Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Churchspotting: Part 1

Yoo was experienced with death and violence from his practice on dogs. His weapon of choice was a homemade hammer, and his victims of choice needed to meet a certain criteria that would develop into his modus operandi. 

A neon cross
A neon cross

South Korean government statistics from 2003 show 50.6% of South Koreans are of the Christian faith. There are so many churches in Korea that you can see one every few blocks, and glowing from the steeples are bright red neon crosses. The neon crosses add to a gothic and futuristic cityscape reminiscent in the films "The Crow" and "Blade Runner." 

Mid-morning on September 24, 2003, Yoo rode the subway to Apgujeong-dong Station, the most affluent district in Seoul. From there, he walked the streets of the Sinsa neighborhood looking for a church. Once he spotted one, he searched nearby for an expensive-looking house, something that would indicate that its owners were wealthy.

The house he picked looked easy to break into. A common feature of most two-story houses in Korea is a walled area around the house that forms a courtyard. Most homeowners use this space to cultivate bonsai trees, raise herbs and potted plants or to have their very own micro-patch of grass amidst the concrete blight of urban Seoul. The outer wall is usually between shoulder to head level and a two-door gate beckons you inside.

Apgujeong dong area
Apgujeong dong area

The house Yoo cased fit that profile. It was situated at the entrance of an alley near a main road. It had a little garden behind the wall and no security system. It seemed the only people that lived there was an elderly couple. He watched the house for ten minutes before making his move. Wearing gloves, he climbed over the back wall and entered through the front door. He was armed with his homemade hammer and a knife with a six-inch blade.

The elderly couple at home was Mr. Lee, a 72-year-old honorary Sookmyung University professor, and his 68-year-old wife. Yoo went up to the second floor to check if other people were there and found no one. He came down the stairs, entered the master bedroom and stabbed the professor in the throat. His wife, Mrs. Lee, screamed in horror, and bizarrely, Yoo tried to calm her, telling her everything was okay. When she reached over to hold her bleeding husband, Yoo smashed in their skulls with his hammer.

He checked to make sure the victims were dead, locked the bedroom door and left through the front door. Using a towel taken from the house, he tried to clean the blood off his pants, and then he remembered his knife. He left it back in the locked bedroom. Back inside, he kicked open the locked door, fetched his knife and put it in his bag. Yoo noticed he left his footprint on the door, and he was able to partially remove it. To confuse the police, he flung open a wardrobe and tossed the contents about. He stole no money or jewelry. Back at Apgujeong-dong Station, he cleaned himself up and washed off his bloody tools in the subway restroom.

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