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