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Breakthrough in 1992 Korean-American cold case: suspect identified after 32 years

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The cold case of Bo Im Ko, who was tragically murdered at age 56 in 1992, shocking Southern California’s Korean-American community, has found new momentum after 32 years.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office (SDCDA) recently identified a Korean-American man, Dong Ho Won, as a prime suspect, thanks to advancements in fingerprint analysis technology. These developments have reignited hopes of solving this long-standing mystery.

[ Decades-old mystery: Ko vanished after bank withdrawal, found murdered 2 days later ]

On March 26, 1992, Bo Im Ko was last seen withdrawing cash from First Global Bank on Artesia Boulevard in Cerritos around 9:30 AM. Ko, who owned a donut shop and a check-cashing business in Gardena, mysteriously vanished along with her 1978 Oldsmobile vehicle.

Bo Im Ko (left), Dong Ho Won

Two days later, her body was discovered inside her car in San Diego shopping mall parking lot, approximately 120 miles from Gardena.

She had been shot three times in the head. Her body was found in a kneeling position on the passenger seat, with her hands and feet bound. Her torso leaned against the seat, and her head was lowered beneath the passenger side. Her body was covered with Korean newspapers.

This discovery sent shockwaves through both the Korean-American communities in Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as the mainstream society.

Despite a substantial reward of $100,000 offered at the time, the killer remained at large, leaving the case unsolved. The incident had eventually faded from public memory until recent forensic techniques brought it to light once again.

Fingerprint evidence collected from Ko’s car matched Dong Ho Won, and bullets found at the scene were linked to a Sundance A-25 handgun that Won possessed, raising the possibility of him being a suspect.

Although forensic science has pinpointed a suspect, investigation is not proceeding further due to Won’s death in 2003 from illness in Michigan. Adding a twist, the SDCDA disclosed that the motive for Ko’s murder might not have been robbery as previously suspected.

Initially, a trio of Hispanic robbers were suspected, but police reports cited by the SDCDA revealed that $51,334 in cash was left untouched in Ko’s socks ($9,815), wallet, and trunk, challenging the robbery theory.


The Korea Daily’s front page on March 30, 1992, covering Ko’s murder case [JOONGANG PHOTO]

Authorities are now re-examining the case with new clues but have yet to establish a direct link between Ko and Won. They are also exploring the possibility of a contract killing driven by personal vendetta or a crime of passion, focusing on Ko’s acquaintances at the time of her death.

BY JUNGWON SEO, SUAH JANG [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]