February 25, 2024

Family of abducted Thai woman battle secrecy, politics in 40-year manhunt

Decades on, many are convinced Anocha Panjoy is still alive in North Korea

For someone, somewhere within North Korea’s secretive bureaucracy, it was a big mistake. When U.S. army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins finally left Pyongyang in 2004, the personal belongings he had accumulated after nearly 40 years inside North Korea were searched: regime officials confiscated photos that included anyone other than Jenkins, his Japanese abductee wife Hitomi Soga and their two children.

They missed one crucial image. Taken on the beach in Wonsan in 1984, it showed Jenkins smoking a cigar next to his wife and young child. It looked innocuous enough. But caught in the background was a young Thai woman, Anocha Panjoy, her hair cropped shorter than when her family had last heard from her in 1978. Her face, though, was unmistakable.