Monday, April 18, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Korean Man Murders Mail-Order Bride

Dong-A Ilbo recently ran an awful story about a Cambodian woman who was killed by her Korean husband, with a silver lining that the police was determined to bring the killer to justice. Translation below.

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On March 18 of last year, a fire broke out in the bedroom of an apartment in Gangwon-do, Chuncheon-si Hyoja-dong, killing Ms. C (25 years old at the time,) a Cambodian woman who came to Korea via marriage. By the time the firefighters arrived at the scene, the fire had subsided because there was not enough oxygen in the house. C was found dead nude and lying down with the face down. The police designated the husband Mr. Kang (45) as the likely suspect, and began investigating. But Kang was set free in August of that year. The police could not find evidence of arson based on its crime scene investigation, and the National Institute of Scientific Investigation (NISI) also determined that C died through lack of oxygen due to the fire. Sedative was discovered from C's body, but Kang explained that C usually took sleeping pills.

But facing the death of a marriage immigrant woman, the investigation team of the Gangwon Regional Police Agency did not give up its investigation. It also attracted suspicion that Kang purchased life insurance policies in his wife's name also. Exactly one year to the date since C passed away, the police arrested Kang on the charge of murdering his wife by feeding her sleeping pills and committing arson, in order to collect insurance proceeds.

The couple had married in Cambodia on March 2, 2008. Kang, who had two failed marriages, went to Cambodia based on the introduction of K, a marriage broker that he knew previously. K recalled, "Other men usually look for attractive women, but Kang did not care too much about the woman's looks." The police suspects that Kang did not go to Cambodia to find a spouse, but to plan for an insurance fraud.

Kang, a welfare recipient, made his living by collecting insurance proceeds from undergoing a light stroke. He purchased four health-related insurance policies from four different insurance companies from November 19, 2007 through November 24, 2007, only to hospitalize himself at a university hospital in Gangwon-do. Kang traveled to Cambodia with the money he received from repeating hospitalization. Since marrying C, Kang purchased six life insurance policies from six different insurance companies from September through December 2009. The proceeds totaled KRW 1.2 billion [TK: = $1 million]

One insurance company refused to allow Kang to purchase a life insurance policy because he had gone over the company-set upper limit on life insurance proceeds. A representative of the insurance company said, "Kang was very strange. He did not have a regular income, but enrolled in high-value insurances that required him to pay high premium. He particularly focused on insurance collectible upon death, which did not deal with health." An official from Financial Supervisory Service said, "Kang scored 82 on insurance fraud indicator. The indicator is calculated based on the enrollee's insurance and payment, and 82 indicates the likelihood of serial insurance fraud."

Kang tried to persuade C into joining insurance fraud also. Ms. P, another Cambodian bride who knew C, said, "Kang was a bad person. He bought a bicycle to C, told her to ram her bicycle into a car and collect insurance proceeds." Kang's greed for insurance money was endless. He planned to collect on the life insurance by bribing the local police in Cambodia and obtaining a death certificate for his wife, but failed when the local police refused.

Since returning from Cambodia, Kang began searching the Internet with such keywords as "innocent poisoning," "fire death" and "blowfish poison." He also joined a fire insurance on January 15, two months before the fire. Kang, who usually did not cook, would leave the house with a pot on the gas burner, or put a blanket over an electric heater.

On the day C died, Kang was shooting pool at a pool hall at 5 p.m., and returned home complaining of stomach pain. C told the police that he had sex with his wife after returning home; afterward, the wife was about the fall asleep, so he told her that he was visiting a friend in Suwon but returned to the pool hall instead. But the police suspects that Kang returned home, drugged his wife and put the blanket next to the electric heater so that a fire would happen. Kang did not appear to be grieving after the wife died. K said, "A few days after his wife died, C came to me and asked me to introduce C's sister. I refused, flabbergasted, then C demanded that I find him a wife from Uzbekistan. He also threatened me after he came back from the police."

The investigation team secured ample circumstantial and indirect evidence, but could not find a direct evidence. The acquaintances of C and Kang also suspected Kang, but there was no evidence. The family of C declined to speak with the police; apparently Kang had bribed them. Lieutenant Kim Dong-Hyeok of the investigation team emphasized, "We could not let Kang go just because we did not have direct evidence. We wanted to show the truth of the matter, however possible." The fact that the victim was a marriage immigrant also moved the police to action. Captain Kim Seong-Ho, chief of homicide unit, said, "C was young, but she came to Korea to marry her husband for the sake of her family. She could not even communicate in Korea. We could not give up the investigation because we felt terrible that another Korean harmed an immigrant."

