Murder on the Mekong
By Jeff Howe
Photographs by Gary Knight
At first, what happened on the Mekong River on October 5, 2011 seemed like a simple matter of rough frontier justice. A detachment of Thai military commandos reported that they had confronted a band of drug runners smuggling methamphetamines out of the Golden Triangle, the famously lawless borderlands between Burma, Laos, and Thailand. A gunfight ensued, the smugglers fled, and the commandos seized two barges and a haul of nearly a million pills. The story appeared to be over—until the bodies started washing ashore. There were thirteen of them, all Chinese merchant mariners—not hardened criminals. And they appeared to have been executed in cold blood.
It was the largest massacre of Chinese civilians outside of China in over half a century, and Beijing quickly named the culprit: Naw Kham, a mysterious former guerrilla warrior turned river pirate who had haunted the Golden Triangle for years. Regarded as a feared terrorist by some and a local Robin Hood by others, Naw Kham was undoubtedly a skilled criminal—but was he a mass murderer? In Murder on the Mekong, Jeff Howe travels to the scene of the crime that transfixed East Asia and finds a tale of adventure, deception, and political intrigue.
Reporting supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
About Jeff Howe
Jeff Howe is a contributing editor at Wired, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, and a visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab. He coined the term “crowdsourcing,” and wrote the book Crowdsourcing: How the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. He is currently working on another book, The Principles: Stories in the Age of the Great Disruption.