Suspect in decades-old Hwaseong serial murders in South Korea booked, case to be sent to prosecutors

Lee Chun-jae confessed to the nine rape-murders that took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi province, as well as five additional murders and about 30 rapes and attempted rapes. PHOTO: HANKOOK ILBO

SUWON, SOUTH KOREA (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Police said on Tuesday (Oct 15) that Lee Chun-jae, 56, has been booked in connection with a series of rape-murders in the 1980s and early 1990s and his case will be sent to prosecutors despite the expired statute of limitations.

The Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency confirmed in a press briefing on Tuesday morning that Lee's status was changed from "suspect" to "accused" as of Monday, after the authorities judged that his account of the crimes in question had "substantial credibility". Forensic DNA testing has linked Lee to five of the murders, with more tests still under way.

Lee's change in status is a critical turning point in the investigation, police said, which means that written interrogatories now need to be lodged in accordance with the law.

From this point on, police interviews with Lee will have to be recorded in the form of official documents to be signed by Lee. The police agency said its committee of judicial experts had affirmed the legal grounds of the decision.

Police said 10 of the 14 murders that Lee has confessed to are part of an unsolved series of rapes and killings that occurred between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.

The other four - also cold cases - are the December 1987 murder of a 17-year-old girl in Suwon, a Gyeonggi city close to Hwaseong; the July 1989 disappearance of an eight-year-old girl in Hwaseong; the January 1991 murder of a high school girl in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province; and the March 1991 murder of a 26-year-old woman in Cheongju.

Lee told police he had disposed of the missing eight-year-old's body near where he killed her.

Police said all 14 murders - a number that excludes the 1994 rape and murder of his sister-in-law, for which he was convicted and is now serving a life sentence - reflected Lee's modus operandi.

In a bombshell announcement on Oct 9, Lee claimed he was responsible for the 1988 rape-murder of a 13-year-old for which a different man, surnamed Yun, had been convicted and served almost two decades in jail.

A lawyer representing Yun said last week that Yun would file legal action against the state alleging wrongful conviction.

Mr Ban Ki-soo, the agency's superintendent-general, said police were examining Lee and Yun's claims and were working to determine the truth. Mr Ban said police were also in close consultations with the officers in charge of the case at the time.

About the 30 rapes and other sexual assaults to which Lee has also confessed guilt, police said they had yet to identify the specific cases.

Police said they would also review the matter of officially disclosing Lee's full identity.

While protocol dictates that all records are to be discarded after the statute of limitations has expired, Gyeonggi police preserved key documents and samples in the hope of eventually solving this cold case.

"We believe this may be our last chance at cracking the decades-old cold case," Mr Ban said. "Our intention is to leave not a single drop of doubt unaddressed. This includes the possible errors made by the police in the past."

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