Thailand People Finder -- Lost Son, Sometimes Drug Addict
Sometimes, parents or family contact us to find a son who traveled to Thailand and completely lost contact.
This was not uncommon in my early years in Thailand back before the era when email and mobile phones became mainstream, for people who came to Thailand to not contact home for a long time. However, in today's internet era, it is unusual for people to drop contact with family and close friends and associates back home. Occasionally it happens.
Many people can become "missing in action" just because they are absorbed in their get away to Thailand. This is a place with many beautiful beaches and tropical wildlife, a peaceful and hospitable mainstream culture, enchantingly ancient Thai and Khmer historical places, a long history, a modern lifestyle where you can live less expensively than in a Western country, and many fun activities geared for tourists. As an international city, visitors meet not only other Thais, but also world travellers from many other countries.
It is understandable why people stay longer in Thailand than they originally plan.
The tourist regions have a lot of prostitutes who sell sex as well as affectionate relationships for small money, and it is common for a man to come into Thailand and get lost in the intriguing nightlife.
However, the nightlife in the tourist areas also have a lot of drugs and a significant number of expat criminals.
Sometimes, a man will want to stay in Thailand even though he has no "business" here. There are few jobs for foreigners in a country where wages are low, cheap labor is plentiful, and the language is Thai, not English. There are far more foreigners here wanting jobs than there is a supply of jobs.
By far the most common job of foreigners is teaching English, because some cheap Thai schools will take nearly any foreigner of Western appearance, even if they have no teaching experience or formal credentials in English. With a shirt and tie on, and with English as their native language, they are "sellable" to students and parents. Salaries are often very low by western standards, whereby it can be insufficient for many foreigners to meet all one's expenses and obligations. Finding jobs teaching English is not always easy, as supply of foreigners exceeds demand.
The result is that a lot of foreigners simply run out of money here, or don't make enough to support their lifestyle. Faced with no legal way to make enough money, they might even join a criminal organization to make money. If they have no experience with criminal organizations, they may get less than they expect as regards money, and maybe more than they expect as regards problems.
An observer can usually tell by just watching the peer groups with which the subject hangs out. I've seen guys get lured into groupthink and that sort of action.
Please understand that the vast majority of expats in the tourist and expat districts are NOT criminals, and are just normal guys staying in a nice and interesting part of the world.
However, some guys get carried away, whereby they could use some good friendly (and discreet) intervention, advice and guidance.
If a son is behaving unusually, then it is usually better to find out sooner rather than later.
A son had previously been a high achieving post-graduate academic at a university. By all accounts, we was a trusted and friendly guy, easy-go-lucky, and a backpacker sort. However, he was also financially irresponsible. He had been backpacking around for years, and his family had needed to send money to him several times before in odd places.
The parents had contacted the US Embassy, and the subject had also lost his passport, so there was a link there. (Usually, the embassy has no clue about anyone, because few people register with their embassy, even though it's easy to do via the embassy website.) The embassy representative who had dealt with their son was very helpful, but of course the embassy could not send someone out to trace him down. The embassy representative had a lot of experience in sizing up people, and the embassy rep kindly noted, in a fairly long and carefully written email, that he had seen many bright young men like the subject who came to Thailand only to lose themselves and then spend the prime years of their life in jail. The message implied substance abuse though it didn't say it outright.
The case brought us to Pai (a city in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai), where he had recently been hanging out. From his appearance and behavior, people were concerned about his substance abuse. He had also been in a minor accident on a rented motorcycle.
We eventually found him at a mental hospital in Chiang Mai. He was completely out of money, and he owed some money for motorcycle repair and some small debts to cheap guest houses, altogether totaling a few hundred dollars. Our expat agent spoke with him about his situation and outlook. He had no money and no viable plans, but he didn't want to leave Thailand. He wanted to work as a trail guide ... even though he'd been in northern Thailand only about a month! Then he talked about bumming around India. He seemed disconnected from reality. He was also a deadbeat dad.
Our expat agent can often befriend a subject and talk some sense into them. This is not lecturing. It is simply understanding their situation, the nice lures of Thailand, but also the things they don't know or don't acknowledge (especially those romatically "in love" with Thailand) because they are so new here. Longtime expats "have been there, done that", and many of us wish we'd had some sensible unsolicited friendly advice early on. In Thailand, there are a lot of other expats who will do the opposite, such as luring financially desperate young men into criminal syndicates to support themselves in Thailand.
