Court TV Presents: Murder in Room 103

Court TV Presents: Murder in Room 103

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by Harriet Ryan

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Exchange student Jamie Penich left her small Pennsylvania hometown to see the world, but her journey ended with a brutal attack in a shabby motel room in Seoul, South Korea, where the raven-haired 21-year-old was found naked and stomped to death. Investigators zeroed in on soldiers, turning out barracks and trolling seedy bars for the GIs who partied with Jamie in


Exchange student Jamie Penich left her small Pennsylvania hometown to see the world, but her journey ended with a brutal attack in a shabby motel room in Seoul, South Korea, where the raven-haired 21-year-old was found naked and stomped to death. Investigators zeroed in on soldiers, turning out barracks and trolling seedy bars for the GIs who partied with Jamie in the hours leading up to her death. But every lead produced only new mysteries. There were unbreakable alibis, a roommate who claimed she had slept through the crime, and lab tests that hinted at a secret lover. The investigation seemed destined for the cold case file until a high-powered American senator pressed for answers. Soon, a greenhorn detective settled on a shocking new suspect, a pretty blonde exchange student named Kenzi Snider. During an interrogation, the teenager confessed to killing Jamie during a lesbian encounter . . . but it was what happened next that was truly surprising.

What really happened in Room 103?

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Court TV Presents: Murder in Room 103

The Death of an American Student in Korea-and the Investigators' Search for the Truth

By Harriet Ryan


Copyright © 2006

Harriet Ryan

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-06-115443-1

Chapter One

Green Beer Tonight!

March 17, 2001 Itaewon District Seoul, South Korea

By 10:30 P.M., Nickleby's Pub is packed. Army guys wade
through the crowd with pitchers of green beer, pouring for
anyone who holds out an empty plastic cup. Speakers blast Top
40, and on a makeshift dance floor, giggling couples in
T-shirts and tight jeans grind against each other. From the
pool tables in the rear, there is good-natured shouting.
Laughter rings out from booths where GIs are hitting on expat
schoolteachers. A group of exchange students push through the
door and take in the rollicking St. Patrick's Day scene. They
smile at what they've found: a frat party in the middle of
Seoul. The soldiers are raucous and happy. Tomorrow they will
be back up north, shivering in some remote base and dreaming
of their next leave. The conversation is easy and flirtatious:
Where are you from? What are you doing here? Do you want to
dance? There is kissing and groping and a few whispered
propositions, but in the exuberant swirl of the bar, it's hard
to take anything seriously.

Outside the steamed-up windows, Seoul sprawls in every
direction, massive and incomprehensible. In the warmth of
Nickleby's, though, everything seems familiar and manageable.

But undetected in all the carousing, a terrible clock has
started. And with each beat of thumping music and every belly
laugh, one reveler's life is ticking to an end.

The old women were up first. They padded out onto their
sidewalks in smocks and slippers to clean away the broken
glass and trash and vomit. At this hour, Itaewon's streets
were quiet except for the low idle of cabs at a taxi stand.
Drivers dozed in their front seats or stood against their cars
smoking. At regular intervals, a city bus glided by a vacant

On Sunday mornings, Seoul's noisiest neighborhood enjoyed a
brief moment of peace. Before long, young Korean women in
heels and too-short skirts would slip out of the cheap
guesthouses and click quickly to the subway, their eyes
downcast and their wallets a little thicker. The Nigerian
peddlers, who sold T-shirts, knockoff handbags and marijuana,
if one knew how to ask, would emerge, lugging black garbage
bags. Just before the noon checkout, bleary-eyed GIs would
straggle up the street, stopping for a Whopper or a glazed
donut and then slinging their backpacks over their shoulders
and heading back to base. But before any of this, in the hour
or two after sunrise, there was a blissful quiet.

Just after 8 o'clock on March 18, 2001, a high-pitched cry
pierced that stillness.

On the first floor of one of Itaewon's many cheap motels, a
young Dutch woman was screaming as loud as she could.

"There's a dead body in my room," she shouted. She raced along
the narrow hallway, banging her fists against the plywood-thin
doors of the shabby rooms.

In a few seconds, the hall was filled with other foreigners,
all exchange students like the young woman.

"What's wrong, Anneloes?" they asked. "What's wrong?"

Sobbing, Anneloes Beverwijk pointed behind her to the open
door of Room 103 and whimpered.

"There's a dead body in my room, and I can't find Jamie."

Another Dutch student, a young man named Jeroen Kuilman, ran
to the door, followed closely by an American teenager, Kenzi
Snider. Inside the doorway lay the naked body of a woman. She
was sprawled on her back with her arms flung out and her legs
slightly spread. A black fleece jacket was draped over her
head, but the lower third of her face was visible. It was
crusted in blood and swollen, and there were cuts and
abrasions on her chin and neck. Her shoulders and upper chest
were dark blue with bruises. There was no doubt she was dead.

The police summoned to the Kum Sung Motel from a nearby
substation took one look at the bloody crime scene and herded
the six exchange students into an adjacent room.

The students sat on the bed crying and hugging one another. A
patrolman pointed to Room 103. "Who?" he said.

The students shook their heads and shrugged. One of their
group, a twenty-one-year-old American named Jamie Penich, was
missing, but with the jacket and the blood and the swelling,
they couldn't say for sure if the body was hers.

If she has a tattoo on her back, a map of the world, then
that's Jamie, one of them volunteered.

The officers disappeared and returned a moment later.

Yeah, that's your friend Jamie, they told them.

A couple of the female students burst into tears. This was not
how study abroad was supposed to go.

