Elise Dallemagne ➜ A young Belgian backpacker vanished mysteriously overnight on Thailand’s ‘Koh Tao Island’ following strange behaviors. Her body was found in the jungle more than a week later.
April 19, 2017 (Wednesday)
Poseidon Resort, 40 M.3, Tanote Bay, ตำบล เกาะเต่า Koh Tao (เกาะเต่า), Thailand
Alternative Name: Elise Dupuis / Dubuis / Depis
Missing from: Poseidon Resort, Koh Tao Island, Thailand
Date Missing: April 19, 2017 (Wednesday)
Date Found: April 27, 2017 (Thursday)
Taken By: Unknown
- Date of Birth: –
- Age at Disappearance:
- Ethnicity: Caucasian
- Nationality: Belgium
- Gender at Birth: Female
- Hair: Brunette
- Eye Color: Dark Brown
Koh Tao ” is a small Thai island lying off the mainland coast in the Gulf of Thailand. The island lies near both Koh Phangan and Koh Samui and serves as a popular tourist spot for locals and foreigners alike. Some sources say Koh Tao’s name (เกาะเต่า) ‘Turtle Island’ comes from the island’s place as the home of what were once many turtles thriving along the beaches (Link). The island is a breeding site for Hawksbill and Green turtles and has a reputation for being a lively place for nature-lovers around the world (Link). Other sources say the name actually comes from its shape, which looks like a turtle when viewed from neighboring islands (Link).
The waters on the island are particularly clear and filled with coral reefs and wildlife, making it an excellent opportunity for snorkeling, scuba diving, and divers. There are also many chances for hiking and exploring the more central parts of the island. Koh Tao is also known for its reputation as a ‘party island’ with a vibrant nightlife and extensive lists of pubs and bars dotting the beachfronts (Link). An estimated 500K people were typically hitting the shores of Koh Tao annually before 2020. Fewer people are visiting now due to travel restrictions from COVID-19, but it remains a beautiful island and is currently under a crowd-sourced “clean-up” program to prepare for tourists as they return (Link).
Elise Dallemagne was a lovely young woman from Belgium who had already completed her college degree in medicine with the European Institute Of Medicine Natural. She decided to take some time to herself and began backpacking across Asia and the Pacific for the two and a half years preceding her death. She had traveled through several countries including India, Australia, and New Zealand while making occasional stops in Thailand.
She initially seemed content in Thailand, staying on Koh Phangan (an island neighboring Koa Tao) frequently during her stopovers. She had apparently become interested in the teachings of Sathya Sai Baba, a religious (largely Hindu) cult that originated in India. When he was fourteen, an Indian boy Ratnakaram Sathyanarayana Raju (later renamed Sathya Sai Baba) declared himself the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, a famous religious leader with both Hindu and Muslim adherents who had died in 1918. Sathya Sai Baba gathered a large devoted following throughout his life with a proposed message of “Love all, Serve all. Help ever, Hurt never” (Link). The organization presently has more than a thousand branches in 130+ countries.
In Koh Phangan, Elise usually stayed at a Yoga and Tanta retreat known as “S.A.C.R.E.D.” The retreat was managed by guru and German expat Ramaan Andreas, a self-proclaimed leader of the local Sathya Sai Baba sect. The retreat at the time of her final stay housed the guru Ramaan and two other women, friends of Elise.
Details about this particular branch are difficult to identify, but there are two websites affiliated with Ramaan and the S.A.C.R.E.D. organization, both copyrighted in 2015. The first operates under the name ramaan.org and has since been taken down. The second operates under the name braahman.org and is still operational. Both list as a location Puttaparthi, India – no mention of its location in Thailand.
The materials are extremely abstract and theoretical, with few clearly defined elements. This makes it unclear exactly what tenants this group adheres to.
According to Andreas, Elise had most recently finished a trip to New Zealand before visiting the retreat in Thailand. She had discussed looking into plans to finance future travels moving forward (Link). She told Andreas she intended to return to Belgium to find a job and begin saving some money.
According to both Andreas and her family, Elise made a Skype call on April 17 to her mother, whereupon she announced her plans to fly back to Belgium. Eyewitnesses reported that Elise was behaving as usual and appeared pleased during and after her call. No one observed her appearing depressed or unhappy, nor did she behave in a way that would indicate suicidal thoughts.
There have since been reports that Elise was actually in trouble and wanted to leave Thailand as quickly as possible, but these rumors have not been verified (Link).
Her Anticipated Travel Plan
According to Elise’s mother, Elise booked a ticket on the April 19 ferry from Koh Phangan to the Chumphon pier on the mainland. The ferry would make a stop in Koh Tao, but there was never any discussion of Elise disembarking on the island. As far as her mother was aware, Elise intended to go straight to Bangkok and fly on to Belgium directly.
Based on the fact that her luggage appears to have traveled clear through to Chumphon, it seems this was still her plan when she boarded the ferry on April 19.
