Police are still on the hunt for a man suspected of killing his pregnant wife and stepsons with a machete while they slept in their Tbong Khmum province home.
The triple homicide is not an isolated incident – it is at least the seventh high-profile domestic murder so far this year. In this case, as in many others, commune authorities were aware of domestic violence taking place in the home but failed to respond adequately to prevent the killings.
Neighbours found the bodies of Khean Sok Lean, 43, and her sons on Sunday morning, hours after they were killed in Tmar Pich commune, in Tbong Khmum district, authorities said.
Sok Lean, at two months pregnant, was found slumped against the wall of her home, while her sons Thoeun Vannak, 17, and his younger brother Thoeun Theary, 11, were found lying in sleeping positions with their throats slit.
“We know that they were attacked with a long-blade machete. Their throats have been cut,” said James McCabe of the Child Protection Unit, an NGO that investigates crimes against children. “All received horrific injuries to the head and neck.”
Chraing Phou, Sok Lean’s husband, fled the scene, according to Prak Bunann, deputy provincial police chief. Bunann said he was liaising with police in Phou’s home province of Svay Rieng and was closing in on the location of the fugitive, which he declined to disclose late Monday.
Just last week Sok Lean had approached her local commune chief to ask for his intervention, accusing Phou of domestic violence and adultery.
Tmar Pich Commune Chief Tan Thea on Monday confirmed he had been called to deal with the dispute, adding that he was accompanied by commune police and that together they reached a compromise with Phou. They both declined to take legal action, claiming the case was “not serious”, despite Phou’s threatening behaviour – which ultimately proved to foreshadow Sok Lean’s death.
In a thumbprinted document, Phou promised to end the violence and to “stop sharpening his machete”.
“The suspect threatened her [and demanded she] abort the child,” Thea said. “He slapped or beat her a little. When I got there, I did not see any bruises on the face of the woman, so it is not serious.”
“We just only gave him a warning,” he added.Thea said Phou appeared “very intelligent” and “pretended” to understand the authorities’ warnings.
“I feel very sorry about this. I was deceived by that suspect cheating me,” he said.
Commune Police Chief Tim Neang confirmed Thea’s account.
The victim’s older sister, Khean Nim, 47, said the suspect “always felt angry” towards his wife.
“The man killed my sister. This is cruel [enough], but why did he also kill my nephews? The boys had no argument with him,” she said. “I hope the spirits of my sister and my nephews help the police to arrest that man.”
Gender and Development for Cambodia’s Ros Sopheap urged the authorities to place domestic violence victims in safe places before it is too late, and said authorities should not have taken the suspect at his word, as many repeat offenders promise to mend their ways.
“Cambodian society, and especially police, do not really care about domestic violence law,” she said. “If the knife does not cut your own fingers, you don’t know how much it hurts.”