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Authors: Kathryn Bonella

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BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
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One afternoon, after running out of heroin the night before, Thomas was craving a hit. His girlfriend arrived and, immediately after their toilet routine, he sprinted to his cell to inject the smack. But when he got to the cell door, it was locked – something he did to protect his things – and he couldn’t find the key. As he stood there rifling through his pockets, Javanese Joko turned up, gripped the padlock with one hand and snapped it open. Once inside the cell, Thomas wasted no time injecting himself. Joko stood watching, and then told Thomas, who he regularly bought smack from, that he needed some too. But Thomas only had enough for himself and told Joko, ‘I don’t have. Finished’. Joko grabbed the tall, thin Austrian, and stuck the sharp tip of a pair of scissors he had had in his pocket into Thomas’s throat. ‘Okay, take it,’ Thomas said, handing him a gram. The Austrian knew not to rile the many psychopaths and killers he now lived together with in Hotel K.


Seminyak, Kuta community was shocked yesterday. A headless male body was found slumped in a ditch on the side of the road . . .

The headless body is now being kept in a freezer at Sanglah Hospital’s morgue

Nusa News
, 3 March 1998

It was early. The sun was glistening across the watery paddy fields and the morning air was already warm. It was calm and quiet – the stillness belying the brutality of the night before. But the dark night’s secret was quickly revealed in the dawn light. Three small children were playfully running across the fields, laughing and leaping over watery channels, when they stumbled across a pair of legs sticking out of a ditch. Full of childish curiosity, they went in for a closer look and got the shock of their young lives.

The early morning stillness quickly broke into chaos. Police, journalists and spectators fast descended on the scene, surrounding the headless corpse, still face down in the ditch. Photographers and cameramen got in close, snapping shots of the stocky, middle-aged body, the torn striped green shorts, the sleeveless batik shirt. They zoomed in on the mutilated, jagged neck, the bloated feet in green thongs, broken bits of teeth. It was gruesome, but graphic shots sold newspapers in Bali. Spectators gawped as police busily searched for clues; a murder weapon, a blade, an axe, anything that would give them a lead. Fishing in the corpse’s pockets, they discovered a driver’s licence, its photo ID instantly providing the headless man with a face.

Meanwhile, sitting at home with his wife and three young daughters, listening to the news, was the killer, Saidin. He felt no remorse and no fear. He was a hired assassin; it had been a job. And although his quickly hatched murder plot hadn’t gone perfectly, he’d executed it well. He already knew what he’d tell the judge if he got caught, though he doubted he ever would.

But leaving the man’s ID had been a mistake. Police were piecing the case together quickly. The dead man had lived in Java, south of Jakarta, and after police had broken the tragic news to his son, he’d told them his father had flown to Bali the day before the murder to collect an overdue debt. He gave the police a name and address. The trail was now red hot.

Police raided a residence in the Bali coastal area of Klungkung and arrested the named man on the spot. They threw him into their van and took him to the local station. He refused to talk. They hurled him against walls, punched him, kicked him and jabbed him with an electric cattle prod until he was begging for mercy. But they didn’t stop. They turned up the prod to its maximum 220 volts and shocked him in the chest, the legs, the groin. His body was shaking violently. But he still refused to cooperate. They jabbed him again, and this time the shock slammed him back into the cement wall. He cried out in pain. Blood dripped from a gash in his head as he collapsed to the floor, his legs too weak and too shaky for him to stand any longer. Finally, the man broke. He named the assassin.

The killer, Saidin, was immediately arrested. The family man and former solider went without a struggle. He was not contrite. He’d killed a man for money, but the man had had it coming. He did not deny his crime. He would tell the judge why he did it. On the day of the murder, Saidin had been called to a meeting at his friend’s house and was told that a Javanese man was threatening to kill his friend’s family because of an unpaid debt. ‘I want you to finish him off,’ Saidin’s friend told him. ‘When?’ ‘Tonight if you can do it.’ He offered a fee of three million rupiah ($670). Saidin felt it would be honourable to protect his friend’s family. He took the job.

