The story takes place in Hwaseong
Hwaseong was a rural city in the province of Gyeonggi which is mainly known for agriculture. The city is known for rice farming and floodplains It’s such a rural area where everyone knows everyone, nothing usually happens here. I bet you’re asking, why am I talking about the geography of this city? Well, I want you to picture the area, wide vast lands of farmland, forest hills, and houses scattered all around. Pretty easy to do something without being noticed, and well… this case is proof of just that.
It’s September 19th, 1986, a group of kids were playing in the neighborhood. They wanted to catch some dragonflies, so they went into the grass, and there they noticed something, they thought it might be garbage due to the smell, but the stench was so strong and they just had to check it out, and when they did… they found a body. It was the body of 71-year-old Lee Wan-Im, she went missing 4 days ago (15th of September) when she was on her way back home from visiting her daughter.
The crime scene investigators noted that both her underwear and socks were taken off, and there seemed to be evidence of struggle and resistance. They concluded that the cause of death was due to suffocation by strangulation.
A month later (October 20, 1986), Park Hyun-sook just left her date, took the bus back home, and on the way back, she was thinking of how well the date went. He might actually be marriage material. She got off the bus, and well … that was the last time she was seen. Three days later, a body was found in the canal, and it was the body of Park Hyun-sook. The cause of death here was the same, suffocation by strangulation, but she had no clothes on. Later, her clothes were found at the crime scene and it seemed that the killer used her stockings to tie her up.
Now, we have two murders, taking place in the same area. They all seem to have been last seen at the bus stop. Remember, I mentioned earlier that Hwaseong was a rural area, and the closest bus stop is actually, quite a few miles away so people would have to walk a bit before reaching their homes. This would seem like a pretty appealing location for a serial killer to take advantage of, and so he did.
On December 12th, 50 days after the second murder, Kwon Jung-Bon never came back home. Four months later, her body was found in an embankment. This time her underwear covered her face, her stoking was used to strangle, and gag her.
On December 14th, 1986, Lee Kye-sook a 23-year-old was getting ready for a pretty exciting evening, she was about to meet her fancies parents, she even wore her nice two-piece red dress. And well, the evening turned out pretty well and one would say, it was quite a hit, she couldn’t be more excited to start this new chapter of her life, but I think you can guess by now where this is heading… it turned out to be the final chapter of her life. She was found dead on a hill between rice fields, 200 meters away from the road. She was tied and gagged with her socks, had a girdle covering her face, and was strangled. Also, there was an umbrella on the scene which he used to violate her…
Now it became pretty obvious to the police that they have a serial killer case here. The MO is the same in all those murders, and they’re all happening around the same area, hell they were all last seen at the bus stop…
The people of the village started to grow quite scared, and honestly rightfully so. The investigation now was taken seriously because more than 2 million police officers were mobilized to investigate this case. Two bloody million, a record number for a single case. But you know what’s the kicker… even with all those police officers on the case, he still struck again.
It’s a new year, 1987. January 10th to be specific. A high schooler Hong Jin-young, was on her way back home, she was taking the same bus she always took… and well, she too was last seen at the bus stop. Hong Jin-young became the fifth victim, she was found on a rice paddy tied and gagged with her socks, and well, strangled as well.
May 2nd, Park Eun-Joo went out to give her husband an umbrella and … Can you guess where I’m going with this? She was found on a hill, strangled with her own clothing.
Rumors started spreading, that the killer targeted women wearing red clothes on rainy days and that sparked another idea for the police “how about we get the female officers to wear red?!”, and so the female officers started wearing red in an attempt to lure the killer. Did it work? Umm nope. They got so desperate that they performed a shamanistic ritual on a voodoo scarecrow and made it hold a note saying “Turn yourself in or your limbs will rot and you will die. You will be caught by someone, something and you will die”.
5 months later (on September 7th), Ahn Gi-soon never came back. She was last seen getting off that dreaded bus stop, again. A day later, she was found at a canal. Now, this case was different, first in the horrific matter the victim was abused in, not only was she strangled and gagged with her socks, but they also found 6 to 7 slices of peach in her privates… The other difference is there was an actual eyewitness this time.
