On 6 January 2016, Mirna Salihin, 27, was having a coffee with mates when she collapsed and began foaming at the mouth. She died later that day. Tests showed she’d been poisoned by cyanide. But could one of her so-called friends really be to blame?
The two girls met when they were studying at a design college in Sydney, Australia.
After graduating in 2008, Wayan Mirna Salihin, known as Mirna, returned to the girls’ native Indonesia, while Jessica Kumala Wongso stayed in Melbourne working as a graphic designer.
Still, the friends kept in touch. And, last January, just weeks after Mirna had married, they arranged to catch up when Jessica returned to Indonesia.
It was to be coffee and a chat with another friend at Cafe Olivier in Jakarta’s Grand Indonesia Mall.
Jessica arrived first that day, took table 54 and ordered two cocktails and a Vietnamese iced coffee. Mirna and the other girl arrived minutes later…
Mirna drank the iced coffee, then collapsed, convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
An ambulance raced her to hospital – but, at 6.30pm, Mirna was declared dead.
Police began investigating, and tests showed Mirna had been poisoned by cyanide – a chemical easily available in Indonesia due to its use in gold-mining.
The case of the cyanide-coffee killer hit headlines all around the world.
Rumours were rife about lesbian affairs, love triangles, claims that Jessica was jealous of Mirna’s husband. A false Instagram account was even set up in Jessica’s name, which made out she was bisexual.
None of the rumours proved to be more than gossip, however.
Jessica said in a TV interview that she’d no idea what was happening when Mirna fell ill in the cafe.
‘I was thinking, “What is wrong with her?”… I didn’t think anything more. I thought it might be a heart attack, but it’s not possible, she’s still so young.’
Yet Jessica was arrested and charged with murdering her friend by poisoning. Still maintaining her innocence,
She stood trial for the crime at Jakarta Central District Court.
The prosecution told the court that, back in 2015, Mirna had given Jessica relationship advice, which had led to them falling out.
Allegedly, Mirna had found out Jessica had a boyfriend in Australia who was rough and treated Jessica badly. She’d advised her friend to break up with him.
It’s believed Jessica did eventually break off the relationship, but was so bitter about what Mirna had said and jealous of Mirna’s new marriage to Arief Soemarko that she planned to kill her in revenge.
It seemed a flimsy motive for murder. But there was evidence that pointed to Jessica as the killer.
She’d been in touch with Mirna on WhatsApp in December 2015, the day before she’d arrived in Indonesia, and organised the meet-up.
According to the prosecution, Jessica had arrived at the cafe at 3.30pm – well ahead of time. She’d looked around, gone to a nearby shop and bought three soaps, which she’d asked to be put into three separate bags.
Returning at 4.15pm, she’d chosen table 54 and ordered Mirna’s favourite – Vietnamese iced coffee.
When it came, prosecutors claim she’d moved seats and arranged the three gift bags around the coffee so that no-one could see the cup.
Then she’d moved back to her original seat, pushing the coffee back to the middle of the table.
When Mirna and their pal arrived, Jessica had said, ‘This [coffee] is for you, Mir, you said you wanted [it].’
Mirna had then drunk it, saying, ‘This is really not good… This is awful.’
Two minutes later, she’d collapsed, foaming at the mouth with a ‘blank look’.
Jessica had sat quietly while the third girl tried to help.
Tests had found a deadly dose of cyanide in Mirna’s stomach. But Jessica’s defence team said there was no evidence it was Jessica who’d poisoned her friend’s coffee, nor any evidence as to where the cyanide had been obtained.
They insisted the motive about the boyfriend was rubbish, and that Jessica had passed a polygraph test.
‘If Jessica passed the lie-detector test, why is she still a suspect?’ her lawyer asked.
‘It does not make sense that Jessica flew all the way from Australia to Indonesia to murder Mirna. It also does not make sense that Jessica would murder Mirna because she had once asked Jessica to end her relationship with her boyfriend at the time,’ he added.
The defence also raised other key issues – like why Jessica was the only suspect, and not the third friend or cafe staff.
The Jakarta Police Commissioner told the court Jessica was seen on CCTV looking around to check if anyone was watching her.
Then the view of the camera was obstructed when she put a bag on the table.
Disturbing CCTV footage showed the moment Mirna drank the coffee, then clutched her face and collapsed.
Footage also emerged of Jessica after her arrest, giving a laughing thumbs-up to the camera. It was a bizarre gesture for someone who’d witnessed her friend’s death.
Taking the stand, Jessica told the court she and Mirna weren’t close, despite being two of only a few Indonesian students at their Sydney college.
She said they’d grown closer after graduating.
‘We always met when she came to Australia. We chatted, but never discussed anything personal,’ she said.
She told the court that Mirna had never met her ex-boyfriend.
‘The last time we met in Australia, we weren’t even dating yet,’ she said. ‘I didn’t tell her everything about him…We certainly never fight.’
Jessica also said the cafe table was chosen by the waitress, and the drinks ordered because she knew Mirna was on her way.
‘I placed the bags on the table when I went to the counter to place my order to let other customers know that the seats were taken,’ she said.
In another twist, three Australian experts testified there was no proof cyanide was the cause of death.
So did Jessica murder her friend with cyanide? Or was someone – or something – else to blame?
In October last year, Jessica Kumala Wongso, 27, was found guilty of premeditated murder.
Prosecutors told the court that Wongso’s actions were ‘sadistic because the poison cyanide, used to take the life of the victim, didn’t immediately kill her, but tortured her’.
She was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
It remains unclear what her motive was.
Mirna’s widower said, ‘We were newlyweds. We were in love. She is my closest friend. We were going to start a family. But she was taken from me.’
In March 2017, the Jakarta High Court rejected an appeal to have Wongso’s conviction overturned.