Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Yoo Young-cheol, South Korea's Brutal Serial Killer

The Dead at Bongwon Temple

Bongwon Temple
Bongwon Temple

With roots going back to 889 A.D., the Bongwon Temple is nestled in a wooded valley of Ahn Mountain.  It is known for the Yongsanjae ceremony, a reenactment of Buddha Sakyamuni's Lotus Sutra on Spirit-Vulture Peak.  It is a majestic Buddhist ritual that is meant to awaken unity and peace for both the living and the dead.

Ahn Mountain is covered with planted cherry trees and wild pine and locust trees; thick forsythia bushes are overgrown on the slopes that are interlaced with trails for the numerous hikers, joggers, and picnickers.  On a weekend, it is impossible to find a secluded spot with so many people out to enjoy the greenery.  Even the deepest parts of the forest are probed when housewives raid the hillsides to collect herbs in the spring.

Nobody smelled the decomposing bodies in the summer heat.  It was one of the hottest summers on record in Seoul.  In the coming week daytime temperatures would hover around 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  Koreans called the weather "tropical nights," a time when the mercury doesn't drop below 77 degrees during the night. 

In such weather, the human body decays rapidly.  Enzymes destroy the tissues and the body putrefies, giving off a smell that is foul and unforgettable.  Throughout crime literature, police officers, investigators and doctors are well-quoted about the putrid stink of a dead human body.  Often they say it is a smell they never forget. 

Bongwon Hamlet
Bongwon Hamlet

Yoo led the police to where he buried the bodies of the women he killed.  Before the temple grounds of Bongwon is a small hamlet that borders a quieter, secluded world and the frenetic cement jungle of Seoul.  It is a neighborhood where the traditional tile roof houses still exist under the canopies of Zelkova trees and Buddhist paper lanterns are strung up on the narrow lanes that lead up to the temple.

There is a large building on the hillside that is somewhere in the state of being semi-abandoned and of being renovated.  Behind the building is a small rivulet flowing with milky, polluted water and littered with rubbish.  The sides of the small stream are embanked with cement and other cement chutes flow into it, collecting run-off rainwater. 

Police remove a body
Police remove a body

A steep ravine descends into the small stream, and its mouth is channeled with rough-hewn stone blocks covered with moss.  It is brushy and overgrown and piles of rotting deadwood are about from past floods.  As Yoo directed the detectives where to dig, police unearthed the plastic bags of body parts in various stages of decomposition.  There were many news reporters covering the story.  Yoo looked at one of the cameras and said, "Women shouldn't be sluts, and the rich should know what they've done."

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