This article contains an autopsy photo. TCD is a CRIME blog. If you choose to view it, you automatically accept the risk. You’ve been warned.
SEOUL, South Korea – On April 30, 2021, the body of Son Jung-Min, 22, was found floating in the Han River. A medical examiner ruled his death an accidental drowning, but the events leading up to his demise led many to believe that his friend killed him and that his friend’s parents and the police covered up a murder.
Son attended Chung-Ang University as a medical student and lived near the Han River with his parents. When he was younger, he and his family spent time in Australia.
Photos of Son show a happy and healthy young man, dearly loved by his family, with a bright future ahead.
Son spent the entire evening of Saturday, April 24, 2021, studying. A friend, known only as Mr. A, sent several text messages begging Son to go out. Son texted another pal that Mr. A was bugging him, and the friend said, “You need to study.”
Nevertheless, Son met up with Mr. A between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., and the pair visited a convenience store at 10:53 p.m. Mr. A purchased four bottles of alcohol.
Around 11:15 p.m., they returned to the convenience store and purchased food. Son also purchased a mat.
After leaving the store, the men headed to Banpo Hangang Park along Seoul’s Han River, where they drank for several hours in a grassy area by the river. Banpo Park is a popular place for locals to hang out all night.
At 12:45 a.m., Son and Mr. A visited another convenience store in Banpo Park to purchase more alcohol and food. They returned to the grassy area by the river. On the store’s CCTV, Mr. A is seen hugging Son a couple of times and seems overly affectionate. However, there does not appear to be any aggression or anything out of the ordinary between the two friends.
Son sent messages to his mother via KakaoTalk at 1:30 a.m.
At 1:33 a.m., the men entered the convenience store again. While there, Son spoke on the phone with a delivery person about delivering food to the park.
Around 1:50 a.m., Son films an Instagram video of the two dancing and goofing around.
The events that happened next are baffling, conflicting, and downright suspicious.
According to Mr. A, Son fell asleep between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. When Son awoke, he exhibited bizarre behavior; he ran around, fell over himself, rolled on a hill, and made growling noises. Mr. A said he dragged Son from the hill and claimed his pants and shoes got dirty.
At 2:18 a.m., witnesses within 10 meters of Son and Mr. A. took a picture of the pair.
The witnesses said the situation did not look right. Mr. A. was digging through Son’s pockets.
As the witnesses left the park at 2:50 a.m., they noticed Mr. A lying on the ground with Son in a ‘cringeworthy’ manner, Seoulite TV reported. The witnesses never mentioned to the police that Son was exhibiting the bizarre behavior Mr. A originally said occurred between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
At 3:37 a.m., Mr. A called his mother’s phone and spoke with his father. He said that Son was drunk and asleep, and his father told him to hurry up and come home.
However, a screenshot from CCTV footage in the park shows Mr. A standing next to a tree with Son nowhere in sight.
Seoulite TV reports that at 3:38 a.m., other witnesses saw Mr. A and Son on their mat together and claimed that Son was sitting upright at this time.
A witness saw Mr. A walk to the river’s edge alone at 3:47 a.m. after the phone call. The witness did not see Son.
A passerby said found Mr. A at 4:27 a.m. sleeping alone on the embankment. According to Seoulite TV, the passerby’s original statement said it was 4:20, but the time changed somehow. The man claimed he was concerned for Mr. A’s safety, so he woke up Mr. A and encouraged him to go home.
Mr. A originally said he fell asleep between 3:30 a.m. – 4:30 a.m. and woke up alone. He did not see Son and assumed Son had gone home, so Mr. A left the park at 4:30 a.m. The time frame later changed to between 3:38 a.m. and 4:27 a.m.
Two back-to-back walkway tunnels are adjacent to the park that people use to enter the area. CCTV cameras are at each end of the tunnels, and both men are seen walking through the tunnels to the park earlier. Mr. A is seen walking back from the park alone at 4:32 a.m.
