[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A jailbreak, a swamped sea voyage and a holiday tragedyJan. 20 1997
Shin Chang-won, a 29-year-old lifer in a Busan jail, would not accept his situation. He plotted his own version of the Shawshank Redemption and escaped on this date by cutting iron window bars in the toilet. For more than two years, Mr. Shin eluded a police dragnet and became a legend. Even while on the run, he boasted 108 successful larcenies, hauling in 980 million won ($840,000). With the dough, he lured working girls to shelter him. So adept was he in the art of disguise and self-defense that he was nicknamed "The Thief Who Catches Policemen."
But in 1999, a repairman he called to fix his television reported the escapee to the police. The felon's flight was over.
The youngest son of a peasant, Mr. Shin lost his mother at age 7 and dropped out of school at 14 for a lack of tuition fees. His first theft came a year later and it landed him in reform school. But his larcenous instincts remained intact. In March 1989, Mr. Shin and three cronies murdered a man and fled. He was caught that September and sentenced to life in prison. The most recent news on him includes a statement of repentance and the sound of wedding bells. He had an in-prison wedding with a Ms. Lee in 2000, with whom he had exchanged more than 100 letters.
Jan. 24, 1998
A 38-year-old historian, Jang Cheol-su, dreamed of rediscovering the ancient water route of the Balhae Kingdom, which occupied the northern Korean peninsula and into northeastern China from 698 to 926. Mr. Jang formed a four-man troupe to trace the trade passage over the East Sea (Sea of Japan) timed to celebrate the 1,300th anniversary of the kingdom's founding.
The quartet shoved off on Dec. 31, 1997, near Vladivostok, Russia. Early on, morale was high aboard the wooden raft. They aimed to sail 550 miles in 20 days to reach Jeju Island. After seven days, things got shaky; the crew ran short of food and the winter seas turned rough. They encountered two tempests and shortened their course to Ulleung Island. But weather soon forced another change in destination, this time to Busan. After 11 days adrift, they met a patrol boat north of Busan, but refused help. On Jan. 19, 1998, they again corrected their route to Japan. On Jan. 23, as weather worsened, they finally pleaded for help but it was too late: A blizzard destroyed their raft. Hours later, on this date, they were found dead.
Jan. 26, 1960
The Lunar New Year did not brim with blessings on this date. On every Lunar New Year's day, city dwellers migrate to their hometowns, leading to intense competition for bus and train tickets. With no advance ticket sales back then, folks hunkered down overnight to snag a ticket under the first-come first-served rule. With trains being the chief transport means, Seoul Station around the Lunar New Year's day would resemble a small refugee camp. This date was no exception. As ticket-holders crowded onto the platform, ushers tamed the crowds with batons. Just then a man ran for a train and the crowd followed him onto the platform. A wild tangled crush of human bodies ensued. Within a few minutes, 31 people were trampled to death, while 41 others suffered serious injuries.
by Chun Su-jin