NATIONAL

Jeju murder: How Koh evaded suspicion for 3 days

By Kim Arin
  • Published : Jun 19, 2019 - 18:43
  • Updated : Jun 20, 2019 - 00:03

JEJU -- Koh Yu-jeong is suspected of killing her ex-husband, surnamed Kang, at a pension (lodging) on Jeju Island on May 25 and discarding his body parts in the sea three days later, as she was leaving on a ferry to a South Jeolla Province island.

The victim’s family filed a missing person report on May 27 -- a day before his body had been discarded --, and many are now wondering what the police were doing in the intervening hours.

On Tuesday evening, The Korea Herald met with the chief of the investigative team at Jeju Dongbu Police Station that handled case in the first three days since the first report and requested him to explain what happened.


Jeju Dongbu Police Station in Jeju City (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

Regarding media criticism of the initial investigation, during which many believe the disposal of the body could have been prevented, the police official said while he “completely understands the criticism,” the police had “dutifully followed the manual.”

The police’s take on the case was that of a missing person, and their investigation focused on finding him until the afternoon of May 29.

“We thought it was a missing person case, since it was reported as so. And the initial circumstances did not seem like it could have been, as you know, what it turned out to be,” he explained.

“Over 90 percent of adult men reported as missing return home voluntarily, and they are considered a low-risk group as far as disappearance cases are concerned,” he said. “But we searched the site the night the report came in, because we suspected a possible suicide.”

The official said it was hard to suspect Koh from the beginning. “First of all, she was cooperative, and the information she gave us turned out to be accurate, except for the time the man had supposedly left the pension,” he said. 

Asked if the police had noticed anything unusual about Koh, he said she “seemed like a normal person” in the phone calls his team had exchanged with her during the May 27-29 period, before handing the case over to the criminal section.

“Plus, they were with their son. Kang’s father and his son even had a video call on the evening of May 25,” he said. “Murder was an unlikely development.”

Below is a timeline of actions taken by the police over the course of three days as detailed by the official.

May 27: Missing person search begins

The first report was filed with the patrol division of the Kangs’ neighborhood by the victim’s younger brother at around 6 p.m. on May 27. Following the report, the police phoned Koh, the last person known to have been with the missing man.

In the first two calls, Koh told the police she had met Kang at around 9 a.m. May 25 at a theme park in Seogwipo, in southern Jeju, moved to a pension in Jocheon-eup northeast of the island, had meals together, and parted company in the evening. She also claimed she and Kang had exchanged texts a few hours ago at around 4 p.m.

Two hours later, at 8 p.m., the family called 112 and reported it as a case of suicide attempt, the official said. The police identified the last time and location where his cellphone had been switched on to be at around 5 p.m. May 27 in Ido-dong, in downtown Jeju City, about 20 kilometers away from the pension.

Later that night, the police talked with Koh again on the phone and found out from her account that while she and Kang had moved in separate cars to a grocery store in Jocheon-eup, they drove to the pension in her car together.

The police located Kang’s car in the grocery store’s parking lot, searched for tools that might have been used for suicide or traces of such attempts, and found no such thing.

May 28: First police visit to pension

The following morning on May 28, the police continued to search around Ido-dong. 

“There is a stream in that area, and we were looking into the possibilities of a fall -- since we still viewed the case as a possible suicide at that point,” the official said.

Then the police made a fourth call to Koh at around 6 a.m., during which she claimed she suffered bruises from Kang’s attempted assault. She said she received a text message from him May 27 evening, apologizing for what he had done and asking her not to sue him -- a message which the police would later find was fabricated by Koh using the victim’s phone.

Nothing unusual was found in the analysis of the CCTV footage, but the police continued the search around the area.

At around 3 p.m., the police visited the pension for the first time. Because another guest was already staying in the unit and the owner was away, the police couldn’t check inside the lodging.

Through phone conversations, the owner told the police Koh’s company checked in at about 5 p.m. on May 25, and that on May 26 she asked for an extension until May 28. But her request was turned down as another guest had already booked the date. The owner visited the pension in the morning of May 27 and found Koh cleaning the place by herself. Nothing was unusual, the owner told police, except for a broken flowerpot and a few missing towels.

“She had about 24 hours to clean up in the aftermath of the incident. The guests after her also suspected nothing peculiar about the place,” the official said.

The police then checked the location of the CCTV camera in the alley leading to the pension. As the pension was located in a remote village with no public transportation, they also checked if a taxi had been called.

At the request of Kang’s family, the police visited the grocery store in Jocheon-eup again. In the footage from the CCTV inside the grocery store, “Koh, the victim and the child seemed like they were having an amicable time shopping together,” the official said.

May 29: Criminal possibility raised

On May 29 morning, the police started running the footage from CCTV cameras installed in the alley and one at the pension’s neighboring house. Koh’s Grandeur sedan arrived at the pension at around 5 p.m. May 25 and left the place at around noon May 27. But there was no record of Kang leaving the place.

“This is the point where we started thinking, this might be a criminal case,” the official said. “We asked for the criminal section’s help on May 29 afternoon, and while we still searched for the missing victim until Koh’s arrest on June 1, the case was passed on to the detectives from this point on.”

At the end of the interview, the official asked for anonymity as “courtesy for the victim’s family.”

“I mean, we haven’t found (the victim’s) body yet. I hardly think it’s appropriate for the police to step up and discuss what we had done at this point,” he said.

He also admitted to certain inadequacies in the process of the investigation. “For instance, we should have found the sleeping drug (zolpidem) sooner,” he said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)