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Hwaseong Killings Still Baffle Police

Posted April. 01, 2006 03:00,   


The statute of limitations on a spate of serial killings in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province that continues to baffle police will expire this Sunday.

The serial killings, in which 10 women aged 13 to 71 were raped and murdered between September 15, 1986 and April 3, 1991, a four year and seven month period, sent shockwaves through Korea in the late 1980s.

Even if caught, the perpetrator would not face any criminal charges because the 15- year limit for prosecution on the 10 cases expires this Sunday. A suspect was arrested in September 1988, but he turned out to be unrelated to the serial killings. The real serial killer is still at large.

The last murder took place around 9:00 p.m. on April 3, 1991. A 69-year-old woman was discovered dead, raped and strangled with pantyhose on a mountain in Hwaseong. No similar cases have turned up since, and no one knows anything about the criminal.

Victims of the serial murders were all strangled to death with their own clothes, such as pantyhose or socks. There was also evidence of forced sexual abuse, which sent shockwaves though the public.

The perpetrator was reported to have Type “B” blood based on DNA evidence left at the scenes of the murders. He was in his 20s, 165 to 170 centimeters tall and slender according to an identikit based on the testimony of a rape victim who managed to escape a fortnight before the fourth murder. This is all the police have. Police can make an arrest if a suspect is caught later, because the National Institute for Science Investigation is holding the genetic information of the criminal collected at the murder scene.

A police officer said, “Given the cruel, abominable modus operandi, he is likely a psychopath. A psychopath does not feel guilty. He or she enjoys the thrill of committing heinous crimes.”

In attempts to resolve the case, the largest number of policemen in history was fielded. About 2.05 million officers dealt with the case annually. The number of suspects and witnesses combined amount to 21,280 individuals. In addition, 40,116 individuals have had their fingerprint taken, and 570 DNA samples and 180 hair samples were analyzed.

The volume of investigative records amounts to five cabinets. Police and prosecutors decided to keep the records permanent unlike other cases whose records are scrapped a year after the end of the statute of limitation. The decision is to find the truth even after the 15-year limit given its significance and considerable public interest.

The serial killing led to the rush of a scientific inspection system. Hair neutron analysis was first adopted in the eighth case, and police asked Japanese specialists to crack the code of the criminal’s DNA from the ninth and 10th murders, which was Korea’s first DNA-involved inspection.

Currently, homicide detectives at the Hwaseong police office check related calls from time to time. The 2003 film, “Memories of Murder,” which drew five million moviegoers, was an indicator of the huge public interest in the serial killing.

Debate over extension of the limit on heinous crimes is underway with the case’s statute of limitation running out.

Lawmaker Moon Byung-ho of the Uri Party submitted to the National Assembly a criminal code amendment bill, which extends the statute of limitation on murder cases to 20 years, in August of last year. The bill is pending in an Assembly subcommittee.

The head of the Hwaseong police office said, “We will get to the truth and the bottom of this regardless of the limit, and we will keep the investigation team dedicated to the case.”

Kyung-Hyun Nam bibulus@donga.com