CSI: Sewol

July 23, 2014

Can forensic scientists reveal exact cause of the ferry owner’s demise?

By Jung Min-ho

Police officers and medical staff move the body of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, into an ambulance at a funeral hall in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, Tuesday. Yoo's body was moved to a forensic sciences center in Seoul for an investigation into how he died. (Yonhap)

Police officers and medical staff move the body of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, into an ambulance at a funeral hall in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, Tuesday. Yoo’s body was moved to a forensic sciences center in Seoul for an investigation into how he died. (Yonhap)

Speculation and conspiracy theories are rife over the death of Yoo Byung-eun, the de-facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, as the discovery of his body has raised more questions than answers.

With the exact cause of his death being investigated, some people claim that he could have been murdered and his body abandoned. His decaying corpse was found by a farmer in a plum field near the vacation home in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, according to police.

The absence of Yoo’s wallet and his glasses at the site could support these allegations.

There is also a rumor that when found, his head was separated from his body.

According to an official from a funeral service company that carried and kept the body, part of the neck was “seriously damaged.”

Police denied this.

“We believe the head was separated from the body while carrying it on a stretcher because the corpse had already decayed too much,” an official from the National Police Agency (NPA) told reporters Tuesday.

The NPA did not rule out the possibility of foul play, but officers believe the more likely case is that he killed himself or died of “natural causes” because he was elderly and had symptoms of high blood pressure and diabetes.

At their first media briefing on Yoo’s death, police said there was “no trace found to believe that he was killed by somebody.”

The National Forensic Service (NFS) is currently looking into the cause of Yoo’s death. The agency will unveil the results of its examination as early as Thursday, police said.

The NFS said Tuesday that it has not yet found any traces of homicide.

Some analysts believe Yoo died of natural causes.

Pyo Chang-won, a former criminology professor at the National Police University, said “it is highly possible” that he died of hypothermia while sleeping on a mountain.

“It is very cold at night in the mountains,” he said. “It also explains why he was wearing a winter jumper.”

When police found the body it was clad in a winter jumper and a hat.

There are other questions about his death.

Empty bottles of makgeolli and soju were found next to him. But he “never drank,” according to members of the Evangelical Baptist Church, a religious cult Yoo and his father-in-law Kwon Sin-chan founded in 1962.

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