Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Jungle Woman of Cambodia

In 1988, two girls, one eight-years old, the other six, disappeared from their village of Oyadao near Phnom Penh on the Vietnam/Cambodia border. They'd been tending the family's water buffalo herd. Villagers searched the jungle, attempting to follow footprints, but never finding any other sign of the two little girls. Terrified of jungle spirits and tigers, villagers finally gave up, assuming the girls lost forever.

 The Preah Khan temple (in Angkor, Cambodia) is taken over by the jungle.
Author Helt, January 2008, Wikimedia Commons.

But in January 2007, tired of being robbed of food, Ratanakiri province villagers set a trap to find the culprit. What they witnessed in the middle of the night chilled them to their bones. A young woman emerged from the woods, naked, traveling on all fours, hunched like a monkey, her eyes glowing red (or so it has been reported). Behind her stood a disheveled man, hair on end, holding a sword. When the girl was captured, the man fled into the woods. Believing the man was an evil jungle spirit, the villagers did not give chase.

A village police officer claimed she was his long lost daughter, Rochom Phoeung, now 28 years old. She showed absolutely no recognition of the family, did not respond to physical touch, and didn't speak any language they were familiar with. However, she had a scar on her arm that matched one the missing eight-year old had possessed.

Villagers came to visit, bringing food and gifts, some donating money to her care into a container the father passed around. A water buffalo was, sacrificed as thanks to the jungle spirits for protecting her and returning her. The press nicknamed her Mowglina, after Mowgli in the Jungle Book.

But the Jungle Woman kept trying to rip her clothes off, to flee back into the forest. She didn't understand the hot water she was handed, the DVD player the family owned (though she was entranced by the films). She was unable to communicate what had happened to herself or her cousin, and had no understanding of their language.

They found scars around her wrist and ankle that indicated she had been bound, probably kept prisoner for some time. She was thin, emaciated even. Perhaps the girls had been kidnapped and kept tied up for years.

A reporter from the UK said she was able to say three words when he visited, as well as knowing how to use a spoon. Her hair was also trimmed short, and her feet were said to be in good shape. He didn't feel she could have been missing since she was 8 years old. Instead, he felt she had been kidnapped as an adult and kept prisoner, probably assaulted over a period of time. He felt this trauma was the cause for her lack of communication and behavior.

The family initially agreed to have DNA tests, but went back on this, kicking the sight seers and visitors out, blocking the press from talking to them anymore.

In 2010, reports say she escaped into the jungle again at some point, but came back within a few days. Later reports say she disappeared for eleven days, only to be discovered in a latrine hole that she had somehow worked herself into.

The last reports in 2011 said she was being schooled, was learning the language, and was now "a normal girl." The family never took the DNA tests to prove they were her family.

Note: Because this mystery is so recent, none of the photos of the girl were free to be used. You can go to the following links if you'd like to see photos of the girl:

Sydney Morning Herald, January 22, 2007
Phnom Penh Post, May 24, 2011

Do you believe this was the girl who'd disappeared twenty years earlier?  Were she and her cousin lured into the woods and kept captive? What happened to her cousin? Who is this crazed man she was found with? Was he human or a jungle spirit? Or was she kidnapped as a grown woman and so badly traumatized that she began acting like a wild animal, losing her understanding of language and rudimentary tools?

May you find your Muse.


  1. Wow, this gave me the chills while I was reading it. Fascinating story.

  2. What an amazing story. That poor girl. She's my age, and well, I couldn't imagine not understanding a language, not understanding basic human interaction, etc.

  3. I'm with Julie. That gave me goosebumps to read. How frightening whether she's the girl from their past or not.
    Great post, Shannon!

  4. I find it hard to believe she wouldn't remember any language at all. maybe she would've forgotten how to speak it but not to understand it. But who knows really? There are other stories like that, the wolf girl of Russia for one. very strange indeed.

  5. I wonder if the family didn't care if she was truly related to them by blood at that point? Maybe they looked upon her as one of theirs, no matter what? Or was there some other reason they decided not to go through with the DNA test...? (Maybe I watch too much CSI and Law and Order: SVU?)

  6. If the bereaved family believed they got back one of their missing daughters, they probably didn't want science to look too closely. Why get their hearts broken again?

  7. Sounds like a very intriguing story. Of course, a million questions pop into my head. Would love to find that man, search the area others.

    Intriguing story.

  8. So interesting, and very recent. I wouldn't think the theory of her being kidnapped as an adult and broken down. I mean, I believe the mind can be twisted/broken in such fashions, but not sure about to the point of not understanding her native language?

    Makes more sense if it was done as a child.

    Not sure about that mystery man (and the girl having red glowing eyes). Creepy.

