Assassination of Park Chung Hee

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Assassination of Park Chung Hee
Park Chung-hee in 1973.
LocationBlue House, Seoul, South Korea
DateOctober 26, 1979; 44 years ago (1979-10-26)
WeaponsSmith & Wesson Model 36 and Walther PPK
VictimsPark Chung-hee, Cha Ji-chul, three bodyguards, and a presidential chauffeur
PerpetratorsKim Jae-gyu, Park Heung-ju, Park Seon-ho, Yoo Seong-ok, Lee Ki-ju, Seo Young-jun, Kim Tae-won
AssailantsKim Jae-gyu

Park Chung Hee, the third President of South Korea, was assassinated on October 26, 1979, during a dinner at the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) safe house near the Blue House presidential compound in Jongno District, Seoul, South Korea. It was the first assassination of a head of state in Korea in 606 years, since the assassination of Gongmin of Goryeo.[1] Kim Jae-gyu, the director of the KCIA and the president's security chief, was responsible for the assassination. Park was shot in the chest and the head, and died almost immediately. Four bodyguards and a presidential chauffeur were also killed. The incident is often referred to as "10.26" or the "10.26 incident" in South Korea.[2]

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding Kim's motives, as it remains uncertain whether the act was part of a planned coup d'état or was merely impulsive.


President Park's dictatorship[edit]

Park with future President Kim Young-sam in 1975

By the time of his assassination, Park had exercised dictatorial power over South Korea for nearly 18 years.[3]

The Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) was created in 1961 to coordinate both domestic and international intelligence activities, including those of the military.[4] Almost immediately following its creation, the KCIA was used to suppress any domestic opposition to Park's regime, including wiretapping, arresting, and torturing without court order. The KCIA was heavily involved in many behind-the-scenes political maneuvers aimed at weakening opposition parties through bribing, blackmailing, threatening, or arresting opposing lawmakers. Nevertheless, President Park nearly lost the 1971 presidential election to Kim Dae-jung, despite spending ten percent of the national budget on his election campaign. Park then established the Yushin Constitution in 1972 to ensure his perpetual dictatorship.[5] The new constitution replaced direct voting in presidential elections with an indirect voting system involving delegates. It allotted one-third of the National Assembly seats to the president and repealed presidential term limits. It also gave the president the authority to suspend the constitution and issue emergency decrees, appoint all judges, and dismiss the National Assembly. When opposition to the Yushin Constitution arose, Park issued a number of emergency decrees, the first of which made any act of opposition or denial of the Yushin Constitution punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years.[6]

Despite this, opposition towards Park's rule persisted and, in the 1978 South Korean legislative election, despite Park's Democratic Republican Party (DRP) maintaining a majority, the New Democratic Party (NDP) won the popular vote by a narrow margin. This further emboldened them. In September 1979, the courts nullified Kim Young-sam's chairmanship of the NDP. On October 5, the DRP expelled Kim from the National Assembly in a secret session, leading all 66 NDP lawmakers to submit their resignations to the National Assembly in protest. The Carter administration in the U.S. recalled its ambassador from Seoul in protest, as well.[7] On October 16, when it became known that the government was planning to accept the resignations selectively, democracy protests broke out in Kim's hometown of Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, resulting in arson attacks on 30 police stations over several days. The demonstrations, the largest since the days of President Syngman Rhee, spread to nearby Masan and other cities on October 19, with students and citizens calling for a repeal of the Yushin Constitution. The KCIA director, Kim Jae-gyu, who usually wore thick black-rimmed glasses,[8] went to Busan to investigate the situation and found that the demonstrations were not riots by some college students, but more like a "popular uprising joined by regular citizens" to resist the regime. He warned Park that the uprisings would spread to five other large cities, including Seoul. According to Kim's personal account, the President's chief bodyguard, Cha Ji-chul, cited the Killing Fields in Cambodia to note that one or two million Koreans being killed wouldn't make much difference.[9][10] Park agreed and said that he would give direct orders to the security forces to fire upon demonstrators if the situation got worse.[11]

Rivalry between Kim Jae-gyu and Cha Ji-chul[edit]

While Park faced increasing opposition to his dictatorship outside Blue House, another kind of conflict was intensifying inside Blue House, between Kim Jae-gyu, who was appointed KCIA Director in December 1976,[12] and Chief Bodyguard Cha Ji-chul, who was appointed to his position in 1974[13] after Park's wife Yuk Young-soo was killed in an assassination by Mun Se-gwang, an ethnic Korean from Japan.[14]