Two weeks before, they had arrived in South Korea for a
semester at Keimyung University, a Presbyterian college three
hours south of Seoul by train. The university, just outside
the provincial city of Daegu, was beautiful with its hillside
campus and Georgian architecture. But the student body was
enormous and could be intimidating to outsiders. There were
twenty-seven thousand full-time students, only sixteen of whom
were foreigners. The international students hailed from
Holland, Finland, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the United
States, but they clung together like brothers and sisters.

"We lived in the same dorm. We took the same classes. From the
second we woke up in the morning to the minute we went to bed,
we were together," a student from the University of Nebraska

Intense friendships developed in hours. Often they were based
less on personality and common interest than basic
communication. If two people spoke English, they became

During those first two weeks, the students got to know the
campus and explored Daegu. With 2.5 million people, the city
was large, but it was not especially cosmopolitan. After two
weeks of hanging out in Daegu's karaoke bars and nightclubs
and watching subtitled movies on campus, some students wanted
something more exciting. A group started planning a weekend
jaunt to the big city, Seoul.


Excerpted from Court TV Presents: Murder in Room 103
by Harriet Ryan
Copyright © 2006 by Harriet Ryan.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Court TV Presents 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Harriet Ryan's keen eye for detail and down in the trenches reporting style make her a known commodity to anyone interested in true crime. Ryan, already a top nothch reporter, cut her teeth and came into her own during the Scott Peterson trial. Now Ryan takes us into a culture and legal system completely foriegn to most Court TV viewers. The finished product a page turner on par with the genre's greatest writers. A terrific book to say the least, but I hope Ryan doesn't give up her day job because she'd be sorely missed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good stuff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
donnasreview More than 1 year ago
A very good Read. Some parts drawn out but I guess those parts may interest some while not others like myself. But interesting story and makes you wonder about the conclusion. A thinking book!
BertEdens More than 1 year ago
Considering this book was published in 2006 and covers a murder committed in 2001, why did I pick it up? Several reasons, really. First and foremost, my study of taekwond-do has led to have a great appreciation for Korean culture. This book, being the story of an American exchange student killed in South Korea, was perfect for feeding the knowledge horse. Second, I have always loved true crime books. They are very fascinating to me, especially since I’ve long been interested in abnormal psychology (serial killers too, although that’s unrelated to this book). Finally, it was cheap on AbeBooks. So. Why not? :) OK, on to the review, finally. Early in the morning following St. Patrick’s Day 2001, Jamie Penich, an exchange student from Derry, Pennsylvania, who was studying in South Korea, was brutally murdered. Based on the evidence, Penich was stomped to death by someone wearing boots. Although she was found naked, no sexual assault was suspected. In the United States, the discovery of such a scene would have seen a bevy of specialists descend on the isolated and uncompromised crime scene. They would catalog in individual sealed baggies or specimens, every hair, fiber, blood splatter, etc. Photos would be made of the entire scene before anything was so much as touched or moved. Anyone involved or suspected would have been quarantined, their clothes gathered up and likewise cataloged so they could be analyzed. Statements would have been taken from all of them, and their movements would have been limited until the police were sure someone was or was not a suspect. Not so for South Korea in 2001. Although they have made great strides since then, their process at the time was lacking. All clothing was thrown into a single bag. Penich’s body was moved in an attempt to identify her based on a tattoo on her back, before her body position had even been photographed. In order to study the crime scene, her body was wrapped in a sheet and moved to another room, basically preventing some spit on Penich’s chest from ever undergoing DNA analysis. Their methods of basing so much on blood type rather than DNA analysis, caused the destruction of several blood samples as the process of typing the blood destroys the sample. Blood type alone, as opposed to DNA evidence, isn’t enough to convincingly identify a perpetrator. They even had policemen tracking blood throughout the scene, contaminating what might have been a perpetrator’s footprints with their own. With that as the backdrop, the story continues as investigators make their way through American soldiers at a local base, the other exchange students in the group, and other suspects. Eye witnesses are unreliable and inconsistent. The investigation just basically blindly plods along with lack of hard evidence being their biggest shortcoming. So the investigation falters until Kenzi Snider, a friend of Penich’s for the brief two weeks they were both exchange students in South Korea, is charged with the crime over 18 months later, while she’s a student at Marshall University in West Virginia. However, charging her with the crime isn’t a slam dunk conviction, as those involved eventually learn. If you’re not familiar with the case, you’ll just have to read the book to see where it goes from there. One of the things I really liked about this book is Ryan’s delving into the principles’ pasts, presents, and what led them to be who and where they were at the time of the crime. It’s very humanized, very personal. You can feel the pain the Penich’s suffered following the loss of their daughter. You can feel the struggles of the investigative team. You can feel the anguish and uncertainty felt by Snider’s family as they go through the accusations and legal processes. It also highlights the strong cultural differences between South Korea and the United States. While it’s easy enough to point at the trial process for Snider following her extradition to South Korea and say it’s wrong, Ryan does a good job of explaining why those differences exist. I even learned something new about how prisoners have color-coded tags and jumpsuits so you can tell at a glance if they’ve been convicted or are merely accused and awaiting trial, as well as be able to tell what type of crime (assault, extortion, murder, etc.) the prisoner is accused of. I really enjoyed the book, without a doubt. Very in-depth and balanced, it doesn’t try to paint the author’s perspective of what she believes really happened. As a homework assignment for those of you who complete the book, make a note to do some Googling to see what happened legally since the book’s publication. Where this book ends is hardly the end of the story. Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)