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Sunday, July 21, 2024

San Diego DA investigator reignites hope in long-standing Bo Im Ko’s murder case

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Anthony Johnson, a seasoned investigator with 44 years of experience at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, has spent over two decades specializing in cold cases. Recently, he made significant progress in the decades-old murder case of Bo Im Ko, reopening it after identifying a suspect through fingerprint reanalysis.

Two months ago, Johnson’s reexamination of fingerprints led to the identification of the suspect in the Bo Im Ko’s murder case. Despite the suspect being deceased, Johnson decided to continue the investigation for the sake of the victim’s family and the community. On June 28, the Korea Daily met with Investigator Johnson in San Diego to delve deeper into the case.

Anthony Johnson [The Korea Daily’s San Diego Bureau]
– Your office recently identified a suspect after more than 30 years. Can you share how you accomplished this?
“Identifying the suspect would’ve been impossible just five or ten years ago. The development of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system in 2012 has significantly enhanced fingerprint identification accuracy. Through the San Diego Police Department’s fingerprint specialists, we identified the suspect, Dong Ho Won (English name Bob).”

– The suspect was already deceased.
“Initially, we didn’t know the suspect was deceased. However, there were many unanswered questions that warranted further investigation. We wanted to demonstrate to the remaining family and the community that we don’t give up and that there are no legal limitations on prosecuting murder.”

– Can you describe the relationship between the suspect and the victim?
“We have yet to find any connection between the suspect and the victim, which is a significant challenge in the investigation. Evidence suggests the suspect drove the victim’s car, and the victim may have voluntarily accompanied him. The suspect’s fingerprints were found on the car’s rearview mirror, and the driver’s seat was adjusted to fit someone 5.2 feet tall, which matches Won’s height. Witnesses also reported that the victim didn’t appear scared, indicating they might have known each other.”

[Bo Im Ko vanished after bank withdrawal, found murdered 2 days later]

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

[Execution-style murder of Bo Im Ko: Money not the motive, reveals investigation]

[Decades-old Korean-American cold case progresses with cigarette butts and fingerprints]

[32-year cold case reopened: Victim’s daughter pleads, ‘I just want to know why’]

– Was the shooting carried out in an execution-style manner?
“Autopsy results showed that the bullet entered the victim’s head from behind and exited through her face, shattering her glasses. The position of the body and bullet casings suggests she was on the car floor, possibly kneeling. It appears the suspect pulled her hair, pressed the gun against her skin, and shot her. After the shooting, he covered her body with boxes and newspapers, took her car keys, and left the scene.”

– Was the murder planned?
“Won purchased a gun (Sundance Model A-25, serial number: 18953) a year before the incident, but this doesn’t suggest long-term planning. If the murder was premeditated, why use a gun registered to himself? It’s likely someone still has this gun, which could be crucial for the case.”

– The cash withdrawn by the victim was left untouched in the car.
“It is one of the mysteries in this case. It raises significant questions and challenges the robbery theory. According to the police’s initial investigation report, the money was found in the trunk and on the victim. The report details the location of the cash, yet early media reports suggested it was missing, likely due to initial comments from the investigation.”

– What are the unique aspects of the case?
“Rumors of complex personal relationships involving the victim and those around her were noted in police interviews.”

– Does anyone know the suspect, Won?
“We recently contacted Won’s wife, who lives in Orange County. Though legally not divorced, they had lived separately since he moved to Michigan in the late 1990s. She knew nothing about the victim’s family and couldn’t provide helpful information.”

– What are the future directions for investigation?
“We plan to request background and military records from Korea related to Won and people closely associated with the victim, including Mr. Pil Hoon Oh’s brother, who served in a Korean special forces unit. We’re focusing on the connections between the Oh brothers and Won.”

– What is most needed for the investigation?
“We need the cooperation of Korean community members who might have information. This case isn’t the oldest cold case, but many involved have passed away, and records have been lost. Any details about Won’s past activities and employment are crucial.”

Contact information:
Anthony.Johnson@sdcda.org / (619) 756-5230 (Investigator Anthony Johnson)

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