Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Newspaper accounts of the 1998 murder of a foreign teacher

Almost two years ago I posted some information I'd found online about the murder of a foreign teacher in Suncheon in 1998. I managed to find two references to his death in contemporary newspapers.

On page 6 of the September 26, 1998 edition of the Korea Herald, the following letter was published in the 'Letters to the Editor' section:
Hate Crime?
To the editor:
On Sept. 7, 1998, a Korean man walked into Sunchon Boys High School and asked if there was an American teacher employed there. Upon locating the American teacher, the man engaged him in a brief conversation, then proceeded to stab him in the back as he was walking away, going down the stairs from the second floor. The victim, Scott James Kennedy, 33, from North Dakota, died upon arrival at a hospital in Sunchon.

When interrogated, the attacker said that he murdered Scott because he didn't want Americans here teaching Korean children. It was also noted that he said foreigners should not be allowed to hold jobs here while many Koreans are unemployed. It should be noted that Scott's murderer had a history of mental instability and was institutionalized in the past.

Although Scott's murderer has a history of being mentally unbalanced, I believe that labeling him a "freak," "psycho" or "lunatic" would be an attempt to comfort and protect ourselves from the horrific crime.

Is this yet another repercussion of the economic crisis sweeping through Korea?

I do believe that most Koreans welcome foreigners here and encourage the teaching of their children by foreigners. If resentment is felt toward foreigners here, let us pray that it is not as deep rooted as it was in the case of Scott Kennedy's murder.

Elizabeth Gunther,
On September 12, 1998, the Grand Forks Herald published the following obituary on page 3:
Scott Kennedy, 33, Bismarck, formerly of Grand Forks, died Sept. 7, 1998, in Korea. Scott James Kennedy was born March 14, 1965, the son of James and Patricia Kennedy, in Crystal, N.D. He moved with his family to Bismarck in July 1966, where he attended and graduated from high school. He graduated from UND, with a degree in aviation administration. He worked in the airline industry until March of 1996. He moved to Sunch'on, South Korea, where he was teaching conversational English in Sunch'on High School.He is survived by his parents, Bismarck; sisters, Molly Kennedy, Bismarck, and Kim (Paul) Soderholm, Fargo; and a grandmother, Eileen Kennedy, Bismarck. Services: 3 p.m. Tuesday in Lutheran Church of the Cross, Bismarck.
As I mentioned previously, a search on KINDS turned up nothing about his death in Korean-language newspapers; nor were there news reports about it in the Korea Times or Korea Herald.


bdh said...

Interesting...a few things that came to mind as I read your article (and for the first of a 100 disclaimers, I don't remember any of it all that well and may be conflating multiple stories- best I can do)...

There were a rash of killings, suspicious deaths, and shootings in the years 1995 to 1997. I was here and had a lot of friends (Korean and foreign) who would try to keep me up to date on that sort of thing. It was somewhat of a hobbhy of mine and there were about 10-15 in total. I remember the three below as being three of the more interesting stories. Of the three below, at least one was part of that EPIK program. I can't remember which one, but I am sure one of them was.


bdh said...

1-the murder you are talking about happened at a school where a girl I went to university with was teaching. She was a good friend and had been in Korea for only a few months when it haoppened. According to her, she didn't find out about the stabbing until after school was over (though she doesn't think it was some sort of conspiracy at all, just happen-stance)
2-one of the more interesting suspicious deaths (and there were a few in this category) was involving some guy from Pusan (if I remember correctly). In short, he had (again, my memory is a bit foggy on all this) some sort of blow-up with his hagwon and they had taken/stolen his passport. he made his way up to Seoul to formally meet and complain with the US embassy people. They had a record of a few of his calls - this was reported in the newspaper if I remember correctly. Anyway, jumping forward, he was found dead at some construction site outside Seoul. The police, it was reported, had shown up (no one found out how they knew) and heard his least breath which was something like, "I was climbing the tower to look at the night time landscape of Seoul and I slipped and fell." I think the time was set somewhere in the late night early morning. Of course, the ex-pats that heard the story had 1000s of questions about such a ridiculous story. Remember, setting aside al other questions, that in 1996-97ish time not too many police spoke English well enough to hear and understand the last breaths of an ex-pat in the middle of the night. The story ran in only one Korean newspaper if I remember correctly. It was the Korean version of the Chosen Ilbo. For some reason page 15 stands out in my head (or 13). I can vividly see the article. Short and about 5 inches long near the crease of the paper (odd how I remember that). I remember my gf at the time translating the hard parts (she was the one who found it in the first place).
3-(my fav.) There was an American who ended up getting shot in the leg by the Korean police while he was in his own house. This was a fantastic story that had a lot of twists and turns. He had a web site that detailed everything. It was taken down sometime after 2001. He had scans of his correspondance with govt. officials (senators/congressmen) State-side. The long and short of it was that there was some sort of party above his place and he had stumbled back to his place and cut himself leaving some blood on his door. The police came to his place by accident in the early morning mistaken his address for the party). They saw the blood and after arguing with him to open the door one officer shot through the door. He was hit in the leg and needed surgery. The surgery was needed urgently. It cost 10 000 dollars. His parents were contacted but couldn't get the money there right away. The hospital waited. Police wouldn't pay and his insurance (yes, he was legally in Korea) wouldn't pay because (another interesting twist), by law, any action by state authorities that led to an injury was not covered and had to be sorted out in court instead. The police later apologized and admitted the mistakes (documents were on his site). He still didn't get money from them (though he did end up getting the surgery once his parents - I think - had sent the money). His site was quite full of information and his story was published in a couple of papers in the States. I tried to find it but had no luck. I remember, though not so well, that it was a couple papers in Sj and Denver. He went to school near one and the other paper was from his hometown area.

