Anatomy / Forensic Museum in Thailand


Warning! The video below contains graphic images that some might find disturbing!

I came across this article after posting about the Crime Museum in the United States.  The article is also pretty unsettling but it is interesting.

Many Thai children who grew up in the 1960s received the same warning from their parents. “Don’t stay out after dark or the ghost of See Uey will eat you.”

The cannibal-turned-supernatural legend and movie villain was, in reality, a poor Chinese man who went on a killing spree around Bangkok and some of the nearby provinces. He had a taste for children. No one is certain, but it’s believed that he murdered and ate anywhere from five to eight children. Speculation also ran rife that his omnivorous ‘diet’ may have included some adults that he was never charged with. Caught in the act of burning one of the corpses by the young boy’s father, See Uey Sae Ung was finally arrested in 1958. His confessions traumatized Thailand, birthing a bogeyman who still haunts the nation’s psyche. After stabbing the children in the throat, See Uey told police, he then slit open their chests and ate their hearts and livers.

Being poor does not normally equate to killing and eating children. I am just saying.

A Hainanese immigrant who toiled as a coolie, rickshaw-puller and vegetable farmer after arriving in Thailand, the country’s most legendary serial slayer was a former soldier, fighting against the Japanese invaders on the Chinese island during World War II. Some believe that his bloodlust was stoked on the battlefields of Hainan province. Professor Somchai Pholeamke, the former head of Siriraj Hospital’s Forensics Department, said, “His military commanders told the troops to eat the livers of the enemy soldiers to take on their strength and power.” Many of the Thai movies about See Uey use the battlefield as the focal point of his motivations. A scene in one such film shows the young soldier, famished and alone, after all his comrades-in-arms had been slaughtered, with nothing to eat but human carrion.

If his military training is what ‘motivated” him to become a serial child killer / cannibal why are there not many others doing the same thing? Did he train and fight alone?

Eating livers is a ghastly rite often associated with black magic in Southeast Asia. Over the centuries it has been practiced during times of warfare to dehumanize the enemy and feed on their strength. Just as the samurais believe that a man’s courage resides in his guts, which is why the ritual suicide of seppukko consists of disembowelment with a sword, the troops of the ancient Khmer empire and the more recent Khmer Rouge ate the livers of their enemies to increase their strength and stamina.

I am still calling B.S. here for the same reason I have above.

See Uey’s cadaver, waxed with the preservative formalin, is the most popular exhibit at the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum on the grounds of Siriraj Hospital, the country’s oldest medical facility, in Bangkok. The cannibal’s cockroach-brown corpse stands slumped in an upright glass casket off to one side of the room. The empty eye sockets, as well as the bullet holes left by the executioner’s machine-gun, have been filled in with white paraffin. Beside his final resting case there are several others occupied by killer rapists and murderers also sentenced to death.

Elsewhere in this academic bone-yard are Exhibits A through Z of murder weapons (knives, pliers, ropes, a hammer and a screwdriver) as well as bullets extracted from the dead during autopsies

Of the two actual skeletons in the museum, the one in a glass case belongs to the former chairman of the hospital’s forensics department, Songkran Niyomsane, who founded the museum in 1965. “He was a true man of forensics,” said Somchai with a chuckle. “He wanted the students to be able to be able to study him after he died.”

Elsewhere in this academic bone-yard are Exhibits A through Z of murder weapons (knives, pliers, ropes, a hammer and a screwdriver) as well as bullets extracted from the dead during autopsies. More macabre still are the glass jars in which human foetuses, plucked from the womb after the mother had perished, swim in formaldehyde. One jar houses a two-month-old victim of hydrocephalus with a grotesquely swollen head that makes him look like an alien’s offspring. As a testament to Buddhist compassion, many Thai visitors leave dolls, candies and toys for the spirits of these kids.

Near the preserved cadavers of the mass murderers is a glass case full of skulls with bullet holes in their foreheads. There is no signage in either English or Thai to explain this display. Somboon Thamtakerngkit, the division chief of the hospital’s Forensic Pathology Department, said there is a modus operandi to the morbidity. “King Rama VIII, the eldest brother of our present king, was shot in the forehead back in 1946,” she said. “Not much was known about entrance and exit wounds caused by gunshots then, so they used the skulls of these unclaimed bodies for tests.” The results of these early shots at forensics proved that claims of suicide were skullduggery. Riddled with question marks, the case remains Thailand’s most contentious murder mystery.

