All Things Crime Blog is pleased to welcome back our Cambodian correspondent Bob Couttie. In this post, Bob provides exclusive information on the case of Ophelia Begnis, a 25-year old French tourist who was brutally raped and murdered in Kampot on February 9th.

by Bob Couttie

Relatives of the suspect accused of the rape and murder of a 25 year old French tourist in Kampot, Cambodia, are desperate to find a tall red-headed woman who was seen with him on the night of the murder and may be able to provide an alibi for his movements.

jailOlivier Van Den Bogaert is currently in detention in a prison in Kampot as an investigative judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence for him to go for trial. Another investigative judge is reviewing trace evidence in France, according to the family of Van Den Bogaert.

Little is known about the woman seen with Van Den Bogaert, says his family, which provided the information to All Things Crime Blog. She was tall, estimated at 190 cm and some 90 kilos. Her age is unknown.

Both the prosecution and the defence appear to be depending upon witness testimony. A key witness for the prosecution is a 14-year old girl who alleges that she saw someone the size and build of Van Den Bogaert throw the victim’s rented bicycle into the river which runs through Kampot. The young witness is unsure whether she saw the event on the 9th, 10th or 11th of February.

The victim, Ophelia Begnis, was last seen leaving the guesthouse in which she was staying at 4.30 pm on the afternoon of 9 February.

againBegnis was due to leave Kampot the next day and was reported missing by two friends with whom she was traveling. Her body, naked and battered, was found in the estuarine river, according to reports, some 5 kilometres toward the sea. No estimate of time of death has been made publicly available.

Van Den Bogaert and other foreigners were subsequently questioned and released. A friend who met with Van Den Bogaert afterwards told All Thing Crime Blog that he appeared relaxed and unconcerned. A day after the discovery of the body, Van Den Bogaert left Kampot for Thailand to see his ex-wife and their toddler daughter. After returning, he was arrested by Cambodian authorities and charged with the rape and murder of Begnis.

No weapon or murder site has so far been determined. French forensics investigators visited Kampot and took trace evidence from boats on the river and from a number of foreign nationals.

DNA evidence is being assayed in France where an investigative judge is said to be analysing trace evidence. According to the suspect’s family and friends, the French do not yet consider Van Den Bogaert to be a suspect.

Although he has been charged with rape, no evidence has been presented to confirm that rape took place.

Of concern, says Van Den Bogaert’s family in an email to All Things Crime Blog, is that all official documentation from the first hearing before an investigative judge in March has disappeared:

“(We) are really worried about this, we don’t think it’s common to lose official declarations/statements. The family will start procedure to get those first statements back. If those statements are not found back, we really getting worried for a honest trial/hearings for Oliver”.

animalIt may be that Van Den Bogaert’s arrest had less to do with firm evidence, of which none has been made public, than the possibility that he was a flight risk. He had left the country immediately after the murder and returned sometime later. He had money from the sale of his guesthouse and had announced plans to move to Ecuador.

There has been considerable comment about a statement on Van Den Bogaert’s Facebook page that after three years in Cambodia, he was still unable to have a conversation with a Khmer woman. A close friend tells All Things Crime Blog that Van Den Bogaert frequently complained of not being able to communicate in Khmer:

“What he means, and I, amongst others, know this well because he often complained about it, is that he should put more effort in his Khmer language skills because he still isn’t able to have a conversation with a local woman after being 3 years in Cambodia. That’s all there is to it. He is just 1 of the 90% of other expats in Cambodia who still don’t get past (basic phrases) after a long-term stay.”

blissfulBased on the missing documents and the alleged eye-witness account of a 14 year-old girl, Van Den Bogaert’s freedom may depend upon tracing a tall red-headed woman whose anticipated testimony could have the power to exonerate him completely.

For more on this story check out our earlier reports:

Dispatch From Cambodia: Murder In A Sleepy Town

Kampot Murder Investigation: The DNA Issue

Cambodia Murder Investigation: Update From Kampot

The Kampot Murder: The Chilling Price of Innocence

Dispatch From Cambodia: Murder In A Sleepy Town

More stories from Bob Couttie


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17 Responses to The Kampot Murder: The Mystery of the Red-Headed Woman

  1. Michael Sellers says:

    Is there any more about the redheaded woman, other than the fact that the family is looking for her? Obviously there is a reason they’re doing that, but it’s not stated in the article. How about a little bit more, Mr. C?

