Key suspect in Aussie biker’s murder faces death

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The prime suspect in the kidnapping and murder of a former Australian motorcycle gang leader in Pattaya is facing a military court trial and a possible death sentence after being brought back from hiding in Cambodia.

Antonio Bagnato, 26, allegedly led a gang of five foreigners to kill Australian Hells Angels member Wayne Rodney Schneider, 37, after abducting him from a rented Jomtien Park Villas home Nov. 30. Police found the body two days later buried on the side of Wihan Sian-Khao Cheechan Road in Sattahip’s Najomtien District.

Wayne Rodney Schneider, deceased.

Captured at a hotel in Phnom Penh Dec. 4, Bagnato was deported over the weekend and brought to a Provincial Police Region 2 news conference Dec. 7 where police charged him with not only murder and kidnapping, but possession of a cache of illegal and military-grade weapons. Shown at the news conference were two assault rifles, two handguns, ammunition, two Tasers and brass knuckles.

National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaichinda said he would be charged under Section 44 of the interim constitution and be tried in a military court on the weapons charges.

While his murder charge carries the death sentence, police in New South Wales reportedly were negotiating to have Bagnato deported back to Australia to face drug-trafficking charges there.

Also facing charges is 21-year-old American Tyler Joseph Fulton Sheen Gerard, who was captured Dec. 2 at an immigration checkpoint in Sa Kaeo Province while trying to cross over into Cambodia.

Under questioning back in Pattaya, Gerard reportedly confessed to driving the rented Toyota Vigo pickup truck used in the crimes and a role in the biker’s murder. He re-enacted the crime for police and media Dec. 4.

Antonio Bagnato was captured in Phnom Penh Friday (Dec 4) and deported back to Thailand Sunday night (Dec 6) after Thai police named him as the ringleader of a gang of five foreigners who killed Wayne Rodney Schneider, 37, after abducting him from a rented Pattaya home Nov 30.

Police said Tyler said another American, identified as Issac Stetson, and two Australians, including Amad “Jay” Malkoun, who reportedly invited Schneider to Pattaya to share a house with him a month earlier, made up the rest of the gang.

Malkoun, who claimed to have slept through the 5am adduction of his roommate at gunpoint, was allowed to leave Thailand two days after the killing. Police said that, at the time, they had no evidence to hold him, although blood and bullet casings were found at the house.

Also arrested and later released without charge was Bagnato’s wife, Siraphat Saimat, 25, who police said rented the white Toyota used to transport Schneider’s body from a dealer on Soi Xzyte off Third Road. Police believed her assertion that she had no knowledge of the kidnap or murder plots, even though she admitted her husband made her erase any text messages and call logs related to the truck hire.

The truck would prove to be a key to cracking the case. Police used information from the rental vehicle’s GPS tracker to determine it had been parked at the Big Buddha Hill burial site for two hours at 7 a.m. on Nov. 30, two hours after the kidnapping. Investigators used the coordinates to find Schneider’s naked body buried 1.8 meters deep. He died of an apparent broken neck.

Security guards at Jomtien Park Villas, where homes sell for 17-35 million baht and rent for 85,000-150,000 per month, told police that Schneider’s abductors were wearing scarves over their faces, but believed they were all foreigners. They identified one of the men as Bagnato, who frequently had been seen at the Schneider’s 130,000-baht-a-month rental home.

Antonio Bagnato, 26, appears at a news conference at Provincial Police Region 2 Monday (Dec 7) where police displayed two assault rifles, a pair of handguns, ammunition, two Tasers and brass knuckles. The weapons were found at two of Bagnato’s properties in Chonburi province, Thai media reported.

The three men – Schneider, Bagnato and Malkoun – shared more than a house: All three were motorcycle gang members in Australia with Bagnato, a featherweight Muay Thai boxer, and Schneider joining up to run a boxing gym in Sydney.

Malkoun, another boxer who was a former president of the Comancheros criminal gang in Australia, had fled to Dubai, where Schneider’s wife was residing, after his housemates’ Hells Angels had supplanted the Comancheros as the country’s top biker gang, according to Australian media.

According to Australian press reports, the three also are connected through a long-running drug trafficking business. Bagnato currently is wanted on drug charges while Malkoun served time in the 1990s for heroin trafficking and was implicated in two other drug investigations.

Schneider, meanwhile, had previously been charged with armed assault, drug trafficking, obstruction of justice and a role in the theft of 5 million baht in chips from an Australian casino.

Aussie media reported that Schneider came to Thailand on Malkoun’s invitation after earning a windfall from a European drug network. Bagnato already had at least two residences in Thailand.

How young Californian Gerard got mixed up with a gang of outlaw Aussie bikers 15 years his elder remains a mystery. His brother Trevor, contacted through Facebook, insisted his brother wanted to “get his side of the story out”, but then deleted his Facebook account.

Tyler Gerard’s own Facebook page shows he’s been partying in Pattaya since at least May.

Under interrogation, Tyler quickly gave up the names of the alleged kidnappers, although he identified Malkoun only as “Jay” and another suspect as “Tor”.

He also led police to a lake near Khao Cheechan where the murder weapon supposedly had been tossed. Divers from the Sawang Rojthammasathan Foundation, however, recovered only a red-collared polo shirt that may not be connected to the victim.

(Photos from Teerarak Suthathiwong)