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Facebook used to find 2002 murder suspect

Sept 02,2017
Police used social media and good old-fashioned sleuthing to find a suspect wanted since 2002 for allegedly murdering and robbing a woman in her 20s.

On May 31, 2002, the body of a 21-year-old woman was found wrapped in a gunny sack and floating in the waters off Busan’s Gangseo District.

Her family had reported her missing 10 days earlier. Right after she was reported missing, police found that someone had withdrawn money from her account. They checked CCTV footage from inside a bank branch around the time of the withdrawal and saw a man making the withdrawal.

A few days later, two women withdrew money from the victim’s account.

Police published wanted posters using photos of the three from the CCTV footage.

They named the man as their main suspect and called the two women his accomplices. They publicized the case on TV, but no one came forward with their identities.

The man in the photo was wearing a red baseball cap, and police described him as having a jutting chin and pointy ears. Officers nicknamed him “the duck.”

The case was reopened in September 2015 after the Busan Police Precinct started studying cold cases. Unsolved murder cases are not subject to a statute of limitations in Korea, since an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act was passed in 2015, which states that murder cases after August 2001 are not subject to a statute of limitations.

The Busan police team obtained records of phone calls that took place near the banks where the suspect and his accomplices withdrew money and around the time of the withdrawals. The team got 15,000 phone numbers.

In February 2016, the team uploaded the pictures of the suspects on the Busan Police Facebook page.

Two months later, someone who claimed to know one of the accomplices called the police. In April 2016, they were able to track down both of the accomplices: a 38-year-old woman surnamed Oh and a 41-year-old woman surnamed Lee.

Police asked the women if they remembered the man’s phone number, or their own, from 2002. They said no.

Police requested a search warrant from a court to seize financial records of Lee and Oh from 2002, and got their old phone numbers.

Using the women’s numbers, the police went back to the phone call records and found that Oh had called one person around the time she withdrew the victim’s money.

Police contacted all the telecommunications companies in Korea to find a record on the user of that number in 2002. None had such records: they destroy users’ information five years after they stop using their services.

The team requested another search warrant to find out if the phone number was used in any financial transaction or was registered on an internet website.

After a whole year of searching - starting last August - the team finally found a record of the cellphone number and a resident registration number. The suspect turned out to be a 46-year-old surnamed Yang.

Police surrounded the residence of Yang and arrested him as he came home from work at a factory on Aug. 21. He had the same features as the man in the photo: a protruding chin and pointy ears.

Yang denied murdering and robbing the woman 15 years ago.

The National Forensic Service compared the man’s face with the CCTV footage photos from 2002 and confirmed that he was the same person.

They even compared the angle of his ear to see if it matched the footage.

Police also obtained evidence that the handwriting on a withdrawal slip from the bank matched Yang’s.

Busan police detained Yang on Aug. 23 and requested Wednesday that he be charged with murder, and Lee and Oh with fraud.

“I couldn’t believe it at first when I heard that they caught the man,” said the victim’s sister. “We thought that we would never catch him. We are so thankful to police for arresting the man, and so thankful that the law has changed and that there is no statute of limitations on murder cases.

“All we want is to see her face again in our dreams,” she said. “I want to tell her that she can rest in peace now.”

“We’re thankful that we could solve the case, even if it took 15 years,” said Kim Joong-gab, a detective on the team.

BY LEE EUN-JI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]