Perth woman stabbed to death in Phuket
Travel consultant Michelle Smith. Picture: Facebook

UPDATE: 5.40pm A 60-year-old Perth travel agent has been stabbed to death in Phuket overnight after a struggle with a handbag thief.

Local tourism news site Phuket Wan reports that Thai police were hunting two assailants this morning after the incident on the holiday island about 10.30pm.

It is understood the woman, Michelle Smith - who worked at RAC Travel in Joondalup - struggled with a man when he tried to snatch her bag.

He plunged a large knife into her chest and fled with another man on a motorcycle. She died at the scene.

Tammee Lynn, 42, who works at an Attadale travel agency and was also part of the tour group of 10 travel agents from Perth, was slashed on the arm during the attack and was treated in a Phuket hospital.

The travel agents arrived in Thailand on Monday to inspect the five-star Katathani Beach Resort, south of Patong on Phuket's west coast, according to Phuket Wan.

Alasdair Forbes, the executive editor of Phuket News, told ABC radio that the attack was particularly vicious and unusual in what was regarded as a "nice part of town".

Mr Forbes said Mrs Smith was stabbed twice in the heart with a large knife — at least 15cm long — while her companion, Ms Lynn was slashed in the arm.

The offenders fled empty-handed.

As the two women staggered to the hotel entrance - about 100m from the site of the attack - Ms Smith collapsed and died at the doorstep.

"This is a particularly nasty and vicious attack — usually bag snatchers are not armed," Mr Forbes said.

"The use of a large, very sharp knife in this instance is a new thing."

Perth travel agent George Michalczyk of Motive Travel, who has a female staff member on the tour, said the attackers had circled the group several times and made them feel uneasy before attempting the robbery.

“From what I gather, all the staff and all the people in the street were just blown away with what happened,” Mr Michalczyk said.

Thai website Phuket Wan Tourism News said tourists were distressed when they heard loud screams from the two women.

Senior Phuket police and officials from the Tourism Authority of Thailand met with the group of travel agents at the Beach Resort today presenting flowers of condolence.

The group flew out for Australia this afternoon.

The RAC released a statement today confirming the woman stabbed was Mrs Smith, an employee of the RAC Travel and Touring team.

The organisation said it had been in contact with Mrs Smith's family and offered support.

"Our thoughts are with her family and friends," an RAC spokesperson said.

A fellow travel agent and former colleague of Mrs Smith told thewest.com.au this morning that she was shocked to hear the news.

The friend, who did not want to be named, described the 60-year-old as feisty and "full of life".

"She was a breath of fresh air, she always had everyone in hysterics," she said.

"She was fun-loving and just one of those people who you thought, 'I'd love to be like her when I'm her age' — just so full of life.

"I'm not surprised she fought back — she was an experienced traveller and worked hard for her money — most of us would have done the same thing.

"It's just tragic it would end up like it did, though."

Tributes on Mrs Smith's Facebook page describe her as "a wonderful person" who would always be loved and a "beautiful spirit".


Tammee Lynn was slashed on the arm during the attack. Picture: Supplied

This morning Kylie Daff from Motive Travel in Perth, who was travelling with Ms Smith, reassured her friends and family via Facebook that she was safe and well.

Ms Daff posted on her wall: "Guys, it may have hit local news ... I'm OK, with a supportive group of people. Can't update further just yet, will keep post when OK to do so." (sic)

Ms Daff and the remainder of the group are expected to return to Perth today after special travel arrangements were made for their immediate evacuation.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said they were aware of the death of an Australian woman in Thailand and were providing consular assistance to her family.

"We can confirm the death of a 60-year-old Australian woman from Western Australia in Phuket and are providing consular assistance to her family," a DFAT spokesperson said.

"We are also providing consular assistance to a 42-year-old Australian woman from Western Australia who was injured in the incident.

"It would not be appropriate to discuss the case further while a police investigation is in progress."

Ms Lynn reportedly told police that the group had finished dinner and started walking in a single file back to the resort, Phuket Wan reported.

"These guys had gone past a couple of times, and that started to bother us," she has been reported as saying.

"Then I heard a noise behind me and I turned to see what I thought was my friend being pushed in the chest. I tried to help her.

"The men rode off, empty-handed. We started walking again, and only then did we realise we'd both been slashed."

Staff from the resort reportedly helped Ms Lynn.

It is understood that a security camera captured the attack, but the numberplate could not be seen clearly.

"The brutal murder of a tourist will shock the entire holiday island of Phuket, just as it shocked staff and guests at the Katathani last night. The owner of the Katathani, Sombut Atiset, came to see what had happened," Phuket Wan reported.

"Australian honorary consul Larry Cunningham sped to the Phuket International Hospital in Phuket City to check the condition of the wounded woman before joining Phuket police in interviewing her at the resort."

Phuket Wan said Kata Noi bay is a quiet part of Phuket - away from the "noisy swirl of crowded Karon and Patong".

"[It is] one of the least-likely places on Phuket for this kind of brutal murder," it reported.

"Bag-snatching by youths on motorcycles is one of the perils of Phuket, particularly for women out walking in isolated streets. But it was the first time anyone could remember a tourist being killed.

"Phuket police are likely to pull out all stops in their efforts to find the killers."

A police source anticipated an early arrest over the stabbing.

“CCTV (closed circuit television) is helpful. So hopefully they’ll be able to apprehend someone soon,” the source said.

“They are sending some of the CCTV photos to Bangkok for special enlargement and clarification up there.”

The source said the footage showed the make of the bike and one digit of the bike’s number plate as well as what the attacker was wearing.

Mrs Smith’s murder has shocked the tourism community in Phuket heavily dependent on Australian visitors during the low season when many European and North American visitors stay at home for the northern summer.

“I think during the low season overall in Phuket with the amount of Australians the occupancy is about 50 to 70 per cent,” said Jakub Piwowarski, an assistant manager at the Katathani Beach Resort where the group of travel agents had been staying.

Federation of Australian Travel Agents chief executive Jayson Westbury said Mrs Smith's death was tragic.

"Dreadful news for the family, dreadful news for the travel industry here in Australia," Mr Westbury told ABC Radio.

"We're doing everything we can to try and reach out and see if we can assist there."

But Mr Westbury said bag snatching happened in every city in the world and it was not particularly common in Phuket.

“The tragedy here is there’s been a fatality,” he said.

“The people of Thailand generally are beautiful, loving, caring, religious people: they would be horrified with this.

“I don’t think that people should go into panic mode and start making dramatic (travel) plan changes as a result of the random nature of this act.”


The West Australian

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