Mr. A claimed that when he returned home, he realized he had Son’s Samsung Galaxy S20 instead of his iPhone 8. He returned to the park with his parents around 5 a.m.
Son’s father later explained in his blog how one could not mistake an S20 for an iPhone 8 as the former is heavier. The iPhone is “27% smaller and 21% lighter.” He believes Mr. A took Son’s phone to make it harder to find Son.
They allegedly began searching for Son and called Son’s parents at 5:30 a.m. Around this time, Mr. A claimed his iPhone 8 was lost.
What’s strange about this is that Mr. A. assumed Son had gone home, so why did he return to the park with his parents to search for him?
Meanwhile, Son’s father began calling Son’s phone. Mr. A. had the phone but did not answer. Son’s father called four times. Mr. A finally answered the fourth call and told Son’s father that he had taken Son’s phone by mistake and that they were looking for Son at the park.
Son’s parents arrived at Banpo Park at 5:40 a.m. to search for their son. Mr. A. or his father handed over Son’s phone to Son’s parents at 5:47 a.m.
Google translated the following, so I cannot say if it’s accurate.
Mr. Son began tracking Son’s phone. He later wrote in a blog post, “I think it was around 6:00 when I tried to call my son in case he had a friend’s phone. It continued not to receive it, but around 7:00, it changed to say that the power was turned off, and the last location tracking unexpectedly informed me that it was a water taxi platform in Gangbuk that crossed the river.“
Gangbuk-gu is a district in Seoul and not alongside the river. I am not sure if it is the same as what Mr. Son is talking about. It could be a translation issue. However, there appears to be a water taxi platform at Banpo Park, but I cannot say for sure. Maybe someone familiar with Seoul can chime in if they see this post.
Mr. Son stated in his blog post that he crossed the Jamsu Bridge and started searching Gangbuk (see above sentence) while his wife filed a missing person report. They had hoped their son had fallen asleep somewhere and would wake up and return home, but he never did.
Jamsu Bridge is a double-deck bridge, with Banpo Bridge on the upper deck. Jamsu Bridge was built in 1976, with the upper deck added in 1982. You can see both decks here.
Banpo Park is under the police jurisdiction of Seocho Police, while Gangbuk is under Yongsan, according to Mr. Son.
Police began searching both sides of the Han River and the river using divers but found no sign of Son.
Meanwhile, investigators questioned Mr. A and his father separately for several hours at Seocho Police Station, near the park. Each had a lawyer present.
Mr. A’s lawyer claimed Mr. A had a blackout period from around 11:15 p.m. on April 24, 2021, to 6 a.m. the next day and could not remember anything. However, video footage disputes this, yet the attorney insisted throughout the investigation that Mr. A had no memory of the entire night at the park.
Police requested the cell phones of the A family, apartment CCTV footage, and car black box videos. Mr. A’s family refused to hand over the items.
But they have nothing to hide. Riiiight.
Son’s father asked to look at Mr. A’s shoes, but Mr. A’s parents said they threw them away because they were too dirty. The family’s lawyer later said they threw them out because they had vomit on them.
When Mr. A returned home from the park that morning, he changed his clothes and arrived at the park with his parents in different clothes and slippers on his feet.
Authorities checked more than 150 vehicles entering and exiting Han River Park on the morning Son vanished. They also secured the black box videos from these vehicles and obtained CCTV cameras of the area.
Through their investigation, police supposedly found seven fishermen (why do I automatically think of the Seven Dwarfs?), who said they had seen a man walk into the water at 4:40 a.m., splash around and say something like “how refreshing.” The man began swimming when the water was chest-high.
If this is not a made-up story, I don’t know what is.
The passerby who found Mr. A alone at 4:27 a.m. never mentioned the fishermen.
The fishermen claimed they were 83 meters (nearly the length of a football field) away from the man and did not see anyone else.
