The family and those looking for the murderer of U.S. national Katherine Ann Grgich said they were shocked, but relieved, to hear that the perpetrator was found last month, eight years after she was found murdered on Koh Rong island.
The Cambodian National Police and U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh announced in July the arrest of Yan Yoeun, who was sentenced in absentia to 17 years for the murder of 55-year-old Grgich at Preah Sihanouk province’s Koh Rong island. Grgich’s body was found in a forested area of Koh Rong on September 28, 2013, with police suspecting the motive was robbery, which then escalated to murder.
Jennifer Grgich-Harden, Katherine’s sister, said she was shocked when the U.S. Embassy informed her that Yan Yoeun had been arrested in Tbong Khmum province in June, immediately calling her parents to give them the news.
“They were in tears and thought that this moment would never happen during their lifetime,” she added.
“I was in utter shock Monday night when I received a phone call from our consular chief,” she said. “We did receive formal notification from the Cambodia National Police that they’ve located and arrested Yan Youen.”
On July 13, U.S. Ambassador Patrick Murphy tweeted about the arrest. An embassy spokesperson did not want to comment on the case, citing confidentiality limitations.
“The United States greatly appreciates the work of #Cambodia authorities & local law enforcement for helping achieve #justice for American citizen Katherine Ann Grgich. The criminal who has been a fugitive since his 2013 conviction for her murder on Koh Rong is now in custody,” the ambassador’s tweet reads from July 13.
Peter Maguire, founder and director of Fainting Robin Foundation, has written about victims of the Khmer Rouge and has used his foundation to assist in the search for Americans missing in action.
He said Jennifer Grgich-Harden had reached out to the foundation in 2014 to assist in the search for Katherine’s murderer.
He said Grgich’s family was disappointed when Katherine’s death was classified as an “accidental death” by a U.S. special agent, which led to his involvement in the case.
“My foundation hired an old Cambodian associate who I had investigated Khmer Rouge war crimes with. He looked into the case, confirmed the fact that a Cambodian named Yan Yoeun probably robbed and killed Kathy, and then it became a waiting game,” he said in an email.
A testimonial on the Fainting Robin Foundation website from Jennifer Grgich-Harden said that despite there being evidence that Katherine’s death was not accidental, “our government did nothing to bring her killers to justice.”
Maguire credited Ambassador Murphy and embassy staffers for convincing the Cambodian government to find and arrest Yan Yoeun.
Cambodian police and provincial officials confirmed that Yan Yoeun had been arrested in Tbong Khmum province in mid-June but would not give any other details of how he was located or where he was for the last eight years.
“Yan Yoeun was arrested in mid-June 2021 in Tbong Khmum province. After being arrested, he was sent to Preah Sihanoukville provincial court to proceed to next procedures,” said Phat Sophanith, an Interior Ministry spokesperson.
According to a Cambodia Daily story from February 2015, Yan Yoeun abruptly left the island the day of the murder, leaving behind his wife and children. He was last seen boarding a bus to Koh Kong province with his destination presumed to be Thailand, the newspaper reported.
Tbong Khmum Police Chief Mun Meakea refused to comment on the arrest and National Police senior official Chhay Kimkhoeun said he could not divulge how Yan Yoeun was located and arrested.
“I can’t say how the arrest was made because police have their means. And the police’s investigation is confidential,” Chhay Kimkhoeun told VOA Khmer.
Huot Vichet, a deputy prosecutor at the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, said mixed police personnel from Sihanoukville and the Interior Ministry's Internal Security Department arrested Yan Yoeun on June 17, using a court-issued arrest warrant from October 7, 2015.
He was arrested in Choam Kravien commune in Tbong Khmum’s Memot district.
Ouch Yeun, Chaom Kravien’s commune chief, said Yan Yoeun had lived in the village before his arrest.
“I don’t know when he settled down here. He is a new person,” Ouch Yeun said