Thailand agog at tale of Princess Baby Fish and the flea powder poisoning

Click to follow
The Independent Online

This is a cautionary tale for commoners who become caught up in the decadent whirl of Siamese high society. It is a story of lust, royals, a poisoning with flea powder, and it all centres on a young woman called Princess Baby Fish.

This is a cautionary tale for commoners who become caught up in the decadent whirl of Siamese high society. It is a story of lust, royals, a poisoning with flea powder, and it all centres on a young woman called Princess Baby Fish.

Life has not gone swimmingly for the ill-fated Chalasai Yugala, ever since she confessed to poisoning her powerful husband in Bangkok nearly a decade ago. Acquitted of first-degree murder earlier this month due to a lack of evidence, the 33-year-old remarried widow wept with joy. But Thailand's most notorious woman must now brace herself for this verdict to be challenged in the Supreme Court. If found guilty of murdering Prince Thitipan, a distant cousin of the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Baby Fish faces the death penalty.

The Thai public is transfixed by this rare look at the tangled private lives of royalty. Commentators are shocked by the circumstances of Baby Fish's abusive upbringing in the palace, where she reportedly was raped at the age of 14 and held as a sex slave.

The spectacle of rival wives grappling over the royal estate bemuses observers, who have been betting on the outcome. The 60-year-old Prince Thitipan Yugala, whose pet name Than Kob translates as Frog, collapsed in a coma after sipping breakfast coffee laced with flea killer one August morning in 1995.

He died a week later. By all accounts, Baby Fish, his third wife, spent little time grieving. After she rang an ambulance to whisk the prince off to intensive care, she skipped away with her lover, Uthet Choopwa, a teenage chestnut vendor whose stand was just around the corner from Asawin Palace. Apparently, Baby Fish, 22 at the time, did not expect her Frog Prince to croak. The young lovers had counted on snatching some time together as her husband lay passed out. A few Thai commentators pity Baby Fish because she forsook wealth and a lofty position for romance in penury.

Feminists deplore the double standard that allows wealthy old men to juggle concubines and minor wives while not tolerating the sex drives of their young partners. But most Thais revile Baby Fish as an opportunistic murderer.

Born in 1972, she was dumped by her middle-class Thai parents when she was four because her skin was too swarthy, and placed in Asawin Palace to be groomed as a royal servant. At 14, she was reportedly violated by her royal guardian, who was soon overheard boasting about the sexual stamina of the chubby teenager. The prince became besotted with his servant. When the couple wed in August 1994, Prince Thitipan was 59, almost four decades her senior.

Within a year, Baby Fish felt bored and sought out an athletic lover closer to her own age. Discreet affairs are not uncommon in these circles, but Baby Fish's flagrant liaison with a street vendor raised eyebrows.

Her trysts with the impoverished Uthet Choopwa, who was from Siam Square, would last for days, and the lovelorn prince was reduced to placing desperate adverts in the national newspapers. The message was essentially "Baby Fish Come Home", and offered large rewards for any clues to her whereabouts.

In due course, Baby Fish ran away to northern Thailand with her paramour and bore him a son. Then her husband died.

Prosecutors said Baby Fish owned up to stirring insecticide into his morning coffee, but the widow quickly retracted, saying: "I did not poison Prince Thitipan. I confessed on that day because of stress."

Baby Fish's lawyers argued that there was only circumstantial evidence and no motive for committing murder. They pointed out that by midsummer, Prince Thitipan openly tolerated visits by his wife's lover, even to the palace grounds.

And there is also the question of why the prince's first wifeapparently rinsed out the tainted coffee cup the day after he became ill, when the unwashed porcelain should have been turned over immediately to the police as evidence.

Compared with the complexities of this case, which involve child abuse, poison and passion, the Michael Jackson trial in California is a festival of normality.

The Thai people are following every twist of their right royal knockabout until the last appeal.

Comments