The fishermen did not report the man to the police because they did not think it was an emergency, according to the Korea Herald. However, no evidence proves this was Son or that the sighting was legit.
The dumb theory here: Police said Son walked into the water to “sober up.”
With his clothes on in freezing water, sure he did.
Local journalists reenacted the scene and debunked that theory, proving there was no possible way for the fishermen to hear someone in the river 83 meters away.
On April 30, 2021, a civilian diver recovered Son’s body from the river near where he had disappeared five days before and after a thorough search of the same area by police divers. Police claimed the current carried his body out and then back. Mm’kay.
An autopsy found two wounds behind Son’s left ear, “each the length of about two-thirds of a finger,” the Korea Times reported.
Son’s father said that according to the National Forensic Service, the wounds were not the direct cause of death. Police believe these injuries might have been caused by the body hitting objects while drifting in the river.
Per Seoulite TV, “A plankton test revealed that Son had swallowed and inhaled water before he died,” which meant he was alive when he entered the river.
This also suggests to me that he struggled in the water. If he had only walked into the water to sober up, he could have done so without venturing too far out, dipping his head underwater, and been done with it.
A blood-like substance was found at the park where Mr. A and Son had been, but police claimed they tested it and it was not blood.
Officials conducted a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) test, but police released the results only to the family. A drug screening showed no abnormal effects, whatever that means. A medical examiner ruled Son’s death an accidental drowning.
The answer to how Son ended up in the river remains a mystery.
Police continued searching for Mr. A’s iPhone. A volunteer at the park with a metal detector found a smashed red iPhone in the water near where Son’s body was found. The SIM card was missing. Police later said it did not belong to Mr. A because Mr. A’s iPhone was “space gray, not red.”
In one of the last videos Son filmed on his cell phone, Son says, “골든 건은 네가 잘못했어, 솔직히.” Translated, it means, “The Golden Gun is your fault, honestly.”
The interpretation of “golden” is unknown.
It could be referring to Korean singer G. Soul, who briefly changed his name to “Golden” in 2020, but that does not seem likely. However, the police determined that it did refer to the singer.
At a press conference held on May 10, 2021, at the Naeja-dong building in Jongno-gu, Seoul, Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner Jang Ha-yeon said that Mr. A and Son had “mentioned a singer called ‘Golden,’ a term used in hip-hop, such as the label J-Pac, appeared, and it seems that they talked about common interests in a friendly situation.”
But the Daily Naver blog reported that Golden is “a slang term a lot of med school students use to cheat.” This explanation fits as Mr. A and Son were medical students.
However, Jang stated, “The police understand that the conversation between Mr. A and Son as ‘The golden thing is you’re wrong’ and ‘That’s right,’ is a story about ‘hobby life’ about the controversial situation,” writes Kim Kyung-hoon for sedaily.com.
Sure, it is. Bless your heart.
Police finally obtained Mr. A’s iPhone 8 after a park service worker surrendered it to the information center at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 30, 2021. However, he gave conflicting dates and times when he found the phone. He first said he found it between May 10 and May 15, 2021. Then he said it was May 11 at 9:33 a.m. and May 11 at 8:30 a.m. But he kept it in his possession until May 30, 2021, for unexplained reasons and refused a polygraph test. He also could not remember where he found the phone. Ultimately, he said it was in a storage locker at the park.
The iPhone was dead but in operable condition, according to the police.
Authorities conducted a forensic analysis of the phones of Mr. A’s family. They allegedly found no evidence that messages or photos had been deleted from the family members’ phones.
On June 1, 2021, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency concluded, “the cellphone records show no signs of discord between Son Jung Min and the friend, and the forensics did not contain any information on the cause of Son Jung Min’s death.”
Police eventually released CCTV from Banpo Hangang Park, but conveniently, not the footage of the area where Son and Mr. A sat and drank from 11 p.m. on April 24 until 2 a.m. on April 25, 2021. And to this day, police have yet to release footage from other cameras in that area, including the ones on Banpo Bridge facing the park.
