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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Unraveling the 32-year-old cold case of Bo Im Ko’s murder

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The Korean-American community in Southern California was shaken by the brutal murder of Bo Im Ko, who was tragically killed at age 56 in 1992. For more than three decades, this case remained unsolved, but recent advancements in forensic science have breathed new life into the investigation, leading to significant developments.

On March 26, 1992, Bo Im Ko followed her usual routine. As the owner of a donut shop and a check-cashing business in Gardena, she regularly visited the bank to withdraw cash for her customers. On that fateful day, she withdrew $40,000 from the First Global Bank in Cerritos. However, Ko vanished without a trace after loading the money into her 1978 Oldsmobile vehicle. Her ex-husband, who was living with her at the time, reported her missing when she failed to return home.

Just two days later, on March 28, her lifeless body was discovered in her car, parked behind the Point Loma Plaza Mall in San Diego, approximately 120 miles from her last known location. Ko had been shot three times in the head, and her body was found in a kneeling position on the passenger seat, with her hands and feet bound. The gruesome discovery shocked the Korean-American communities in Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as the broader public.

Bo Im Ko’s body found on her car’s passenger seat, covered with newspapers, in a shopping mall parking lot in San Diego [SDCDA]

Despite a substantial reward of $100,000 offered at the time, the killer remained at large, and the case eventually faded from public memory. Initial investigations leaned towards the likelihood of a robbery and abduction, especially considering that Ko had been robbed eight months prior by a trio of Hispanic robbers. However, recent forensic advancements have challenged this theory.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office recently identified Dong Ho Won, a Korean-American man, as a prime suspect in Ko’s murder. Fingerprint evidence collected from Ko’s car matched Won’s, and bullets found at the scene were linked to a Sundance A-25 handgun that Won possessed. These findings have reignited hopes of solving this long-standing mystery.

An 87-page PowerPoint file released by the DA office to the Korea Daily provided detailed documentation of the case. According to the documents, Ko died from gunshot wounds to the head and neck, fired at close range, which caused significant brain damage. The presence of large sums of money in Ko’s car, left untouched, suggests that robbery was not the motive for the killing.

A critical piece of evidence came from six cigarette butts and fingerprints found in Ko’s car. The fingerprints matched those of Dong Ho Won, whose prints were on file with immigration authorities and from a prior arrest in Los Angeles on domestic violence charges. Won had reportedly died of liver cancer in Michigan in 2003, which has stalled further investigative actions.

Bo Im Ko, left, and Dong Ho Won [SDCDA]

The relationship between Ko and Won remains unclear, and authorities are exploring various angles, including the possibility of a contract killing motivated by revenge or a romantic entanglement. The DA office is also investigating five other individuals connected to Ko, including her ex-husband and several acquaintances, to uncover potential motives and accomplices.

The persistence of the investigative authorities, combined with advancements in forensic science, has brought new hope to this cold case. The identification of Won as a prime suspect, even after his death, demonstrates the relentless dedication of the investigators who refused to let this case remain unsolved.

Solving long-unsolved cases not only brings justice to the victims and their families but also serves as a deterrent to would-be criminals, reinforcing the message that no crime will go unpunished. The case of Bo Im Ko underscores the importance of continuous efforts and advancements in forensic science in solving cold cases.

The Korean-American community, as well as the broader public, now awaits further developments in this case. The hope is that justice will finally be served, providing closure to Ko’s family and reaffirming the commitment of law enforcement to solving even the most challenging cases.

As we look to the future, it is crucial to support the ongoing efforts of law enforcement and forensic scientists. Their work not only brings justice to victims but also enhances the overall safety and security of our communities. The case of Bo Im Ko serves as a reminder that while justice may be delayed, it is not denied.

By Mooyoung Lee  lee.mooyoung@koreadaily.com