Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Kidnap victim: A hopeful life, and terrible death

Jindarat Prutsiriporn was the third of four children (she has two brothers and a sister) born in Thailand. Photo / Supplied
Jindarat Prutsiriporn was the third of four children (she has two brothers and a sister) born in Thailand. Photo / Supplied

Bound and gagged in the boot of a moving car, Jindarat Prutsiriporn must have been truly terrified to make her fatal bid for freedom.

The secret life of the 50-year-old had finally unravelled to a tragic end.

A mother of three, Prutsiriporn should be enjoying middle age after moving to New Zealand for a more peaceful life nearly 30 years ago.

Instead, a drug addiction led the Thai national into spiralling debt and saw her entrapped in the world of organised crime.

Jindarat Prutsiriporn was 23 when she followed her boyfriend to New Zealand in 1989, settling in Auckland. Photo / Facebook
Jindarat Prutsiriporn was 23 when she followed her boyfriend to New Zealand in 1989, settling in Auckland. Photo / Facebook

"I was also shocked to see ... she had become very skinny, like a different person," said a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

She died poor and lonely, apparently after throwing herself from the vehicle.

Now, a major police investigation is delving into Auckland's criminal underworld to find out what happened to the woman known as "Nui".

Hope for a fresh start

Born in December 1965, Prutsiriporn was the third of four children (she has two brothers and a sister) born in Thailand.

Her parents separated when she was 8 and Prutsiriporn went to live with her father who had "a succession of girlfriends", according to court documents.

She was 23 when she followed her boyfriend to New Zealand in 1989, settling in Auckland.

"Nui jumped at the opportunity to move to New Zealand hoping for a better life because she didn't have much going for her in Thailand," said another friend.

"But unfortunately, when she got here, she became involved with bad company and people who introduced her to drugs."

Prutsiriporn smoked cannabis every day and eventually split with her partner, the father of her three sons, in 2002. She worked at Eve's Pantry on Epsom Rd for around 10 years, until her daily cannabis habit led to a darker path in 2009 - methamphetamine.

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Woman who died after kidnapping 'owed people a lot of money'

The wages she earned from the bakery were no longer enough to support her drug addiction.

"Nui started a relationship with a farang (European man) who was involved with drug gangs believing that was the way to get her regular drug supply," said the friend.

The "farang" was George Wakely - who was married to another Thai woman - and Prutsiriporn moved to Hawkes Bay to be with him, losing contact with her friends in Auckland.

She was living in a garden shed when police raided the property in November 2009. They found 70g of methamphetamine and cannabis.

Customs officials also intercepted suspicious parcels from Thailand with pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, hidden inside.

On one occasion, two baby bottles containing 1.4kg of pseudoephedrine were seized.

Prutsiriporn's explanation was she relied on Wakely, then a 54-year-old beneficiary, to feed her addiction to cannabis and methamphetamine. In exchange, she arranged for her family in Thailand to smuggle the pseudoephedrine, which Wakely passed to criminal contacts to turn into P.

She was locked up for 2 1/2 years in 2011 after admitting conspiring to import pseudoephedrine, which was a Class C drug at the time.

"It is plain that, although you did supply and offer to supply [drugs], it was not done for profit because you were living extremely modestly and I am satisfied you were simply acting as a conduit or go-between between your drug supplier and other drug users in your own circle," said Judge Roy Wade.

She went to jail with no assets and a $30,000 debt.

A downward spiral

Her fall from grace was deeply embarrassing for her sons in the tight-knit Thai community, which revolves around the Watyarnprateep Buddhist Temple in Kelston.

"For a while, the family didn't want anything to do with Nui," said a friend. "They feel she had brought shame to them, and really didn't know how to help her."

Following her release from prison, Prutsiriporn returned to Auckland, attempted to make amends with her family.

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Thai community in fear after death of kidnap victim

She visited the temple less frequently, said a friend, keeping to herself instead of mingling with other worshippers.

"Some feel she brought shame to the community."

Nui was unable to shake her addiction and money troubles. She was bankrupted in 2013 and caught with drugs twice in the space of a month.

Court documents show she appeared in the Auckland District Court in December of that year charged with possessing methamphetamine and a glass pipe to smoke it with.

She was remanded on bail to a Manurewa address on the condition she did not possess or consume drugs.

But Prutsiriporn - whose occupation was listed as "waiter" - was picked up by police again in January 2014 and charged with possessing cannabis and again possessing a meth pipe. This time she was bailed to another Auckland address, in Waterview.

"She owed people a lot of money ... I was also shocked to see ... she had become very skinny, like a different person," said a friend.

Her death - and the associated publicity - has brought more shame on her family.
Her son is in Hong Kong and would not return for her funeral, according to staff at his restaurant.

The woman with the dolphin tattoo

So far, this is the sad, but all-too-familiar story, of a life of drug addiction.
What elevated Jindarat Prutsiriporn's death into the headlines was its dramatic nature.

On an otherwise ordinary Tuesday night in Papatoetoe, astonished witnesses saw a gagged and bound woman fall out of the boot of a moving car.

Jay Shah, who lives on Huia Rd, was bringing his rubbish bins in when the car sped past around 7pm on the first day in March.

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"When I saw the body fall out of the boot, I ran towards the body to make sure everything was alright. I thought she was about to die.

"Her legs were tied and her hands were tied up and she was strangled around the neck with cloth strips."

Operation Sisal was launched and Detective Inspector Dave Lynch asked the public to help identify the car, believed to be a late model silver sedan, and the victim.

She was described as Asian, "aged between 35 and 55 and of small build", with two tattoos - one of a dolphin on her left shoulder and one of an angel on the inside of her left ankle.

The following day, the abduction inquiry was upgraded to a homicide - Prutsiriporn had died in Middlemore Hospital from her injuries.

"Police are satisfied that the incident is not domestic related," said Mr Lynch in a statement.

"We are keeping an open mind as to the motivation behind her kidnapping however an obvious line of inquiry will involve links to organised crime."

Auckland's underbelly

Eight days after her death, and the police have stopped asking for the public's help.

"Whilst we appreciate that there is ongoing interest in the investigation, our priority is to ensure a thorough and robust investigation and for that reason we are unable to comment on any specific lines of inquiry," Mr Lynch said in a statement.

That was after the Herald revealed officers were searching a residential home in Mangere over the weekend.

Forensic specialists wearing boiler suits were seen digging up parts of the Wayne Drive property and rifling through rubbish bins.

Witnesses reported seeing people taken away from the house by police on Friday.

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Neighbours said the house was under armed police guard for most of the weekend and officers were stopping all vehicles approaching the property.

The home is owned by a Thai woman, whom Prutsiriporn knew from the temple, and whose son lives there.

The Operation Sisal team is also investigating addresses in Parakai, north-west of Auckland.

An underworld source told the Herald that Prutsiriporn offered him samples of two different batches of methamphetamine in the week before her death. They suspected she was again importing pseudoephedrine, again to make money. She carried a small ice pick for protection, he said.

"Nui owed people money again."

Another source said Prutsiriporn was "clearly mixing with the wrong people" and fearful of being suspected as a "nark" by her criminal associates.

"She was a tough cookie though ... you can see she was fighting for her life until the end."

- NZ Herald

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