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The fateful climb of 5 boys

In 1991, five children went to the mountains to play and never returned. After 11 years, the remains were discovered, forming the most mysterious “Frog Boys” case in Korea.

On March 26, 1991, the majority of people in Daegu city took time off work to vote. A group of 5 boys including Woo Cheol-won, Jo Ho-yeon, Kim Yeong-gyu, Park Chan-in and Kim Jong-sik were given a break from school and asked each other to get up early to go up the mountain to find iguana eggs. Five boys between the ages of 9 and 13, studying in the same Seongseo elementary school, living near each other’s houses, so they are very close. The group prepares tin cans and walking sticks to climb Waryong mountain, in Dalseo district.

Hours later, none of the five boys returned. Their parents were anxious to find their child when the sun began to set. After several hours of futile searching, they decided to call the police. A more thorough search was held until early the next morning, but the boys were still nowhere to be found.

Mount Waryong.  Photo: CNA

Mount Waryong. Image: CNA

Police initially suspected the boys ran away but were soon denied. They also think the boys are lost, but locals deny this theory because the town is illuminated at night, making it easier for lost tourists to find their way home.

In two days, the case of 5 missing children became news that spread throughout the city. After a week, the story became known all over the country.

The live broadcast from Seongseo Elementary School of 5 boys helped the case get widespread attention. After the show, then-South Korean President Roh Tae-woo ordered the investigation to be intensified to find the children. About 300,000 police and military personnel were mobilized, with the support of volunteers, to search Mount Waryong more than 500 times but to no avail.

Millions of flyers were handed out and a $35,000 bounty was donated by the community to anyone with a clue to help find the children. Pictures of 5 boys with the nickname “Frog Boys” are printed on milk cartons, billboards, phone cards, candy wrappers and newspapers to make them known to many people.

The boys went looking for iguana eggs, but the media reported that they “go up the mountain to catch frogs”, so the 5 boys were called with the shortened name “Frog Boys”.

Leaflets looking for 5 boys were posted everywhere.  Photo: CNA

Leaflets looking for 5 boys were posted everywhere. Image: CNA

Police received hundreds of clues but the case was still deadlocked. Five dads quit their jobs, rented a pickup truck with pictures of five kids on it, and continued searching the country.

At that time, many reports of missing boys continued to point to the military base on Mount Waryong. Woo Cheol-won’s father wondered why the police didn’t investigate the base even though everyone mentioned it. Other parents also wondered if the incident was related to the military because the shooting range was located nearby.

“On the day the children went missing, Cheol-won’s friend heard a gunshot and a scream. Then there was silence,” Mr. Woo said. They went to the boy and received an affirmative response to hearing a loud noise.

However, the military insisted in a press conference that it was not involved in the incident and that there were no firing drills that day because it was a public holiday. In 1994, the shooting range was moved to a nearby town.

In 1996, one of the fathers was suddenly investigated by the police.

Kim Ga-won, a criminal psychologist who studied in the US, said that the children were buried in Kim Jong-sik’s home because the boy’s father “couldn’t explain what he did in the first three hours”. on the day the children went missing.”

At that time, there were few criminal psychologists in Korea, which led people to trust Kim Ga-won. The professor also said he had read about the investigation and analyzed all the evidence.

Other parents objected to this theory. However, the police still searched the Kim family’s toilet and found children’s shoes. They then dug up the house with an excavator but found nothing. Kim Ga-won was strongly opposed and fired after the incident.

11 years after the disappearance, the boys’ remains were found in the mountains, two kilometers from the village, on September 26, 2002.

Two locals discovered some old clothes among the rocks while walking along the trail to pick up acorns, then skeletons under the shallow grave.

Body exhumation site.  Photo: Criminallyintrigued

Body exhumation site. Image: Criminallyintrigued

The strange thing is that the remains of a child were found with trousers rolled over his shoulders and sleeves tied together. When the knot was untied, several empty shells and unused ammunition were found.

The police called forensic scientist Chae Jong-min, a professor at Kyungpook National University, to the crime scene. Mr. Chae criticized the police for making many mistakes when exhuming the body first. They plowed the ground with axes, digging up whatever they could find, stacking long bones and skulls side by side, putting them in sacks. Usually, a specialist arranges the bones into a complete body, placing it in a body bag.

A day after the remains were found, the sheriff said the most likely cause of death was hypothermia. Speaking at the scene, he told journalists that the lowest temperature recorded at the time was 3 degrees Celsius, but when it rains in the morning, the cold wind lowers the temperature and the bodies are found. seen huddled together, supposedly to keep warm.

This claim was refuted by a mountain rescue team belonging to the Korea Alpine Federation. They were sure this was not a death from hypothermia. That area is not high, less than 100 meters from the street, if it is cold and rainy, it only takes 5 minutes to run home.

According to Mr. Chae, the best evidence of a crime is that if a child dies naturally, bones will be found in the soil. He said: “When a corpse lies on the ground, it will rot or be torn by animals, meaning the bones will be separated. However, the bones are all buried, which means someone has died. murdered children and meticulously concealed them.”

Mr Chae’s forensic team found two bullet holes in one skull and “sharp cuts” on the others – man-made wounds. According to Mr. Chae, one child had his clothes turned upside down, suggesting that the perpetrator had covered the boy’s eyes with clothes, then murdered them by hitting them on the head with some kind of weapon.

Many experts believe that this was done by a psychopath. But according to Mr. Chae, if it was a psychopath, there should have been other cases like it, neither before nor in the future.

As more and more people speculated about the cause of death, the police reviewed all case files dating back to 1991. But the investigation failed when they could not find any more evidence.

Two years after the remains were found and stored in the university hospital’s morgue, the boys were finally given a funeral, on March 25, 2004.

Lawyers for the victim’s parents filed a lawsuit against the police for failing to do their job properly, such as damaging evidence at a crime scene. However, they lost in all three trials. The judges did not make any judgments about the police mistake.

No further investigation was conducted, nor was anyone ever arrested for the deaths of the children. So the parents can only make their own speculations. Kim Yeong-gyu’s father thinks one child was killed by an accidental shooting, and the rest of the children were killed to cover up the accident.

In 2006, the “Frog Boys” case expired after 15 years, meaning the investigation was stopped and the killer could no longer be charged with murder. However, in 2015, South Korea removed the statute of limitations for first-degree murder, meaning any new evidence found could prompt police to reopen the case.

The case of “Frog Boys” was depicted in two movies Come Back, Frog Boys (1992), Children (2011) and documentaries In Search of the Frog Boys (2019).

Tue Anh (According to CNA, Criminallyintrigued)

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