Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sounds of torture heard for months

Sounds of torture heard for months

Sounds of torture heard for months

Neighbors had been hearing screams for months. The local motodops were well accustomed

to young children being delivered to the house at around 6pm and then collected early

the next morning. Everyone noticed that the same four or five older foreign men would

routinely visit the house and sometimes stay all night.

The August 20 arrest of Karl Heinz Henning, 61, and that of his neighbor, Thomas

Baron von Engelhardt, 42, one day later, confirmed the worst fears of the area's

residents: children were being tortured and sexually abused in their own neighborhood.

Those who witnessed the police raid on his house say there is now no doubt in their

minds that Henning is guilty of the crimes of which he stands accused.

As the police searched his house, Henning jumped from his third-floor balcony in

what was described by officials and local media as an attempt to escape arrest.

But neighbors and local motodops say the sexagenarian was not trying to flee, but

to commit suicide.

"He is old, he would die in jail," said one motodop. "We saw it all

happen and it was obvious he wasn't worrying about escape - he wanted to die. It

is a very long way to jump."

Henning impaled himself on the metal gates of his house. After several days of treatment

in Calmette hospital, his condition was described as "improving."

Residents of the area had long been concerned by Henning's activities.

"Most days I would hear a little girl screaming," said one of Henning's

neighbors, who declined to be named. "It was definitely a kid's voice; sometimes

there would be loud screaming and then silence immediately. I suspected someone in

the area was raping kids."

Despite circumstantial evidence and heated speculation, it was difficult for anyone

to take action.

"Everyone in the area, even the police, knew he was taking young children into

the house," said one motodop who works opposite Henning's house. "But we

were too scared to get involved."

An undercover police and anti-trafficking NGO investigation has since revealed that

the innocuous-looking three-story house on a quiet residential street just behind

Lucky supermarket was the epicenter of a pedophile ring.

Police say they have seized dozens of video recordings of Vietnamese girls, aged

between 10 and 14, being bound, whipped and raped inside Henning's flat, where they

also uncovered sexual paraphernalia and computer equipment. Authorities have said

Engelhardt, Henning's neighbor, appeared in some of the videos.

Three ethnic-Vietnamese Cambodian adults were also arrested. Cheng Thit Heu, 45,

is likely to be charged with providing her two children, 10 and 14, for sex. Her

sister, Cheng Thit You, 21, and her husband, Nguyen Hong Voeng, 20, face charges

of acting as go-betweens and procuring the children for sex.

"At the moment we are carrying out undercover investigations to catch the rest

of the people involved," said Keo Thea, deputy chief of the municipal anti-human

trafficking bureau.

Local motodops said they had long suspected Henning and Engelhardt were not the only

foreigners involved in the sexual abuse.

"There are four or five of them, all friends," one motodop said. "This

[Henning's house] was the 'office' for them, the place where they made all the videos.

When the police check all the tapes they will identify the other guys."

The area that Henning and Engelhardt lived in has a high percentage of ex-pat residents.

Neighbors voiced concern that it was an easy place for pedophiles to hide.

"I am worried that there is a network of pedophiles operating in this area,"

another neighbor said. "When I first came here many years ago I would see old

men in the street surrounded by young kids and you still see a lot of that type of

guy in the area."

Citing security concerns as a result of the ongoing investigation, anti-pedophile

NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) director Beatrice Magnier declined comment on

the case.

The benefit of hindsight makes it easy for Henning and Engelhardt's neighbors to

recollect incriminating details about men they had lived side by side with for years.

People described seeing Henning walking down the street surrounded by young children

who would call him "papa."

"I would see him taking the kids to the supermarket," a neighbor said.

"But when I looked at him, trying to make eye contact, he would look down at

the floor."

But neighbors, motodops and even colleagues also readily admit that the men were

normal enough not to arouse excessive suspicion.

"I used to give Henning rides," said one motodop. "He seemed like

a normal guy."

Current and former colleagues of Engelhardt, who was team leader of level one English

at Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC), have found it hard to reconcile their

impression of a mild-mannered and professional teacher with the sadistic behavior

he stands accused of.

"Everyone is shocked," said one former PUC employee who declined to be

named. "He was one of the nicest guys at the school - no one ever had a bad

word to say about him."

The students Engelhardt was teaching were between 17 and 18 years old, said one PUC

teacher, who received her teacher training from him.

"I have seen him teach and he seemed to have a good rapport with the students;

he taught well and the students seemed to like him," she said. "He seemed

to be a very interactive teacher, quite entertaining even, and from the classes I

sat in on I never heard anything bad said about him."

Pannasastra University declined to comment on Engelhardt's arrest. Mr Rotana, the

teacher in charge of English - who has responsibility for vetting new teachers and

who was responsible for employing Engelhardt - did not answer repeated calls to his


But Engelhardt's colleagues all painted a picture of an agreeable, friendly, responsible


"He was always on time, he took his teaching work seriously," said the

former PUC employee. "He has worked at the school for years and he would always

be happy to sit and chat at coffee breaks. He was intelligent too, articulate and

interested in politics."

Moreover, Engelhardt was believed to be in a long-term relationship, and possibly

to be a father - though the Post was unable to confirm this.

"He had a stable Vietnamese girlfriend," said the former PUC employee.

"A stable job, a flat in a nice area, he always passed the regular PUC teacher


This portrait is totally at odds with the initial findings of the police investigation.

Police say ropes, video recording equipment, and tapes of both Henning and Engelhardt

having sex with very young Vietnamese children were seized at Henning's property.

Police also believe the children were being drugged.

"The children they were sexually abusing told us they were being given drugs,"

Thea said. "When we raided the house we caught a Vietnamese couple who were

just on their way out to buy illegal substances for Henning."

The case against him and Engelhardt is progressing rapidly, Thea said.

"I have already sent the case to the prosecutor," he said. "They will

organize the information, prepare the charges, and then it send to the judge."

In Germany, news media have been slow to pick up on the involvement of German nationals

in a suspected pedophile ring, said Stephan Haselberger, a journalist at Der Spiegel


"As far as I know there is no media interest in the case at all," he said.

"I am sure the German public would want such criminals to be arrested and tried

and they wouldn't care if this happened in Cambodia or Germany, as long as there

is no death penalty."


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