A court in the southern province of Binh Duong opened on Wednesday the murder trial of a cop-turned-gambler who stands accused of robbing and killing three women (including his mother-in-law) between 2008 and 2009.
Tran Nguyen Xuan Phuong, 32, is being tried along with his accomplices – Phung Minh Cuong and Nguyen The Lam – for “murder” and “robbery.”
Phuong is also charged with “fraud” and “thievery.”
Police maintain that Phuong has confessed to a long string of crimes that follow his slow descent into criminality.
The verdict had not been announced, as of press time.
Phuong began his career as an officer for the Binh Duong Police Department after graduating from the police college in 1998.
He began his career as a gambler by betting on football, and soon became addicted. After stealing a motorbike from a fellow officer, he was dismissed from the force and sentenced to two years in jail.
In 2000, following his release, he married Le Thi Tuyet and began working as a taxi driver. The couple had two children.
His love for gambling was still so strong in him that he continued to bet his wages on football games. The more he bet, the more he lost.
He had to sell his house to cover his gambling debts.
In 2007, he was hired to be a driver for the Becamex IDC Corp, a local firm, but was soon fired after spending VND10 million (US$486) in company gas money on gambling.
Police maintain that Phuong has confessed that he gave up working as a taxi driver and determined to work as a full-time criminal to cover his debts.
On Halloween evening of that year, Phuong poisoned his aunt’s dog and broke into her house—making off with cash and jewelry worth around VND16 million.
On October 22, 2008, Phuong (then a VinaSun Taxi driver) and his co-worker Lam hatched a scheme to rob the house of Phuong’s former boss, Pham Ngoc Thuan—the deputy general director of Becamex IDC Corp.
Phuong told Lam he knew that his former boss was very rich and there were only a few people in his house.
They arrived at the home carrying a bag of rice, posing as a pair of country bumpkins.
The men were greeted at the door by their boss’s 65-year-old mother-in-law Phan Thi Canh. Lam and Phuong introduced themselves as her son-in-law’s acquaintances and were invited inside.
When Canh went into the kitchen, they hit her from behind with an iron crowbar.
Phuong searched the house and made off with two digital cameras and VND6.6 million ($321) in cash.
Canh died from multiple blows to her head and back.
Lam has since been apprehended, based on Phuong’s confession.
Murder most foul
Police say that Phuong has confessed to murdering his mother-in-law, Nguyen Thi Mai, just to steal her valuables.
On April 13, 2009, he asked his friend – Le Thanh Long (Long has died of AIDS) – to accompany her to Mai’s scrap metal business to rob her.
When they arrived, Phuong allegedly hit her over the head with an iron rod, knocking Mai unconscious.
Phuong searched the house and made off with VND15.6 million ($758) and eight gold rings. During the trial, prosecutors maintained that Long continued to strike Mai over the head until she died.
The pair threw the murder weapon into a pile of scrap metal, locked the house and drove their motorbike home.
They later returned to the scene to wrap her body in duct tape and placed it into a sack.
They stashed the body in a deep hole in a deserted lot far from the house and covered it with branches.
After Mai went missing, the police questioned Phuong’s wife, Tuyet, about her husband but she maintained that there was nothing suspicious about him.
The case hit a dead-end after Mai’s body was nowhere to be found.
Phuong remained a suspect in both killings. But police were never able to gather any hard evidence on Phuong until he slipped up in his third and final murder—the killing of Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy, 37.
Thuy had loaned Phuong VND10 million ($486).
Police say he connived with a relative to murder her to escape the debt.
On December 9, 2009, Phuong enlisted the help of his 17 year-old brother-in-law, Cuong.
The two men got into a rented car. They gathered a stun gun, a rope and duct tape and drove to Thuy’s home.
Police say the two men asked Thuy to help them pick up her money from someone who was indebted to Phuong.
When the car passed a deserted cemetery, Phuong struck Thuy on the head with a stun gun and strangled her to death with the rope.
The pair stripped two mobile phones and VND4.6 million ($223) in cash and jewelry from her body and dumped her into a forest in Binh Duong’s Ben Cat District. Her corpse was discovered by a farmer, three days after the murder.
On December 17, 2009, Thuy’s contemporaries fingered Phuong—her biggest debtor.
Following a lengthy interrogation, Phuong admitted to all three murders. His accomplices, Lam and Cuong, were arrested afterward.