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Emma VandenEinde

JMC 201


A Successful Wannabe for Justice

If it were not for the persistence and tenacity of one detective, a wannabe gangster might

not have been charged with murder.

Thomas Barnes, a Special Agent in Charge for the United States Army stationed in

Itaewon, South Korea, received a phone call at around 10:00 p.m. on April 3, 1997. Barnes

learned about a nervous father who stated that his daughter had just seen something horrific at

the King Club, a place to party and drink in Itaewon. What Barnes did not know is that this case

was not as closed as it originally seemed.

It started with some mockery from Eddie Lee, an 18-year-old American teenager

studying at Seoul American High School, toward Arthur Patterson, another 17-year-old student

at the school. Patterson had always wanted to be a gang member--with a fierce snarl on his face

and a knife around his waist, he went beyond dressing the part. Yet Lee did not understand why

Patterson had not killed anyone yet. If Patterson was truly a gang member, he should act on it.

Lee edged Patterson to earn his gang roots by killing someone that night, and Patterson

did not hesitate. He followed Cho Jung-Pil, a 22-year-old Korean university student, into the

bathroom of a Burger King and stabbed him nine times with a knife, making him bleed

profusely. Patterson “maddogged” Jung-Pil, stabbing him several times as quickly as possible, in

traditional gang style.

Drenched in blood, Patterson ran to the King Club to solicit help from Lee and his other

friends in the city. They got rid of his weapon and his clothes, acting as if nothing had ever


At the scene of the crime, Korean police cleared away all the evidence. They assumed

that this was a homosexual murder, considering that Jung-Pil’s pants were down when they

found his body. However, after hearing the girl’s story, Barnes knew there was more to the case

and he persisted.

“I called my boss at the time and I said…’What should I do?’” Barnes said. “He goes,

‘Tom, work it as if it is a murder that we would investigate. Work it. I don’t care what the

Korean police do.’”

After Barnes found the evidence of the knife and pants and collected the witness

testimonies from the students at the club, the police considered Barnes’ story. They arrested

Patterson for murder as well as Lee for aiding in the murder. However, Lee makes the mistake of

talking in interrogation while Patterson stayed silent. Therefore, Lee was wrongfully prosecuted

for murder and received 20 years in prison. Patterson, on the other hand, was only charged for

possession, receiving 18 months.

Still dissatisfied with the injustice in the crime, Barnes kept returning to the Korean

police for 10 years, asking for their coordination. Still, he received no answer.

During this time, Lee’s father ignited renewed interest in the case by asking the Korean

Motion Picture Film Industry to make a movie about his son’s unjust ruling. The movie was

successful for the citizens, but it was also successful in convincing police to reconsider the case.
Almost 20 years later, in 2016, police extradited Patterson from America to South Korea

to be retried. He was convicted and put in Korean jail at the same time Lee was released. He is

likely to stay there for the rest of his life, according to Barnes.

This was not the only crime Patterson had committed. He was also suspected of killing a

7-year-old kid after poking him in the eye at a bus stop, which he mentioned to police. Back in

the United States, where Patterson originally fled after his first sentence, he was arrested seven

additional times when he continued his gang crimes of carjackings and driveby shootings,

according to Barnes.

Even if the police doubted the original story of the crime, Barnes never questioned

Patterson and his motives.

“I believed that Patterson killed [Cho].” Barnes said. “I knew it [w]hen I saw those gang

pictures, and I saw the desire.”

As for Lee, he was never compensated for the crime or for his time spent in jail. Cho’s

mother was given $360,000. But she had been given an even greater compensation of justice, the

same reward Barnes climbed after for several years.

“The Korean Prosecutors had gone to my interpreter and said, ‘Mrs. Cho would like to

talk to you (Barnes)’” Barnes said. “…so we were taken into a room…and she put her hands on

me and she says, ‘Mr. Barnes, I used to hate all Americans. Now I know there’s only one

American I need to hate. And he’s in jail for the rest of his life. Thank you.’ It was the best

thanks I’ve ever had.”