Was Park Soon-Ja’s Death A Case Of Mass Suicide? Or There Was Another Conspiracy Behind It?


People do a lot of weird stuff in the name of religion, and it amuses us to see the smartest people fall prey to it. Somehow, they misconstrue the actual meaning of faith and get blinded by it, so much so that they bring their own doom. The death of Park Soon-ja, the CEO of Five Oceans Company, along with 31 other employees, left the entire nation shocked. People didn’t know why all of a sudden, 32 people decided to commit suicide when everything was going so well for them on the professional as well as personal front. Five Oceans started as a craft company where they made all sorts of furniture and did exemplary work in their field. Apart from their excellent craftsmanship, Park Soon-ja, and her company were also known for doing a lot of charitable work. Soon-ja always maintained that materialistic things didn’t attract her, much like the other crooked personalities we witnessed in the Netflix series “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal,” and she said that she didn’t believe in concepts like multiplying wealth and investing in stocks. She was a simple lady who spent whatever she earned on underprivileged members of society, who didn’t have the means or resources to procure basic necessities for themselves. 

Park Soon-ja was sometimes referred to as “the mother of orphans,” as she had a lot of kids living in her compound together with the other employees. To the outside world, it felt like she was running an orphanage, which probably had the best amenities in the entire country. The children looked happy, and a lot of times, people from the press recorded them to highlight the efforts taken by a good samaritan to make this world a better place to live in. Soon-ja also ran a trading company where she took money from people and returned it to them at an exceptionally high rate of interest as compared to the market. A lot of her employees were also her creditors because, firstly, it felt like a safe place to invest money, and secondly, who would say no if they got 40 percent interest rate? It all felt too good to be true, but then, that is how selfless people perceived Park Soon-ja to be.

It is said that one can pretend to live a lie, but the reality comes out sooner or later, which is something we noticed in every story shown in the series “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal.” Soon-ja was not returning her creditors money, leave alone paying the interest, and there had been complaints of her employees beating up people when they were asked to do the same. Also, another revelation that was made was that those kids were not orphans but the children of people who worked there. It was like a daycare where parents left their kids before going to work, and weirdly Soon-ja told every child to not address their parents as father or mother. Moreover, Soon-Ja was a conniving individual who knew how to deal with situations when the odds were not in her favor. Once, when she and her employees, many of whom were her family members, were called for an interrogation, she fainted in the police station, and it looked like she was faking it. With all the suspicion around her, the police officials and the people couldn’t negate foul play when they found her body with 31 others in the factory attic.

Was Park Soon-Ja’s Death A Case Of Mass Suicide?

On August 29th, 1987, Lee Sam-jee, the senior superintendent of police who was in charge of the Park Soon-ja case, reached the location before anybody else, and what he witnessed shocked him beyond any measure. There were 19 bodies stacked one over the other in a claustrophobic attic, and another 12 bodies lay on the other side. There was one man who had hanged himself in the middle. He was the manager of the factory, which was located at Samin-Dong in the Gyeonggi region. Once the police started investigating, and the bodies were sent for forensic examination, many anomalies became visible, and they knew that things were very different from what they seemed to be. Firstly, there were marks on Soon-ja’s body that led the experts to believe that she had not committed suicide but rather, had been killed by someone. The people had cotton stuffed in their noses and mouths, and the coroner’s first thought was that some chemicals would have been used by them, but in the autopsy, nothing of that sort was discovered.

It came to be known that most of them had died by strangulation, and probably only the manager had hanged himself. There were 28 women among those 32 people, and in the vaginal examination of their bodies, semen was found, signaling the possibility that they had indulged in sexual acts voluntarily before dying or were probably abused by the four males. But then again, it seemed improbable for four males to sexually assault so many women. The possibility of the involvement of a third party was also not completely denied. The chairman of a special committee that was made to investigate corrupt practices, Kim Hyeon, said that it was a case of mass murder and that somebody had killed those 32 people and put the bodies in the attic. In the autopsy report, it came out that Park Soon-ja was hit on the head by a hammer-like object, which further complicated the case. 

Lee Gyeong-su, the manager of the factory, who was the only person found kneeling down with a rope around his neck, also had marks on the back of his neck. The experts one that these marks appear only when a person is strangled, not when they hang themselves. It was earlier speculated that he might have killed Park Soon-ja and others first and then hanged himself, but according to Kim Hyeon, he couldn’t have killed 30 or so people in the time span they were staying in the attic. After the discovery of the mark, this theory was also nullified. Lee Sam-jee, the senior superintendent of police, found loopholes in the theory that Kim was proposing, as, according to him, it was not possible to kill all those people somewhere else, transfer the bodies to the factory without anybody knowing, and then put them all in the attic. Sam-jee believed that the 32 people were staying in the attic to begin with, because of the way they had stacked up food there.

Park Soon-ja’s Five Ocean company also served as a front for her religious cult, of which she was believed to be a leader. She was also heard saying that she had been cured of cancer due to some divine intervention, and her followers considered her to be a god-like being. The prosecutors and police officers were of the opinion that their mass suicide was part of a ritual that was meant to help them attain salvation, but again, there was no corroborating evidence to prove it, and it remained just a theory. The prosecutors came to the conclusion that because Park Soon-ja’s company was under a huge debt of approximately 11 billion won, she had committed suicide, and the others had followed her because they spiritually looked up to her.

After going through the details and searching for missing links, the investigators came across some real evidence. They found out that Five Oceans was sort of a subsidiary of another trading firm called Samwoo. The Yoo Byeong-un, the CEO of Samwoo, was also the leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church of South Korea. He had started the business to raise money, as offerings were often insufficient for his opulent lifestyle. After realizing that his company was not making profits, he established many fronts in different areas, which borrowed money on his behalf. Park Soon-ja was in charge of the Daejeon area, and though she provided him with the funds, it was not done directly. A woman named Song Jae-Hwa acted as an intermediary, and when the time came, Byeong-un conveniently pinned the entire blame on her. Park Soon-ja had asked Byeong-un for help when she was in debt, but he had refused to give her money as he said that Samwoo was also suffering. Byeong-un was prosecuted for committing financial fraud and awarded a four-year sentence. Sometime later, he found himself amidst another controversial ferry disaster, soon after which he died under mysterious circumstances. The police found his body, though it couldn’t be ascertained who had killed him.

All the characters we were made privy to in this particular episode of “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal,” who were either working for or with Park Soon-ja, or were related to her were all obnoxious in nature. Had Park Soon-ja committed suicide alone, it would have been easy to believe that she did it because of the huge debt she had incurred, but because there were also 31 others who were found dead, it raises doubts. These self-proclaimed messengers of god are delusional beings with twisted inclinations, and it could be that they killed themselves in order to attain salvation. The involvement of third parties could also not be denied because the kind of people they were dealing with were not exactly law-abiding citizens. The court and the prosecutors might have formed their own judgments and opinions, but the truth remains that nobody knows what exactly happened on that fateful day in that attic, and it still remains a mystery for the entire nation. 

See More: ‘In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal’ Explained: Who Are Jeong Myeong, Park Soon-Ja, Kim Ki-Soon & Lee Jae-Rok?

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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