Around 9:30 to 10 p.m on the day of the murder, a man desperately requested for the bus to stop in a location that was close to the actual murder scene. That man was cursing while on the bus and was trying to hide by lowering himself in his seat when they were around the crime scene. He later came up to the bus driver and conductor, struck a conversation with them, and asked for a lighter, when Mr.Kang (The bus driver) took out his lighter to light the man’s cigarette he noticed that the guy’s hands didn’t look rough but soft. Why is this important? Well, remember that Hwaseong is all farmland and people work all day with their hands which causes their hands to usually be quite rough, so someone with soft hands usually stands out.
So according to the victims, the culprit at the time was a thin-framed man, in his mid-twenties, with a height of 165 to 170 centimeters. He has short-cut sporty hair and a sharp nose. Let’s also not forget the soft hands.
It’s September 16th, 1988, a year later after the seventh murder, Park Sang-hee’s parents woke up that morning, it’s just another normal day where they all eat breakfast together and go on their normal day. When her mother went to wake up her daughter… it wasn’t another normal day after all. When she removed the covers from her she found Park Sang-hee murdered. She was only 13 years old! She was found in her room, tied, gagged, and raped. It wasn’t in a rural area this time, it was in her own room. She was raped and murdered while her parents were in the next room, fast asleep.
Around a year later, on July 25th, 1989, Yoon Seong-Yeo a 22-year-old repairman just finished preparing his dinner, he sat down and was about to eat his first bit when he heard a knock on the door. When he opens the door, it’s the police. He looked at them, confused, and asked “Ummm what’s this about?” They were quite vague and simply said “This won’t take long.”
Three days later on the 27th of July, they made an arrest. They have finally found the Hwaseong serial killer after 4 years of terror. Yoon Seong-Yeo was the killer. The hair strand found at the crime scene was analyzed and said to be a match to him. The story is that on the night of the eighth murder he was on a stroll at around midnight and happened to see a light on a nearby house. He climbed up the wall and peeked into the room of Park Sang-hee and to phrase what he said “He just had an urge to rape” so he ripped into the paper door, unlocked the door, and well we know what happened then.
People were overjoyed finally they can breathe a sigh of relief, the killer is caught!
November 15th, 1990, Kim Mi-Jung a middle schooler was found murdered on a hill. Can you guess how? Her hands and feet were tied with her clothes, gagged with her bra, strangled and this time the killer must have been really angry because they found a ballpoint pen, fork, spoon, and razor blade in her privates…
Now with that 9th murder happening people started to look at the police and pointing out that the MO is the same as the previous murders, we thought you caught the killer?! And so they had to back-peddle and say Oh Oh the 8th murder is different. It happened at the victim’s home, and this killing had a lot of evidence left behind so no Yoon isn’t the serial killer, but he’s the copycat killer taking inspiration from the real killer…
On April 3rd, 1991, Kwon Soon-sang, was found dead on a hill, she too was last seen getting off the bus. Same MO and this time two footprints were found but they couldn’t be analyzed because they were compromised.
That brings our total to 10 murders. Now after that, no additional murders were found, the murders just stopped, and the case went cold. A Profiler Pyo Chang-won predicted that “The criminal will be dead or in prison for another murder. Serial killers can’t stop themselves from killing someone”
Time passed. The families of the victims went on with their lives, Yoon is trying to live his life despite the 20 years he lost in prison, and well life moved on until 2019 came around with a surprise!
On September 18th, 2019, police announced that they have identified the killer. Since DNA technology evolved so much over the years they were finally able to find a match and it matched to a guy named Lee Choon-Jae who happened to be serving a life sentence at a prison in a city called Busan.
So let’s talk about Lee, Well after he graduate high school in 1983 he joined the military and served as a tank pilot. He was discharged from the military on the 23rd of January 1986. He went back to Hwaseong and started working at an electric parts factory. At some point due to how dull his life felt after the military, he decided to go on raping women and then later on murder them.
Now if we go back to the timeline we can see that between the 8th and 9th murders there was a huge gap and well the reason for that was, at the time, on the 26th of September 1989 Lee broke into a house in Gwangju. He was wearing gloves and freaking armed with weapons but thank god he was discovered by the landlord before anything bad can happen. He was arrested and sentenced to a year and a half in prison on charges of robbery and violence. Lee filed an appeal and said, hey I didn’t do anything wrong, I was running away from a guy that was beating me up, and entered the victim’s house while being chased. I don’t know what it is with this guy but they believed him so they changed his charge to two years probation and let him go on in April 1990. Now it’s clear why the 9th murder turned out how it did.