What police did release was nine hours of footage from one of the CCTV cameras at the tunnel’s opening that faces the park.
Key Points of Video
Sean Lim of Seoulite TV extensively covered Son’s case and pointed out several interesting things in the footage.
You can see all his videos on this case on his YouTube playlists by scrolling to “Han Rivergate.” They are worth watching. Lim grew up in Los Angeles and was a broadcast journalist. He now lives in Seoul. The videos are in English.
CCTV shows other people packing up and leaving the park at 3:25 a.m. Both Mr. A and Son appear awake, according to Lim. A flash appears as if someone took a picture with their cell phone.
Five minutes later, it appears someone is being pushed. It also looks like someone is backing up while another person charges at him. It is assumed that Mr. A is the aggressor.
One figure is seen running from the other, but Lim thinks these are unidentified witnesses who freaked over the altercation. These people were not on the police witness list.
Lim states, “Between 3:38 a.m. and 4:27 a.m., nobody knows what happened, and this is the time frame Son disappeared.”
On the videos, between 3:39 a.m. and 4:43 a.m., several police vehicles enter and exit Banpo Park, supposedly over a call that someone was drunk or in an accident. Several people appear to be walking by where the two men had been drinking.
Remember, the seven fishermen allegedly saw a man go in the water at 4:40 a.m. With all of the police officers and locals there, someone else would have seen this man, so I find it odd.
4:21 a.m.: A family at the park is packing up and then leaves the frame. They are not on the witness list, according to Lim.
4:14 a.m. – The “Burberry Woman” (she’s wearing a Burberry coat, aka trenchcoat walking through the tunnel- I will refer to her as BW) walks into the frame of the video from the left to the riverbank, then to the right to a bench hidden by the CCTV and sits there until 4:22 a.m. She walks back to the left to the same spot on the “grassy knoll” at 4:23 a.m. and stays there until 4:58 a.m. BW is seen exiting the park on the tunnel’s CCTV carrying a briefcase, and a purse, or a similar bag.
It was a Sunday morning, so I doubt she was going to work. What was she doing there that entire time?
While her actions are questionable, she was never called as a witness, even though she was at the park until about 4:58 a.m. Lim thinks this woman is part of a clean-up crew covering up a murder Mr. A committed.
5:12 a.m. – A car drops off Mr. A and his father. They climb the fence into the park. The driver is presumably Mr. A’s mother. https://youtu.be/pawzgwvicYU?t=463
Mr. A’s lawyer claimed he was so drunk that he could not remember many events that night, but he appears completely sober in the CCTV footage.
A mystery man, carrying a coat, emerges from the tunnel at 5:12:24 a.m. The man eventually hands these items to Mr. A’s father. Notice he is also carrying a bag.
About 40 minutes later, Mr. A’s father is seen on the left side of the video talking on his cell phone by a tree for a few minutes. He tries to stay hidden behind the tree until he sees his son, who collapses on the sidewalk.
Who was he speaking with on the phone?
Then, he joins his son and wife, and the trio stands close to the tunnel entrance, which catches the tunnel’s camera, and appears as if they are waiting for someone.
According to Lim, there is a second mystery woman who Lim refers to as the “Umbrella Woman.” I will call her UW for short. She is seen in the video’s background carrying an umbrella, walking to a trash can, and retrieving something. She then walks left out of the frame.
It was not daylight or raining, so why was she carrying an umbrella?
While all this is happening, Mr. A and his parents stand around and keep looking toward the Umbrella Woman or a bicyclist, also seen in the video near Mr. A and his family. Lim thinks they are looking at UW.
A couple walking nearby toward the tunnel said they heard Mr. A sobbing. His mother told him, “We’ll talk about this at home.” And the parents told him to shut up.