bdh said...

finally...apologies for the poor gaammar ans editing. I am on the road and using a new netbook with a keyboard made for stick-people's hands.

I posted because I am hoping someone might have mroe details on any of the three incidents.

BTW- the third one, from what I knew, never appeared in the Korean newspapers - making a total of 1 small article in one Korean language newspaper for the three incidents.

matt said...

Thanks for the comments - I hadn't realized the shooting story had been documented on a website. The 2nd story is discussed here, and the shooting story was featured in this post - I'll post what's there just to keep this all together. I probably have the full article at home.

The Korea Times reported on January 11, 1997:

A patrolman shot an American English tutor who was allegedly resisting him after stabbing one of his American colleagues while intoxicated early yesterday morning in [Seongnam]. [The teacher, who teaches] English at Pagoda Junior Institute, was shot in the left thigh and has been treated at Songnam Hospital. He is suspected of stabbing one of his fellow English instructors (24), three times in the face during a quarrel that arose while they were drinking together at his house. [...] Rossi's Korean fiance said he was "unarmed" when the policeman fired at him. [...] A police officer said that the patrolman repeatedly ordered Rossi to stop, but he continued to resist and would not put down his knife, and the cop shot him after firing two blank shots.

The victim's version of the story appears in the comments to the post:

The way he told it, he was celebrating the end of his contract at his friend's apartment down the hall from his room. He had a ticket booked to leave the next day. They got pretty drunk. He figured someone called the cops because of the noise (they had been talking really loudly in English). At one point in the evening, as people had left and they both were tidying up the room, he said his friend tripped and landed arms first in the glass of the sliding door, breaking it and cutting himself. He claimed it wasn't too serious, just a few minor cuts, so his friend cleaned himself up with a towel, threw on the floor, and went to bed. The teacher was supposedly sweeping the floor when a cop got there. He said the cop saw the Korean passed out from drinking so much, saw the bloodied towel, the white guy, and put 2 and 2 together and came up with five. The cop pulled out his gun and aimed it at the teacher who claimed he quickly raised his hands and shouted 'Chingu, chingu!'. The cop shot two or three times, hitting him in the leg. He claimed he was denied treatment at the hospital because the insurance wouldn't cover injuries incurred during an arrest. I supposedly took a day or two before he could come up with the money. By then, it was too late. He had apparently developed nerve damage, which he claimed was caused by the delay in treatment.

bdh said...

matt said...
Thanks for the comments - I hadn't realized the shooting story had been documented on a website.


Thanks for the links! Sorry I missed them. Some more holes filled in my memory of the crane/death/possible murder episode by you and a few post-ers.

In spite of my best google foot forward I am a bit disappointed that I cannot seem to find any more news on the guy who was shot in the leg. I suspect he (Rossi?) made some sort of deal and agreed to shutdown his site. That site and its well detailed story was a great example of how the Koreans (would) hide information and the stunts they (would) pull to stifle the story. It also gave us a small window to look into -- to see just how little the U.S. officials wanted to get involved (read: didn't want to).

Anyway, great stuff, thanks...

Anonymous said...

I read that letter when it was published and felt disgusted that the murder of a foreigner by a Korean didn't even get one cm of column space in any of the papers. It was my perception at the time that crimes committed against USFK personnel were the only ones given cursory coverage to provide 'balance' to the Stars and Stripes. The appearance of the K-blogs and posts on the death of Stephanie White's son, for example, have expanded the need for the Korean media to counter claims made by foreign voices. Selective Korean media coverage of crimes against foreigners give truth to the saying "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

scott said...

I remember a story about a US female soldier who went missing back around 1994. She took a taxi home alone from a bar (maybe around Daegu?)and was never seen again. I'm not sure if they ever found her.
A lot of people believed it to be a retaliation killing for the murder of a Korean prostitute by a US army soldier.

I forgot all about the guy who got shot through the door!