More than 20 years ago, 5 boys disappeared while searching for salamander eggs in Daegu. The boys, now known incorrectly as the frog boys, were last seen heading to an isolated, but popular stream in Dalseo on the western outskirts of Daegu. They were never seen alive again. The investigation yielded many theories but the killer or killers were never found. More than 3 decades later, the case of the frog boys still remains open & unsolved.
The frog boys was a nickname given to the 5 boys who disappeared from a village outside of Daegu on March 26, 1991. The boys: U Cheol-won, 13, Jo Ho-Yeon, 12, Kim Yeong-Gyu, 11, Park Chan-in, 10, and Kim Jong-Sik, 9, were mistakenly nicknamed the frog boys even though they were searching for salamander eggs in a stream near their homes when they vanished.
Life-long friends, the boys lived next door to one another their entire short lives. The boys were aged between 9 and 13. They were so close they had been nicknamed the 5 Musketeers by everyone who knew them.
However, that nickname would be replaced by a more notorious one. The frog boys nickname was just one of many dubious pieces of information that would be questioned for years to come.
However, the media was also responsible for elevating their disappearance. The media coverage caused a national media frenzy, prompting President Roh Tae-woo to order a massive manhunt by the police and military. This case is still considered one of South Korea’s most notorious missing person cases. It would take more than 11 years for two hikers to find them and their discovery created more questions than answers.
It was March 26, 1991, and South Korea was holding a national election. It was a federal election- the first one in 30 years that a pro-democratic election had been held in South Korea and everyone was distracted.
The boys, according to their fathers, were closer than brothers. They all lived in the same village. Their houses formed a circle, creating a courtyard where the boys would often play together.
The day they disappeared was no different than any other day. They told their parents that they were going out to play. A neighbor would later recall the detail that they were searching for salamander eggs. So it was assumed they were going to a stream on Mount Wayong, the only place suitable.
They set out about 9 am on the chilly spring morning. It wasn’t until around 1 pm that their parents began to worry. None of the boys showed up for their taekwondo lesson. It was getting late and none of them returned home. They never would.
Waryongsan or Waryong Mountain is one of many mountains in the Daegu area. It’s also the closest mountain to the village where the boys lived. In Korea, it’s not unusual for kids, even young ones, to play in the surrounding mountains and feel safe.
Unfortunately, the mountain was not safe for the five young boys that day. The stream they visited was near by an Army base and a shooting range— two things that may factor into what happened to the boys. Here is a map of the area in 1991.
Although most people agree that the boys had been killed on the mountain, there is some speculation based on soil samples that their bodies may have been moved. There is also some doubt they had been killed at the same time.
Once the boys’ families realized they were missing, they reported their concerns to the police. And this is where the missteps began.
The police did not take the disappearances seriously. We know this because the parents created flyers that indicated the boys were missing. However, the police redistributed the flyers, changing the description to runaways.
For three years, all five fathers quit their jobs and traveled the length of Korea, distributing flyers and gathering leads to find their missing children. They only returned to work because they amassed huge debts.
I was struck by one of the fathers who said they were followed by amateur detectives. Constantly being watched, they were unable to ever express joy in public for fear of public opinion.
Even though the news of the 5 young boys is disturbing, the media did not start covering the story until 5 days after the boys failed to return home.
We all know the news likes to sensationalize news stories, and this one was no different. Although, it seems they couldn’t be bothered to get the basic facts correct from the very beginning- hence “frog boys”. However, I suspect, the name “frog boys” is much more media savvy than “salamander egg” boys.
According to the Korea Joong Ang Daily, South Korea’s president at the time, President Roh Tae-woo, undertook a massive search, dispatching a police force of 300,000 and operating a special investigation center to look for the boys. They searched reservoirs, irrigation waterways, bus terminals, and stations nationwide.
Donations and tips poured in, but none of these efforts were successful in finding the missing boys.
In September 1996, the coverage caught the attention of Kim Ga-won, a Korean-American from the new field of criminal psychology, who one day declared Jong-Sik’s family to be guilty. He declared, with no evidence at all, that all five boys were buried under his house.
And that’s all it took for the police to get a huge excavator to dig up the foundation of his home. So it should come as no surprise that with the media, neighbors, and a throng of curious onlookers – no bodies were discovered. This probably set the field of criminal psychology back because he was run off-site and out of business.
The movie Come Back Frog Boys was made in 1992, but did not do well at the box office because the film had an unhappy ending.
There was also a song and book were also produced with similar results.
In 2019, Netflix produced a made-for-TV movie called “In search of the frog boys”. You can watch both parts on youtube by Clicking Here.
Then the 2011 film called The Children was a box office hit in Korea, grossing more than 9M USD. However, it received mixed reviews because the ending veered from the facts and was considered speculation.
On September 26, 2002, the remains of the boys were discovered near where they went looking for salamanders, with some showing signs of blunt-force trauma. The bodies were found tied together, their clothes partially removed. They had been found less than a mile from their homes.
The police continued to report there was no evidence of foul play and that they must have huddled together to stay warm. But that made no sense to everyone else. It was not that cold and the boys could have run home in 5 minutes.
In addition, after a thorough forensic exam, investigators discovered serious cranial damage to the heads of three boys. And, one boy was shot in the head. Searchers found unspent bullets at the scene, knotted in their clothing.
Other theories included a serial killer or psychopath, bullies from their school, a North Korean sympathizer, and aliens. Ultimately, the most conceivable theory was that someone from the Korean military base, whether accidentally or on purpose, murdered the children.
You’ll recall the boys were playing on the mountain near a military base. It was 1991 and the government was not a democracy like it is today. They were holding the first pro-democratic elections in 30 years that would soon replace an autocratic government.
The popular and overriding sentiment was that the military was involved. It was a public holiday, so most of the base was empty. Only officers remained and were able to use the shooting range. One of the most persistent theories was that one of the boys had been unintentionally shot. The other four friends were murdered to conceal the accident.
Investigators claimed the bullets and empty cartridges buried with the boys were Army-issue. They insisted that the boys picked them up on the trail. However, this made no sense. Many of the bullets were buried inside the knots tied around the children and not in their pockets. Not to mention, one was in a child’s head.
The charges went unanswered because no one from that military base was ever interviewed or investigated.
Unfortunately, no one, except the killer or killers, knows what led to the deaths of the frog boys. There were more questions than answers after the boys were found. However, it was clear, the boys had not run away or died of hypothermia as the police suggested.
Despite various theories, the police failed to solve the murders, and the killer or killers that took the lives of five young, innocent boys remains unpunished.
The statute of limitations for 1st decree murder initially expired in 2006 and was extended in 2015 in the hopes the perpetrators would one day be brought to justice. For now, the Frog Boys mystery remains one of the most infamous cold cases in South Korean criminal history.
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