Ron Fanelli – Should We Feel Sorry For Him?

There’s been a story that’s been flying under the radar recently that Dr. Pauly wrote about and while I respect his views I think there is a different angle to this that many people in the poker world are ignoring.

Former poker pro, Ron Fanelli (aka MadYank), stabbed and murdered a Thai bar girl, Wanphen Pienjai, in a drunken rage. I read about it first here in the local press. As with most stories you read about foreigners in Thailand you look for the parts that don’t add up.

Well, everything added up here. He confessed to the crime, the knife was found in his home, he gave the police the shorts he wore when he killed her, etc. Sometimes foreigners do get banged up here and forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit but this didn’t seem to be one of those times.

I don’t know why but I decided to Google around a bit for the MadYank. I found some threads on message boards popping up with news of his arrest. Many automatically assumed he had been set up by the cops looking to make an arrest. Comments like the one below were common in the message board threads:

Yeah, this looks bad especially considering how corrupt the Thai police are etc.

Others worried about the prison conditions in Thailand and if they were really as bad as they’re made out to be. Most people were in complete disbelief.

But then as the story developed and it seemed more and more certain that he actually did commit the crime of which he was accused, people started to feel sorry for him. And that’s where I sort of separated ways with them.

While I can appreciate people who feel sorry for the direction his life taken, I noticed that few if any people even bothered to say anything about the girl. I can only speculate that it’s because she was a prostitute from a third world country and not a cute, blonde who had her whole life ahead of her. It was hard to find even one person who mentioned her by name. Instead she was “the bar girl” or “a Thai hooker.” Victoria Coren‘s personal glimpse into her friendship with Fanelli was surprisingly the closest I’ve seen to anyone having any compassion for the girl he murdered.

I’m certainly not looking to lecture people but I do think it’s important to remember that Wanphen Pienjai was an actual human being. She may have chosen to become a prostitute but does that afford her a lesser place on the totem pole just because she wasn’t a washed up poker player?

Wanphen was the mother of two children that she had with a previous husband. Her daughter, named Farm, is 3 years old. Her son Iang is in the sixth grade (not sure how old but probably around 10 or 11). She was financially supporting her partially blind mother who is now charged with taking care of Wanphen’s two children without any form of financial support since Wanphen was an only child.

That much I do know for sure because it’s been in the local press. What I don’t know for sure is how she ended up working the bar scene. I can take a pretty good guess though because nearly every bar girl has some sort of variation on the same plotline.

While most tourists here see the “big” cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket the vast majority of the country is living in third-world conditions. Most of the population live in an area in the North-East called Isaan (or Issarn). They grow rice, rubber trees, and all sorts of agricultural products for domestic consumption and export.

Wanphen comes from Phetchaboon in Issaan, a place I’ve actually visited so I’ve seen the living conditions first hand. Many people still live in wooden huts and shacks there.

Just piecing together what’s been publically available, her husband probably left her stuck with the two young children. At best, she probably had a high-school level education which in Thailand really doesn’t qualify you to do anything other than manual labor.

The girls working at my local convenience mart make about 6000 baht per month. That’s $181 USD. That’s probably the best legitimate type of salary she could hope for. And that’s working 12 hours per day, six days per week.

So faced with having two children to support as well as her partially blind mother she ventured off to one of the places that girls can actually make a decent wage. The local press says that she worked in Pattaya for a while and had only recently decided to move to Phuket.

I’m sure this was not the life she envisioned for herself as a little girl but Thailand has absolutely no safety net. There is no unemployment insurance. There is no government pension. There’s nothing. And if you get stuck raising two small children and having to care for your parent, well that’s just your bad luck.

So to put food in her kid’s mouths she left the bar with Fanelli having no idea that his life was on an out of control downward spiral.

I guess I have a hard time feeling the sympathy for Fanelli because I’ve seen loads of Fanelli’s here in Thailand. Much like Las Vegas, Thailand is intoxicating. But like any intoxicant, it can be dangerous if you let it control you.

