33 Bodies Found In Attic After Apparent Murder-Suicide Pact
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The bound and gagged bodies of 33 people who were linked to a religious cult were found stacked in two piles in a factory attic Saturday after an apparent murder-suicide pact, authorities said.
Police said the bodies were discovered in the attic of a factory cafeteria in Yongin, about 50 miles south of Seoul. Officers said the victims had been dead for up to two days.
″The investigation is still going on but there are suspicions that it was a religious incident,″ a local police officer told The Associated Press by telephone.
The tourist souvenir factory was owned by Park Soon-ja, 48, the cult leader who was called ″Benevolent Mother″ by her followers, authorities said. Mrs. Park claimed God appeared to her and told her to seek followers, they said.
The sect claimed to be Christian and preached that the world was about to come to an end. It demanded extreme spiritual discipline and blind obedience, police said.
Some Korean news reports said Mrs. Park and her three children were among the dead, but authorities would not confirm the report.
Mrs. Park disappeared last Wednesday after police began investigating accusations that she swindled $8.7 million from about 220 people, many of them apparently involved in the cult.
Heavily armed police surrounded the factory as officers and forensic experts examined the bodies and the factory complex for evidence.
The bodies were discovered by Mrs. Park’s husband, Lee Ki-Jung, some news reports said.
The hands and feet of most of the dead were tied together and cloth or rope was tied around their necks, police said. Tissue paper and cloth were stuffed into many of the victims’ nostrils and mouths.
Police said the bodies were stacked atop the other in two large piles - 14 bodies in one, 19 bodies in the other. Many of the victims were scantily clothed in underwear or pyjamas.
Korean television networks reported from the scene that many of the dead appeared to have been strangled or poisoned and their necks were badly bruised.
The MBC network reported that one person wearing rubber gloves strangled or poisoned the others then killed himself or herself. It said the victims appeared not to have resisted, adding that rubber gloves and drug bottles were found near the bodies.
KBS, the state television network, said 29 women and four men died. Other reports said the dead included children.
Police said a maid at the factory told them that Mrs. Park had been hiding in the attic since Wednesday. The maid said she had been taking food to Mrs. Park once a day and last saw her Friday.
Mrs. Park ran a charity for orphans, homeless elderly people and the poor in the central Korean city of Taejon.
Korean news reports indicated Mrs. Park and aides indoctrinated charity recipients into the cult. Some reports suggested poor people and children were used as laborers in the Yongin factory, which made ornate traditional Korean furniture for sale to foreign tourists.
Many cult followers appeared to have loaned Mrs. Park large sums of money, the reports added.
Police began investigating the cult Aug. 16, following reports that two people were beaten by Mrs. Park’s followers after demanding their money be returned, officials said.
Thirteen officials of Mrs. Park’s Odaeyang Trading Co. were arrested in connection with the beatings and remain in custody, police said. After the arrests other people started to complain about being unable to get back their money, they said.
Police said Mrs. Park and about 80 followers fled Taejon when police started to investigate the allegations. Officers said they searched the factory Friday and found 49 men, women and children hiding there, but not the cult leader and her top aides.
Mrs. Park, who claimed God cured her of cancer, was a prominent member of the city elite and was involved in numerous social activities.
She received many citations for charitable work, including awards from the government, according to news reports. Her husband is a senior provincial government official.