Park Chorong-Chorong-Bitnari is an eight-year-old girl whose name means “I will shine brightly.” Called Nari for short, she was kidnapped and murdered by Jeon Hyeon Joo, a lone pregnant woman in her third-trimester pregnancy.
On August 30, 1997, Nari’s mother started to worry when Nari failed to come home after her English class. She called Nari’s teacher and classmates, and one of them said she saw Nari leave school with a woman. Alarmed because there wasn’t anyone scheduled to pick up Nari, her mother called the police immediately. The police from Seocho Police Station in Seoul equipped Nari’s home phone with a recorder and source tracking device in case Nari’s abductor called to ask for a ransom.
By 6:00 in the evening, three hours after Nari was discovered missing, Nari’s mother answered a phone call and spoke to someone with a young woman’s voice. The woman said, “Is this Nari’s house? Nari is fine.” Nari’s mother requested to talk to her daughter, but the call was disconnected. Due to the short call length, the police, unfortunately, could not trace it.
At 3:52 in the afternoon the next day, the abductor called again, saying, “I’m taking care of Nari. Prepare ₩20.0 million KRW (about $14,000 USD) and come out to the 8th floor of the building in front of the Namdaemun exit of Myeongdong subway station.” This time the caller tracker identified the location, a public phone in Myeongdong, Jung-gu, Seoul. However, when the detectives reached the scene, the caller was gone.
At 9:00 in the evening, the phone rang again, traced to a cafe in Myeongdong. The detectives begged Nari-‘s mother to “get as much time as possible on the phone.” The detectives got to the cafe in nine minutes and sealed off the surrounding area to start checking on each of the thirteen customers inside the cafe.
One of the customers was a pregnant woman who said her baby was kicking and needed to go to the hospital urgently. The police then just took her fingerprints and released the pregnant woman, not knowing that she was the culprit of the crime. No more phone calls from the abductor were received after that.
On September 3, 1997, the whole nation learned about Nari’s kidnapping after her parents allowed the investigation to be made public. The police received a call on September 11 from a man who said his pregnant daughter Jeon Hyeon Joo was missing and started to wonder if his daughter might be a suspect in Nari’s case. Jeon’s parents were summoned to the police station and confirmed it was their daughter’s voice in the recording of the ransom call. The forensics team also recovered her fingerprints from the receiver of the Myeongdong phone booth.
They finally traced Jeon hiding in a motel in Sillim-dong, Seoul. The police found Nara’s naked body hidden in a hiking bag in a basement in Sadang, a storage unit once used by Jeon’s husband.
Jeon Hyeon Joo looked like an ordinary housewife, but her peers identified her as a chronic liar and frivolous spender. In 1997, she amassed ₩50.0 million KRW (about $35,000 USD) in debt, her car was repossessed, and she was forced to move.
She said she chose Nari because the child was pretty, and her stylish clothes made Jeon conclude she was from a wealthy family. On August 30, 1997, she lured Nari by saying “Let’s go to a fun place,” and took her to the Sadang basement; duct taped her hands, feet, and face. After her first call, Jeon fed Nari sedatives because the child kept crying from hunger and exhaustion, and later strangled her to death. Seo Joong Seok, then head of the National Forensic Service, was in charge of the autopsy and estimated Nari’s death to be around six hours after she was kidnapped.
Jeon kept changing her story. Initially, she confessed to the murder, stating that she was the sole perpetrator. Afterward, she said she was forced to commit the crime and three others were involved: a woman and two men. Then it became five accomplices.
A psychiatrist on the witness stand questioned Jeon’s credibility, saying she had a histrionic personality disorder, a psychiatric disorder that shows a pattern of exaggerated emotionality and attention-seeking behaviors. Due to her unreliable testimony, lack of evidence, and low ransom, the police concluded that she murdered Nari on her own.
The prosecution demanded the death penalty for Jeon to be carried out after the birth of her child. But with consideration that she was a first-time offender, her sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.
Nari’s remains were cremated, and her ashes were spread on Daechon Beach, where she and her parents spent their last summer vacation together.
As for Jeon, she gave birth to a daughter on October 15th, 1997. Her husband had the baby adopted while Jeon continues to serve her life sentence to this day.
The 2016 K-Drama Signal based its first case presented in the series on Nari Park’s tragic story.