September 26th, 2002. Mt. Waryhong, Daegu, South Korea. A man was taking a solitary hike, scavenging for acorns along the scenic mountainside. I can imagine the man with a rucksack, dirty from a day of foraging and filled to the brim with acorns of varying size when suddenly, the bag is dropped. He notices something in the distance and stumbles upon something horrific in a shallow pit. An assortment of small, human-like bones and scattered throughout the bones were various pieces of children’s clothing.
This man had just discovered one of South Korea’s most infamous crime scenes. The bones found belonged to the long lost children who came to be known as “The Frog Boys”. The man, who managed to remain anonymous to this day, called and reported the crime to authorities as soon as possible. Later in the day the mountain would be swarming with investigators in an effort to collect any evidence that may still be lingering behind.
The scene had gone undiscovered for over a decade, despite locals and authorities searching for the boys hundreds of times. The story begins on March 26th, 1991. Much of the area had the day off due to local elections. With that in mind, some of the local boys got up early and began playing before the day could start. The gang stood 6 strong and ranged in age from 9 to 13 years of age. The boys were U Cheol-Won, Jo Ho-Yeon, Kim Yeong-Gyu, Park Chan-In, Kim Jong-Sik, and Tae-Ryong Kim. All of the boys attended Seongseo Elementary School. One of the boys, Tae-Ryong Kim, broke loose from the pack to eat breakfast. Neighbors began complaining of the boys playing too loudly and they decided to move someplace else. The children decided to get ready and head up the mountain to search for salamander eggs.
Just before the excursion could get under way Tae-ryong Kim came back to the group at the base of the mountain. Once he heard what the plans were, he immediately heard the voice of his mother, warning him not to go too far. He decided to play it safe and stay behind. He would watch his friends equipped with cans and walking sticks ascend up the hill without him. Many other locals would go on to see them as they peered through their windows or heard them while in their backyards around the time of their departure.
Hours would go by and not a word from the boys. Their parents were understandably worried and began searching for their kids once the sun began to set. After searching on their own for a few hours, the parents decided to call the police who performed a more thorough search. The search would go on until early the next morning. The boys disappeared without a trace. Police initially suspected the boys to be runaways but was soon dismissed. There second stab at a theory was that the boys had gotten lost but locals again debunked this theory as the town illuminates at night, making it easy for lost travelers to find their way home.
The case quickly picked up momentum and reached the President, Roh Tae-woo, who enlisted hundreds of thousands of police and military to aid in the search but this to lead nowhere. How could these boys have disappeared? How could no trace have been found with so many feet on the ground?
Millions of flyers were generated and a reward was offered to anyone who could lead law enforcement to the lost children. In addition; milk cartons, billboards, phone cards, candy wrappers, cartoons and newspapers all had the boys pictures printed with the name the “Frog Boys” as they would become to be known by. The name evolved as their story began to pick up traction. The boys were searching for salamander eggs, which lead to frog eggs. The eggs were dropped and the five victims were simply known as the “Frog Boys”.
Weeks would turn into months, months into years and authorities were in the exact same spot as the day the boys disappeared. No new leads despite the families doing a tremendous job of keeping the case alive. Movies and TV documentaries were filmed and would be watched by millions. Again the case stood at a standstill. Police would receive hundreds of tips but all lead to nowhere. The only truly intriguing tip was by a man who claimed responsibility for the crime. He had claimed to have abducted the children and that they were alive but not well. He was hoping to con the families out of money but he was soon discovered to be a fraud. Not much else is known about the fraudulent tipster but he too was ruled out of the investigation.
Back to 2002, when the bodies were discovered, investigators initially claimed the boys had died of hypothermia. Many who followed the case refused to believe this and insisted on an independent autopsy. After the second investigation, it was concluded that the boys had indeed been murdered, many of whom suffered severe head injuries either from blunt force trauma or from shotgun. One of the child’s skulls had 2 bullet holes in it, the others had markings from an unknown tool etched in various parts of their skulls. Experts also believe the tool used to bludgeon the children with were tied to the killer’s profession.
How did the scene go undiscovered for so long? Evidence in the form of Moss growing within some of the children’s skulls, proved that the boys had not been moved for years and theorize that they had died around the time they were last seen in 1991. The boys clothes had been tied together using strange knots that lead authorities to believe the killer was somehow involved in an industrial setting.
Despite some evidence being discovered at the scene, heavy criticism fell upon the police for not maintaining the area properly, opting to plow through the ground with pick axes the day the bodies were found, without proper forensic tools present. It was also alleged that the bodies were not transported properly from the scene using body bags but instead were placed in sacks.
Lingering questions remain. Was the shallow grave the murder scene as well or just a dumping ground? Was it a tragic accident or something more sinister? Many of these unanswered questions still linger and cannot easily be answered. Was it a single killer or multiple? Many theorize that there had to be multiple people present to keep the other children quiet and subdued but Korean and U.S. criminologists feel that it was indeed one person who committed the crimes due to the level of brutality met upon the children.
Multiple theories have cropped up over the years, some more plausible than others. Some locals think that a group of lepers may have killed the boys due to a legend that the liver of a child could cure the illness. Others believe that a tragic accident could be the cause of all this, followed quickly by an elaborate cover up. There was a military firing range in close proximity to the shallow grave. Many believe one or multiple children were injured by a stray, and to ensure the word didn’t get out, the perpetrator decided to kill the rest of the kids. This personally seems like the most plausible theory in my opinion however records show that there was no shooting practice scheduled that day due to the elections.
Could someone have snuck onto the range and used it without the proper permission? More evidence pointing towards the firing range accident is the fact that the mountain was littered with bullet casings and often times, locals would search the area for strays. In 1994, the range moved to a different town.
Another theory was brought forward by a Korean criminal psychologist, Kim Kim-Won. His claim was the father of one of the murdered boys was the culprit but this was widely dismissed by authorities and the public. He would be subsequently shunned by the psychological community and fired from his job for such claims. No evidence has ever been found to link any of the parents to the murder of these children.
In 2006, the statute of limitations were met on the case. In South Korea, the statute for all crimes was 15 years. Much hope was dashed by the victim’s families of ever receiving justice, however this was changed in 2015, meaning that if new evidence were to come to light, those responsible for the crime could be charged.