In the dark of night, Saidin and his younger brother Tony drove their victim to Denpasar, luring him with the promise of cash. Saidin told him that a shopkeeper in Denpasar owed his Klungkung friend millions of rupiah, which would easily repay the debt to him. But it didn’t go to plan. When they stopped at a random shop, the Javanese man refused to bang on the back door, which was integral to Saidin’s plan. He’d expected a fight to erupt when a random shopkeeper was woken in the middle of the night by an aggressive stranger demanding money. Saidin had planned to use the fight as a cover for when he would jump in and break the Javanese man’s neck.

But he was forced to switch to an impromptu plan B. He grabbed an iron bar from under the car seat, then turned and slammed it into his victim’s chest. It was a shock; the man was winded, stunned, momentarily stumbling around in pain. Saidin hit him again, in the face this time, knocking teeth out. The man collapsed to his knees, covering his bloody face with shaky hands, giving Saidin time to get his machete from the car boot. If the man glimpsed the end coming, he could do nothing. Saidin swung the machete hard into the side of his head. It made a loud crack. The man hit the ground hard. He was dead. But Saidin wasn’t finished. Guided only by the light from the stars, he lifted the machete high above his head and slammed it down through the dead man’s neck. Saidin was cold and emotionless. Bits of neck and head were still attached, so he knelt down, pulled the man’s long dark hair taut for leverage, and finished cutting the head off as if he were splitting kindling.

Tony had watched. He would have assisted if Saidin had needed it. But he didn’t. Completely unflustered, Saidin walked over to the car and took eight black and white-striped plastic bags out of the boot. After Saidin stuffed the bloody head in bag after bag to ensure it didn’t drip blood into the car, he and Tony dragged the headless corpse across the road, and rolled it into a ditch in a rice field behind Kerobokan Jail. They didn’t for a moment think the location was a bad omen.

While his brother drove the forty-five minutes back to Klungkung, Saidin sat in the front passenger seat, casually holding the warm head in the plastic bags as if it were a bag of goldfish. He’d promised to show it to his friend as proof of death. Just after sunrise they arrived at his friend’s house. Saidin pulled the head from the plastic bags by its dark matted hair, his hands quickly turning blood red. As he proudly held it up like a trophy, the dead man’s eyes were staring with a look of terror, the whites large.

After the men finished gloating, Saidin shoved the head back into the plastic bags, drove to a nearby pond used for breeding fish, and dropped it into the water. Saidin stood watching as large fish darted towards it for a nibble. It wouldn’t be long before the dead man’s head was yesterday’s fish food. It had turned out to be a perfect murder, or so they thought.

The police are investigating the case intensively because Balinese people think this sadistic murder could create problems for the society, especially given that the site is not far from Kuta, the centre of tourism. Most likely, the news of this murder by head chopping has already reached Bali’s tourists

Nusa News
, 3 March 1998

Saidin confessed to the crime but argued that he was protecting the lives of his friend’s family, truly believing the court would accept his defence. It didn’t. The judges wanted to cut a deal. They’d give Saidin fewer than eight years, in exchange for twenty million rupiah ($4500). It was made clear that cash would be his only effective defence in the Bali courtroom. But Saidin was broke. He’d killed for money, but hadn’t yet been paid. Without any cash, he knew that he’d go down hard, but there was nothing he could do about it.

At the time, I didn’t have any money, so what do I use to pay the judges? They asked for twenty million rupiah and said to me, ‘You know you’ll be lucky if you can get away from the death penalty’. I said ‘I’m sorry. I don’t have any money, if you want to give me the death sentence, go ahead, if you want to sentence me to life, go ahead, if you can. But I believe in God, if God is with you then, yes, you can kill me or you can put me away for life. But if God is with me, you can’t do that.’

– Saidin

When they checked into Hotel K, Saidin and Tony were big news. Their story had been on newspaper front pages for months throughout the investigation and their trials. They were instant VIPs. They bypassed the mandatory head shaving and the check-in stint in the cramped, rat-infested initiation block, and within weeks they were
, with more control than most guards.

system was used in jails throughout Indonesia. The jail boss elected prisoners to assist the guards in locking and unlocking prisoners, walking them to visits and calling for help. For their roles, these prisoners would have additional time taken off their sentences in the routine biannual remissions handed out by the Indonesian Government. In Hotel K, where the guards preferred playing cards to working,
held great power. They had the keys to the blocks, they escorted new prisoners to their cells, and they looked after VIPs. Saidin would later become a
(leader) – the most powerful position for an inmate, in charge of all the
. In Hotel K there were usually only two
at any time.

