Case File #0218
The Frog Boys Case
"I will never be able to forget it"
In March 1991, five young boys ventured into the Western outskirts of Daegu in South Korea, to catch frogs in the streams of Mount Waryong. The boys were never to return home and a national search was ordered by President Roh Tae-woo, who sent thousands of police and military troops into the Dalseo District to locate the missing children. Despite a thorough investigation, nothing was found which might indicate what happened to the boys and the parents were left wondering what became of their sons. It would be over 11 years later, in September 2002, when the fate of the young boys was revealed, but it left even more questions than answers in a case that has baffled South Korean authorities.
In the Dalseo District in South Korea, 26 March 1991 was declared a temporary public holiday because the first regional elections in Korean history were being held nationwide. At 8:00am that morning six young boys, 11-year-old Kim Yeong-gyn, 10-year-old Park Chan-in, 13-year-old U Cheol-won, 12-year-old Jo Ho-yeon, 9-year-old Kim Jong-sik and 10-year-old Kim Tae-ryong, who all attended Seongseo Elementary School, were playing outside Ho-yeon's house. When a tenant complained the boys were making too much noise they decided to go somewhere else to play. At this point, Kim Tae-ryong left the group to go home for food because he had missed breakfast that morning, whilst the other five boys decided to go to the nearby Mount Waryong. On their way the boys picked up sticks and tin cans and were seen by Ho-yeon's brother Mu-yeon, who came across them whilst riding his bicycle. They told him they were heading towards Mount Waryong, which was located on the western outskirts of Deagu, where they would search the streams for salamander eggs.
At some point on their journey, Kim Tae-ryong returned to the group, but upon learning they were going to hike upto Mount Maryong he decided to go home once again, because his mother had given him a stern warning not to stray too far. The rest of the boys continued on-wards and when they failed to come home by 6:00pm, their worried parents decided to go searching Mount Waryong for them. When they failed to locate the children they notified police at around 7:50pm and reported them as missing. The police assumed the boys had become lost in Mount Waryong, and conducted a search until 3:00am, but found no trace of them. The disappearances made national headlines and received widespread media attention, because five children missing in South Korea had never previously occurred. The media reported the boys were looking for frogs eggs because most Korean people were unfamiliar with salamanders, and the children became known as the "Frog Boys".

The boys pictures on a bank card

President Roh Tae-woo immediately ordered a large-scale manhunt which involved 300,000 police and military troops who conducted a thorough search of the surrounding area where the boys went missing. Some of the searches were aired live on national television, and some of the boys parents quit their jobs so they could search for their missing children. The immediate area of the disappearances was used as a site for the shooting range facility of the ROK Army's 50th Infantry Division. There the ground was often littered with spent bullet casings, and the townspeople spoke about how children would often hike the foothills to Mount Waryong to collect the bullet casings. This area was searched many times by the military but nothing was found.
Numerous witnesses came forward to say they had seen the boys in the time leading up to their disappearances. A woman living near Mount Waryong was returning home at around 9:00am after having voted in the election and remembered seeing the boys. She said they were discussing amongst themselves about how they would return home after two hours. A fellow student at Seonseo Elementary School, Seung-hoon Ham, said although he did not see the boys, he did overhear them at Mount Waryong. Ham lived on the foothills of Mount Waryong, and had also be scalling the area that day with his brothers looking for salamander eggs. When Ham and his brothers reached a graveyard on the mountainside of Mount Waryong, they overheard two screams 10 seconds apart. He told detectives this was at lunch-time, and estimated it to be around 11:30am. Years later whilst at college, Ham would give an interview on what he heard, explaining; "It is an unwavering truth I heard screams that day. I will never be able to forget it"

Leaflets handed out by volunteers

Other witness statements seemed to contradict the time frame Ham and his brothers heard screams. At around 12:00pm, two classmates of Cheol-won, Tae-seok Lee and Kyung-yul Kim testified how they saw the boys at the entrance of the hiking trail and chatted with them shortly before lunch-time. The classmates said the boys told them they were going to Mount Waryong to look for bullet casings. Another woman who lived close to Mount Waryong told police how she saw five boys hiking the mountain at around 2:00pm. It was believed the boys had not simply become lost, because the the trail of the mountainside, which was actually more of a hill and which was considered particularly treacherous, was well illuminated from the nearby town which made hiking easier.
There were numerous theories about what might have happened to the boys, including a kidnapping ring which operated throughout the country, taking children and forcing them to beg on the streets. Others believed North Koreans spies were involved, or the boys fell victim to a murderous leper, who killed them because of the myth that consuming a child's liver will cure leprosy, and even the notion of Alien abduction was proposed. Over the course of the investigation, Mount Waryong was searched over 500 times, but no trace of the boys was found. As the years passed, attention on the case had mostly dissipated and all but the boys families forgot about the missing children.
It would be 11 years later before the case would receive some measure of closure. On 26 September 2002, a man was climbing Mount Waryong whilst foraging acorns and came across the bodies of the five children. The area they were discovered had been the ROK Army shooting range, which had been relocated to a nearby town in 1994, and had been previously searched numerous times without success. There were strong rumours the boys had been accidentally shot with stray bullets and the incident had been covered up by the Korean military. The site where the bodies were found was effectively destroyed by the police, who used pickaxes to excavate the area.

The boys remains and clothing

The Government announced the official cause of death as hypothermia, resulting from the boys becoming disorientated and lost. The families of the children refused to accept this, because they argued the boys had been very familiar with the local geography, especially the hiking foothills of Mount Waryong. The theory the boys become lost was re-enacted on a Korean TV programme, in which children of the same age were instructed to find their way back from Mount Waryong. The experiment resulted in every children being able to find their way home.
The bodies were found covered in their own clothes, some of which had been tied in knots. Police officials explained this supported their theory the boys became lost and experienced the effects of hypothermia, covering themselves with their own clothing in an attempt to preserve heat. Medical experts agreed the knots showed unreasonable behaviour which has been observed in patients suffering from hypothermia. However, this theory was debunked by forensic scientists who determined the boys had not in-fact died from hypothermia or bullet wounds. Although they were unable to pinpoint an exact cause of death due to the severe decomposition of the bodies, they were able to determine they died from blunt force trauma sustained from either a blunt object or stabbing with a bladed weapon. This was deduced from the fracture marks on three of the victims skulls, which was considered unusual.

The Funeral Service

It was strongly believed the boys had all died on the day they went missing, and their bodies covered with their own clothes. It was difficult to determine the motive for the crime, and due to decomposition, there was no way to determine through forensic evidence if the boys had been sexually assaulted prior to their murders. There was also little evidence at the scene which helped lead investigators to a possible suspect. Criminal profilers believe the murders were committed by a single individual, who possessed some measure of strength to keep all five of the boys subdued, and who had never been apprehended or convicted for any other similar crimes.
The case raised many questions, most importantly how the bodies of the children had been missed when the area had been searched hundreds of times by the police and military. There were also several conflicting statements given by witnesses which only added to the confusion of when exactly the boys had last been seen alive. The statute of limitations ran out on the case on 26 March 2006, however South Korean police have declared they will continue the investigation to reveal the truth about what happened to the boys.

Written by Nucleus