  2. Bob Couttie says:

    I’ve asked the family but that’s all the info they have: she is said to have been with the suspect on the day of the murder. Even among the expat community I think a tall redhead would stand out.

  3. Michael Sellers says:

    Well, it says “a tall red-headed woman who may be able to provide an alibi for his movements on the night of the murder.” I guess being able to provide an alibi implies they were together. What I’m looking for is …. why does someone think they were together? Who thinks that? Where were they seen together? I’m not asking out of idle curiousity (well, maybe I am, who knows) …. the thought is, if we were told these things, the chance of someone else who might have seen her would be enhanced — i.e. other people who were at the same venue might remember something……. anyway, no big deal. Just wondering.

  4. Andrew Craig-Bennett says:

    South-east Asia is not known for its tall, red haired, women. Such a lady would have been noticed.

  5. Bob Couttie says:

    True, Andrew. Still nosing around, though. And we do have a lot of tall foreign women visiting here.

  6. dotty says:

    WHO has seen the red-headed women and at what time?
    Olly must know her first name, at least?… where she stayed, where she came from?

    whoever saw her, must be a witness of the defence…
    why dont they search for her with firstname, nationality?

    sounds fishy…

    what happened on june 6th, there was a court hearing?

  7. dotty says:

    When the 14 year old girl saw olly pushing the bike into the river… it cant have been too deep? did the police need divers to get it out?

    did the girl take it out from the river?

    if not, why not?
    could be not entirely uninteresting for a 14-year old to have a bike…
    or at least would have forwarded the information to others, who might like one?

  8. Bob Couttie says:

    Dottie, as with Richard Kimble’s one-arm man, there is no further information on the identity of the red-headed woman. Appeals have gone around the local expat community with no result so far. Absence of evidence is not, of course, evidence of absence.

    Over the next few weeks the investigating judge will be interviewing those on a list of witnesses presented by the defence.

    It appears the 6 June hearing was moved forward to 30 May, which was when the list was handed over.

    Kampong Bay river is not very deep but can be fast depending on the tide. I very much doubt that a 14 year old Cambodian girl would be attempting to raise it (a bicycle) in a isolated place in the dark. Apparently she emerged out of police questioning a number of people. Bikes are not especially desirable objects, they’re cheap and common – I have one myself.

    Plus there was a $1,000 reward of information leading to the culprit, somewhat more than the average Cambodian earns in a year. This has been cause for comment.

    As for guilt or innocene we have to wait to see what the evidence is.

  9. dotty says:

    if they were seeking for the red-haired women, they should have more information than that she was tall… if she spend even a five minutes with olly, he could comment on her accent… e.g. if she was a native english possibly, or she had a french or another annoying accent…

    ANYTHING more than tall and red-haired would be known, if olly had indeed met that women (that night)…

    if he saw her naked, he might even remember some special marks or whatever…

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      They may have more information about her which they are choosing not to divulge. I don’t believe that there is any suggestion that Olivier Van Den Bogaert slept with the “tall red-headed woman.”

      • Bob Couttie says:

        There isn’t any such suggestion and the lack of a name suggests she did not. We don’t know the extent to which her testimony would provide an alibi. He needs to cover his movements from sometime after 4.30 to sometime before the body was covered at about noon the next day. I suspect they’re are trying to fill in the gaps.

    • Bob Couttie says:

      In fact there is a red-headed woman whom we have identified but will not name unless we can confirm it. It may, in fact, be that the appeal was not related to the identity of the woman but seeking people who saw them together in order to validate the alibi.

  10. Bob Couttie says:

    The police have changed the description of the red-headed woman to 160cm, that’s 5’3″, a big difference. She was see with him on the night of the murder by a witness.

  11. Duffy Sinclaire says:

    I remember a tall dark redish hair woman in her 40s from France staying at Kampot River Bungalows. I arrived in kampot the 13 January and stayed 2 weeks at KRB. I do not know her name but perhaps the lady owner would. I have some idea that she was a frequent visitor to Cambodia. I believe she also was familiar with Olies place , which is two doors away. The red haired lady was dark skinned causican. She was making some clothes by hand in the resurant most days. I had asked her if she knew where I could find a map of the area. A few days later she found one for me. I had the impression that she had been in Kampot a month or more as she was mailing packages to friends at home. If this red haired woman from is Olivers only witness to that day. Then I think the authorities who require foreigners passports when checking in at guesthouses should have some record of her name and passport number. I hope this might be of some use to Olivers family.

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