleged remains to US authorities, who planned to pass them on to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), a US military institution in Hawaii that forensically analyses evidence that may lead to the repatriation of Americans killed in overseas conflicts.
“On Friday night, they dropped off possible human remains, and we’ll send them along to JPAC and they’ll go back to the US for analysis,” Johnson said, adding that it was unclear if or when JPAC would be able to positively identify the deceased.
“It really depends on what sort of material they have to work with, so it’s really hard to speculate,” he said.
British photographer Tim Page, a close friend of Flynn’s when they covered the conflict in Vietnam together during the 1960s, has spent years searching for details about the fate of Flynn and other colleagues who disappeared in the region during that era. In an email last week, he expressed reservations about the way in which MacMillan and Rotheram conducted their search, adding that he had encouraged them to turn the remains over to the US embassy after their initial reluctance.
“It was not a forensic dig; they used an excavator and uncovered a full set of remains, which they removed from the site and have been taciturn about handing in,” Page said, adding that it was premature to tout the remains as Flynn’s when numerous other foreigners are thought to have been killed nearby.
“They are ignoring the strong possibility of them being the remains of another possible nine foreigners who are thought to be in the same area,” Page said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, described the search for Flynn’s remains as a “personal and a family matter”.
MacMillan said in an email that he had received authorisation to conduct the search from Rory Flynn, Sean’s half-sister and next of kin. Local authorities and US embassy officials, Macmillan said, were “fully apprised of every stage of the operation”.
Rotheram declined to comment at length on the finding on Sunday, describing the event as “world news” and saying that he was “waiting for people to come in with exclusives”.
Journalists who covered Cambodia from 1970-1975 are scheduled to come together in Phnom Penh for a reunion next month, where a memorial stupa will be dedicated to the local and foreign journalists who died while covering the Kingdom’s 1970-1975 civil war. At least 37 journalists – from Japan, France, the United States, Sweden, Germany, India, Laos, Australia and Cambodia – were killed or disappeared during the conflict between the US-backed Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge, which captured Phnom Penh in April 1975.
In his statement, Page noted the “amazing” timing of the reported Kampong Cham discovery coming with the reunion so close at hand.
“I think you would agree that if this is the remains of one of our peers or brothers – in fact whoever it is, some dignity and correctness is required,” he wrote. “It will be good to be reunited in Phnom Penh and to raise a glass to them.”