This is the highest number of children killed at one time that I have heard of. Maybe in wartime you had something similar. I recall a Nazi atrocity in a place called Oradour-sur-Glane, France. There over two hundred children were killed, but in civilian times the five victims of this Korean murder make the highest death toll that I know of.
On 26th March 1991 the group, all friends living close to each other, went for a walk in the woods. They are called ‘The Frog Boys’ in many press accounts because they were looking for reptile eggs. The weather was cold though not freezing and that day was a public holiday. The youngest of the group was 9 years old and the oldest was 13.
I did not know until today that our Asian ally was a dictatorship until 1997. That year a former political prisoner called Kim Dae-jung was elected as president. It is a significant point when looking at the case of these boys that South Korea was not the modern democracy we see today.
The area the lads had gone into is called Mount Waryong in the story I was told. When I put that name into Google it came back as a place near Seoul which a long way north. I double checked and indeed that is the name given to the area the lads disappeared from. If anyone knows better please let me know. From the footage I saw it looks like a bleak wooded hill on the outer edge of a city called Daegu . On this hill is a military base. That day was one that saw local elections held for the first time. The rank and file troops had been granted a day off.
The stories differ somewhat. Online I have seen that when the boys did not come home the authorities largely did nothing. Equally I have seen accounts that say the military, police and private citizens searched the hill hundreds of times. Nothing was found. Significantly, to me anyway, not a shoe, a jacket or a hat belonging to the children surfaced for 11 years.
By 2002 the families had exhausted themselves looking for their sons. At one point the fathers rode around the country for three years in a van displaying the boys faces and stopped every day to appeal for help on the street. They challenged the police who said the boys had runaway. They praise the police of now but are scathing about their colleagues of 30 years ago.
In another astonishing incident the parents were summoned to the military base. There, in a tent, a soldier said he could bestow special powers on one of the parents. Then they would have supernatural ability to find the kids. One woman seems to have been overcome by a hysteria. She claimed she was the one with second sight. The poor families then went out into the wilds of the hill. They trailed up to a point where the woman said she could see the boys. There was no trace of them however. Astoundingly the soldiers had accompanied them. It was only years later that this bizarre ritual seems to have made some sense.
A psychologist called Kim Ga-won grandiosely announced that the boys were buried under one home. It was five years after the kids vanished. I watched as crowds gathered and the poor grieving family of 9 year old Kim Jong-sik had their house ripped apart. This academic, not a cop, directed where floors should be dug up. He was very wrong and had to sit and apologise on television.
It was acorn collectors that found bones that led to the unearthing of all five victims in 2002. Their clothing had been tied in a strange way. The sleeves had been crossed into a granny knot. There were bullets and cartridge cases in among the remains. I saw an interview with a forensic scientist who said by the time he got there the police were putting bones in piles and picking out anything that came to hand in no particular order.
The next day the Chief of Police announced that the boys had likely died of hypothermia. I watched him as he said it. It is the most ridiculous police announcement in history. The night the boys disappeared temperatures had not even dropped to freezing and one search expert said they were five minutes from home.
Forensic examination of some of the boys showed indentation injuries to bones. They had been the subject of blunt force trauma. It was murder, not that there should have been any doubt given the presence of the bullets. It is not that they were found later somehow. I watched as a crime scene examiner measured bullets at the grave site. As a journalist said of the scene management ‘It was as if we were a third world country.’ I have seen a picture where the bones were placed on newspaper. It was a mess.
The Shooting Range Theory
The military base had a firing range and live fire practise was normal. That day the soldiers had a day off but one commissioned officer was firing an M16. It was said early on that maybe the children were caught in an accidental spray of bullets. I thought that was unlikely for a few reasons and one of the fathers came up with a more plausible explanation. He wondered if one of the boys had been hit and the others were killed to cover it up.
No Sign Of Gunshot Injuries
The forensics teams were only able to examine three of the boys. I am not sure if this was because they felt the other two sets of remains had been compromised by the haphazard police exhumation or it was because the others were withheld. In any event no sign of gunshot injuries were detected. Skull damage was noted but it was not from a bullet.
In Modern Times It Is The Opposite Story
I am not ridiculing South Korea. I like the look of the place. They also, like Europe, had a hard time in the middle of last century. In the final analysis I am pleased that those dark police times are behind them. The case is now under review and a team are pursuing whoever killed these children. One thing that has helped is Korea actually had a statute of limitations on murder and it was thrown away in 2015. If it had remained as law the killer(s) could have confessed openly without any fear of being prosecuted.
( a statute of limitations is where you can only be prosecuted within a set time period after you commit a crime).
I agree with the father who said the military were involved. The bit I differ about is I think it was no accident. Maybe the soldiers on the partly deserted base wanted to scare the kids and it got out of hand. Maybe they were one or two really bad men who did what so many have in the past and then buried the lads.
The clumsy way the military and police of the time dealt with the disappearance, including the ritual, strongly indicates a cover up. I think the ridiculous granting of supernatural powers was possibly well intentioned. Maybe many soldiers knew what had happened to the kids and some decided to try and guide the family to the burial site. It didn’t work out as they wanted. If it was not well intentioned it was either a cruel exercise in false hope or another display of clairvoyant nonsense.
As the group were not of tiny age I think more than one so called ‘man’ was involved. It would have been hard for a single offender to deal with five lads, not impossible but difficult. Sadly I also believe that the military at the base and later the police became aware of the murders. I cannot otherwise explain seeing a man who called himself a cop state the children had died of hyperthermia. After all it was a country that at that time was a dictatorship in many respects.
I would be interested in your thoughts. Here is the first part of a two part documentary.
Take Care, Tim