But the real gallery of grotesques is the many autopsy photos lining the walls. They portray, in livid reds and bruising blues, exactly what an exploding grenade does to a torso, how a broken beer bottle can tear out a throat, a train sever a head, or a knife shred a woman’s genitals. As repulsive as most of these images are, the doctors who work with the dead learn invaluable lessons from them to help the living. The autopsies and photos, Somboon said, also assist the doctors, the police and judges to bring the perpetrators of these murders most foul to justice.

The museum doubles as an ad-hoc classroom for students boning up on forensics and anatomy. They refer to the skeletons and cadavers as ajaan yai (“headmasters”) and wai them—a prayer-like gesture that is local sign language for respect and gratitude.

Professor Somchai pointed to a glass box containing the cadaver of a killer rapist. “The museum also might teach the students something else. If you do a big crime you could end up like this,” he laughed.

I agree with the scared straight method. Take all budding criminals and give them an eye full.

The Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum has no age restrictions. Some visitors are but schoolchildren on the eve of adolescence. Should they be allowed to witness such horrors? That is debatable. Perhaps what both the young and the old need to see are the horrendous effects of violence: not the slow-motion cinematic ballet of gunfire and falling bodies, but the ugly anatomy of real death.

I guess that is up to the parents of the children. I would not have taken my son but by the time he was 12 my brother would have been bugging my parents to take him.

In 2007, the terror trove was renovated and linked together with five other facilities under the banner Siriraj Medical Museum 6. For a miniscule entry fee, visitors can drink in a sobering six-pack of mortality checks and loathsome diseases.

The Ellis Pathological Museum is devoted to the pioneering work of the Professor A.G Ellis, an American who stayed in Thailand with the assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1919 to 1921 and again from 1923 to 1928. He was the first pathologist in the country. Touring this museum of organs infected with cancer, hearts deadened by strokes and livers pickled with alcohol could very well make you never want to drink, smoke or wrap your molars around another cholesterol-heavy cheeseburger ever again.

The squeamish and the anally retentive will have an especially crap time in the Parasitology Museum. Every worst fear and phobia any traveler ever had about the intestinal horrors lurking in Asia has been graphically outlined and exhibited: roundworms, pinworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Idolaters of Stephen King and the medical thrillers of Robin Cook may relish opening this can of parasitic worms, but most visitors give it the bum’s rush.

Older Thais who grew up with admonitions from their parents that are straight out of a monstrous fairy tale are hypnotized by the cannibal

Of the six facilities, it is the Forensic Medical Museum that draws the biggest crowds and, of all the exhibits, it is See Ouey’s upright casket that generates the greatest number of glares and gazes. Older Thais who grew up with admonitions from their parents that are straight out of a monstrous fairy tale are hypnotized by the cannibal. Younger Thais who have seen the movies and TV shows are baffled by his tiny size. Many of the travellers and expats look stupefied by this medieval exhibition of putting killers on public display. After all, the crimes of the serial lady-killer Ted Bundy and the cannibalistic necrophiliac Jeffrey Dahmer were much more heinous than See Uey’s, but no one ever put their corpses on display.

I do not get that. He killed and ate young kids so how is Dahmer’s and or Bundy’s crime so much more “heinous?

For all the movie frames and column inches he has racked up, See Uey remains an enigma. The only information about him in the museum is a newspaper clipping in Thai, taped to the side of his final resting case, reiterating the few known facts about him – his upbringing on Hainan, his days as a soldier, his alleged body count and his execution in 1958 – along with a black-and-white mug shot in which the rodent-faced man is baring his teeth. But it’s difficult to read the expression on his face. Was he mugging for the crime photographers and living up to his reputation? Is this the glower of an extraordinarily angry and embittered man? Or does he look more like a cornered rat, baring his teeth and snarling out of fear?

