South Koreans gripped by 'Molar Daddy' murder case

Murder suspect Lee Young Hak facing questions from reporters at the Chungang Police Station in Seoul last Friday.
Murder suspect Lee Young Hak facing questions from reporters at the Chungang Police Station in Seoul last Friday.PHOTO: YONHAP

Father, known for his efforts to treat his daughter's rare dental disease, accused of molesting, killing her teen friend

South Koreans have been gripped by a bizarre murder case in which a man, who shot to fame as a loving father who went to great lengths to raise funds to treat his daughter's rare genetic dental disease, is now being accused of molesting and killing her 14-year-old female friend.

Nicknamed Molar Daddy - as he had only one molar tooth left after undergoing numerous operations to remove tumours growing in his gums - Lee Young Hak, was arrested last Sunday for murder and dumping the victim's body on the side of a mountain in Gangwon province, north-east of Seoul. It was also revealed that he ran a massage parlour providing sex services, and had secretly filmed clients.

Police said last Friday that 35-year-old Lee, who was found unconscious in Seoul after a failed suicide attempt with his daughter, had confessed to the murder.

Investigations revealed he made use of his 14-year-old daughter to "play the role" of his wife to lure the victim, identified only by her surname Kim, to his house on Sept 30. His wife had committed suicide last month.

His daughter even helped to drug her friend, but was out of the house when Lee stripped and molested the victim, and then strangled her the next day when she woke up screaming in fear. An autopsy found no evidence of rape.

Lee faces charges of murder, molestation and committing an indecent act by force, said the police who handed the case to prosecutors last Friday. His daughter, who is also in custody, will be charged as an accomplice because she had helped to dispose of the body in a black suitcase.

READY TO ACCEPT PENALTY

I'm sorry... I haven't been myself since my wife died... everything that has happened still feels like a dream. I will now accept due punishment.

LEE YOUNG HAK, who issued a public apology before being taken to a detention centre last Friday.

Lee issued a public apology on Friday before he was transferred to a detention centre.

"I'm sorry... I haven't been myself since my wife died... everything that has happened still feels like a dream. I will now accept due punishment," he told local media.

The headline-grabbing case sent shockwaves through the nation, with many taking to social media to vent their anger at the man whose story triggered a wave of sympathy after it was featured on television in 2006. Donations poured in and Lee eventually released a book titled Molar Daddy's Happiness.

A video about the case posted by SBS TV network on Facebook drew 1.6 million views and over 8,000 comments within two days, with many viewers lashing out at the "crazy man" and "psychopath". Facebook user JunSik Moon wrote: "The swindler cheated the entire nation, targeting its compassion."

Old videos of the Lee family's plight, when their young daughter's face was deformed due to dental tumours, have also been making the rounds on social media. Lee himself suffered from the same condition, known as gigantiform cementoma. But he has undergone several operations to remove the tumours.

The family apparently depended on donations to pay for their daughter's operations - seven to date.

According to Yonhap news agency, Lee issued an appeal on the Internet in 2007 and managed to raise 12 million won (S$14,400). He also claimed to be an activist for the rare disease and once embarked on a cycling tour to raise awareness about it. He even went to California in 2009 to appeal to the Korean-American community for financial support.

However, speculation is now rife that Lee, who was last seen on TV in February this year, used the donations to finance a decadent lifestyle. It was also revealed that he had 18 criminal records.

Police said Lee has a psychopathic tendency possibly stemming from years of being bullied as a child due to his condition, and that he had a master-servant relationship with his daughter, who considers her father a "perfect figure".

Police now intend to re-investigate the death of Lee's wife on Sept 5, days after she filed a report accusing her father-in-law of rape over eight years ago.

She jumped from the roof of the five-storey apartment block where they lived, leaving behind a four-page note which apparently accused her husband of sexual abuse.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'South Koreans gripped by 'Molar Daddy' murder case'. Print Edition | Subscribe