Man charged in Tenafly triple homicide

May 19, 2008 7:07:15 PM PDT
Han Il Kim's meticulously kept diary turned out to record more than the mundane, like what time he got up and where ate lunch.Authorities say it led them to Kang-Hyuk Choi, the man they announced Monday had been arrested in California and charged with the murders of Kim, his mother and his uncle in the home they shared in the northern New Jersey suburb of Tenafly.

It took almost two weeks to discover the slayings had happened, but hardly any time to identify a suspect.

People who knew Kim had been trying to reach him, but the 27-year-old cell phone entrepreneur never returned their calls.

His mother, Yoo Bok Kim, 47, and her brother-in-law, Doo Soo Seo, 70, who lived in the home Kim bought last year, could not be reached either.

When a relative finally went to the home on Friday, he found a decomposing body. Police came and quickly found the other two.

Before they could even be certain who the victims were, they had tracked down a suspect some 2,500 miles away.

"This was just great police work," said Frank Puccio, the Bergen County executive assistant prosecutor. "We didn't even have identities of these people and we solved it 36 hours later; it doesn't get better than this."

Authorities do not know how Choi, 32, from Valley Stream, N.Y., met Kim. But they said the two spent a weekend together, socializing, on May 3 and 4.

That Sunday night, though, Puccio said, they fought over money in Han Il Kim's third-story bedroom in the home in Tenafly, an upscale community about 10 miles north of Midtown Manhattan.

Prosecutors say Choi used a knife to stab Kim repeatedly.

They said Monday that Choi waited inside the house all night, stuffed Kim's body in a closet and used blankets and clothing to make it look like someone was asleep in his bed.

The next morning, prosecutors say Choi stabbed Kim's mother as she came to check on her son, then killed Seo.

Authorities said Choi drove away from the home in Han Il Kim's BMW with at least $30,000 in cash he found hidden in the house.

Choi checked into a hotel in Flushing, N.Y., then called a relative to take him from there to a hospital to treat injuries he got as his victims tried to fight him off, Puccio said.

On May 6, Puccio said, Choi left the BMW in long-term parking at Kennedy Airport - and on May 13, he flew to Los Angeles.

Investigators pieced together that version of the crime story from the time the bodies were found.

The key, Puccio said, was the diary, written in Korean. He said Kim apparently used it to record many of his activities. It put Choi in the house over the last days Kim was alive.

It did not take long to trace Choi to Commerce, Calif., where he was arrested early Sunday morning.

When Choi was arrested, he had $88,000 in cash and credit cards in Han Il Kim's name, Puccio said. He had also made purchases with cards belonging to Han Il Kim and other people, they said.

Choi waived his right to an extradition hearing and was expected to be back in New Jersey by Monday night. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.

Puccio said that while questions remain in the whirlwind investigation, the main one is now answered.

"We're convinced that Mr. Choi is the sole actor," Puccio said. "In terms of looking for other suspects, the case is closed."