The South Korean Ferry Story Has Gotten Very, Very Weird

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 24 2014 10:49 AM

The South Korean Ferry Story Has Gotten Very, Very Weird

rtr3pl5k
A May rally mourning Sewol victims in Seoul.

Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

The case of the South Korean Sewol ferry disaster has faded from headlines of late, but not for a lack of strange, unsettling developments. To summarize, here's what we knew about the case before this week:

  • The Sewol sank in April, killing a presumed 304 people, though not every presumed victim's body has been recovered.
  • Investigators came to believe that the operators of the ferry contributed to the disaster by overloading the ship and failing to properly train its crew.
  • The question of who actually owned the ferry was itself a complicated one, and prosecutors eventually targeted Yoo Byung-eun, a 73-year-old billionaire and a founder of the controversial Evangelical Baptist Church.
  • In the 1980s, 32 members of an offshoot of the Evangelical Baptist Church committed mass suicide, and the investigation ultimately led to Yoo's conviction for fraud. He spent four years in prison.
  • Rather than turn himself in over the Sewol case, Yoo became a fugitive. When the police raided an Evangelical Baptist Church compound to look for information on his whereabouts, literally thousands of officers were involved.
  • Yoo's church owns the website God.com.
Advertisement

Imagine if Bernard Madoff founded the Branch Davidians and became a fugitive like O.J. Simpson after perpetrating the Challenger disaster, and you have something like an American analogy for what was going on in South Korea.

And that's where we were until news broke Monday that police had found Yoo's body. The emerging details have only made the situation stranger.

  • Yoo's body was actually found on June 12, decomposing, but was not immediately identified. The individual who discovered it thought he had found a deceased homeless person.
  • Yoo had reportedly been hiding behind the wall of a nearby cabin when police searched it on May 25.
  • The body was found in an apricot orchard (or, per some reports, a plum orchard).
  • Beside the body, according to reports: several bottles of alcohol, a shark-liver-oil product, and an extra shirt.
  • And a book called Greater Love Has No One Than This, apparently a reference to a Gospel verse about sacrificing one's life, that Yoo wrote in prison. (Or maybe it was called Dreamlike Love.)
  • And a magnifying glass.

So one of the richest men in South Korea—the proprietor of God.com—was found, after a shocking disaster and a massive manhunt, lying dead in an orchard near a book about love and a magnifying glass. (Or not—some, including the Evangelical Baptist Church, per the Economist, don't believe the body was Yoo's.)

What began as a tragedy has, while becoming no less tragic, turned into something out of a surreal, dread-permeated work of science fiction.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 9:19 AM Alibaba’s Founder on Why His Company Is Killing It in China
  Life
Outward
Oct. 2 2014 9:58 AM No Word Yet From the Supreme Court on Gay Marriage 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:04 AM Wearing the Button-Down Shirt of the Boy You Once Loved
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?