On August 13, 1984, 24 South Korean nationals went missing in Argentina. The Argentinian police arrested 19 male suspects – 12 of them Argentine, 7 of them of Slavic descent — but could not determine if they had taken part in the supposed kidnapping and murder. The men were subsequently released due to lack of evidence.
Earlier that year, on April 29, 1984, an amateur videographer filmed a fight between two gangs in a remote construction yard approximately 55 miles south southeast of La Plata. One gang, draped in red and white; the other in gray and black, fought each other using nothing but their fists and boots for almost 12 minutes. The brawl ended with the gang in grey and black finally beating the final gang member in red and white into submission. The video footage showed the standing gangsters bringing out what seemed to be a clear plastic sheet and placing the lifeless bodies onto it, wrapping all 16 bodies and throwing them down a pit nearby. When the video was brought to the police, an investigation started almost immediately, but upon inspecting the construction site, there was no sign of the bodies – let alone the 12-minute brawl that had been recorded on the video. Further research revealed that the construction site belonged to an Eastern European mining group.
On August 15, 1984, an amateur birdwatcher, during one of his morning routes, discovered 8 bodies hanged on a tree. The bodies belonged to the missing Korean nationals — the remaining 16 men were not found at the scene of the crime. Cheung-sol Yee, 27; Song-gyu Park, 31; Tae-hee Won, 25; Dae-hyun Goh, 49; Chan-ho Kim, 34; Young-ban Chae, 22; Gun-hee Roh, 24; and Gun-ok Hwang, 28 were identified as the bodies. Police determined that the men were alive immediately before the hanging and placed their time of death 4 hours before sunrise — 7 hours before the bodies were found by the amateur birdwatcher. The Argentine police suspected that these men were members of a fledgling Korean gang in Buenos Aires and their kidnapping and deaths were signals from a larger, more powerful group to drive fear into other gang-related groups.
A period of relative calm settled over two weeks, where just 12 murders were recorded throughout the entire region.
In September of 1984, however, the Argentine police found a mass grave with 16 partially decomposed bodies in a clearing 30 miles north of Buenos Aires. The rest of the missing Korean nationals had been found. Each had a single bullet to the back of the skull — they had been executed. The South Korean government found itself defending claims of politically motivated gangs entering into Argentina to exploit natural resources; however, no such proof was discovered. The South Korean government, to this day, vehemently denies their involvement.
A full-on investigation was underway in late September with pressure from the Argentine and South Korean government to find the kidnapper-murderers and the reason why the 24 men were murdered. President of Argentina Hidalgo Perez and President of South Korea Yung-ki Geum met privately to discuss the potential backlash from the international community if the matters were mishandled. They agreed to ask Interpol, and in mid-April, the Argentinian government warmly received a 6-person team of forensic analysts — 2 were German, 2 were French and the other two, an Englishman and an American. Their names have been redacted to maintain their anonymity.
The press were kept away from the forensic team, leading the national papers to paint them in negative picture. The Interpol forensic team was described to be racist towards Argentines and used government money to throw lavish hotel parties (none of which were true, but the public ate it up anyway). Public sentiment towards the Korean murders, or El Asesinado 24 as the press called them, and the involvement of international forensics teams grew to an all-time low, at a 12% approval rating, recorded by an unofficial poll conducted by the Asociación De Los Trabajadores Argentinos (ADLTA).
A breakthrough in the case was reported in late October. The press, more interested in libeling the forensics team, did not pick up the story, instead opting to run the headline: Team Of Forensic “Sexperts” Rape 5 Prostitutes In Hotel Room (Equipo de Criminalística “Sexpertos” Violación 5 Prostitutas en Cuarto de Hotel). The team had found a wad of chewing gum buried with the bodies — “It was like finding the golden egg,” the American supposedly quipped. The DNA test, however, after having been in contact with the nutrient-dense soil, was deemed inconclusive. It wasn’t until a member of the team accidentally dropped a skull of one of the deceased that they found a coin — it was small and seemed have been buried within the skull after they were shot.
A report was released to the press. Only three out of the nation’s 14 papers ran it. It was November 2nd.
