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David Crisp

Life is an intriguing web of encounters and interactions with other people. Some planned, some random, some pleasant, some not so and some which, however fleeting, leave a profound and lasting impression that, despite being a small encounter, you know their impact will remain with you forever.

David Crisp was born in 1953 and came originally from Derby in the U.K. A talented musician David was educated at Trinity College and the Royal College of Music in London. He took up teaching and worked for many years at Lasswade Secondary School in Bonnyrigg, Edinburgh where he was principal teacher of music. He had a gamut of musical skills; an accomplished pianist and composer, but also an arranger and conductor.

David Crisp
David Crisp

Suffering increasing stress from working in the overstretched U.K. education system, David spent more and more time visiting Chiang Mai and he eventually took early retirement to move here permanently in 2007.

This week marks the third anniversary of David Crisp’s cruel and brutal murder at his home in Chiang Mai.

After David’s death, David Brown, another Chiang Mai resident who knew David from Scotland, wrote: “his musical enthusiasm spread further into the Edinburgh community in which he set up choirs and a symphony orchestra, both of which enjoyed widespread support”. David added, “he composed symphonic poems for them including Scottish Fantasia for the opening of the Scottish Parliament, the Doi Suthep Symphony in a tribute to Chiang Mai, another describing the different animals he had kept and loved and others publicly performed”. David also made many arrangements of traditional music including his specialist subject, madrigals, which proved successful”.

David’s love of Thailand went back many years and included mentoring a Thai student who became a life long friend. In his earlier years here, he was a regular guest at the Cherry House guest house. In his many trips to Chiang Mai he met his Thai boy friend and partner, Tar. They set up home together, with David sponsoring Tar’s further education and Tar taking care of the house in Chiang Mai, whilst David was working back in Scotland. When David retired to Thailand it was with the intention of setting up a permanent home and living happily ever after with Tar.

David and Tar
David and Tar in 2007

Once David was established here in Chiang Mai they moved to a bigger house where David could pursue his love of music, as well as keeping a beautiful house, lavish garden and a menagerie of pets. David was a great entertainer and cook often throwing dinner parties for friends to espouse his culinary expertise. He was also an active socialite, often out to dinner with friends or involved with social groups such as Chiang Mai Gay Friends (Long Yang Club). Indeed, just the weekend before his death David hosted a large party at his house for this group.

Another love of David’s was classic cars and he had many friends in the Chiang Mai Classic Car club. His collection of vintage models included a BMW and a Citroën.

Perhaps David’s greatest legacy in Chiang Mai was the choral group he formed, the Spirit House Singers, so named after the Spirit House Restaurant where they used to meet and perform. It started as a madrigal group and became very popular performing some of David’s compositions and arrangements.

Spirit House Singers
David Crisp leading the Spirit House Singers

David was a caring, gentle, generous and open man, whilst being a pedantic organiser. His softly spoken manner often belied his determination and enthusiasm for achieving new things. Always championing those in need, his sensitive, gentle encouragement was an attribute that really showed in his teaching. Those qualities stand out in the tributes paid to David after his death by former pupils.

Former friend and pupil, Carolyn Wilson, said: “David was a wonderful teacher, friend and soulmate to me. I was so fortunate to have been taught by him and to go on to teach as a result”. “The joy my pupils and orchestra bring when they perform is a credit to him.” Another former pupil, Ann Burnett wrote, “He was a great character, knew just how to cheer people up and although I never saw him after I left school in 1986 he was always remembered as a favourite teacher”. Whilst close friend and fellow musician Philip Welsby paid tribute to him: “There was a great deal of affection for David from everyone who knew him”. “He was a quiet sort of chap although, once he got up in front of an orchestra, he became a great wit”. “He kept in touch when he left in 2006 and he seemed to be living the dream in Thailand.”

Very sadly for all involved, David’s dream in Thailand did not play out to be the “living happily ever after” scenario. Once they were living together, the relationship with his boyfriend Tar did not develop in the way David had hoped. Indeed, quite the opposite, things deteriorated in an irreconcilable way culminating in a traumatic breakup. The details would be informative for many in Thai Farang relationships to learn from, but I fear it would be too much of an intrusion on privacy and disrespectful to share them here. Suffice it to say, the eventual outcome has been a total tragedy for all concerned.

Although outwardly David was the same person, immersed in his music and social activities, inwardly he must have been hurting badly. Over the coming months David was seen quite often, surreptitiously visiting Chiang Mai’s less reputable gay bars in search of fun and companionship. In particular he was often at the now defunct Cream Bar in the notorious Sleaze Alley near Chiang Mai’s night bazaar. It was here that he met a number of hill tribe young men, mainly from the Akha tribe who he befriended and often invited to his home. Apparently, some of them stayed there with him for extended periods.

