An innocent man has been jailed for murder. It took 30 years to find the real serial killer

HWASEONG, SOUTH KOREA: There is a story behind which Yoon Sung-Yeo hangs two clocks in his home. A story spanning 30 years, in fact, of the incredible miscarriage of justice against a man.

Time stood still when he was arrested and thrown in jail in 1989 for a murder he did not commit. He was then 22 years old.

“If you were found with a clock in jail, you would be punished,” he said. “For 20 years, I haven’t seen a clock. That’s why now I have two clocks.

Hwaseong, a rural area just south of Seoul, had been rocked by a string of murders since 1986. The victims, all women, ranged in their teens to 70 years. All were sexually assaulted and strangled in their own clothes – clothes such as stockings and underwear – in what has become the killer’s signature.

Then, in September 1988, teenager Park Sang-hee was murdered. Unlike previous cases where the victims were killed outside, the 14-year-old student was found in her bed, sexually assaulted and strangled in her own clothes.

The killer had grown more brazen, entering a victim’s home for the first time. The case, which sent shockwaves across the country, was the eighth in two years.

Under pressure to move the investigations forward, the police had nothing conclusive to link Yoon to the crime.

Yet after a three-day interrogation where he was deprived of sleep and assaulted, Yoon confessed. When he was sentenced to life imprisonment, no one believed he was innocent, he recalls. A shadow continued to hang over him even after his parole in 2009.

It wasn’t until a decade later, in 2019, that an incredible breakthrough led him out of court as a truly free man, innocent in the eyes of the world.

CNA’s two-part special, Catching a Killer: The Hwaseong Murders, chronicles the mistakes that deprived him of his freedom. (Watch the episodes here and here.)

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