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Killer confesses to even more murders, rapes

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Oct 03,2019
Lee Choon-jae, whom DNA tests identified as the rapist and murderer of nine women in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, in the late 1980s, confessed to the killings - and said he was responsible for five other murders and dozens more rapes.

The confession, which police disclosed publicly Tuesday afternoon, shocked both investigators and the public given the amount of detail provided by Lee, 56, who is serving a life sentence in the Busan Penitentiary for sexually assaulting and killing his ex-wife’s sister in 1994.

Last month, police announced they had matched Lee’s DNA to clothing from three of the nine victims of the Hwaseong serial homicides, possibly solving one of Korea’s most notorious murder sprees and cold cases. All victims of those killings from 1986 to 1991 were women, ranging from the ages of 14 to 72. A 10th victim, a 13-year-old girl, was killed in 1988, but police caught a different perpetrator and determined that crime to be a copycat murder.

Yet Lee, who was in his 20s at the time of the killings, can no longer be charged for any of those crimes since the statutes of limitations for the last of the murders expired in April 2006.

According to Ban Ki-soo, chief investigator in the case, police began questioning Lee from Sept. 18, a day before the DNA findings were made public. Lee strongly denied all nine of the murders through eight separate interrogations, police said.

But during the ninth round of questioning last week, Lee finally admitted he was responsible for the murders. In a press conference on Tuesday, Ban told reporters that it was probably the rapport that investigators built with the suspect - along with the DNA test results from the National Forensic Service - that moved Lee to make his confession.

Lee told them that in addition to killing all nine women in Hwaseong, where he was born and raised, he murdered five other people before he was captured and convicted for the final killing of his sister-in-law in 1994.

Three of the additional murders took place in Hwaseong, while two occurred in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, where Lee moved to in 1993.

In addition, Lee told police about 30 or so rapes or attempted rapes he committed within the eight-year period. Police said they could not elaborate further on any of these additional murders or rapes since investigations were ongoing.

Ban said police were being careful about Lee’s confessions and that there were “gaps in his memory” regarding the time and places of the murders.

Criminal profilers have noted that many serial killers inflate the numbers of murders they committed in order to aggrandize themselves both in their own eyes and those of the public.

Given such a possibility, police said they would work toward cross-checking Lee’s confessions with records, particularly by examining other murder cases in their records that showed characteristics unique to Lee’s crimes. One such “signature” involved binding victims with their own clothing.

Lee’s confessions last week may have also been motivated by the fact that with these new revelations about the DNA evidence, he is probably no longer eligible for parole. Due to the model behavior he showed during his 25 years in prison, Lee was on a shortlist of candidates for parole before he became a suspect in the serial killings.

Police also presented Lee with additional evidence against him, including an additional DNA test that matched him to a fourth victim out of the nine, as well as recognition by the only surviving eyewitness from the time - a bus conductor who said she saw Lee get on her bus near a location where the seventh murder victim was discovered in 1988.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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