Her Actual Path
For reasons unknown, Elise abruptly disembarked in Koh Tao rather than traveling on to the mainland. Investigations have never revealed what drove her off the ferry and to make such dramatic changes to her plans. Perhaps there was someone on the ferry that concerned her? Or that she feared would be waiting for her in Chumphon? This whole situation strikes us as remarkable odd.
It is particularly surprising given that Elise appeared to be traveling on a budget (she stayed in very cheap hostels in Koh Tao and had mentioned financial issues to Andreas supposedly). A sudden, lengthy stay on the island seems out of character.
Setting out on April 19th, Elise left from the Thong Sala Pier on Koh Phangan and arrived in Koh Tao at Mae Head Pier on the east side of the island.
Mysteriously, several sources say her three large suitcases actually were left on the original ferry and arrived in Chumphon without her (Link; Link; Link). This strengthens the suggestion that the stop in Koh Tao was a rapid and unexpected change of plans for unknown reasons.
Elise quickly checked into a nearby hotel. This location would have been convenient as all the departing ferries off Koh Tao were nearby. Based on location, it seems she planned to wait there and then catch the ferry on to Chumphon another day.
Already somewhat odd, it is at this point that Elise’s story becomes increasingly strange.
When she checked into her hotel around 3:00pm (15:00) – “Triple B Bungalows” – she crossed out her real name and replaced it with a false identity, signing in under the name Elise Dupuis (Dupois?) (Link | Link). She also reportedly refused to provide the counter with her passport information (unusual for an experienced traveler) (Link).
Why she felt it necessary to hide her true name is unknown. But it does raise additional concerns about whether she was being followed or was avoiding someone. Perhaps someone trailing her from Koh Phangan?
Based on photos of the hotel’s listings, rooms are arranged in individual huts or bungalows with simple overnight offerings. Mysteriously, at some point during the night of April 19, three bungalows caught on fire, including the one Elise was renting. Police later identified the origin of the fire as being a candle or lamp in Elise’s room. Charges were not pressed by the owner and the police did not immediately gather evidence in the case (Link).
That same night, Elise relocated again to the west side of the island along Tanote Bay. She checked into the Poseidon Resort – it isn’t clear if she used her own name at this residence. The distance seems further on a map than it really is (Google Maps estimates it would be a 9 minute trip by car).
Both Triple B Bungalows and Poseidon Resort are cheap hostels ($12/night) but have good ratings and reviews online. Once at the Poseidon Resort, Elise booked a new ticket for the ferry on April 24th, traveling from Koh Tao to Chumphon.
After this, nothing more was heard from Elise. The last sighting was apparently an image police say is of her that was recovered from nearby CCTV. Supposedly, Elise visited a shop to buy rice and her ticket for the ferry on April 21 which is when her image was captured (Link). Elise’s mother denies that the image is of her daughter, saying the silhouette does not match (Link).
According to the autopsy and forensics, Elise died sometime between April 23 and April 24. More than a week later*, locals found remains in the jungle behind Tanote Family Bay Resort. Reports regarding the state of the body vary, but the discovery is unfortunately still remembered for its particularly gruesome circumstance.
One of the core mysteries underlying Elise’s death is actually the state of the body when she was found. According to general statements, locals found the remains after following the trail of a monitor lizard that had been acting strangely throughout the week. Apparently it had been acting in a way that suggested it was feeding on a large food source, which concerned locals. It is from here that the stories vary:
Police Report (Official)
According to the official police announcements, Elise’s body was found hanging from rope in the trees. She was identified using dental records and x-rays and the body showed signs of injuries on her neck consistent with hanging. It was initially ruled a suicide by suffocation. There were no reported signs of foul play nor accidental death – no traces of drugs, no signs of a struggle, nothing that suggested an external force triggered the fatality.
She was cremated at the Belgian embassy following the autopsy.
Rumors in the Media (Unofficial)
When the story first broke, several news outlets reported that Elise’s body was not hanging from a tree, but rather was on the ground (some say wrapped in t-shirts or cotton scarves) and had been attacked and fed upon by local wildlife (Link). One source says a fuel can was found near the body as well (Link). Confusion over how exactly she was found helped to later fuel suspicion that her death was not as easily explained as suicide.
There were several questionable elements in Elise’s case.
- Why did she transit through Koh Tao in the first place?
- Had something happened at the retreat on Koh Phangan?
- Did her luggage remain on the ferry when she disembarked? Why?
- Why did the local guru leave Thailand almost immediately following Elise’s departure?
- Why did she use a false identity to check into the Triple B Bungalow hostel?
- Why no provide her passport information to the hotel staff?
- Was the fire in that hostel an accident or a sign of something more concerning (it seems an oddly strong coincidence)?
- Why would she commit suicide when she had demonstrated no previous signs of suicidal thoughts?