To answer those questions, I spent a lot of time in Chinatown, over the course of many years, writing all sorts of features and guidebook entries about the history of the area and the exodus from China that brought in tide after tide of landed immigrants during World War II and after the country fell to the communists in 1949. An elderly woman who sold vegetables in the “Old Market” (little changed in the past century), told me, “There’s a Thai expression about ‘traveling with a pot and a mat’ to describe any trip taken on the cheap. But it actually came from the fact that those were the only two things that most of us Chinese immigrants brought to Thailand. Even thinking about that journey by boat makes me seasick: stuck in a cargo hold for months that stank of shit and vomit and piss, roaches and rats everywhere.” She shuddered with disgust.

“It was bad enough coming to all these foreign lands where people hated us, but our own people preyed on us too. My brothers and sisters never made it to Thailand. They were on another boat, but the sailors knew we’d be traveling with all our valuables. Once the boats were at sea, some of these pirates would rob people and throw them overboard to drown or get eaten by sharks. That’s what happened to my brothers and sisters.” Tears glittered in her eyes.

There are many Thai slang terms for us. Because we were seen as ‘reds’ they sometimes called us ‘pussy blood Chinks’

As a ‘boat person’ See Uey would have shared some of those experiences.

Another Chinese immigrant from Hainan, a retired police officer on active duty at the time See Uey was on the loose, spoke of the xenophobia directed at the so-called “Jews of the Far East” wherever they washed up after the exodus: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the United States. “There are many Thai slang terms for us. Because we were seen as ‘reds’ they sometimes called us ‘pussy blood Chinks’. Since the communists wanted to destroy religion and the temples we were also referred to as ‘the Chinks who killed the temples’. That one I still hear quite often, but some of the older expressions like ‘rickshaw Chinks’ and ‘human animals’ that were used to describe our status as the lowliest manual labourers, aren’t really used anymore, expect by a few older people,” said Wen Liang, sitting in a shophouse that was a reconverted opium den, near the Dragon Lotus Temple in Chinatown.

As a coolie and vegetable farmer, See Uey would have also been a punching bag for many of the same jabs and swipes.

This type of thought others me. Some try to excuse the criminals because they had a hard life or went through hardships. The whole time that they are making these excuses for the killers they interview others that were there, went through the same thing or worse and did not become criminals.

I will not go on a rant about that, I will save that for another post but it does get on my nerves.

Like many people interviewed for this story, the retired cop expressed skepticism that the cannibal killed and ate as many children as he was charged with. “Let me put it this way. It would not have been difficult to pin some other unsolved murders on a poor, illiterate ‘human animal’. He did confess to killing some of the children, but it’s possible he may have targeted some adults, too. We found a few other corpses that had been cannibalized in Bangkok around that time, but he was never charged with those crimes or confessed to them.” Slowly and solemnly, the ex-cop nodded. “We detectives are forever examining motives. Some of my colleagues in the police force interviewed him after he was arrested and they did not think he was insane. I have often wondered if his anger was not a more generalized rage against the world mixed with a kind of sorrow that came from knowing he would never see his homeland again. Many Chinese immigrants of the time could probably identify with those misgivings.”

I have to wonder if it really makes it better if he only killed and ate 5 kids rather than let’s say 10?

And, not ranting but those other immigrants did not become murdering cannibals did they? Even though they suffered and had heartbreak…. I’ll stop.

In the forensic museum, Professor Somchai had also addressed the quandary of whether See Uey was insane or not at the time of his homicidal binge. He pointed to a long scar on the cadaver’s forehead. “Here you can see the incision. After he was executed, they did an autopsy to see if See Uey’s brain was normal, and it was. But of course it was impossible to really assess his state of mind during the period leading up to his arrest.”

Feeding on all these different quotes and anecdotes, facts and fictions, legends and conjectures, features and guidebook entries, after a lengthy period of indigestion, I combined a bunch of them, adding a few of my own embellishments and allusions to The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, for a novella of mine that was long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award in 2008.

Here is more and a really good story, the novella that he mentions above.

Here is a video of the museum. If you go to 1:38 you get to where See Uey is being filmed.

Again.

This video has some VERY disturbing images! 

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