The couple at “the kneeling scene” at 2:18 a.m. was confirmed to be at the convenience store between 5:20 a.m. and 5:40 a.m. They said they saw a nicely dressed man digging through a trash can and thought it was odd because homeless people usually do that. This man appeared to have money.
Due to the actions seen on the released CCTV footage, Lim at Seoulite TV believes Son’s death has been a coordinated cover-up.
While all of the things Lim addresses in his YouTube videos are suspicious, police have never mentioned anything regarding the mystery people or the unidentified witnesses.
A Determined Father
Son’s father has been his child’s most prominent advocate and did not believe the police version of events. He said his son “did not like playing in the water.”
Shortly after he made that statement, police conveniently announced they had obtained video that showed Son snorkeling. The elder Son believes police announced they had acquired the video to refute his testimony.
Per Seoulite TV’s website:
Mr. Son: “We are checking into the exact circumstances of how police obtained the water video. Who exactly gave police that video? I was worried this would happen because Jung-min went snorkeling with A abroad. That’s why I asked A to address it first. The logic that because my son went snorkeling once, he had the capability to venture into the dirty 13 degree [Celsius] water of the Han River at dawn is seriously a comedy.”
“And how is the soil composition on my son’s socks similar to the soil of a river bed 10m away? Does that make sense? The soil composition of the upper and lower streams of the river is different. He would’ve stepped in the riverbed whether he was dragged or walked on his own and drowned. I never once said he didn’t step on the riverbed. But it’s very suspicious how he even got into it. I just can’t erase this nagging feeling that something went wrong there.
“What’s even more upsetting is finding out that A threw out not only his shoes but also his T-shirt from that day and there’s no mention of that by police or whether investigations are being conducted. Is it because they’re colluding together? Jung-min is someone that rarely went into the water so how could he just venture out into the dirty Han River at dawn on his own?”
Son’s father and the public accused the police of covering up Son’s murder and protecting his killer. Mr. A has never been publicly identified. His father runs a hospital in Seoul, and people believe he used his influence and power to cover up Son’s murder.
When Korean YouTubers discovered and posted Mr. A’s identity in 2021, Mr. A’s hotshot attorneys threatened to sue each of them. Ultimately, the video creators apologized to avoid lawsuits and accepted Son’s death was an accident.
The police investigation supposedly involved 35 individuals from seven violent crime teams in determining how Son Jung Min died. No evidence leading to criminal charges has been found, according to the Seoul police.
In other words, Mr. A got away scot-free.
Police returned Son’s body to his family on May 5, 2021, and they had him cremated.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
This case is truly straight out of a Korean drama. I know what you’re thinking. My K-drama obsession caused me to be consumed with true crime in South Korea. And, yeah, you’d be correct.
If you want to go down this rabbit hole, you might have difficulty coming out as I did. I became obsessed with this case, so I had to step away for a few weeks. As mentioned above, you can view all of Seoulite TV’s videos on this case. Lim has too much info on Son’s death for this blog post. I agree with him — this was a covered-up murder.
I do not doubt that Mr. A killed Son. Mr. A and Son argued at the park over something, maybe the “golden” subject, I don’t know.
Mr. A struck Son on the head with something, which killed him. I think the wounds on Son’s head look like knife wounds. Mr. A then threw the object in a trash can and called his mother’s phone at 3:30 a.m. for help. Notice Mr. A did not speak with his mother; he chose to talk with daddy, who he knew would help him.
I think UW was at the park to retrieve the object. I also believe some witnesses saw the crime but are too afraid to come forward. Many people walked through the park when the crime likely occurred.
At 3:39 a.m., several police cars and police SUVs entered the park and exited over an hour later, at 4:41 a.m. They are seen on CCTV near the park. If there was a report of a drunk person or an accident, why would so many vehicles need to respond? Is it possible the “drunk person” was Son?