    I am in agreement with those saying that if the family thought they got their daughter back, they wouldn't want to chance science/DNA saying otherwise.

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink

  9. Very interesting story. I would think that she would need trauma over a long period to behave the way she did so I am thinking this is the girl that disappeared. It would be interesting to get a DNA sample but I supposed there is no way to force this. I'd be curious if anyone would try to get her story after she learned the language again. Another fascinating post.
    We Are Adventure

  10. I am so fascinated by feral people. Unfortunately, most of the stories I've read have been about feral children who are that way due to severe neglect and abuse.

    This is not really related to your post, but this story from my hometown is one of best / most interesting / heart-wrenching I've read. The girl in the window

  11. I remember seeing the articles about this, but I didn't follow it. There were some reports that she was raised by wild animals.
    Speaking of, have you seen the articles about the woman who is now claiming she was raised by monkeys?

  12. I cannot believe she is other than one of the missing 8 yr. olds. I do hope she can settle down, whoever she is, she is still a disturbed human.


  13. You certainly made it sound believable!

  14. This one is especially creepy... with the sword wielding man and all.

  15. I'm not sure the mystery will be solved. I think more should have been done to find the apparent culprit - local legends and superstitions are all very well, but seem to have got a bit in the way here. I do lean towards the kidnapped as a child angle which more likely explains the severe loss of language.

    I hope she can go on to have some kind of normal life. I think the woman Andrew is talking about was interviewed on British TV the other day - she went on to become a housewife and mother in England and was well-adjusted, but then I don't think trauma was involved in her childhood...

  16. I've never heard of this one. Interesting, but I don't think it was the same girl.

  17. This story gave me chills. On one hand it would be wonderful if she survived, on the other, what kind of life did she lead? Thanks for sharing the story.

  18. What an incredibly sad story. Regardless of who she is, I'm glad there are those trying to help her!

  19. That is an amazing story. How did you even find this?

    Chuck at Apocalypse Now

  20. Oh wow, what an amazing story. I got the chills too.

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  21. It is an extraordinary story which I heard about when in the region last year travelling through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Chilling to the bone. Fact is often stranger than fiction.

    Susan Scott's Soul Stuff

  22. Another intriguing post. Thanks, Shannon.

  23. That poor woman. I believe she was traumatized, whether from the time she was 8 or later. It sounds like the family who claimed her as their own is trying to take good care of her and protect her from outsiders. My hunch is they don't want DNA testing because it comforts them to believe this is their long-lost child. To possibility of learning otherwise would be like losing her all over again.

  24. I don't know if she was kidnapped as a child or an adult, but I do know that she had no say on what happened to her. I think she was kidnapped, attacked, and probably even tortured for years. And I feel so horrible for that woman, for the missing cousins, that I can't even explain it.

  25. T., they sure do!

    Julie, isn't it?

    B&B, terrifying to think about, isn't it?

    Jackie, it's definitely frightening either way, isn't it? Something happened to this girl, whether she's this missing girl or not.

    Marcy, I've always found "wild child" stories interesting, but this is the first "wild woman" one I've heard.

    Madeline, those are interesting questions. I got the impression they figured she was theirs, and there was no reason to prove it.

    Jan, agreed. No matter how much they believed it, that fear would probably still be in there somewhere.

    Miranda, it would be of interest, for certain, to find that man and see if he has another woman there, and to be sure he doesn't take any others.

    Jak, I agree that, whether this is that girl or not, it sounds like she was taken as a child.

  26. Elliot, I wonder I few would force the DNA test in the U.S.?

    Tesla, thank you for passing that story along.

    Andrew, I haven't. I'll have to look it up. Oy.

    Jo, I'd just like to know what happened to her sister. :(

    Desert, why, thank you!

    Lisa, it is. It raises many questions!

    David, he does raise the creepy factor, that's for sure.

    Nick, thanks for the update! Yes, I hope she can get to a normal life, and I agree that reading about them refusing to look further into this frustrated me to no end. What if that other woman is still with him??

    Christine, it seems sort of 50/50. Either way, I'd like to know what happened to her. She hasn't been speaking another language, as far as anyone could tell (or so they said).

  27. Clean Slate, that's true. I'm not sure which is the best option.

    Sharon, it sounds like she is being cared for, no matter what.

    Chuck, the interwebs! :p I find everything there.

    Kristen, it's definitely chill-inducing!

    Susan, did you hear anything different than what was in here? Just curious what the word in that region was, versus where I found most of the information (European papers).

    Cathrina, thank YOU.

    Jagoda, I think you're right on the DNA testing. It would be scary to do with the risk of finding that out.

    Rachel, it is a sad and disturbing story, no matter who she is.