The enduring mystery of a mistress and the first first lady

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The enduring mystery of a mistress and the first first lady

March 17, 1970
Jeong In-suk, 26, was an alluring gisaeng, a courtesan at a prestigious salon that dealt only with top-ranking officials.
Around 11:20 p.m. on this date, Ms. Jeong was found dead in the backseat of her Jeep ― murdered by a bullet to the head and one through the left side of her chest.
She left behind a 3-year-old son by an unknown father, a notebook with the contact information of 26 dignitaries and a special passport, which was then available only for high-ranking officials. Thus was born the Jeong In-suk mystery.
The night she was killed, her elder brother, Jeong Jong-wuk, had been driving the Jeep, and had also been shot. But he was only injured, shot in his right thigh. He stopped the car on the Gangbyeon Expressway and asked for help from taxi drivers as they passed by.
The police eventually made Mr. Jeong the No. 1 suspect, but he denied any part.
For five years, Ms. Jeong had been a top-ranking gisaeng, and rumor had it that her clients included then-President Park Chung Hee. People speculated about who the baby’s father might be ― maybe the president, or Jeong Il-gwon, the then-prime minister, or any number of who’s-whos.
Ms. Jeong, when she was alive, had become the talk-of-the-town; not something that her important benefactors appreciated. So she was sent to Japan, and then to the United States.
On this date, however, she was back in Seoul, packing to move to the United States forever, never to return.
According to the police, Mr. Jeong was not at all happy with his sister’s “untidy” relationships with men, and shot her. Then, to make the murder look like an accident, he shot himself in the thigh and threw the pistol out the window. After his initial denials, Mr. Jeong eventually confessed his guilt and served 19 years in prison.
But that was not the end of the story. After getting out of prison on parole in 1989, Mr. Jeong insisted that he had been forced to confess, and that a big-time politician had promised leniency as a reward. He said two strangers had shot him and his sister, but not before saying “We are running an errand for the National Intelligence Agency.”
He also said Prime Minister Jeong Il-gwon was the baby’s father. The son, now grown and living in the United States, flew to Seoul for DNA testing, but the former prime minister refused. The Jeong In-suk mystery remains unsolved.

March 19, 1992
Francesca Donner Rhee, the first first lady of Republic of Korea, died on this date. An Austrian, Ms. Donner met Syngman Rhee, in 1933 in Geneva, while Mr. Rhee was taking part in the League of Nations. They wed a year later, the second marriage for both.
Mr. Rhee took office in 1948, and refused to leave until 1960, when an uprising forced him out of the presidency and into exile.
Mr. Rhee lived the rest of his life in Hawaii, where he died in 1965. His wife stayed on in Korea, where she died at age 91.
In her will, Francesca Rhee asked that her coffin be covered with a cloth bearing Mr. Rhee’s own handwritten words: “Reunification of South and North.”


by Chun Su-jin
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