Matiur Rahman, editor of Bangladesh's Prothom Alo daily, and nine others have been charged with causing death by negligence after a 14-year-old boy was fatally electrocuted in November at an event organized by a sister publication. Representational photo: iStock

In a sensational development, a suspect in South Korea’s most famed unsolved serial killing case has been identified, police announced late yesterday.

However, the suspect will not face punishment – the murders took place between 1986 and 1991, and the statute of limitations expired in April 2006.

But the man is not walking the streets. He is in jail serving time for what the vernacular media describe as “a similar crime.”

The murders inspired one of South Korea’s biggest early movie hits, 2003’s Memories of Murder – and in an odd precursor to true-life events, the investigatory device by which the alleged killer was identified, featured in the fictional film.

 Korea’s top killer caught?

Police in Southern Gyeonggi Province announced on Wednesday that they had identified a suspect in the deaths of 10 women who were raped then murdered in and around rural villages in Hwaseong, south of Seoul, between 1986 and 1991, according to Yonhap news agency.

Police said they identified the man, who is in his 50s, after finding his DNA matched that found in one of the victim’s underwear, Yonhap reported. There was no explanation as to why it took so long for the discovery to be made.

Korean media have tentatively identified the suspect as Lee Chun-jae, now serving a life sentence after drugging and raping his sister-in-law, then murdering her with a hammer, in 1994.

The 10 victims in the “Hwaseong murders,” who ranged in age from their early teens to their early seventies, were raped then killed. Their bodies were found dumped in rural areas, bound, gagged and mutilated. Some two million man hours of police time were reportedly spent investigating the cases over the years.

Captured on film

As in Hollywood, where thrillers about serial killers from Psycho to Silence of the Lambs have won both commercial and critical success, Korean filmmakers have also covered the topic. So infamous were the Hwaseong killings that stage plays, TV dramas and films were based upon them – including 2003’s Memories of Murder.

It was one of the very first movies that made up the early days of hallyu, the “Korean Wave” of popular culture that flooded across Asia and the world from the close of the 1990s. Memories of Murder introduced the world both to director Bong Joon-ho – who this year won the prestigious Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his latest work Parasite – and his favorite leading man, Song Kang-ho, now one of Asia’s most recognizable actors.

As in reality, the filmic cops – who deploy some dubious and brutal methodologies in their hunt for the killer – fail to crack the case. But in an eerie coincidence, the film includes a sequence involving a DNA investigation into a trace of semen found on the body of one of the victims.

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