What was true about Yoo Young-Chul and what was urban myth? How badly did the authorities mess this up? Have things changed? We analyze what the psych and criminology experts have written about this case.

Join our Patreon to get more stuff


Book a tour of The Dark Side of Seoul Ghost Walk at https://darksideofseoul.com

Listener Mail! Send us a message (Instagram, Facebook, email) and we might read it on air.

Music by Soraksan

Top tier Patrons

Angel Earl
Joel Bonomini
Shaaron Cullen
Devon Hiphner
Minseok Lee
Laura Casey
Jane Hargrave
Sarah Ford
Alix Radilla
Ryan Berkebile
Ashley Rigby
Terra Suttill


Analysis, Urban Legends, and Folklore

  • Tracking down the ghosts
    • Most of the places where the murders happened have been demolished
  • Media
    • The Chaser (film) 
    • Murder Addiction (book, 2005) – contains his biography 
  • What was the motive?
    • Combination of hatred of the rich and women combined with fear of disease and death
      • He likes to claim it was “social justice,” but he only targeted the old, weak, and vulnerable
    • Second brother committed suicide (1994) at 32
      • Made him hate the world and want to kill someone out of a vague sense of revenge <–Sweeney Todd moment
    • Wife left him while he was in prison and took his son
      • She was a “business trip masseuse”
    • The woman he was in a relationship with after prison (Kim) was also a business trip masseuse
      • Proposed after three months, and she rejected him because he was divorced and an ex-convict
      • Hatred grew, and he wanted to kill her, but doing so would make him the prime suspect
        • Used the other women as surrogates for her
  • The targets
    • In most murder cases, the perpetrators know the victims
    • Serial killers tend not to have relationships with their victims
    • Preferred women and the elderly because easier prey
      • Especially women in the sex industry because less likely to be reported missing
  • The locations and times
    • Serial killers tend to plan their murders in order to not be caught, as opposed to crimes of passion
    • Chose detached western style houses
      • Tended to house wealthy people
      • The walls prevented witnesses
    • Times 
      • Elderly: when there were no commuting or meals
      • Women: late night (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.)
    • His officetel
      • Not much foot traffic in his area
      • Didn’t know anyone there, not recognized
      • Chose the officetel because he could easily move out
  • Periods between murders
    • The longest period between crimes was three months–the period between the eldery crimes and the crimes against women
    • The police were getting closer to finding him, so he stabilized and worked on his next plans
    • The period between female killings was shorter and shorter
      • Started to become routine
  • Weapons
    • The hammer with the short plastic handle
      • Concealable yet effective
    • Investigations of his house found that he and thoroughly planned his methods
    • When he took taxis at dawn, he posed as a trader
    • The suede gloves were used at first to hide fingerprints. The work gloves were for grip. 
    • The jack knife was used to intimidate and incapacitate the victims while the hammer was used as the main killing weapon
      • He figured this out while killing dogs on a mountain near his mother’s home
      • Kinda like stunning animals in a slaughterhouse
  • Hiding the evidence
    • Tried to make some look like robberies to throw off the scent
    • Fires
    • Removed the vendor’s wrists and handcuffs and threw into the breakwaters
    • Cut off women’s fingertips and flushed down the toilet
    • Body parts were disposed of at a construction site and on a mountainside in the hopes of being lost forever
    • Forced one woman to make a phone call, saying she was quitting, so that her employer wouldn’t consider her missing

Urban legends (surrounding Yoo and generally)

  • Yoo transported body parts via subway
  • Yoo killed because of violent films
  • A killer lurks in Seoul underpasses
  • Kidnappers lure young people to murder, remove organs for black market