Maybe they were there to get Son’s body and transport it somewhere for safekeeping until disposing of it later. Lim mentions in one of his videos about people hiding the body until they dumped it in the river.
You can see several people on the CCTV video around this time frame near where Mr. A and Son had been partying. Son’s body was found in the same area he vanished from FIVE days later. Police had already searched this area.
Lim and Mr. Son have said how it would be impossible for the body to drift out and back because Han River’s current is never strong. Below is a picture of the river taken by Son’s father and uploaded to his blog. Lim also went to the river at night, and it was calm then, too.
BW was at the park while Mr. A was still there, supposedly sleeping. I don’t believe he was ever asleep. I don’t buy that a passerby woke him. Who was this person? What was he doing there? And would he worry about the welfare of someone he didn’t know? I doubt it. If involved, he and BW were there to help Mr. A.
The photo below was taken in May 2021. It’s from a drone, and you can see the area where Mr. A and Son were that night. There also appears to be a group of people, and I wonder if this was a memorial or something. I don’t know. You can zoom in to see them and zoom out to see more of the park. But it gives you a better perspective of the area.
BW was at the riverbank when the seven fishermen supposedly saw a man go in the water, but she was never questioned even though she could be seen on the CCTV. That said, how come the fishermen never said they saw HER? Who goes to a park between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on a Sunday wearing a trenchcoat and carrying bags and staying 45 minutes?
Lim said the police suppressed the fishermen’s original statement that they saw a “middle-aged man enter the water.” (this man could be a second man seen on the CCTV footage with the passerby and who later entered the convenience store. Lim thinks he is walking as if his clothes are wet, but it’s hard to say. Lim thinks maybe BW entered the water and performed the “how refreshing” act.
The passerby never mentioned seeing BW, either, even though they were in that area of the park at the same time and had to have seen one another.
4:58:35 a.m.: BW comes up from the riverbank. Lim states there’s nothing to do there at the riverbank, only rocks and no seating. She stands behind a pole for 2 minutes, and there appears to be another person there.
I saw something interesting in the CCTV footage but had to use my browser’s zoom to 500%. Around the 16:09 mark in the video, you can see someone helping another person walk to the left out of the frame, or this person is carrying something dark like a bag across the shoulder/waist. It could be someone helping Son out of the park or just carrying a bag. It’s hard to tell. Lim does not mention this. He talks about BW making a zigzag walk at 16:17 in the video. But I found it really strange.
At 16:48 on the video, the white figure seen at 16:09 a.m. is back in the frame, walking to the right. It’s intriguing and could be when Son’s body was moved.
I also saw another bicyclist exiting the park with his face completely covered. It looks like a man but I cannot say for sure. He appears at the 04:56:00 mark on the CCTV footage on Lim’s channel. He looks directly at the camera, starts riding toward the tunnel, but then moves left out of frame. It looks like he is carrying a bag similar to the mystery man in the tunnel and BW, although it looks more like a gift bag. Regardless, I thought it was strange because it was early in the morning. What’s up with all of the bags??
I found several more suspicious things in the 9 hours of footage that Lim does not mention, but I won’t point them out to keep this blog post shorter than a novel.
A theory on Lim’s YT channel is interesting. Anglo Edu posted in the comments of one video:
I’m acquainted with some students at this medical school and there is this one speculation which makes sense: Mister A or rather Yi JunSeo (also a med student at chungang) often joked around during anatomy classes, meaning he played with bones of dead bodies & did inappropriate things to female cadavers. Jeungmin (another spelling of Jung-min) had enough & filmed him so that A would stop, hence A was scared to get expelled if the video comes out, etc. that’s why he had Jeungmin’s phone: To delete the videos.
Other commenters had heard this, too. It does make sense about the phone. The 2:18 a.m. witnesses said he was going through Son’s phone.
Is “Yi JunSeo” (Jun-seo) Mr. A or another student? If I were to find out Mr. A’s real name, I would post it.