The rivalry stemmed largely from Cha's increasing encroachment onto KCIA turf and Cha's belittlement of Kim in public. Almost universally disliked yet feared, Cha served Park in close proximity and became his favorite and most trusted advisor. Cha appropriated tanks, helicopters, and troops from the Republic of Korea Army, leaving the presidential security apparatus with an entire division under Cha's direct command.[15]

The rivalry between Cha and Kim, whose KCIA was, until then, the most feared government apparatus, was heightened further by a series of political crises in late 1979, as the two rivals clashed over how to deal with growing opposition to the regime. In the NDP's election of its chairman in 1979, KCIA backed Yi Chul-seung to prevent the election of hardliner Kim Young-sam, but Cha interfered in KCIA's political sabotage with its own behind-scene maneuvers. When Kim Young-sam was elected as the NDP chairman, Cha laid the blame on the KCIA, which infuriated Director Kim.[16]

Later, when Kim Young-sam called on the U.S. to stop supporting Park's regime, in an interview with The New York Times reporter Henry Stokes, Cha pushed for Kim's expulsion from the National Assembly,[17] which Director Kim feared to be a disastrous development.[18] Cha easily bested his opponent, as his hardline approach was favored by Park, and he blamed worsening developments on Director Kim's weak leadership of the KCIA at every opportunity.[19]


The Blue House in 2007

On the day of the assassination, Park and his entourage attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a dam in Sapgyo and a KBS TV transmitting station in Dangjin. Director Kim was expected to accompany him since the TV station was under KCIA jurisdiction, but after Cha blocked him from riding in the same helicopter as Park, Director Kim angrily excused himself from the trip.[20][21]

After the trip, according to KCIA Chief Agent Park Seon-ho, one of the assassination conspirators, Park instructed the KCIA to prepare for one of his numerous banquets,[22] which were held an average of ten times per month. The banquet was held at a KCIA safe house near the Blue House presidential compound (now the Mugunghwa Dongsa Park).[23]

The banquet was to be attended by Park, Director Kim, Cha, Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won, and two young women – rising singer Sim Soo-bong and a college student named Shin Jae-soon.[9][24] Fifteen minutes after Director Kim was notified of the banquet, he called Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa, arranging for him to dine with KCIA Deputy Director Kim Jeong-seop in a nearby KCIA building in the same compound.[25]

Just before the dinner, Director Kim told Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won that he would get rid of Cha. It is not clear whether Kim Gye-won misheard, misunderstood, or ignored Kim's words.[22][26]

Walther PPK
Smith & Wesson Model 36

At 6:05 p.m., during dinner discussions of volatile political issues such as the demonstrations in Busan and the opposition leader Kim Young-sam, Park and Cha took a hardline approach. Park said that Kim Young-sam should have been arrested, while Kim Jae-gyu argued that the public believes that Kim Young-sam was sufficiently punished just by being expelled from the National Assembly. Park said the KCIA should be more threatening.[22] Director Kim calling for moderate measures, while Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won was trying to steer the topic of the discussion to small talk.

This atmosphere calmed down around 6:30 PM when Shin Jae-soon, and Sim Soo-bong entered the banquet hall.[27]

The rebukes from Park, and especially Cha, riled Kim Jae-gyu, who left the dining room to meet Jeong Seung-hwa and Kim Jeong-seop, and said, "I was suddenly called by the president and am attending the banquet. Assistant Director Kim is well aware of domestic politics, so please discuss the current situation with him." After explaining, "I will come as soon as it is finished," he came out hiding his semi-automatic Walther PPK pistol, which he had hidden on a bookshelf in his office, in his pants pocket.[22] Kim Jae-gyu then met with his closest subordinate, former Marine colonel and KCIA Chief Agent Park Seon-ho (Kim Jae-gyu's student when Kim Jae-gyu was a physical education teacher), and Army colonel and Director Kim's secretary Park Heung-ju (Kim Jae-gyu's exclusive adjutant during his tenure as head of the 6th Division). Kim revealed his plan to assassinate Park Chung-hee with Cha Ji-cheol and told them to prepare within 30 minutes. Kim told them that he would take them out this evening and that when he heard gunshots from inside the room, they should help him kill the guards. [28] Kim said to them: "Chief of Staff and Deputy Director are here as well. Today is the day."[29]

