Disclaimer: Zach and Willy were planning on talking about the Frog Boys in an episode of MysteriYES and by no means did they ask me to guest and talk about it because of my ethnicity. Me being Korean-American does not make me an expert or give me extra insight; I know as much as the internet has told me.
On March 26, 1991, five boys (U Cheol-won (aged 13) Jo Ho-yeon (aged 12) Kim Yeong-gyu (aged 11) Park Chan-in (aged 10) Kim Jong-sik (aged 9)) between the ages of 9-13 were exploring a mountain near where they lived (Daegu, South Korea) to search for frogs. Growing up in that area, they were very familiar with the mountain that they were exploring (Mount Waryong) and it was fairly typical for kids in that area to be out all day playing.
Nothing was too significant about that day other than the fact that it was a national holiday because of the 1991 local elections, so people didn’t have work and kids didn’t have school. It being the early 1990s and seeing as their town was surrounded by mountains, it is not much of a surprise that they took advantage of the holiday to go on an outdoor adventure to capture frogs or salamanders.
Later that day, the parents reported the boys missing after they didn’t come home and a large-scale search quickly erupted. What started out with just townspeople and local police became a nation-wide search as over 300,000 policemen were ordered by President Roh Tae-woo to search for the boys but millions of flyers were distributed as well. A reward of 42 million won ($35,000) was accumulated by donations from companies, groups and individuals and was offered to whoever could locate the boys. Along with that, a local elementary school started a “Find the Frog Children Campaign” and milk cartons started to have photographs with the boys pictured on them.
Despite a practically nation-wide search and Waryong Mountain being searched over 500 times, there was no luck for years in finding any trace of the boys. There were over 550 false leads reported to authorities but most of them lead nowhere.
One day, however, the police received a call. A man claimed that he had abducted the Frog Boys. He said that they were malnourished and in danger of dying and demanded a ransom in exchange for the boys. And while this explanation seemed like an answer to the mystery, after further investigation it was found that the man was lying about abducting the children. There is not a lot a great amount of detail about this man and why he lied about this. I can’t imagine wanting to a) take responsibility for such a crime and b) getting the parents’ hopes up of having their children returned. I don’t know what could have been gained from this false lead but if anything, it makes the case that much more frustrating.
During the investigation, many theories arose as people searched for the answers. Kidnappings by various groups including both North Korea and South Korean “authorities” were not out of the questions. Some people didn’t write off the chance of an alien abduction, and some even went as far to accuse the parents of killing and burying their sons. This may be one of the more absurd explanations for the case, but the movie Children… (2011) explores this theory more as the film is based off of the missing Frog Boys.
Over eleven years after the initial disappearance of the Frog Boys, they were finally found. On September 26th, 2002, a man in the foothills of Waryong Mountain searching for acorns came across shoes and clothing. He called the police via an anonymous phone call and upon searching the area, the five Frog Boys were found dead in a shallow pit. The bodies were lying in a gully and eventually water exposed their remains.
The initial investigation lead to the police coming forth with the statement that the boys had died of hypothermia. The day they went missing was cold and rainy, and when the bodies were found, they were closely huddled together, possibly for warmth. The police ruled out a possibility of the homicide, despite the holes found in the boys’ skulls.
Given that the mountain was searched multiple times, the boys were familiar with the mountain and surrounding area, and there bodies were approximately two kilometers away from home, the parents’ of the Frog Boys refused to believe this and demanded a more in-depth investigation. Upon this “proper investigation” it was found that the police and investigation team did not handle the case properly at all and evidence was damaged in the process.
Shell casings were found nearby and the boys were tied together. All of the boys had some sort of damage to their skull, whether it was a bullet-hole or marks indicating blunt-force trauma. “We found marks on three of the five skulls that appeared to be created by blows with metal objects, possibly a tool of some kind,” a forensic medicine team from Kyungpook National University said. After six weeks of investigation to determine causes of death, it was “tentatively concluded that the boys were murdered.”
The police believed that the murder was not premeditated and that there were no motive for anyone to kill the boys. Because of the way the boys were killed, the police believe that it might have been an act of rage. Moss growing inside the skulls lead investigators to believe that they had been hastily buried. Some theories point at individuals with dysfunctional personalities or possibly bullies. Others say that maybe the shooting was an accident and the rest of the deaths were an attempt to cover up the original mistake. Because of the terrain, police believe that the murder was planned or the perpetrator had time to go back down the mountain to get tools to buy them because the terrain is generally rock hard, even during wet weather.
After the boys’ autopsy in 2002, no further developments took place and finally on March 25, 2004 the bodies were buried, however, their skulls were donated to Gyeongbuk University for medical research. In 2006 investigation was stopped and if the murder was found, they cannot be prosecuted for the crime because of South Korea’s 15 year statute of limitations on murder. Many murder/missing persons cases are solved years after the incident, and being without an explanation of their deaths, one could imagine the frustration this might’ve incited. It wasn’t until July of 2015 that this statute was removed, so there is a possibility of finding out the truth and the families receiving justice, but I’d imagine the nine year period sans formal investigation makes that increasingly difficult.
While I’m not familiar with Korea’s political climate during the 1990s, one theory that I have that wasn’t really mentioned in any articles is that maybe politics played a role in this murder. It could be that the parents’ political views conflicted with an individual or individuals and they went as far to attack and murder their kids. It probably wasn’t that extreme, and honestly that might be a theory of mine given the current political climate in the U.S. because other than the fact that it was a national holiday, the fact that that it was election day did not surface in any theories or explanations.
I personally don’t believe it was bullies. Maybe I have too much faith in humanity, but I also just don’t think that 9-13 year olds would be capable of shooting and beating and burying five children. Maybe it was an accident and maybe it was a murder. I’m leaning towards it being a murder done by one or more disgusting individuals, for God knows what reason. The most bizarre pieces of the mystery are the facts that the mountain was searched literally hundred of times and the bodies weren’t found until an anonymous phone call claimed to have come across clothing. Especially considering they were in a wet area of the mountain, I have a hard time believing that the bodies were there the entire investigation. Maybe the anonymous caller was the “accidental murder” and felt guilty and wanted the parents to know that they were dead.
Honestly, I cannot even begin to imagine the reason to murder and hide not one but five young children. It is sick and tragic and devastating and I can’t imagine being a parent of the child and not thinking about it everyday for the rest of my life. Not only were these children’s lives taken from them, but ruined the lives of the families.