Dave Walker, a Canadian filmmaker who went missing in Cambodia in February, was found dead Thursday, raising concerns in Edmonton that his death may have been a homicide.
A statement issued on behalf of Walker's family said his body was reportedly discovered at the Angkor temples near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Cambodian law enforcement officials told the family it appeared Walker had died several weeks ago and that there were no initial signs of foul play.
"Absolutely there is the fear that he is murdered — that is the very likely scenario," friend and former colleague Paul Vronsky told CBC Radio in Edmonton today. The family wants to ensure a transparent and professional investigation, he said.
The family's statement said a doctor at the site was unable to determine a cause of death and an autopsy will be held to try to determine how and when Walker died.
The man's body, lying face up, was found Wednesday evening local time by children who were foraging for fruit, forensic officer Pheng Pich of Siem Reap police said.
He said the body was that of a Western male, but confirmation of his identity had to await DNA tests.
Tith Narong, a senior officer with the Siem Reap provincial police, said friends and acquaintances identified Walker on the basis of his clothing.
Walker, 58, had been living in Cambodia for the past year and a half. He was staying at a guest house. He had stepped out so a housekeeper could tend to his room, and he was not seen again. He left behind his cellphone, passport and laptop computer.
The disappearance baffled family and friends, who said Walker spoke the local Khmer language, knew the streets and was familiar with Cambodian culture.
Walker and a partner had set up a film company in Siem Reap in July 2012 called Animist Farm Films. They had recently been working on a documentary about the Khmer Rouge regime, which left an estimated two million people dead during its rule from 1975 to 1979.
"The concern is that the policing system in Cambodia is very Byzantine and distant from us in geography and in time," Vronsky said.
"We have all sorts of parallel information about possible connections to Dave's disappearance and are unsure of the progress of the investigation — why certain things are not being looked at harder."
Walker grew up in Edmonton but last lived in Toronto, where he studied for a master's degree at York University in 2009. His family said he had lived and worked in Southeast Asia on and off for years.
Somehow transported to site
He also co-authored a non-fiction book, called Hello My Big Big Honey, which chronicles the experiences of Bangkok bar girls and their Western admirers.
Vronsky said there is nothing to suggest that Walker would have gone to the Angkor temple area on his own.
The Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported on its website that the body believed to be Walker's was found about 200 metres from the entrance to Angkor Thom, one of numerous temples in the area. The site is about a 20-minute drive north of Siem Reap's central area.
While the temple is a popular tourist destination, it's unlikely Walker would have gone there alone on foot.
"Dave’s knees were quite weak," Vronsky told CBC News. "He was having knee problems, so he would not have, certainly in the heat of the day … walked that sort of distance — especially without being seen in the area as he was walking out."
It was "way beyond" walking distance from Walker's guest house, Vronsky said.
"So he was transported somehow to that area."
Occasionally went to Thailand
Immigration police officer Yut Sinin had said earlier that an investigation had turned up no clues about where Walker might have gone on Feb. 14.
Yut Sinin said Walker occasionally went to neighbouring Thailand, but it seemed unlikely this time.
"I just want to say, I don't think he went anywhere by himself," Sonny Chhoun, his partner in Animist Farm Films, was quoted as saying in the Phnom Penh Post.
"I think something is wrong. I don't think he would just leave, with his phone on the charger, and go somewhere. This is very unnatural for Dave. I know him very well."
Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said the organization was "deeply concerned" about Walker's disappearance.
Walker's family is now requesting the Canadian government to formally investigate his disappearance and death, according to the statement, "in order to move forward and bring those who were responsible for Dave's senseless death to justice."
Consular officials gathering information
A spokesperson for the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular Services told CBC News the government is investigating the matter.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of a Canadian citizen who has passed away in Cambodia,” Saro Khatchadourian wrote in an email. “Consular officials are providing assistance to the family during this difficult time and are in contact with local authorities to gather more information.”
“Due to privacy concerns, we cannot provide more information.”
In the meantime, Walker's family and friends mourn.
"Dave lived a remarkable life and was loved by many thousands around the world. We want to thank the Cambodian people for the love they have shown Dave that was equal to the nearly 30 years of love Dave devoted to Cambodia and its people," the family's statement read.
"Many thousands of Cambodians, as did Dave, died under senseless and tragic circumstances. Dave devoted his life to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of more than two million Cambodian in the 30 years he worked and lived in that country."
The family is also requesting their privacy be respected during this time.