Lee Choon-jae (Korean: 이춘재; born January 1963) is a South Korean serial killer who was convicted of killing his sister-in-law in 1994 and who later confessed to killing 14 other people, including 9 people in the Hwaseong serial murders between 1986 and 1991.
|Born||January 1963 (age 56)|
|Other names||Korean Zodiac Killer|
|Criminal penalty||Life sentence for rape and murder (eligible for parole after 20 years)|
|Victims||>45 (1 convicted murder, 14 confessed murders, and more than 30 confessed rapes and attempted rapes)|
Span of crimes
|January 1986–13 January 1994|
|Killed||15 (1 convicted, 14 confessed)|
|Imprisoned at||The Busan Prison|
The serial murders are considered to be the most infamous in South Korea's modern history. They are often compared to those committed by the Zodiac Killer in the United States, and served as the inspiration for the 2003 film Memories of Murder. Lee was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 20 years in the killing of his sister-in-law, but despite DNA evidence and his confession in 2019, he could not be prosecuted for the other murders because the statute of limitations had expired.
Hwaseong serial murdersEdit
The Hwaseong serial murders (Korean: 화성 연쇄 살인 사건; Hanja: 華城連鎖殺人事件; RR: hwaseong yeonswae sarin sageon) were a series of 10 rapes and murders that occurred in the city of Hwaseong between 15 September 1986 and 3 April 1991. In each case, a woman was found bound, gagged, raped and in most cases strangled to death with their own clothes. It sparked the largest criminal case in South Korea with two million officers mobilized and over 21,000 suspects investigated.
A suspect sketch was drawn based on the memory of the bus driver, Kang, and bus conductor, Uhm, who saw a man get on the bus shortly after the seventh murder on 7 September 1988. The characteristics of the suspect, which were described by the bus driver, were similar to the descriptions given by survivors who were sexually assaulted. According to the victims, the culprit at the time of the incident was a thin-framed man in his mid-20s, with a height of 165 to 170 centimeters, a short cut sporty-type hair, no double eyelids, and a sharp nose. In addition, he was described as having soft hands. Police also stated that the suspect had a "B" blood type, but in 2019, police acknowledged that this was likely inaccurate, because Lee has blood type "O".
On 27 July 1989, Yoon Sang-Yeo, a 22-year-old man, was arrested for the murder of the eighth victim, 14-year-old Park Sang-hee. Yoon admitted guilt during questioning and forensic tests of pubic hair samples found at the scene suggested similarities with his. This case was determined to be a copycat crime, and Yoon was sentenced to life in prison, but appealed the ruling at the time, alleging that police coerced him into giving false confessions through torture. His appeal was denied and he served 19.5 years in jail before being released on parole in 2009.
The release of the film Memories of Murder in 2003, which was partially inspired by the serial murders, sparked renewed interest in the case. The murder of a female college student in Hwaseong in 2004 also sparked renewed interest and fears that a serial killer had returned. The serial murders made headlines again as the statute of limitations for the most recent victims was due to expire on 2 April 2006. At the time of the killings, there was a 15-year statute of limitations for first-degree murder. This was increased to 25 years in 2007, and finally lifted in 2015, but it was not retroactive. However, evidence and police records were kept due to the significance of the case.
On 26 September 1989, around 0:55 am, Lee broke into a house in Gwangju, Suwon, Gyeonggi Province with weapons and gloves and was discovered by the landlord. He was sentenced by the Suwon District Court to one year and six months in prison in the first trial in February 1990 for the charges of robbery and violence. After the first trial, Lee filed an appeal, claiming that he was beaten by an unknown young man and entered the victim's house while being chased. In the second trial following Lee's appeal, the court changed his sentence two years of probation, where he was released in mid-April, 1990.
Sister-in-law's murder and arrestEdit
After Lee's wife left him in December 1993, he invited over his 18-year-old sister-in-law, then proceeded to drugging, raping, and killing her on 13 January 1994. According to the detective who investigated him, Lee went to his father-in-law offering help in the search for his missing sister-in-law, where they both reported that she might have been abducted. Lee was arrested a few days later, on 18 January, after repeated questioning where he later asked, " How many years do you serve in prison for rape and murder?" Lee denied any responsibility and the court overturned his confession, stating that he made a false statement because of police coercion. However, Lee was convicted and sentenced to death in May 1994, and his conviction was upheld in September of the same year. The Supreme Court of South Korea reviewed the case in 1995 and Lee's sentence was reduced to a life sentence, with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
Identification and confessionEdit
On 18 September 2019, police announced that Lee had been identified as a suspect in the serial murders. He was identified after DNA from the underwear of one of the victims was matched with his, and subsequent evidence linked him to four of the nine unsolved murders. At the time he was identified he was already serving a life sentence at a prison in Busan for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. Lee initially denied any involvement in the serial murders, but on 2 October 2019, police announced that Lee had confessed to killing 14 people, including all 9 unsolved serial murders and 5 others. Three of those murders happened in Hwaseong but had not previously been attributed to the serial killer, and the other two happened in Cheongju. As of October 2019, details about those 5 victims have not been released because the investigation is ongoing. In addition to the murders, he also confessed to more than 30 rapes and attempted rapes, as well as the eighth murder of Park Sang-hee, which was labeled a copycat crime by police.
