Bangkok - The naked bodies of two British tourists were found beaten to death on a Thai beach Monday, police said, sparking a murder hunt with the suspect believed to still be on the small resort island of Koh Tao.
The unidentified man and woman, both aged 24, were found early on Monday with head wounds near a beachside bungalow on the island, a diving hot-spot near Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand.
A bloodied hoe was discovered 35m from the murder scene, local police official Jakkrapan Kaewkhao told AFP.
"They were murdered and found naked on the beach. Their bodies were found 30m from [the] bungalow", he said, adding the pair arrived in Thailand on 25 August.
The bodies were found around 06:30 and police have spent the day interviewing witnesses but have yet to identify a suspect or motive, he added.
Provincial police chief Kiattipong Khawsamang said "most of the wounds were to their heads" adding the suspect, or suspects were "probably still on the island".
Checkpoints have been set-up on the island's two piers as local police called in reinforcements from neighbouring Koh Phangan, while high seas prevented ferries and boats from leaving.
Distraught friends of the victims, who had seen the pair partying at a local bar just hours before the gruesome discovery of their bodies gathered at the local police station, a third officer said.
"This is a very cruel crime", Prachum Ruangthong, superintendent of Koh Phangan police station, told AFP, adding the bodies would be sent for forensic examination in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Horror in paradise
In a statement the British Embassy in Bangkok said officials were "urgently seeking information from local authorities".
"Consular staff stand ready to provide assistance to friends and family at this tragic time", it added.
Koh Tao, home to stunning white sand beaches and azure waters, is popular with divers but is smaller and more laid-back than neighbouring Koh Phangan, which draws hordes of backpackers to its hedonistic "full moon" party.
A shocked employee at the budget seaside resort where they were staying told AFP the bodies were found behind large rocks on the beach.
"It was the first time this has happened on the island, I have never seen anything like this", the staff member added, requesting anonymity.
The murders are likely to heap more misery on Thailand's lucrative tourism industry which has been battered in recent months after a prolonged political crisis ended in a coup.
The army swiftly blanketed the country with a curfew and strict martial law, frightening off visitors.