South Korea Police Solve 'Memories of Murder' Serial Killer Case, Apologize for Mistakes

Memories of Murder 2003 Still 1- Photofest -h 2019
Palm Pictures/Photofest

After announcing they had found the culprit for the murders which inspired Bong Joon Ho's 2003 film, officials accepted blame for errors during the investigation that put an innocent man in jail for 20 years.

Police in South Korea have officially apologized for mistakes made during the country's most notorious serial killer investigation, a case that saw an innocent man jailed for 20 years and which inspired Bong Joon Ho's 2003 hit film Memories of Murder.

AFP reported on Thursday that officials in Gyeonggi Province had wrapped a probe into the long-running cold case, with police concluding that Lee Chun-jae, 57, was the man behind 14 killings and nine rapes of girls and women in the rural Hwaseong area between 1986 and 1991. Police said that Lee was questioned initially about 10 murders, the victims aged between 14 and 71, confessing to all of them along with four additional murders, including that of an 8-year-old girl. Police added that Lee pleaded guilty to raping 34 women in total, but they were only able to find enough evidence to charge nine cases. 

Police chiefs made a formal apology to the victims as well as to the men who were wrongly accused, including one man, surnamed Yoon, who spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Officials admitted that Yoon's confession was forced and a result of police brutality. AFP reports that four men who were suspects in the case died by suicide in the 1990s after they were investigated and subjected to alleged police brutality.

Lee became the prime suspect in the case last year, 30 years after the first murder, when police announced that his DNA was a match for material found on the underwear of one of the victims. He is currently serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law in 1994. Lee, however, cannot be prosecuted for the Hwaseong murders as the statute of limitations on those crimes expired in April 2006. 

Bong, who won best director at the Academy Awards this year for Parasite, made the Hwaseong murders, South Korea's first serial killer investigation, the subject of his second feature film. The critically acclaimed movie dominated the South Korean box office at the time of its release, and gradually came to be regarded as an international cult classic. Both Bong and his longtime leading-man collaborator Song Kang-ho regularly cite the film as one of the best they have worked on together.