Seven stages of serial murder

  1. Aura Phase (Psychological Preparation)
    1. Distances from social relations and drifts away from reality
    2. Fantastic thoughts gain more weight
  2. Trolling Phase
    1. Kind of like the planning phase: who and how
    2. Obsessive, paranoid, zealous behaviors with increased concentration and tension
    3. Fantasies and perverted desires that had been overlooked get mixed in
    4. Positions to catch the victim or actively hunts
  3. Flirting Phase
    1. Gaining trust/cooperation of victim
  4. Capturing Phase
    1. Reveals true intentions
    2. Can be done in a way for the killer’s maximum enjoyment
  5. Murdering Phase
    1. Ritualistic
  6. Totem Phase
    1. Huge decline/sobering
    2. The ups and downs are the key reason for developing the killing ritual
    3. Keeps souvenirs from the victim to remember the murder part and cushion against the declining part
  7. Depression Phase
    1. Starts deciding on next murder because of psychological collapse
    2. Returns to the fantasy world and begins the cycle again
    3. This is how this becomes an addiction
  • Notes on that
    • Killers get more violent and more methodical in each cycle, making improvements on their rituals
Gaps of days between murders
  • Elderly – Exhibited some (trolling, murdering ritual, depression) but not others (flirting, totem)
  • Mr. Ahn didn’t fit well because it wasn’t planned
  • More exhibited when he got to the women
    • Flirting – Lured the victim rather than passively wait and used deception to make them cooperative
      • Thought: Using authoritarianism as a form of connection? Korea, as a confucian society with still a hangover from authoritarianism, does tend to accede to appeals to authority
        • Whoever is older/high ranked is always more right
        • Confucian tradition is that those in authority are obligated to take care of those under them, thus a relationship/connection
    • Didn’t like the capture phase and made it quick
      • Took no pleasure in horror and astonishment
      • No craving for sympathy or mercy
      • Killed instantly
    • Totem
      • Relished in cutting corpses into pieces and secretly knowing when they were buried
      • Kept souvenirs, including an anklet, the phone, and the Avatar watch
    • Depression
      • Repeated after cooling down period
      • Gradually becoming shorter, indicating he was getting more proficient
  • Serial killer classifications
    • Delusional – hearing voices, hallucinations
    • Missionary – on a moral mission to punish immoral people
    • Pleasure – enjoys the act of murder itself (sexual, thrill, comfort)
      • Result of killing isn’t as important as the process
      • Bodies usually dismembered
    • Power – can control life and death to achieve superiority
      • Sexual sadism and fantasy
      • Don’t accept existing social values
        • Extreme means of murder to destroy the existing system and order
      • Body dismemberment
  • Yoo Young-chul is regarded as a mixed type 
    • mission
      • wealthy are a negative group in society
      • business trip masseuses are “rotten blood” of society
      • Sending a warning message
      • Group type targeted for execution, like having a sense of duty
    • pleasure
      • thoroughly prepared
      • tried to erase evidence
      • meticulous handling of the body
      • closely watching media reports after the crime
    • power
      • Targeted women and elderly
      • excessive brutality
      • later bragging about the number of victims and trying to create a mythology around him
  • What a forensic Sherlock Holmes would do
    • Profiling techniques are helpful in narrowing the pool of suspects
    • Man – strong enough to use the hammer with such force
    • Places on the skull that were struck – right handed
    • Victims were mostly wealthy
      • Did not steal any valuables
      • Guess: perpetrator had a low standard of living and resented the wealthy or the elderly – or society in general
    • Times of murder (10 a.m. – 12 p.m.) 
      • Unemployed or has a night job
    • Lack of evidence or signs that evidence has been meticulously cleaned up
      • This is habitual. They’ve committed crimes, such as trespassing, in the past
    • Can figure out height through footprints
    • Regarding the crimes against women
      • More difficult because of the secretiveness of their profession
      • Crime scene was moved into Yoo’s home, so the police basically didn’t have a murder scene to explore
      • IF the buried body parts were found by accident
        • Suggested a geographical profile
          • They were disposed of fairly close to each other
          • Must have intimate knowledge of the area
          • Can guess that the perpetrator was based within a 5 km radius
        • Again, could assume a young man
          • The brutality and strength of the hammer blows
        • No tools found near the site
          • Planned in advanced and executed leisurely
          • Likely has read books, watched movies, (or listened to podcasts) and has had previous convictions/experience
        • Likely doesn’t have a regular job because he’d have to be up all night
        • Bodies cut up and washed
          • Likely done at home and lives alone
          • Not detached house because there would have been a shared gate, and residents would more likely know each other