And in that year apart from the murders he was committing, he started a new job as a crane driver without a license. Then in 1992, he got married. He married a bookkeeper and then the following year quit his job
Now when I introduced this Lee guy, I said he was serving a life sentence in prison haven’t I? Well, On January 13th, 1994 Lee invited his sister-in-law. Not sure how he lured her, maybe by using his ex-wife as an excuse but anyways, what he preceded to do was horrific. He drugged her, raped her, and then murdered her.
Now because he was in the system and the fact that they didn’t add inmates’ DNA into the database up until late 2010 this helped them match Lee to the murders in Hwaseong. When the detective working on the case found that the DNA gathered from the 7th case match his DNA profile and confronted him, he denied it, then when he came back again to him and said you are now linked to four of the murder cases. He kept denying it, I think he believed he has a possibility of parole but the moment he realized he was never to be granted parole, and when links connected him to the 4th case came out he finally confessed to all of the Hwaseong murders.
When Yoon’s attorney heard the news about a confession of the murders he immediately called Yoon to tell him. Poor Yoon got all emotional and said “I want to clear my false accusation, and I want my honor back. I want to be satisfied with these, and that’s all.” So he filed for a re-trial.
And during this court hearing we got to know about the abuse and corruption the police did, from fabricating evidence to terrorizing suspects, hell Yoon wasn’t the only one who said he was tortured by police another suspect by the surname Kim was accused of the 4th and 5th murders. I just want to let you guess, based on what evidence they said that? Take a guess. Well, a medium from the united states said they had seen him in their dreams. That was their evidence…
Now in a surprising turn of events, Lee served as a witness in the re-trial. He confessed to all of the 10 murdered as well as 5 other murders the police didn’t know about. Here’s the kicker he said “I was surprised I wasn’t caught earlier”
Yoon was sitting in court listening to Lee, whom he served 20 years on his behalf. Lee said he didn’t have a reason for killing the 13-year-old. He showed no emotion as he described how he killed her. “It was an impulsive act,” he said in court. Yoon listened to him describing how he murdered Park Sang-hee in gruesome detail. He even sketched to them her room and where she was positioned and said things only the killer would know. I can only imagine how it felt like for him. I for one wouldn’t have been able to stand that.
He is one ballsy guy because he had the audacity to say “I heard from someone that a person with a disability was arrested but I didn’t know which one he was arrested for as I committed many (crimes).”
Another shocking thing Lee said at the trial was during the time of the serial killings, he was questioned by the police and during his questioning, he had one of the victims watch on him, but… he was questioned for not having an ID on him and was let go soon after.
I’m going to quote what he said in court, “I still don’t understand (why I wasn’t a suspect). Crimes happened around me and I didn’t try hard to hide things so I thought I would get caught easily. There were hundreds of police forces. I bumped into detectives all the time but they always asked me about people around me, but never me”
The trial was concluded on December 17th, 2020 less than a year ago. Eight people who were police officers and prosecutors who handled the case back in the day were charged for gross misconduct. They were arrested and imprisoned for abuse of authority and writing and exercising false official documents. Yoon was finally acquitted of the crime he never committed and was compensated a total of 2 billion won which is equivalent to 1.7~ million dollars.
And that is how the Hwaseong serial killer case was concluded.
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if you enjoyed “Korean Zodiac Killer” you might also like our previous episode “ILOVEYOU” where we talk about the story of the love bug virus from start to end
- Lee Choon-jae (serial killer)
- He Spent 20 Years in Prison Until a Serial Killer Confessed to the Crime
- Self-confessed serial killer finally takes the stand
- The unexpected closure of Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder
- Serial murder suspect confesses to 14 murders, 30 rapes
- Hwaseong Killings Still Baffle Police
- Hwaseong murder case may have accused wrong person
- Police: Lee Chun-jae is behind ‘8th Hwaseong murder’
- (News Focus) Hwaseong serial murderer may have confessed as chances of parole dimmed
- 윤성여와 두 은인, “용서와 기적, 희망을 말하다”
- [속보]화성살인범 몰려 20년 옥살이 윤성여 씨 형사보상금 25억 확정
- He spent 20 years in prison, until a serial killer confessed to the crime
- [아무튼, 주말] “20억을 준다면 당신은 감옥에서 20년 살 수 있겠습니까?”
- 화성군 박상희양 살해범 구속[백지연]