Saidin’s army background and his ability to kill in cold blood gave him status. The machete that he kept under the bed in his cell as a souvenir of his crime only added to his mystique. Though the brothers were of average height and build, they were the most feared men in the jail at the time.

But Saidin wouldn’t be inside for long. Despite being sentenced to seventeen years, he walked free within months. He got out on a legal glitch. He wasn’t the first; he wouldn’t be the last. He didn’t pay a single rupiah. He’d appealed his sentence, but the Bali courts failed to hear it within the legally required time frame. The permissible detention period expired and the guards at Hotel K had no choice but to open the front door and let Saidin walk free.

But within two years Saidin would be back inside; this time with more power than ever. Tony would not be there to greet him though, despite having been sentenced to fifteen years – he would be on the run after masterminding the most embarrassing gaffe in Hotel K’s history.


As Filipino prisoner Nita Ramos walked back to the women’s block, she had no idea she had just seen her boyfriend Tony, Saidin’s brother, for the last time. They had met in Hotel K a year earlier and regularly spent time together, walking around holding hands or enjoying visits with his family. She was a drug dealer, he was a murderer. Together, they were a power couple. On this Sunday afternoon, when she’d stopped to talk to him briefly in front of the mosque, she had wondered why he was wearing a small black backpack, but didn’t bother asking him about it.

Neither Nita nor any of the other fifty-three women in Hotel K had any clue of the storm brewing outside the walls of their block. That afternoon, as usual, they were locked up for the night at 4.30 pm, about an hour earlier than the men. Sitting in their small cages, for them it was just another day coming to a close. The initial charge of energy after lockup had not yet subsided. In Nita’s cell, it was hot and noisy. Thirteen foreigners, including six Italian girls caught using ecstasy at a dance party, were crammed inside. Nita sat on her mattress, talking to a young Spanish prisoner, Gina, about her court appearance the next day for stealing her boyfriend’s camera. The other women were all busy doing their own thing; writing letters home, reading books or rinsing out their clothes. They didn’t immediately notice that light plumes of smoke were wafting over the walls of the cellblock.

But within ten minutes of lockup, a thick haze of smoke began to roll into their cells, causing the inmates to start coughing. Within minutes the whole cellblock was in uproar. Trapped in their cages, the women were terrified they’d burn to death. They stood at the bars, bashing them hard, and screaming for help between coughing fits. The toxic black clouds were now rolling in and it was difficult to see beyond an arm’s length. After lockup, the women’s block, Block W, was not guarded. Yelling out to those over the wall was their only hope. But their efforts were futile – this afternoon, no guards would be coming to their rescue, as they had insurmountable problems of their own.

Tony’s escape plan was working to perfection. Outside Block W, it was chaos. Fires raged across the jail, some flames blazing so fiercely that parts of buildings were disintegrating. Red-hot ash flew through the air and burning particles rained down. Hundreds of prisoners ran freely, covering their faces as they tried to dodge the firestorm. Guards, too, were running around scared, as cellblocks kept bursting into flames. The yard was charged with energy.

Only fifteen minutes earlier, the guards had been ambling across the jail to the various cellblocks for the 5.30 pm lockup, totally unaware of the tension about to break. Piles of kerosenesoaked mattresses had been set up in every cellblock, ready to explode into infernos as a match was tossed onto each in staggered succession. These were the flashpoints. When Tony had flicked the first match into his pile of mattresses, the kerosene instantly burst into flames.

Tony’s explosion was the signal the other prisoners were waiting for. As two guards ran towards his blazing cellblock, a designated prisoner at the other end of the jail flicked a match into the second pile of mattresses. Another two guards ran in that direction. Seemingly ad hoc fires lit up across the jail. But it was planned with military precision, strategically choreographed to confuse the guards, to stretch them to their limit, from one end of the jail to the other. It was designed to isolate them and minimise their force. Prisoners were ready to capture the guard teams as they reached each block, then drag them to an office to lock them up together. With only fourteen guards on duty and more than three hundred prisoners running loose, it didn’t take long to catch all the guards, even the ones who were running like hell from crazed prisoners relishing the turnaround in power.

BOOK: Hotel Kerobokan
6.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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