List of known victimsEdit
The first 10 murders, including the copycat crime, were part of the Hwaseong serial murders.
|Crime||Date and time of crime (estimated)||Date and time of discovery||Victim and age||Location||Remarks|
|1||15 September 1986
06:20 (weather: clear)
|19 September 1986
|Lee Wan-im, 71||Taean-eup (Now calledHwaseong), Annyeong-ri (Now called Annyeong-dong), pasture||Grandmother murdered while returning home after visiting her daughter.|
Evidence found: Strangled by hand, negative semen reaction 
|2||20 October 1986
22:00 (weather: cloudy)
|23 October 1986
|Park Hyun-sook, 25||Taean-eup (Now called Hwaseong), Jinan-ri (Now called Jinan-dong), canal||Murdered after getting of the bus while returning home from Songtan after meeting with a prospective marriage partner.|
Evidence found: Strangled by hand, semen (blood type cannot be determined)
|3||12 December 1986
23:00 (weather: clear)
|23 April 1987
|Kwon Jung-bon, 25||Taean-eup (Now called Hwaseong), Annyeong-ri (Now called Annyeong-dong), embankment||Housewife murdered in front of her house.|
Evidence found: Strangled by stockings, gagged with her stockings, panties on the face, semen (blood type cannot be determined)
|4||14 December 1986
23:00 (weather: raining)
|21 December 1986
|Lee Kye-sook, 23||Jeongnam-myeon, Gwanhang-ri, ridge between rice fields||Murdered after getting of the bus while returning home after meeting with a prospective marriage partner.|
Evidence found: Hands tied, strangled and violated by an umbrella, girdle covering her face, semen (blood type cannot be determined)
|5||10 January 1987
20:50 (weather: clear)
|11 January 1987
|Hong Jin-young, 19||Taean-eup (Now called Hwaseong), Hwanggye-ri (Now called Hwanggye-dong), rice paddy||High school girl murdered after getting of the bus while returning home.|
Evidence found: Hands tied, gagged with her socks, strangled, semen (blood type cannot be determined)
|6||2 May 1987
23:00 (weather: raining)
|9 May 1987
|Park Eun-joo, 29||Taean-eup (Now called Hwaseong), Jinan-ri (Now called Jinan-dong), hill||Housewife murdered while going to give her husband an umbrella.|
Evidence found: strangled, semen (blood type cannot be determined)
|7||7 September 1987
21:30 (weather: cloudy)
|8 September 1987
|Ahn Gi-soon, 54||Paltan-myeon, Gajae-ri, canal||Housewife murdered after getting of the bus while returning home.|
Evidence found: Hands tied, gagged with her socks and handkerchief, strangled, peach slices, semen (blood type cannot be determined)
|16 September 1988
|16 September 1988
|Park Sang-hee, 14||Taean-eup (Now called Hwaseong), Jinan-ri (Now called Jinan-dong), house||Middle school girl murdered while sleeping in her room. Determined to be a copycat crime perpetrated by the 22-year-old Yoon Sung-yeo, who served 19.5 years in jail before being released on parole in 2009. However, Lee claimed it was done by him.|
|8||15 November 1990
18:30 (weather: foggy)
|16 November 1990
|Kim Mi-jung, 14||Taean-eup (Now called Hwaseong), Byeongjeom-dong (Now called Byeongjeom-dong), hill||Middle school girl murdered while returning home.|
Evidence found: Hands and foots bond, strangled, gagged with her bra, ballpoint pen, fork, spoon and razor blade, semen (Blood-type determined to be "B")
|9||3 April 1991
21:00 (weather: clear)
|4 April 1991
|Kwon Soon-sang, 69||Dongtan-myeon, Bansong-ri (Now called Bansong-dong), hill||Grandmother murdered after getting of the bus while returning home.|
Evidence found: Strangled, two footprint marks (couldn't be analyzed), semen (Blood-type determined to be "B")
|10||Not released||Not released||Not released||Hwaseong|
|11||Not released||Not released||Not released||Hwaseong|
|12||Not released||Not released||Not released||Hwaseong|
|13||Not released||Not released||Not released||Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province|
|14||Not released||Not released||Not released||Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province|
|15||13 January 1994||Not released||Lee's sister-in-law, 18||Lee was sentenced to death for rape and murder. Reduced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court.|
Several films and television shows were based on the Hwaseong serial murders.
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