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Utah bones may end Denver murder mystery

Published August 26, 2011 9:44 am

Disappearance • Son is confident that the remains answer questions for family.
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Moab • In Denver it was an unusual homicide case. To Moab businessman Jung Park, the bones found earlier this year in Grand County have solved a mystery that has haunted his family.

Park said the bones are those of his father, Hae C. Park, a Denver man who is believed to have been beaten to death by his business partner in Denver last year, and his body dumped along Interstate 70 near Cisco.

"All I think about is him every day," the soft-spoken Jung Park said. "We're just glad he's found."

Hae C. Park was 64 years old when he went missing in March 2010. Grand County investigator Brent Pace said he is still waiting for results of a DNA test to definitively prove the remains are Park's, but an anthropologist has said the remains belonged to an Asian man over the age of 50, and a recovered jawbone had unique dental work that matched Park's.

"The chances of another Korean having that exact dental work in his lower jaw is pretty rare," Pace said.

Jung Park, 42, said he contacted the Grand County Sheriff's Office after seeing two news stories about the discovery of the bones. The second news article included the description provided by the anthropologist.

"One day one of my employees was looking through a newspaper and there was a story where there were bones found. A week later, the description came out," Park said. "I called the Sheriff's Office right away because the description sounded like my father."

Park said he was shown a photograph of the jawbone that was found and he recognized the dental work as similar to work his father had done in Korea. Investigators asked him to get dental records and Park contacted a Korean hospital, which provided a CAT scan of his father's jaw, showing the dental work.

"They told me it appeared to match," Park said.

Travelers who stopped to walk a dog found the bones in mid-April in a wash near Cisco on the south side of Interstate 70. A year before the discovery, the Denver District Attorney charged Joong Rhee, 67, with first-degree murder.

Family members last reported seeing Park on March 27, 2010. They said Rhee and Park were business partners who were supposed to meet.

Pace said he has been told Rhee and Park had a dispute over a land purchase. Denver detectives, Pace said, believe Rhee bludgeoned Park to death in the office.

That dispute involved his father's ownership of Riverside Inn in Moab, which Hae C. Park purchased, using Rhee as a loan broker, in 2002, Jung Park said.

"My father didn't know it at the time [in 2002], but Rhee somehow created documents showing that my dad was borrowing money from him. But he wasn't. He was actually buying this motel, and Rhee was supposed to be helping him because my father did not speak English very well. Rhee was supposed to be handling all the documents for the purchase."

When Colorado detectives visited Rhee's office nine days after the disappearance, they found what Denver police described in a news release as "a crime scene." Police searched the office and found evidence, Denver police said in a news release. The release did not specify what was found.

Prosecutors filed the murder charge against Rhee — despite not having Park's body — on April 16, 2010. Rhee has pleaded not guilty. His attorney did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Besides finding the jawbone, Pace said investigators recovered a skull that appeared to have suffered multiple blows.

Jung Park said his father and Rhee had visited Moab "at least 10 times" since the younger Park took over ownership of Riverside Inn in 2004. Their last trip to southeastern Utah was in November of 2009, Park said.

Pace said it appears Rhee drove from Denver with Park's body and followed their regular route to Moab.

"I think that's why he picked that area, because it was so desolate," Pace said.

Park described his father as a "hard worker" who frequently tried to help others.

"He was a very outgoing person. He loved people," Jung Park said. "The ones who were [in] unfortunate [circumstances], he always helped them out."

He said his father was a disciplinarian when Jung Park and his younger brother and sister were growing up, but he believes Hae Park was "a good man."

"He was strict. But inside he was a good person. He was nice," Jung Park said.

Although his father's remains have now likely been found, Park said the family still struggles with his death. The bones have yet to be released to the family, because they are still undergoing DNA testing, but Park said he has now purchased a burial plot in the Denver area so that his father's remains may eventually be laid to rest.

"Maybe after we bury him we'll feel that this is really over," he said. "Still, I'm glad he's found now. But we still have a long way to go."

Rhee's trial is scheduled for October. Pace said he and another Grand County detective will travel to Denver to testify.






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