In the rear end of the parietal lobe a single bullet wound can be found. This is the mark of an execution. A single shot – a .32 caliber shell from a Beretta Cheetah were found in each of the executed. The shells were from three separate Beretta Cheetahs, however. No significant trauma was found on any of the bodies. Wrists, bound at the rear, were found to be bruised. All of the men had tattoos in the same area — a single backwards ‘K’ on their left tricep. Sixteen separate medallions were found lodged in the wound. This leads us to believe that this was a gang-related incident. We will be conducting an investigation with the Argentinian Bureau Of National Security.
General António Salazar of the ABNS took command of the operation and quickly moved to investigate the major cartels that operated within Buenos Aires. He ordered that the insignia found on the bodies be cross-examined with gang-related murders in the past 6 months. Nothing conclusive turned up. He saw to it personally that the deceased Korean men went through a thorough background check. All but one had arrived in Buenos Aires in the past year. Dae-hyun Goh had been the only member that had been a citizen of Argentina. Further investigation into Goh’s criminal history revealed his involvement in a minor counterfeiting scheme, which he had been arrested several times over. The ABNS in tandem with the Interpol forensics team released a report on the Korean murders, which ultimately listed the murders as gang-related and gang-affiliated.
There were no new leads until December 9th, when a brutish man, tattooed from forehead down walked into a police station offering information on the Korean murders. He was taken to the ABNS compound where he revealed that the Korean men had stepped on quite a “few number of toes,” which ultimately cost them their lives. Their counterfeiting business was cutting into a larger gang’s operation — as well as upsetting some corrupt law enforcement officials. The 24 men were known to rendezvous at a remote construction site somewhere around La Plata. A small group of men tried to assault them, but were instead killed and disposed of by the Korean men. The man revealed that in early August, José Luis Delgado, leader of the Plata Cartel, after “careful planning and clearance from [corrupt law enforcement officials],” ordered a hit on all 24 Korean men. Eight of the men were found at a nightclub, where they were beaten and eventually hanged. The other 16 men were abducted as they slept in their homes or from their cars. This well-coordinated plan captured all 16 men and they were professionally executed. The hitmen placed a talisman in the wound and quickly buried the bodies. The shallow grave was “leaked” to the police a week later. The price the man wanted for this information was protection and his removal from the country. General General António Salazar accepted. The man, however, would commit suicide just 24 hours later. The forensics team was withdrawn and all responsibilities were handed over to the Argentine government.
On December 19th, 1984, an order was issued by President Hidalgo Perez to arrest and prosecute José Luis Delgado and his co-conspirators. On December 22nd, federal agents and the national guard surrounded the Plata Cartel compound. (Salazar did not trust the local law enforcement, and rightly so — over 20 high ranking officers were later arrested for drug and human trafficking.) A fierce firefight ensued. Approximately 150 federal agents and national guard soldiers were wounded, 50 killed in action. The Plata cartel, however, was crippled. They lost 90% of their members and Delgado had been wounded. Delgado sent word via messenger that he would surrender. General Salazar ordered the messenger to be executed and did not report Delgado’s surrender to President Perez. The compound was breached and Delgado, under the assumption of surrender laid his arms on the ground. He was shot by federal agents and subsequently transported to a hospital to confirm his death.
Argentine newspapers hailed the takedown of the Plata Cartel as a sign of change in Argentina under Perez’s direction. They wrote extensively of General Salazar’s heroism and published articles demonizing Delgado and his cartel. In January 1985, the Argentine president and the South Korean president met once more to extend good intentions and congratulate each other on their successful efforts in finding (and in a sense, eliminating) the persons responsible for the mass murder. This meeting was much documented in both nations’ papers. Buenos Aires and Seoul became sister cities in February 1985.
General Salazar went on to serve 6 more years as head of the Argentinian Bureau Of National Security until he retired in 1991. President Perez ran for re-election in 1986, which he won by a landslide. He suffered a major heart attack in office not 5 months after taking office and was replaced by Vice-President Carlos Violá. President Yung-ki Geum served the rest of his term out and did not seek re-election. He has written a book detailing his journey to becoming president. It sold just under 150,000 copies.