The investigation began anew. The police had to prove scientifically that the fire was not simply a negligent accident, but a deliberate arson. Lieutenant Kim strove to present objective data. The investigation team asked for assistance from Financial Supervisory Service, Korea Life Insurance Association, NISI, National Emergency Management Agency, Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and the School of Firefighting and Emergency Response at Kyungwon University. Professor Choi Don-Mook from Kyungwon University said, "The police will determine the criminal, but we simulated how the fire broke out by reconstructing the crime scene."

Based on this simulation, the investigation team showed that considering the safety switch of the electric heater and the distance between the heater and the blanket, it was impossible for fire to break out based on simple negligence. This became the determinative cause for which the court found in favor of the police at the indictment stage. The police showed that the fire is an intentional arson, and there was no evidence that anyone other than the husband entered the house around the time of the fire. Insurance fraud provided the clear motive for murder.

This case is similar to the 1995 dentist murder. At the time, the husband who was a surgeon was indicted on the suspicion of killing his wife, a dentist, and his one-year-old daughter and setting fire on the house to hide the traces of crime. The court battle lasted eight years, but the husband was found not guilty because no direct evidence was found. The police and the prosecutor in charge of that investigation still considers the husband to be the most likely suspect. Similarly, although Kang admitted the charges of insurance fraud, but strenuously denying the charges of arson and murder.

The investigation team requested the records for the dentist murder case, closely reviewing them to ensure that the investigation did not miss anything. Lieutenant Kim said, "I will be in charge of the case until the court battle ends." He added, "Outside of Korea, indirect and circumstantial evidence is sometimes enough to get a conviction because crimes are becoming more intelligent and the suspect may go to great lengths to hide his crime by committing arson, for example. We will keep hunting down evidence even if it takes the Supreme Court to hand down the conviction, if only to leave a good precedent."

억울하게 죽은 여인 도저히 그냥 둘 수 없었다 [Dong-A Ilbo]

A few thoughts after reading this...

1.  When a person's companionship is essentially purchased with money, it is only a matter of time before something like this happens. The Korean has been critical of Korea's mail-order bride practice from the very beginning of this blog, and he is still disgusted by this retching spectacle. This is a national shame that cannot end soon enough. This practice either needs to be severely regulated at the marriage broker level, or banned altogether until the situation improves. When a person's worth is commodified, the person's life is constantly in danger.

2.  If there is any silver lining to this, it is that the police pursued this case doggedly and is in the course of bringing the murderer to justice. In the process, there was a nice display of collective self-awareness that the Korean discussed in this post. It is not as if Captain Kim felt responsible for C's death. But he understood that Kang, a fellow Korean, exploited C, who put herself in a vulnerable situation by coming to Korea. That in turn gave Captain Kim an extra measure of impetus to be more persistent about his investigation.

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  1. I am now attending a Korean class at a multi-cultural center and nearly every other person in my class is one of these brides from Vietnam, Cambodia or China. I feel so bad for these poor girls. Most of them are my age or younger. A lot of them are really smart, but probably came from very poor communities and came here for a) a better life and b) to help their families. They don't speak the language well which creates a big divide between themselves and their husbands. Some rarely see their husbands and therefore never get to practice the language much and improve. I feel as though they're basically just seen as baby machines. They're husbands are often much older and they feel it's time for them to have children.

    When I hear stories like this one here my heart really goes out to these women...

  2. Typical Korean police, always coming down on the side of a Korean. Surprise, surprise. It just goes to show that there is no justice in this country.

  3. Adeel, did you read the story? These policeman strongly suspect the Korean and are trying very hard to find enough evidence to convict him.

  4. I hesitate to condemn all arranged marriages too harshly. After all, the entire concept of marriage itself has traditionally been a business transaction. And I've seen a lot of these transactions end up with much better situations than people who are "in love". After all, how many wives or husbands or children are harmed as a result of jealousy or passion?

    But. I'm thankful that TK has posted an article that outlines police officers in this country working hard to protect not just Koreans, but also those who they feel have no voice in their country. It's encouraging to read their words, and extremely comforting after reading so much all over the rest of the internet about how Korean police officers will never take a non-Korean's side. It makes me feel a lot safer in this country. So thank you for sharing.

  5. Wanda, that was my sarcastic attempt at ESLCafe-style ignorance.

  6. Adeel, I caught it, if that makes you feel better.

  7. TK, I strongly agree that this post effectively illustrated the value of a feeling of collective responsibility; I too was heartened, in the midst of an awful story, to see the police's comments in this regard. Of course, if a white American cop said something like that, the tea party would be protesting outside the station, accusing him of betraying his race or some crap.

  8. Wow, this guy is a piece of shit! He needs to be exported to North Korea. ASAP!

  9. I think it's a little harsh to say that it's only a matter of time before someone gets murdered in these situations. Sure, mail-ordering your spouse isn't the ideal way for most people to start a relationship, but it's not like it's a new concept, and it's not like it always leads to death.


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