Chung Ok-sook, mother of the late actress Choi Jin-sil, bursts into tears as she takes back Choi’s recovered ashes at the Yangpyeong Police Station, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. Police arrested a 41-year-old kitchen utensil installer Tuesday night in Daegu and the suspect confessed to the crime.
A 41-year-old man suspect was arrested for stealing an urn containing the ashes of the late actress Choi Jin-sil, police said Wednesday.
The Yangpyeong Police Station said the suspect, identified only as Park, was picked up at his home in Daegu around 11 p.m. Tuesday and then taken to a station in Gyeonggi Province.
"The suspect, a kitchen utensil installer, has confessed to the crime," said Woo Jae-jin, senior police officer in charge of the operation.
"We also found tools which he claimed to have used for the crime in his car."
Police secured her ashes, but the urn was broken when he was caught.
"The suspect stored the ashes in another container," the officer said. He said the suspect has no criminal record or history of mental illness.
On the reason for the theft, the officer quoted Park as saying, "Choi appeared in my dream one day and begged me to take her out of the urn and move her to a grave."
The National Scientific, Criminal and Investigation Laboratory will conduct a DNA test on the ashes to prove its authenticity.
Covering his face with a black jacket, the suspect in a black-and-white striped shirt arrived at the police station at 10:20 a.m. To reporters' questions, he repeatedly said, "I'm sorry."
The late actress's mother, Chung Ok-sook, who arrived at the station nearly one hour after the suspect, rushed to a room where the broken urn was on display and embraced it while sobbing. "I'm so sorry for not protecting you," she said. "I'm very happy to get back my daughter."
The arrest came 21 days after the urn went missing and two days after police placed a suspect on a wanted list based on surveillance camera footage of a man breaking her tomb and taking it away on Aug. 4. A citizen's tip played a decisive role, police said.
"A tipster reported to us that behavior style of the man shown in the footage was quite the same as a man the informer knows," another officer said. Police then carried out a low-key investigation into Park and reached a conclusion that they had found the correct suspect.
"We discovered Park's vehicle passed through a highway tollgate leading toward Choi's tomb on the day when the crime took place," the officer said. "A stone seller who the suspect met to buy a marble stone also confirmed Park was the same guy as the person in the images."
Police are widening their investigation to determine whether other people were involved.
Criminal psychologists have raised the possibility that the suspect is a necrophile, someone who feels sexual attraction to corpses.
Professor Lee Yung-hyeock at the National Police Academy said, "It's very likely" in a telephone interview with The Korea Times.
"It's too early to make a conclusion. But I believe he should be possessive and was assaulted by parents or abandoned during his childhood, resulting in substantially damaging his self-esteem. These are factors commonly witnessed among necrophiles," Lee said.
According to surveillance camera images, the suspect first visited Choi's tomb on Aug. 2 and, two days later, broke the tomb's lower part encircled with marble plates with a hammer, and took out the urn, at 3:45 a.m.
Choi, who enjoyed a 20-year acting career, committed suicide last October at her home in Seoul, allegedly from depression following rumors that she had lent money to the late actor Ahn Jae-hwan, who killed himself a month earlier in the face of snowballing debt.