Skip to main content

Murder Island: 5 deaths and disappearances on Koh Tao

Tropical villas by the sea at Koh Tao, Thailand
Image: Sun_Shine /

Tourists around the world flock in their thousands to visit Koh Tao, a small island off the coast of Thailand. From idyllic beaches to vibrant nightlife, Koh Tao has become a backpacker's haven.

However, the picturesque island has garnered a sinister reputation and given the moniker ‘Murder Island’. Over the last decade, several murders, unexplained deaths, and mysterious disappearances have occurred there.

1. David Miller and Hannah Witheridge

On 15th September 2014, the bodies of British backpackers, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, were discovered in Koh Tao in what became one of the island’s most notorious murder cases.

An autopsy revealed that the backpackers, who met whilst staying in a hotel, sustained severe head wounds. It was later established that Hannah had also been sexually assaulted.

In 2015, Burmese migrant workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were sentenced to death for the murders. However, their sentencing was masked by controversy with claims of human rights abuses. The men initially confessed to the murders after being arrested but later retracted their statements, claiming they were made under torture.

In August 2020, King Vajiralongkorn commuted the men's sentences to life in prison.

2. Valentina Novozhyonova

In February 2017, Russian backpacker Valentina Novozhyonova travelled to Koh Tao so she could go freediving – a popular activity among backpackers.

She checked into the hostel on 11th February and was due to check out on the 16th – but she never did. Several days later, staff at the hostel went to her room and discovered her camera, mobile phone, and passport left behind.

Teams of officers checked CCTV footage around the hostel and island to see where Valentina was last seen, but she is still missing to this day.

3. Nick Pearson

On New Year's Eve 2013, Nick Pearson went out for food and drinks with his family to celebrate New Year's. The Pearson family from Derby travelled to Koh Tao to visit Nick’s brother who was working on the island.

After an evening of celebrations, Nick walked back with his father to where the family were staying. The following morning, the Pearsons raised the alarm when Nick did not answer his door. His body was later discovered by scuba divers in the sea.

Police told the family that Nick had fallen from a 50ft height and drowned. However, his mother had a gut feeling that foul play was involved.

At an inquest into Nick’s death, pathologist Dr Michael Biggs told the court that there were many injuries on Nick’s body. He said that most of the injuries would have been present before his death. However, he could not rule out the possibility that he had been attacked.

4. Dimitri Povse

In January 2015, Dimitri Povse was found hanging in his room at the Ta Chin Bungalow. The police ruled his death as a suicide despite his hands being tied behind his back.

Investigators later went on to reveal that there were no signs of a struggle, and they discovered a suicide note at the scene. Written in French, the note said, ‘Iris, I love you. Suicide seems easy but it is actually difficult.’

Friends of the Frenchman claimed they had gone out with him to a bar on New Year's Eve before heading to a party. Dimitri’s friends returned to their hotels whilst he stayed out alone.

An autopsy revealed Dimitri’s cause of death as asphyxiation, which led them to conclude his death was a suicide. However, they could not explain how his hands were tied behind his back.

5. Luke Miller

‘Can honestly say this new year I am living the dream’, was what bricklayer Luke Miller posted on Facebook on New Year's Eve 2015. Days later, on 8th January 2016, his body was discovered at the bottom of a swimming pool at the Sunset Bar.

Thai police explained that a post-mortem determined Luke’s death to be the result of a drowning. However, there has been much speculation surrounding his death.

Following Luke’s death, his friend and sister were told by local police that Luke had been assaulted the night before his body was discovered and were treating his death as a homicide. However, the man later texted the friends and said that the police no longer believed Luke was involved in a fight or had been murdered.

At a later hearing, the coroner said there was no evidence which suggested Luke had been murdered. Luke’s loved ones have stated that they believe the police have covered up his death.