Spaniard confesses to killing and dismembering Colombian plastic surgeon in Thailand

The case of Daniel Sancho, who has admitted to the murder of Edwin Arrieta, has shaken the paradisiacal island of Kho Pha-ngan

Daniel Sancho
Daniel Sancho (center), during a reconstruction of the crime with Thai police officers in Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand.ROYAL THAI POLICE HANDOUT (EFE)

Kho Pha-ngan is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand and world-famous for hosting the full moon party, when the island’s beaches are crowded with revelers dancing until dawn. Daniel Sancho Bronchalo and Edwin Arrieta had arranged to meet in the paradisiacal location to attend the festivities: a meeting that ended in the death and dismemberment of the latter, a Colombian plastic surgeon, at the hands of the former, a Spanish chef and son of the actor Rodolfo Sancho.

Arrieta, 44, had booked a hotel from July 31 to August 3, but Sancho, 29, arrived on the island before the Colombian, although it has not been revealed precisely when. Sancho claims that it was Arrieta who decided to join him on the trip, while the Thai police claim it was the Colombian paid all the expenses.

Although Sancho was staying in the room booked by Arrieta, he had another hotel reservation, for August 1 and August 2, near Salat Beach the police confirmed to the Bangkok Post. On August 1, the two had dinner at a restaurant near this second hotel. On the evening of the same day, the Spaniard was caught on security cameras buying knives, rubber gloves, garbage bags and cleaning utensils at a store, according to the same source.

Daniel Sancho and Edwin Arrieta in Koh Pha-ngan.
Daniel Sancho and Edwin Arrieta in Koh Pha-ngan. Policía de Tailandia

In his first statement to the police, Sancho said that he had seen Arrieta for the first time on Wednesday, August 2, at around 3 p.m., when he went to the Koh Pha-ngan pier to pick him up. According to Sancho’s statement, the pair went to eat at a restaurant and then visited Hat Rin beach, near the hotel where they were staying. However, the crime had taken place a day earlier.

In his confession to police last Saturday, Sancho claimed that Arrieta had gone to his hotel room on August 1 asking him to have sex. According to what he told the police, the Spaniard refused and, in a fit of anger, pushed his friend, who fell and hit his head on the bathtub. Sancho decided to dispose of the body by dismembering it and leaving the parts at different locations on the island, including in the sea.

To do so, he acquired a kayak that was found on Saturday around 300 meters from the hotel where the murder took place. According to the women in charge of the hire store, Sancho appeared on Tuesday, August 1, at around 9 p.m., visibly agitated and asking to “rent a boat.” Although at first both claimed that it was not safe for a tourist to sail at night, they ended up accepting $1,000 that the Spaniard offered when he insisted on “buying it.”

After throwing a suitcase with some of Arrieta’s remains into the sea, Sancho returned to his room. He checked out at 9 a.m. on Thursday, August 3, according to the Bangkok Post. During the day, local media reported that a garbage collector had found a severed pelvis and human intestines hidden in a fertilizer bag at around 12:30 p.m. at a landfill on the island. In an article published that day, the Bangkok Post reported that police forensics examiners estimated that the murder had taken place at least 24 hours before the body parts were discovered and that the remains, due to their size, must have belonged to a foreigner.

The Koh Pha-ngan landfill where human remains were found.
The Koh Pha-ngan landfill where human remains were found.SITTHIPONG CHAROENJAI (EFE)

Sancho, who is a chef at the Madrid catering service La Bohéme, went to the full moon party that Thursday with two girls he met at the hotel. After returning from the event — and after news of a murder hit the press — he reported the disappearance of his Colombian friend, who, he said, had arrived on the island on Wednesday, the day after the murder.

On Friday, during a new search at the same landfill, more human remains were found in a plastic bag, including two parts of lower limbs, as well as some clothes. After these discoveries, investigators decided to interrogate Sancho as a suspect on Friday. Police had also noticed that the Spaniard had cuts and scratches on his body when he went to the station to report Arrieta’s disappearance, according to the EFE news agency.

When police inspected the hotel room Sancho had booked, they found that the refrigerator, toilet, and sink were completely clean, but forensics collected samples of hair and tissue from the drain. Sancho, who has been in police custody since Friday, admitted to the crime in front of his Thai court-appointed lawyers and several officers at Koh Pha-ngan police station, according to EFE. “I am guilty, but I was Edwin’s hostage,” he said. In an earlier interrogation, he had denied being the perpetrator. When asked if he felt he had been coerced into a confession, he replied: “I did not feel comfortable, but I was not forced either.” Sancho added the Thai authorities were treating him well: “Nobody hit me or hurt me.”

Daniel Sancho (with cap) and Thai police officers during the reconstruction of events.
Daniel Sancho (with cap) and Thai police officers during the reconstruction of events.ROYAL THAI POLICE HANDOUT (EFE)

Sancho has denied having a romantic relationship with the victim, as Arrieta’s family told investigators in the case, according to Thai media. “He was obsessed with me. He deceived me, he made me believe that what he wanted was to do business with me, to put money into the company in which I am a partner. [...] But it was all lies. The only thing he wanted was me, for me to be his boyfriend,” Sancho claimed. “Every time I tried to get away from him, he would threaten me,” he told EFE.

On Sunday, agents escorted Sancho to different parts of the island to carry out a reconstruction of the crime and the Koh Samui Provincial Court approved a court order against the accused, who is expected to be transferred there on Monday. The court order was issued following the results of tests carried out on human remains found at a landfill on the island and samples of hair, fat, and tissue that forensic experts obtained from the drain of the room where the murder allegedly took place. The DNA matches that of Arrieta, a surgeon from the Colombian town of Lorica, in the northern department of Córdoba, who owns a clinic in the city of Monteria.

Sancho faces charges of premeditated murder, concealment, and removal of body parts to cover up the death or the cause of death. The Thai Penal Code carries punishments of life imprisonment and the death penalty for homicide, although the latter can be commuted by King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The Thai monarch exercised this prerogative three years ago in the case of another Spaniard, Artur Segarra, who in 2016 was sentenced to capital punishment for murdering and dismembering David Bernat in Bangkok. Segarra is now serving a life sentence. Article 288 of the Penal Code also considers a sentence of between 15 and 20 years in prison for murder, which can be increased if there are aggravating factors in the case.

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