We got him back in contact with his mother and father, and he promptly requested $5,000 be wired to him!
His father was making a quick trip to Thailand for a surprise visit, for the purpose of persuading his son to return to the US. As the son had no money, it was effective.
However, the stay at home did not last long. After a few weeks in the U.S., one day he walked out of the house with his backpack and promptly went to the highway where he hitchhiked in the direction of Canada.
The subject had a background in the biological sciences, which makes his substance abuse a decision not easy to understand.
UPDATE: The above case happened in 2004, and 15 years later, just 2 days before New Year 2020, the person we found contacted us and wrote:
"A number of years ago your agency helped my family track my whereabouts in Thailand because I went missing. I wanted to thank you and your agents that helped in my case as I am certain I would not be alive today had it not been for your help upon my mother [name redacted] request. I had suffered a mental breakdown while in Thailand and lost my ability to think rationally. I suffered with a mental health and substance abuse condition for several years after returning, but I was eventually able to find help for my conditions. Currently, I teach others that suffer from mental health and/or substance abuse problems to improve their lives... I would like to credit your agency for helping my family during my initial time of crisis in 2004. I believe my case is listed on your website under case studies [at this link].
Anyway, thank you again and feel free to post an update regarding my current status as it may bring hope to other families that find themselves dealing with similar situations..."
Note: We do NOT report drug usage to the police. However, in cases where we got to the subject when it was too late, i.e., after a drugs arrest, it is our experience that the Thai police would prefer to get an expat out of Thailand and into rehabilitation in their own country, rather than see the expat have the misfortune of going to jail in Thailand, if the situation is still flexible enough to permit. Drug use is different from drug reselling or trafficking which are taken extremely seriously.
We were contacted by a family who hadn't heard from their son in nearly a year.
He had been a highly successful lawyer who made a fortune in Asia together with (and following) his best friend from the university, in a business started by his best friend. They had sold the business and both essentially retired young. They went to Thailand together.
It turns out that our expat agent was already a friend of the subject's best friend, having met and socialized several times in the expat region a few years before. In fact, at the exact same places, the agent recognized the subject's photo as someone he had also seen there before, though he had never spoken with the subject. In retrospect, the subject was remembered as looking like perhaps he was on amphetamines.
The two friends had a gradual falling out at around that time a few years previously, over the principle of the subject's obvious drug use. They had not been in contact in two years, after a final ultimatum over the drug usage.
In searching for the subject, we found that he hadn't been to pick up his mail in about 8 months, and included was some very important mail from his investments agents. This was an apartment where he lived before. He had asked the manager to hold his mail about two years before, but had stopped coming by to pick it up, and the apartment people were also concerned. Opening his phone bills, we found that he (or someone) had been paying his mobile phone bill (without coming to pick up the bill, apparently just going to the phone company office to find out the amount), including in the most recent month.
This was the same phone number which was not being answered when his relatives tried to call him from overseas, and on which SMSes were ignored.
His nice vehicle was known by the motorcycle taxis in that area (but the subject himself was personally known to a lesser extent), and as this was not a discreet investigation, we employed the motorcycle taxi seniors. From the motorcycle taxi network, his vehicle was detected and followed, whereby we eventually found his current residence not far from the location of his neglected mail.
The motorcycle taxis also serve as the eyes and ears of the police, and we found out some things about the subject which revealed he was very nearly in terribly serious trouble.
There was also known amphetamine addiction. The subject was seemingly "far gone", and we urged the family to come and intervene.
His father and brother came to Thailand, but somehow their presence was detected and the subject didn't come home for days, while his father and brother stayed at his residence hidden inside. They started to SMS him but no response for days. So they told him they must leave and go back to work, setting a false date. Time passed, the date arrived, and an exit towards the airport was staged. The subject immediately returned to his home ... and the father and brother immediately returned as well!
To make a long story short, there was loving family bonding mixed with discussions in blunt terms, and they spent a good few days together. The subject said he must tie up some loose ends before returning home, and made motions in that direction, e.g., moving out and leaving practically all his stuff at his former best friend's house. The family left, then he left his best friend's house ... and was never seen or heard from again by the family, and did not go back and pick up his stuff.
That was more than a year ago.
Given the subject's large library with wide ranging topic matter in his home, as well as his personal history as a voracious reader with a worldly nature, it is hard to imagine how he could switch to a life of hanging around hard core bargirls of low education, and various other young low lifes, including violent individuals.
