Thailand’s Last Executioner

For Chavoret Jaruboon, dispatching prisoners with a submachine gun was never personal



Tibor Krausz

The Guardian Weekly, May 8, 2008



He’s a soft-spoken, courteous man with the docile features of a black pug. A lifelong aficionado of Elvis and The Beatles, he loves to strum “Yesterday” and his other old favorites on his guitar. He’s been married for 40 years, worships his wife, and is a devoted father of three.

All in all, Chavoret Jaruboon is about as threatening as your avuncular gentleman who likes to feed pigeons in the park. I’d expected him to be rather more menacing, to be honest.

“Were you expecting to meet a bloodthirsty maniac?” Chavoret says and laughs. “You must be disappointed.”

I’m certainly surprised.

Chavoret Jaruboon engages in a finger gun fight with Susan Aldous, an Australian humanitarian, outside the Bang Kwang maximum security prison

That’s because Chavoret is Thailand’s famed “last executioner.” A guard at Bang Kwang, Bangkok’s notorious maximum-security prison, Chavoret was until recently in charge of executing condemned criminals . . . with a submachine gun.

We’re having lunch and I’m plying him with questions — naturally.

Does he approve of capital punishment? Yes, with reservations. Recidivist serial murderers and rapists deserve the death penalty, he opines.

Did he ever feel pity? Often.

Remorse? Never.

He was just doing his duty, much like a soldier in a war — “nothing personal,” he insists.

Still, execution is choreographed gory business, isn’t it? Not as gory, he replies, as in olden days (until the 1930’s) when the condemned were publicly beheaded in Thailand.

What did his family make of his job, though? At home he was just dad. But being an executioner is social suicide, Chavoret concedes. “My daughter’s friends didn’t dare come to our house,” he laments. You don’t feel like boasting at class reunions what’s become of you, either, he adds.

How about ghosts? I quiz him since any Thai will tell you that prisons are intensely haunted places.

Nah, he says. No vengeful spirits have troubled his dreams, nor have tortured souls returned to haunt him. His conscience is clear and he sleeps easy at night.

The executioner slurps from his noodle soup, then adds: His fellow guards, though, have been tormented by disgruntled spirits at times. There were also inmates on death row who swore the dead would turn up beckoning them to follow. Spooky stuff, that.

He always disliked this job, Chavoret says, but couldn’t say no to his superiors for fear of professional hara-kiri. “I was very efficient so I got stuck in it,” he explains.

In 2003, when lethal injection was introduced in Thailand, he finally retired. Buddhist monks sprinkled holy water on his machineguns and released 319 balloons for every inmate executed in the past 71 years —   the last 55 by Chavoret.

The monks assured the executioner that his work had done the condemned a spiritual favor — by hastening their next reincarnation, the sooner to redeem themselves for their crimes in this life.

Chavoret then shaved his head and briefly joined a monastic order. “You can’t escape your karma,” he notes.

Not even if you’re executioner. His assistant, he explains, was convicted for corruption and drug-trafficking. He’s now on death row himself.

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