Park Seon-ho and Park Heung-ju were very surprised at first by the one-sided order, but they faithfully followed Kim Jae-gyu's orders, and had Lee Ki-ju, the head of the security guard at the safe house (a former reserve marine sergeant, who always had Park Seon-ho's trust) and Yoo Seong-ok, the presidential chauffeur of the protocol department head's vehicle, join the assassination team. For reference, Yoo Seong-ok was a former Army sergeant, and after being discharged from the military, he got a job as a KCIA driver. With the help of Park Seon-ho, he was assigned to a safe house, a first-class duty station. He was scheduled to get married in November of that year. At the scene, Park Heung-ju, Ki-ju Lee, and Yoo Seong-ok were in Na-dong's safe house. They hid inside a car parked near the kitchen and waited for the gunshot to be heard from the banquet hall. Meanwhile, Park Seon-ho prepared himself to kill Security Chief Jeong In-hyeong and Deputy Director Ahn Jae-song who were in the security guard waiting room, although hoping to convince them to stand down and, in effect, save them.[29]

As 7 p.m. approached, Park Chung-hee looked at the clock frequently, and Cha Ji-cheol, seeing this, reassured Park by saying he will turn on the TV when the time is right. And at 7 o'clock, Cha turned on the TV which was on the door armor,[30] with an automatic switch and watched KBS news. When Kim Jae-gyu, who had hidden a pistol in his pants pocket, reentered to the banquet hall. Shin Jae-soon noticed that Kim Jae-gyu, sitting across from him, was frequently looking at his watch. Park told him to turn off the TV, so Cha turned it off.[31]

At 7:38 p.m., after confirming with Park Seon-ho that preparations were complete, Kim Jae-gyu entered the banquet hall again, and at that time Shin Jae-soon sang "I Love You" of Lana. Et. Rospo[27][32] with Sim Soo-bong's guitar accompaniment and noted but it wasn't right so Shin sung again several times.[27][33][34]

At 7:40 p.m., Kim Jae-gyu told Kim Gye-won to take good care of His Excellency,[35] and Kim Jae-gyu shouted to Cha, "Insolent!", and opened fire, shooting Cha in the arm.[9] Park shouted, "What are you doing?" Kim Jae-gyu responded, "Hey, try dying too."[36] Kim Gye-won stood up, opened the door, and ran out. Kim Jae-gyu fired the gun twice at Park's chest from a distance of 2-3 meters, but the PPK jammed on a third shot.[22] A shocked Sim Soo-bong immediately went outside, followed by Cha, bleeding on his hands, where he fled to a bathroom adjacent to the dining room, saying, "Why is he doing that?" [37]

When Kim Jae-gyu left the room, he came back with a Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver belonging to his subordinate Park Seon-ho. When Kim Jae-gyu aimed the gun at Park's head, Cha, who'd emerged from the bathroom to look for a bodyguard, ran into Kim Jae-gyu as Shin Jae-soon ran to the bathroom in a crazed state.[38] Cha raised the door armor next to the door and resisted fiercely, but Kim Jae-gyu fired a gun into Cha's abdomen, fatally wounding him. Cha fell down next to the fallen door armor.[39] Kim took off Sim's arm that was holding Park[30] before speaking to Park and shooting him in the head execution-style.[9][22]

Upon hearing the initial shots, Park Seon-ho held two bodyguards in the waiting room at gunpoint and ordered them to put their hands up. He hoped to prevent further bloodshed, especially since he was a friend of one of the bodyguards, but when the other bodyguard attempted to reach for a gun, Park shot them both dead. However, at the moment when Park Seon-ho killed Ahn Jae-song and Jeong In-hyeong, the lights in the entire safe house Na-dong suddenly went out.[38] This caused Kang Mu-hong, in charge of repairs at the safe house, who was reading a newspaper in the underground boiler room, to mistake the gunshots for the sound of an explosion when the electricity short-circuited; however, Kang who realized that it was not a short circuit due to the gunshots and shouting that continued outside, turned on the circuit breaker again, locked the boiler room door, and hid himself.[40]

At the same time, Park Heung-ju and two other KCIA agents stormed the kitchen area and shot the remaining bodyguard.[35] Park Sang-beom was also shot and fell down, striking his head on the kitchen counter and falling unconscious; he was then mistaken for dead. The gunshot wound only penetrated the flesh without damaging the bones or internal organs, and the bleeding was minimal and stopped naturally, which was later confirmed by Kim Tae-won, a security guard at the safe house.[41] Lee Jeong-oh, the safe house cook, was shot in the stomach,[24] and restaurant car driver Kim Yong-nam was shot in the shoulder.