The parents of a man near 40 years old contacted us to find their son. The mother had booked a flight to Thailand to find their son and persuade him to return to the US. They weren't sure of his situation, but they recognized warning signs, including his not answering his mobile phone or responding to their SMS messages even though they were received.
As the mother was already getting on the plane, we had a very short time to find the subject.
With few leads, a foreigner is a needle in a haystack in Thailand. However, the father was very meticulous in keeping records and details, and we got as much detail as we could. We also spoke with his wife, who had returned to Thailand recently, but she had few details.
He had been in Thailand a less than a year. He was previously an extremely successful and well paid professional, but his career had been spiralling downwards. In Thailand, he had been fired from his job around one month previously, and had separated from his lovely Asian wife a few months before that, sending her back to her home country with their preschool son, without support. Last she knew, he was staying with a bargirl.
We went to talk with his last employer. His immediate boss was out of town, but we found the next best executive. They initially did not want to talk about personnel matters, both as policy and out of concern for their company's reputation, but after discussion eventually cooperated. We found out that his job performance had deteriorated. The employer actually gave him a lot of slack, understanding that people have their downs and ups, but the warnings had to be repeated and had gotten increasingly seriousness. He would improve after the warnings but then deteriorate again. He had a lot of key contacts for the business. Nevertheless, he was fired one day after failing to make a meeting with a major client, and a quick search his office for presentation materials revealed that he had not really been preparing.
He had also disengaged from his professional community (including not looking for a job).
There was a report that he had bailed some girls out of a district police station for drugs possession.
He still had a fair amount of money in the bank, so he had options, but that money wouldn't last a lot longer, maybe a few months.
Eventually, we did surveillance on his best friend. We arranged for his wife to call his best friend on his mobile, and to meet his best friend, and he pretended to be cooperative. However, he actually misled the subject's wife about the location of her husband (as we later verified). Nonetheless, we picked up surveillance on his best friend at that meeting, and followed him around. Eventually, he met the subject.
Then the surveillance team followed the subject.
Meanwhile, the mother had arrived in Thailand late that night, and was ready to taxi over, practically right off the airplane. The case had progressed a very long ways from the time she had stepped onto the airplane in the U.S.!
At around 4am, he finally went to his guest house. An agent followed him into the guest house (right behind him, confusing the reception as to whether they were together) while two others stood on both sides of the building to see which light went on.
Then the mother called from the lobby, and went up knocking on his door.
Though he insisted that he had no drug problem and felt quite normal (as they usually do), it was obvious to others that there was a substance abuse problem. The son was persuaded to go to a rehabilitation and psychological clinic, where it was determined from a urine analysis that he had taken several drugs recently. A few days later he flew out with his mother to the U.S.
Apparently, we got to him not too late, as things have gone well since then.
A young son with a great paying and relatively easy job, new house, and seemingly everything going for him, had come to Thailand before, and suddenly departed Australia and neglected his work and other responsibilities. His behavior and mindset had seemed to be getting erratic, and one of his parents told me that had started taking a particular drug similar to cannabis, which they believed led to this situation and his divergence from his good life before. After arriving in Thailand, he had been in contact with his parents but that had tapered off, he had dropped contact with others, he refused to tell anybody where he is, and when his communications seemed to be ending his parents contacted us.
To make a long story short, we traced his last internet connection location to a particular hotel in another city. We went there and found he was still there. The surprise visit was successful in getting him to return to Australia. The son acknowledged he needed help.
However, his life situation there continued to be erratic, and eventually he drove to the airport and arrived in Thailand, this time trying to be careful to remain untraceable. However, we still found him. Outwardly, he was friendly and seemed happy-go-lucky. He was handsome and had a good body appearance. He didn't show obvious outward signs of any mental problem from normal social interaction. He was trying to sell his house and assets in Australia, which could support this lifestyle for awhile, but that would eventually end and he had no longterm plans. His credentials for future employment were actually not great, and he had been very fortunate to have his previous well paying job, but with the way he left it, that reference might have become questionable.
To make a long story still shorter, he eventually returned to Australia, but one day a long time afterwards I received a short email from his father that he had committed suicide.
This is by far our saddest people finder case. He was a nice guy with good loving and caring parents. Some people, when they move away from home, and get into drugs, can quickly spiral past a point of no return.
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