AP 08/30 1242 Attic Deaths By PAUL SHIN Associated Press Writer YONGIN, South Korea (AP)

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

AP 08/30 1242 Attic Deaths By PAUL SHIN Associated Press Writer YONGIN, South Korea (AP) -- A cult leader called "Benevolent Mother" and 31 disciples took drugs and strangled each other in a murder-suicide pact after police began probing charges she swindled $8.7 million, police said Sunday. Park Soon-ja, her three adult children and the 28 other followers apparently swallowed poison or powerful drugs on Friday and let themselves be strangled with rope and cloth in the attic of the cult's factory, said police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said the last man left alive, factory manager Lee Kyung-soo, hanged himself. "It seems to be a murder-suicide case. It's really hard to believe," said one police officer. "This woman built an empire." Mrs. Park's husband, Lee Ki-jung, found the bodies Saturday. Police said then there were 33 dead, but said Sunday there were 32. They did not explain the discrepancy. The pajama-clad bodies were piled atop each other, many with rope or cloth cords tied around their necks and tissue paper stuffed in mouths and nostrils. Nearby were five red candles, drug bottles and rubber gloves. The dead included 28 women and four men, with the youngest victim a 17-year-old girl, police said. They said autopsies would be performed on some bodies. Sobbing relatives emerged from the building during the day after identifying victims and tried to comfort each other. One man said he had lost his wife and two daughters. Police surrounded the building, and National Police Director Kwon Bok-kyung visited the factory to oversee the investigation. Police said Mrs. Park, 48, and the followers hid in the attic after police began investigating allegations she swindled $8.7 million from about 220 followers. They said the woman and some followers disappeared Wednesday from the central city of Taejon, where she ran a charity, after learning police were seeking her for questioning. On Friday, police visited the factory in Yongin, 50 miles south of Seoul. Officials said they removed about 49 people, mainly children, but did not find Mrs. Park. Police said the cult forced some children to work in the factory, which produced ornate Korean chests, pottery and toys for sale to tourists. Mrs. Park was last seen alive early Friday by a maid who had been taking the group food in the factory attic, police said. The cult persuaded followers to give up all their possessions and give Mrs. Park their unquestioning devotion, police said. Mrs. Park, who claimed to act on the orders of God, taught that the world was corrupt and about to be destroyed. Followers lived and worked in the factory and other centers, isolating themselves from society, police said. Park Hyung-in, who feared her elder sister was among the dead, said the cult practiced an extreme and frenzied form of Christianity and called their enclosed community "paradise." She said the cult taught that members would go to heaven alive if they followed Mrs. Park's teachings. Police said Sunday up to 130 people may have lived and worked at the factory and they were searching for residents not yet accounted for. Mrs. Park was known as a leading businesswoman and philanthropist, police said. People impressed by her charity system for orphans and the homeless loaned her large sums of money on which they received interest, officers said. Police officials said they began investigating the cult after followers beat two people who tried to get their money back from Mrs. Park. Villagers who lived near the isolated factory in a wooded area at the foot of a mountain said they had virtually no contact with the cult members and little idea of what went on at the secretive facility.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank