[HISTORY IN THIS WEEK]Unsolved murder puzzles authorities even todaySept. 20, 1939
History remembers Park Yeong-hyo as many things. He was the first person to use the country’s national flag, taegeukgi, for an official function, his 1882 diplomatic journey to Japan. But he is better known as a politician with a reformist spirit, who tried to modernize a Joseon Dynasty stuck in the midst of a hegemonic struggle among world powers.
With a group of like-minded individuals, he organized the Gapsin Coup d’Etat, which aimed to oust the Joseon ruling court and replace it with a modern government. The coup was foiled by China, which already had its troops in Korea as a show of support for the government.
He was exiled to Japan and returned to Korea when he was pardoned in 1894. He had a brief stint as a government official, but again fled to Japan, this time followed by charges of conspiring to dethrone King Gojong.
Pardoned again, he returned in 1907, when Korea was on the brink of Japanese colonization. Mr. Park was charged with conspiracy yet again, this time in a plot to assassinate a cabinet member. He was convicted and served a year in prison on Jeju island.
He may have been a reformer, but he wasn’t an independence activist. After Japan officially colonized Korea in 1910, he was made a marquis by the Japanese royal family.
His life turned for the better after colonization, when he became the first president of the Dong-A Ilbo, one of the largest papers today. He followed that up with a number of important posts in colonial government-related organizations. He died on this date, six years before the liberation of his country.
Sept. 21, 1981
Park Sang-eun seemed to have it all ― until she was found dead on this date.
A college student, Ms. Park was attractive, born the only daughter of a wealthy family. In 1980, when traveling abroad was limited to the few “haves” of society, Ms. Park flew to California for a month-long study tour.
Back home, Ms. Park worked toward a degree in arts and crafts at a college in Busan, where her father and grandfather ran a company.
Talented in her major, Ms. Park won an award at a national art exhibition for college students. She came to Seoul for the award ceremony on Sept. 17 and stayed at her brother’s apartment in the southern part of the city. After the ceremony, Ms. Park was at her brother’s home when the phone rang at 9:30 p.m.
Ms. Park took the call and told her brother that it was a female friend. “She’s asking if I can lend her some money so she can get home,” Ms. Park said, and despite her brother’s protests, went out in a black T-shirt, jeans and slippers, promising to come right back. She never did.
Three days later at around 8:30 a.m. on this date, Oh Dae-hwan, a guard at a construction supplier’s storehouse, was digging in the company’s gravel yard. After a few shovels, Mr. Oh saw something he didn’t expect ― Ms. Park’s toes. The location, now upscale Samseong-dong, was a remote, little-used area back then.
Prosecutors soon identified Jeong Jae-pa, a 22-year-old college student, as the prime suspect. Mr. Jeong had traveled to California in Ms. Park’s group.
Requesting life imprisonment for Mr. Jeong, the prosecutors seemed to have no problem closing the case. After a long investigation, they succeeded in getting Mr. Jeong’s confession. Problems arose in court, however, when judges said a confession alone couldn’t convict a criminal suspect. At the trial, Mr. Jeong also recanted his confession.
Questions were also raised at trial about the manner in which police conducted the investigation and the pressure they applied to suspects. Mr. Jeong was found not guilty, and the prosecutors appealed, only to lose again.
Additional prosecution became impossible after 1996 because of the statute of limitations. Even though he wasn’t convicted, Mr. Jeong’s reputation ruined. He tried to emigrate, but he ended up staying in Korea and now runs a trading business.
To this day, nobody knows who killed Ms. Park or for what reason.
by Chun Su-jin