Fanelli is where he’s at because he couldn’t control it. He made various choices in his life that put him where he’s at. And he could have just as easily made different choices and been in a different place.

Wanphen was there because of circumstances beyond her control. She didn’t choose to be born poor or have her husband stick her with supporting two kids on her own. Those are just the cards life dealt her and she tried to make the best of what she had.

And somehow fate brought their two lives together which ended in the loss of her life. So while many people who knew Fanelli from a different time in his life might feel sympathy for a life turned so wrong keep in mind his victim who was also a real person with a real life.

And in true Thai style, Wanphen’s mother only had this to say about Fanelli, “I haven’t seen the guy [Fanelli] yet, but people have called me and asked how such a handsome man could be so cruel. I am happy the police caught him, but I still feel very sad at losing my daughter. Nothing can ever bring her back.”

Anyone wishing to contribute to a scholarship program to help Wanphen’s two children can send money:

Rotary Club of Patong Beach Charity Account
Siam Commercial Bank
46/3 Chao Fah Rd
T. Taladneung, A. Muang
Phuket Thailand 83000
Account: 633-2-49363-2
Phone: 076-222010

24 thoughts on “Ron Fanelli – Should We Feel Sorry For Him?”

  1. It’s nice to see another angle to this story. I had read about this in the news while back but as you mentioned, I only saw Wanphen Pienjai referred to as a “Thai Prostitute” or at best “bar maid”.

  2. @dangman: At the moment we’re still distributing money to the family as they need it and we have a bit still left so we don’t necessarily need any funds at the moment.

    I’m going to try and swing by and see the family when I’m out there at the end of the month but I’m on a very tight schedule this trip and escorting friends/family around so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get there.

    My wife does speak with the family on holidays and such and they’re doing well.

  3. @Nathan: I don’t even know if my UB account is still active. Haven’t logged in in years.

    If you’re in Thailand I can give you my Kasikorn info or if you’re in Bangkok maybe we can meet up for a beer or two.

  4. Great post, Bill.

    Can you accept donations via UB/Absolute? Also, I live in Thailand now, and am curious how you would suggest we relatively-well-off expats might be able to help some of these girls in desperate straights before they’re forced into prostitution.

  5. Bill, I just wanted to say that this is a VERY well written article. I’m impressed, and wish it reached a larger audience.

  6. @Paul: I think you may be getting the wrong read here. I am not anti-Fanelli. I just don’t sympathize with him. I don’t feel any need to identify with him simply because he used to be a poker player.

    If anything, I’ve been rather restrained in my writing about him. I have not gone out of my way to mention his numerous message board posts boasting about his exploits with prostitutes. I have not dwelled on his boasting about his misogynist tendencies (even though Victoria Coren, one of his friends, did write about both of the things I just mentioned). I chosen not to include quotes from people who knew him in Phuket and say that his wife was a bar girl he got pregnant or that he was deeply in debt.

    So all things considered I’ve been rather restrained considering all of the dirty laundry. I have tried to keep the focus on the real tragedy which is Wanphen and her family. I have tried wherever possible not to overly portray Fanelli as an evil person. I just describe his circumstances. But I also try to explain why I don’t feel any sympathy for him.

    The reason most of this hit me the way it did has nothing to do with my girlfriend (not my wife, don’t get ideas going in her head – haha) is Thai. It has to do with the way others in the poker media wrote about her as “a Thai hooker” or “a Thai prostitute.” The international media seems to make a huge deal out of cute blond white girls like Natalee Holloway when they go missing but if a Thai girl runs into foul play she’s just a hooker.

    If you know anything about anything in Thailand you would know things are not so cut and dry. This is a place where the average wage is $181 USD a month. It’s also a place that says that the children should take care of their parents in addition to taking care of their own children. That places an incredible financial burden on someone with little or no education trying to eek out a living on such a small amount of money.

