Conspiracy Theories Swirl Around Ferry Owner's Death

The discovery of fugitive ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon's body has sparked inevitable conspiracy theories. The crux of controversy is the advanced state of decomposition of the body, which was found around two weeks after his death.

Some doubt whether the body even belongs to Yoo, despite positive DNA and fingerprint identification.

But experts say the state of decay is certainly possible considering where the body was found in the open air and humid weather at the time.

The septuagenarian cult leader fled from a summer cottage in southwestern Korea in the early morning hours after a police raid on May 25 and was found dead on June 12 in a field just 2.5 km away. He hid in a secret compartment inside the wall of the cottage during the raid and left after investigators gave up.

The raid ended at around 11:30 p.m. on May 25. Yoo is believed to have hidden in the cubbyhole for about two hours and fled on his own.

He may have left later on May 26 but would have found it difficult to escape far since police set up checkpoints in the area that afternoon.

Police said Yoo's body had decomposed almost down to the bone during the 18 days between his escape until the discovery of his body.

Police on Wednesday search the scene where the body of ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon was found. /Newsis Police on Wednesday search the scene where the body of ferry owner Yoo Byung-eon was found. /Newsis

Experts said the body probably decayed rapidly due to the high temperature and humidity, compounded by insects and maggots as the corpse lay in the woods.

During the 18 days, the average temperature in Suncheon, where the cottage is located, ranged between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius, while humidity was high following a week of rain.

Yoo Sung-ho at Seoul National University said, "Yoo's body was exposed to high temperatures and humidity levels, and his coat probably sped up the process of decomposition by maintaining a warm environment for bacteria to multiply. The surrounding area is mostly woods, exposing the body to animals and insects, so his skin appears to have decayed rapidly."

Lee Yoon-sung, also at SNU, said, "It’s not common for a body to decay to this extent just 15 days after death, but it is not impossible." / Jul. 24, 2014 10:56 KST