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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
All right reserved.
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.
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