- Why would she commit suicide after making clear and deliberate made travel plans for the immediate future?
- Why was there no suicide note? What was the motivator?
- Was there truly something odd about how her body was found?
Suspicions regarding her mysterious death were further exacerbated by increasing concerns regarding the unusually high number of foreign deaths on the island at the time. Between 2014 and 2017, seven foreigners had already died on Koh Tao, causing media and online commenters to give it the nickname “death island”. This number has since (by 2020) increased even more. Although the deaths have been consistently ruled accidental or suicide, many believed the circumstances were questionable and revealed a larger conspiracy of local corruption, an uncontrolled mafia presence, and underground crime (Link).
The police firmly refuted these claims and charged some of the newspapers with deliberately stirring up unfounded stories to sell their papers. The media outlets were accused of wrongfully and negligently disparaging the island’s reputation and tourist economy without proof.
Nonetheless, the coincidences and unanswered questions were sufficient that some of the families have questioned the established causes of death and the transparency of local investigations (Link). Elise’s mother, Michele van Egten, is one of the people who came out in 2017 asking for a new, re-opened investigation. One of her concerns was that she had not been given the promised autopsy report nor was she provided with photographic evidence of the scene to show how exactly the body was found.
It should be observed that no connection between Elise’s death and that of the other tourists has been proven.
Police did agree to reopen and investigate the case again following the unexpected outcry as the story suddenly spread globally in later June. However, they remained firm about their initial ruling of suicide.
They stated that Elise had tragically hung herself sometime between April 23 and 24 (the day before / the day of her planned trip to the mainland). They reiterated that the body was found in a tree and not on the ground, damaged by animals, or wrapped up. They also supposedly denied that her luggage had been delivered to Chumphon but other sources still say it was delivered there – the truth is unclear (Link | Link).
It was also revealed that Elise had previously attempted suicide in the past; however, her mother continued to insist she was in a better place and was not suicidal at the time of her death (Link). There were new reports however that stated she attempted it again more recently on April 4 at Nopphawong Railway Station in Bangkok. According to their source, she had been sent to Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry after bystanders saved her life (Link). It is unclear if this report was ever verified.
In the reinvestigation, Thailand police began searching for Andreas’ whereabouts as he had left the sect on Koh Phangan rapidly after her. There supposedly was some issue initially with jurisdiction wherein the police in Koh Tao did not have authorization to investigate in Koh Phangan (Link).
They finally searched the buildings of the sect in July whereupon they learned Andreas had left for India and Sri Lanka in late April / early May according to the remaining witnesses (Link).
According to Andreas in a later interview, he left because his visa was expiring and it was unrelated to her departure (Link). He explained that they did not speak very much during her final visit but that nothing appeared to be wrong with her.
Unfortunately, information about the final results of the reinvestigation are scarce. Nor is it apparent whether police later provided Elise’s mother the documents she was requesting. It does appear they ultimately stood by the initial conclusions.
- Nizet, P. (2017) ‘À la recherche du guru allemand… parti au Sri Lanka!’, La Meuse, March 7. Link
- Howes, S. (2017) ‘Cult guru describes final time he saw backpacker alive before she was found ‘half-eaten by lizards’ on Thailand’s ‘murder island”, The Mirror, 30 June. Link.
- Strange Outdoor (2020) ‘The mysterious Koh Tao – Death Island in Paradise’, 14 November. Link
- Crouch, H. (2017) ‘Inside the bizarre ‘cult’ pretty Belgian backpacker Elise Dallemagne joined before her mystery death on Thailand’s ‘murder island’’, The Scottish Sun, 29 June. Link.
- Young, M. (2017) ‘Tourist found ‘half eaten by lizard’ on Thai island was member of a ‘cult’’, News.com.au, 1 July. Link.
- Chaolan, S. (2017) ‘Koh Tao police to reopen death case of Belgian tourist’, Bangkok Post, 29 June. Link.
- Young, M. and Crouch, H. (2017) ‘Another tourist turns up dead on Koh Tao as family of Elise Dallemange doubts police account’, News.com.au, 30 June. Link.
- Crockett, S. (2017) ‘Backpacker living in cult found “half eaten by lizards” is 7th tourist found dead on Thailand’s ‘murder island”, The Mirror, 29 June. Link.
- Coconuts Bangkok (2017) ‘New details emerge in case of Elise Dallemagne, Belgian woman found dead on Koh Tao’, 3 July. Link.
- Chaolan, S. (2017) ‘Police search ashram for clues on Koh Tao death’, Bangkok Post, 2 July. Link.
- Chaolan, S. (2017) ”Murder Island’ combed for German cult leader’, Bangkok Post, 2 July. Link.
- Howes, S. (2017) ‘Hotel register shows how backpacker found ‘half-eaten by lizards’ on Thailand’s ‘murder island’ used fake name days before death’, The Mirror, 3 July. Link.