    Wanphen wasn’t some 20-something that went down to Phuket to find herself a sugar daddy foreigner (farang) boyfriend. She was 34 years old. She has a disabled mother and two small children to take care of. No matter how cheap it is to live in Thailand $181 a month simply doesn’t stretch that far when you’re trying to feed four mouthes.

    You say that she had choices but what were they? She could stay in Phetchabun and take a low paying job that wouldn’t quite cover her expenses. Of course, she would need to borrow each month to make ends meet but eventually people would quit giving her money because she’s unable to repay and she would be right back in the same situation that brought her into going into prostitution.

    She could move to Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Samui, or some other place with many available jobs and worked for 6000 – 7000 baht per month. Of course, 3000 of that goes right out the door for her rent so we’re already down to 3000 or 4000 which he would at least need to send 2000 back home to her mother who was taking care of her children for her. That leaves her with a whopping 1000 – 2000 baht per month to live on. Oh, and we haven’t even talked about electricity, water, phone, or any other basic utilities so whack another 1000 – 1500 off of that. What do you have left? Either -500 or +500. Even if she was eating for only 40 or 50 baht her meal (doable) she wouldn’t even have enough to eat on that salary.

    So what were her choices?

    I identify with Wanphen, not because of my girlfriend, but because I know many, many girls just like her. Many of these girls I consider friends. Girls who work 6 days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day just to make enough money to be able to send back a little something to their parents each month.

    They are in this position because of a complex list of problems (some of which were the basis for the red shirt protests earlier this year). The government doesn’t provide any disability or retirement so children are expected to take care of their parents. Education is downplayed because there is little or no hope of getting into a university (and most couldn’t even afford to go if it was offered for free). Children drop out of school as soon as they legally can and start working in order to help support the family.

    Many people really don’t understand the Thai commitment to family. In Thai culture it is more important than even yourself. I remember the bartender at my local pub telling me on night “I don’t care if I die. As long as I can take care of my family it doesn’t matter what happens to me.” That’s how seriously they take their obligation. Being Buddhists they believe that whatever sacrifices they make in this life will gain them merit (or karma) in the next.

    So I’m not really anti-Fanelli as much as I am sympathetic to Wanphen’s family. You say ” You seem to speculate and therorise frequently over the net at the moment,” but the amount of theorizing and speculating I’ve done has been very minimal.

    The way you word that about “over the net” I assume you are referring to my posts on The Hendon Mob forums. I’ve only speculated on his supposed claim of “self defense” which recently came up. I speculated that what he has said both that the press interview and in his statements to the police don’t seem to match up with a self defense claim. But I’ve also left the room open that he may be telling the truth. I’ve labeled speculation as speculation.

    Anyway, the point of all of this is that it’s not about Fanelli. It’s about two small children and a partially disabled woman. Whether Fanelli was acting in self defense or snapped and murdered this woman is of little consequence. The outcome for them is still the same.


  7. Bill,

    Just wanted to go over this with you! Its obviously very sad what happened and only two people will ever know what really happened. You seem to speculate and therorise frequently over the net at the moment. Its all one sided aswell. Now, i dont condone murder in any form, but you’re having a laugh with your blog and posts. Collecting money for this girls family, albeit, very admirable, im somewhat confused.

    My point is based upon your comments below: You say. Fannelli made all the choices to go to Thailand and fall into the circumstances which lead to this tragety and that Wanphen did not. She chose to go to Phuket and she chose to work in a bar.. Like thousands of these girls who come from the villages and work in bars (as porstitutes) hoping to earn good money from westerners and indeed alot of them hope to marry a westerner and move west for a better life. Nothing wrong with that, my point is, she had choices and she made them and she put herself in the environment where she would meet people like Fannelli. (men, who pay Thai women for sex)

    “I guess I have a hard time feeling the sympathy for Fanelli because I’ve seen loads of Fanelli’s here in Thailand. Much like Las Vegas, Thailand is intoxicating. But like any intoxicant, it can be dangerous if you let it control you.

