Mountains may be attracting murderers: cops

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Mountains may be attracting murderers: cops

When a 55-year-old female hiker was found dead this week on a mountain in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, police officers didn’t want to think she was murdered.

Just 10 days before and 7 kilometers (4 miles) away on a different mountain, a 60-year-old woman was stabbed to death by a man recently released from prison. Murders are hardly common at spots where people hike, a favorite Korean pastime.

But on Thursday, police acknowledged that the 55-year-old appears to have been choked to death. Autopsy results found bruises “all over her body.”

A sexual assault is also possible.

Police are now wondering whether lone female hikers have become new targets for brutal killings.

“When a murder case unfolds on a mountain, very rarely can you find a witness,” said Lee Yoon-ho, a police administration professor at Dongguk University in Jung District, central Seoul.

The police have no suspects in the alleged murder case on Mount Sapae (1,808 feet), where the 55-year-old was choked, which is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Gyeonggi.

A lot of women say they are less keen to go hiking alone.

On a recent visit to the scene of the crime on Mount Surak (2,100 feet), where the 60-year-old was stabbed, very few people were spotted. Even male hikers admitted they were feeling slightly anxious.

Mountains may be good places for murders, said Lee of Dongguk University. Hikers can be alone for long stretches. It’s hard for them to summon help. Escape routes are all over the place. And a mountain can seem dark even in broad daylight because of the thick trees.

The woman allegedly murdered on Mount Sapae met her fate in the early afternoon, according to police.

Walking up the hiking trail where the victim was found dead on Mount Surak, for 2 to 3 kilometers, not a single CCTV camera was seen, nor an emergency bell or a phone booth.

Trying to place a call with a smartphone was not easy because coverage was spotty.

On Mount Surak, there are some 30 hiking trails and only nine CCTV cameras on three of them, all near their entrances.

At Mount Dobong (2,428 feet) and Mount Bukhan (2,740 feet), two of the most popular hiking destinations in the Seoul metropolitan area, there are 96 routes - and not a single CCTV camera. The only cameras used on the two mountains are four to five devices used to detect forest fires.

“For the past 10 years, I’ve been coming here [to Mount Dobong] every weekend,” said Ms. Shin, 51. “I’ve never seen a single CCTV camera.”

Apart from the difficulty of setting up surveillance cameras in what’s supposed to be a gloriously natural setting, local police officers struggle to figure out who’s in charge of safeguarding mountains because they often sprawl over several jurisdictions.

An officer near Mount Surak said two to three colleagues from his station form a team once a week for patroling.

How high do they climb? “Mostly just around the entrance,” he said.

BY CHE SEUNG-KI, KIM JUN-YOUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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