          • So a studio or officetel
      • SUM UP: A young man who lives nearby with no regular job and lives alone in an officetel/studio. Based on the skull damage, has an extremely violent personality and likely a violent criminal record. Also supported by the planning of the killings. 
  • Problems with Police Investigation
    • Investigations usually focus on theft at the scene, brutality, crime due to theft or out of anger/personal reasons
    • Yoo Young-chul confused police
      • Grudge murder
      • Gangster related accident
      • With women, he was committing crimes against those with no money
      • Couldn’t find a connection because it wasn’t in their comfort zone
    • Traditional methods didn’t work
      • Even though the method of the crimes were the same they were in different areas and were not connected
        • Gave the criminal time to strike again
    • Police jurisdictions were treated as fiefdoms
      • No communication between districts, so treated as separate cases
        • We still see this a lot in the government, recently with COVID-19 rules, that entities don’t communicate with each other. They huddle.
      • Too slow in taking action to coordinate
        • When the two crime scenes showed the same footprints, the Seodaemun and Gangnam police met to talk about it but didn’t conclude anything
        • A month later was the Hyehwa-dong murder
          • Only then did they start thinking they were connected and started cooperating
            • And only when the actual Seoul Metro Police (and Seoul Provincial Police) coordinated it
          • First meeting had 20 members, including the chiefs of investigation in all the relevant stations
            • Held once a week at alternating stations
            • Each station shared what evidence they had, opinions, confirmed purchase history of shoes and other traces
            • Started going through files of people with violent criminal history and mental illness
        • This tendency to be slow to start but fast to do
          • By then, eight people had already been murdered
    • “Linkage Blindness”
      • Did not make a link with all the disappearing escort service workers
        • Assumed they were just cutting off contact and moving on
      • Yoo Young-chul arrested on theft
        • Assumed he was just a normal thief based on his record
    • Criticism that Korean police rely to heavily on confessions and not forensics
      • Ended up with little physical evidence for the prosecution
  • Biological causes?
    • Every single theory that has been proposed since the early 20th century linking criminality to genetics or inheritance has been debunked
    • Researchers have found that violent criminals have some differences in brain structure and function, specific neurotransmitter production, or sex hormone secretion
    • Most standout biological factor is if the mother smokes, does drugs, drinks, or has excessive stress during pregnancy
    • Poor serotonin production
    • THE REASON we’re bringing this up is that some Korean “experts” were trying to claim there were hereditary reasons for Yoo’s behavior
      • Nurture is stronger than nature
  • Psychological factors
    • Patterning of aggression
      • Intentional action to inflict physical or psychological harm on others
      • Aggression is more of a learned behavior
      • Serial killing is a pattern by definition
      • By observing the environment in which the murder occurred, better understand how the murder became aggressive
      • Stimulation of aggression in early stage
      • Pattern is formed and eventually no longer needs stimulus (a reason)
    • Criminal deviance
      • Behavior that violates the norms of society where one does what he wants
      • Anomie Theory – deviation as a violation of norms
        • Societies have common goals that people find desirable (comfort, respectable career)
        • Social goal is clear but means to achieving goal is not provided
          • Members break rules to achieve goal
      • Differential Association Theory – deviance as social regulation
        • learned through contact in close relationships
        • Just doing as one wants
    • Criminal character of a serial killer
      • Extremely deviant personalities
      • Overly affectionate or overly neglectful
        • When alienated from affection, finds another object to engage in acts of affection
        • May even kill the person they love
      • Paranoid stalker-like obsession
        • obsessed with the body after murder and even the weapon
      • They believe their behavior is the social norm
        • Eliminates guilt and fear
      • No compromise with their moral code
        • cold and calculating murders rather than crimes of passion
        • unspecified number of people
      • Overreact to stimuli from others
        • Tend to commit acts of imprisonment/kidnapping, beatings, assaults, and murder
    • Social causes
      • Suicide (inward) vs. Murder (outward) are both forms of aggression
        • In childhood
          • Physically punished lean towards murder
          • Psychologically punished lean towards suicide
            • NOTE: Korea’s high suicide rate
      • Power theory – Wealthy classes can express violence more “civilized” and non-aggressive
        • Lower classes can’t, so they express violence in other ways