    Fanelli is where he’s at because he couldn’t control it. He made various choices in his life that put him where he’s at. And he could have just as easily made different choices and been in a different place.

    Wanphen was there because of circumstances beyond her control. She didn’t choose to be born poor or have her husband stick her with supporting two kids on her own. Those are just the cards life dealt her and she tried to make the best of what she had.”

    Thats all really, just think youre taking this anti-fanelli thing a little too far. I understand you feel a little connected to the thai people as you have a thai wife, however, dont be so one sided in a saga that you dont have a clue what the facts actually are.

    If you decide to start a fund raising mission for the victims the floods in pakistand or the Chillean miners, please let me know, i’ll ship you some $ on tilt…..Good luck and take care.


  8. Feel sorry? No way!!
    He supposedly did not confess to “murder”, and said it was self defence. Rediculous. He probably wanted the lady to go too kinky. She probably refused. He probably threatened. She probably pulled out a knife to show that she meant it and would not fo further. And when he uses the knife on her it is self defence? Does an ex naval officer need a knife to defend himself from a small and skinny Thai lady? I don’t think so.

  9. Interesting, Ned. Just curious if you wouldn’t mind pointing out which sites you’re talking about. I did a search for anotherteabag but way too many Tea Bagger websites came up 🙂 When I searched for “anotherteabag” I only got 10 results and only one seemed relevant (but it was poker related – Gutshot – and only discussed that he used the screen name).

  10. This was a refreshing read. Fanelli posted as “anotherteabag” on sites focusing on Thai prostitution and his posts were repellent — i.e. saying he was planning on having seven bar girls in a night and asking if anybody had any ideas. He appreciated suggestions of fisting, etc.

    After this happened, some of the idiots in forums like the ones he posted as “anotherteabag” in joked about the death and the basic theme was, “Well, just another dead whore. Poor Ron, now his life is wasted.” Ron is a scumbag. He proved that in his actions and in the disrespect he showed to human life long before taking a knife to Wanphen. I hope he serves the maximum sentence and dies an old man in a Thai prison.

  11. Thanks for putting the other side of the story here too. Beyond the obvious damage Ron’s actions have caused we should also not forget that he puts another dent into the reputation of foreigners in Thailand. Therefore running a fund raiser is a great idea.

    If you ping me with an email I can make a donation on FTP as well.

  12. Bill, thank you for taking the time to get the whole story and letting us know. My sympathies lie with the young woman and her family.

  13. @Richard: I would be more than happy to. I’ll ping you with an email.

    Also, on my other website,, we’ve begun planning a fund raiser. We’ve been able to get the family’s contact info and my girlfriend is from the same village so we’ll make our donation directly to the family.

    I’ll do another post when we have things a bit more formalized. I would love it if the poker playing community could be a big part of this even if they can’t attend the fund raising event.

  14. I find it very hard to find any sympathy towards Fanelli. He was a avid poster on poker related forum 2+2, and he had a lot of treads where he was bragging about “banging a lot of chicks” and doing weird stuff with them. he was obviously being an obnoxious bastard towards the girls who work in bars. As I’ve understood it, his life had been going downwards for quite a few years already, and on this tragic night something snapped really bad im him and he went bananas.. And, as they say, the rest is (sadly) history. One innocent mother of two lost her life and her childred are no orphans. Another life was ruined as well, since Fanelli will hopefully spend the rest of his miserable life in thai prison. These are the two lives that were permanently ruined, but one should not forget what his does to ohers indirectly. Imagine the pain and suffering her children, mother, and other relatives must feel. Rest in peace Wanphen Pienjai, and rot in prison Ron. Tragic, but sadly not the last mindless act of violence Thailand will see done by foreigners. A lot of foreign douches in there 🙁

  15. I’ve followed you for a while, but the level of class you just displayed made me comment.
    She ought not be forgotten or ignored, she was a victim. Bill, thank you for sharing her story.

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