Unemployed Thai man wielded knife, cops allege

Thai police were last night questioning two men over the stabbing murder of Perth travel agent Michelle Smith during a bungled bag-snatch robbery on the holiday island of Phuket.

Police swooped on the alleged killer, Surasak "Boy" Wannachot, in mountains in the southern Thai province of Nakhon Sri Thammarat, where the unemployed 26-year-old was believed to have fled after Wednesday night's stabbing of the 60-year-old mother.

Hours earlier, officers had arrested alleged getaway motorcycle rider, Surin Tapthong, 37, in Samut Sakhon province, outside Bangkok, according to local news website Phuket News.

A breakthrough in the investigation came yesterday when police got a phone call from a man who said he could identify the killers.

Local website Phuket Wan reported that the man told police he met the men on Wednesday and the next night Mr Wannachot allegedly called to tell him he had knifed a tourist in an attempted bag snatch.

The man reportedly told police the accused killer fled Phuket after learning from television news that the tourist had died.

Friends of Mrs Smith were relieved at news of the arrests but said it would not bring her back.

Police launched a massive manhunt after Mrs Smith, from Butler, was knifed twice in the chest when she tried to stop a man stealing her handbag as she walked back to her hotel in an upmarket part of Phuket about 10pm on Wednesday.

Fellow Perth travel agent Tammee Lynn, 42, was slashed in the arm after stepping in to help Mrs Smith when the two men approached her on a motorcycle just 100m from her five-star hotel.

On Sunday, Phuket police chief Maj-Gen. Chonasit Watanawarangkun issued an arrest warrant for the man accused of killing Mrs Smith and police claimed they knew his identity.

Phuket News reported that the warrant alleged "attempted robbery at night with a weapon and with transport to facilitate commission of a crime, or the conveyance of property, or to escape arrest, and who thereby placed another in either physical or mental jeopardy, and whose actions led to the death of another".

It also accused the killer of "bringing weapons openly into a town, village or public place, either openly or without good reason" and of "premeditated murder".

A reward of 300,000 baht ($9670) was offered for information. Locals described the reward as the equivalent of almost three years pay for labourers in Thailand.

Phuket News said police had one witness who saw the attack and others who saw the two wanted men - the knifeman and his driver - eating at a local cafe.

Maj-Gen. Watanawarangkun told local media that Australian police were in Phuket to keep an eye on the investigation though they would not be involved directly in the case.