To add some context, many of these guys are ex street kids who’ve been sucked into Chiang Mai’s commercial sex scene at an early age and suffer from little or no education and problems with drug and alcohol abuse. Often living rough and away from home they have many problems and live day to day without the benefit of adult role models to guide them. Those who knew David will understand that, apart from any sexual attraction, such characters would invoke a strong paternal response and a desire to help them better themselves.

And so it was that, on the morning of 22nd January 2009, David Crisp’s body was found at his home in Lakeland Chiang Mai. He had been bludgeoned over the head with a teak vase and his throat cut. A number of possessions were missing including his safe and his Citroën car, which security guards reported had been driven away by some men of Thai appearance two days before the body was found.

Murder Scene
News report of the murder in the Thai press

The story made instant international news and the Royal Thai Police mounted a robust investigation which quickly yielded two suspects who were arrested. Awoei Yaepiang, a 22 year old Akha Man was subsequently sentenced to death for the murder, but this was commuted to life imprisonment because he confessed. The other two perpetrators, believed to be Shan (or Tai Yai), were more lucky. Chatchai Tarasaksit (AKA John) was arrested but later pleaded not guilty, he was given a jail sentence for handling stolen goods though it is unclear if this relates to items from David’s property or another crime. We heard that Chatchai has since been released though cannot verify that. A third person, an apparently un-savoury character known as “Jack”, was also involved but, not surprisingly, has never been apprehended. Some would say one out of three is not bad for Thai justice. Others may reflect on the fact that this means two brutal murderers could still be out on the streets of Chiang Mai, and even pulling the same tricks with other foreigners!

In the aftermath of the news breaking, a plethora of different stories were running around and many of the usual homophobic bigots crawled out of the woodwork to denigrate David and his lifestyle. In the U.K. that bastion of journalistic integrity, “The Sun” was even reporting it was a tribal ritual killing, after misinterpreting the comments made by Thai Police about involvement of Shan people. Of course, a retraction was never made.

The truth of what really happened is known only to the three thugs who so viciously murdered David. From press reports and stories we’ve heard both from David’s friends and other bar boys who knew the perpetrators it seems the following is the most likely account of what happened.

Awoei Yaepiang
Awoei demonstrating how he claims John hit David with a teak vase

The three apparently knew David through his visits to the Sleaze Alley gay bars and one or more had been staying with David for several days before the murder. We heard conflicting reports as to whether they were at the house all day, or had returned in the evening planning to rob the place thinking David would be out. According to Police, Awoei told them that David had remonstrated with them about making a mess and not washing dishes etc after eating (knowing David one can easily imagine him doing this). This made them angry so they later attacked David in his study. Awoei claimed, “Jack” led the way and slit his throat before John smashed a large teakwood vase over his head. Of course, Awoei had a vested interest to save his own skin so his story may or may not reflect reality, the Thai court certainly ignored his claims of non-involvement.

Awoei was known to be involved with drugs. Some of our sources in the bar boy community suggest they all were, and that one was actually a well-known dealer. From what we’ve heard it seems very likely all three of them had taken significant quantities of Yaa Baa (Thai name for Methamphetamine – literally Crazy Drug) before attacking David. Whilst, in no way whatsoever an excuse for what they did, this does perhaps go some way to explain how an apparently trivial issue, such as dirty dishes, resulted in such a barbaric attack. It should also serve as a warning to other gay visitors in Chiang Mai about the dangers of associating with guys who are drug users, particularly those from hill tribes or from Burma who do not have Thai ID cards. For more information on the dangers of Yaa Baa and Chiang Mai’s freelance hilltribe hustlers read this article.

It seems David was not just the victim of a brutal assault, but also a victim of his own good natured and trusting personality. Moreover, all involved are directly or indirectly victims of the problems, poverty, lawlessness and social injustice that exist in this part of Asia. The civil war and political oppression in Burma has displaced many refugees into Thailand, particularly Shan. The persecution of hill tribe people here and the lack of opportunities for young men like these are all factors. Deprived of identity and rights by the Thai government these people are forced to live on the edge and easily get involved in drugs and criminal activities. Moreover, the level of drugs abuse, readily apparent in Chiang Mai, is at epidemic proportions with little sign of any willingness by the authorities to tackle the real issues. Coming from a poor background, or using drugs can never be a justification for murder. But, given that David was always trying to help the under-privileged people he met, it adds to the sad irony of this story.

David Crisp
In memory of David Crisp 1953-2009

Our purpose in writing this article is to keep David’s memory alive, at the same time providing an up to date account of what most likely transpired and the extent to which justice has been done, hopefully busting some of the myths and inaccuracies that emerged at the time. There is more we could say, particularly about the outcome of the justice system, but no words or actions can bring David back. However, we hope the lessons that can be learned from David’s sad demise will be taken on board by other gay foreigners living in Thailand.

If you would like to contribute your own memories of David to add to the above please leave a comment.

  1. jim messenger says:

    I remember. 3 years… Seems more. I’ve been back in Montreal 2.5 yrs. It was a sad day. Cheers… Jim Messenger.

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