Shin Jae-soon went to the bathroom and opened the window to run away, but she couldn't do anything because the window was multi-layered. After hearing several gunshots (about 4), it became quiet and she opened the bathroom door and saw people dressed in black carrying Park away. When she came out of the bathroom, she saw Cha lying down. An agent guided Shin to the waiting room, and when she went to the attached room, Sim Soo-bong was there. The agent told them not to move in the room, so Shin sat on the floor with Sim. After a while, about 7 gunshots were heard, after which the agent came in and led them to the bathroom across the street, where they washed their hands and clothes. Park Seon-ho came and guided them to the security guards' waiting room, gave them cigarettes, coffee, and juice, and told them not to go out. After a while, the agent gave them 200,000 won each and told them not to go out and talk about what happened that evening. The agent drove them to the New Naeja Hotel, and when they got out of the car, he told them that they would never meet him again, but that they should pretend not to know. Afterwards, Shin Jae-soon went to her home in Sim Soo-bong's car, which was waiting in front of the New Naeja Hotel.[38]

In all, six people were killed: Park, Cha and three presidential bodyguards in the safe house, as well as a presidential chauffeur outside.[42]


After killing Park, Kim Jae-gyu asked Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won to secure the safe house and ran to the nearby KCIA building, where Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa was waiting. While Jeong was having a meal with KCIA Deputy Director Kim Jeong-seop at a restaurant next to his office and talking about the Busan-Masan Uprising and the issue of building a housing development for noncommissioned officers, about 20 gunshots were suddenly fired nearby. Kim Jae-gyu, who was wearing a blood-stained shirt,[43] came in to tell them that an emergency situation had arisen.[44] Kim Gye-won had the KCIA agents who were still in the safe house carry Park on his back and take him to the President's private car and head to the army hospital where the president's medical facilities were located.[45]

Later, at around 8:05 p.m.[16] in a car with Jeong Seung-hwa, Kim Jae-gyu notified Jeong that Park had died, but without explaining how. At this time, Kim Jae-gyu raised his thumb to indicate that Park had been shot. When Jeong saw this, he asked if Park had passed away, and Kim Jae-gyu answered that he was certain that Park had passed away.[45] And Kim Jae-gyu says that if Kim Il-sung finds out, the ceasefire line will be a problem and there will be bloodshed in the country, so security must be maintained and martial law must be declared quickly.[43] Then Kim Jae-gyu peeled the candy and ate it, saying his mouth was dry. Jeong sees that Kim Jae-gyu is wearing socks and no shoes, so Kim's out of his mind.[24] Kim Jae-gyu hoped that Jeong and Chief Secretary Kim would support him in the coup, as both had been appointed to their positions on his recommendation and Chief Secretary Kim was especially close to Jeong. The car initially headed to KCIA Headquarters, in Namsan district, but eventually went to army headquarters, in Yongsan District, since the army would have to be involved in declaring emergency martial law.[45] As the car passed in front of the Military Manpower Administration, Kim Jae-gyu gave Jeong a square cinnamon candy, and he tried to eat it, but secretly threw it on the floor, suspecting that it contained poison and could be used by him.[43]

There is an opinion that the situation might have been different if Kim Jae-gyu had gone to the KCIA headquarters, where he would be in control, instead of the headquarters at this time.[28] However, Kim Jae-gyu's failure to gain Jeong's support sealed the fate of the conspirators.[24]

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Kim Kye-won took Park's body to the Army hospital and ordered doctors to save him at all costs (without revealing Park's identity).[46] At 8 p.m., Major Song Gye-yong, who was the commanding officer on duty, made an urgent call to Air Force Brigadier General Kim Byeong-soo, head of the hospital who was Park's attending physician since 1974, saying, "A patient with a gunshot wound has been evacuated, but he is D.O.A. (Death on Arrival)." Kim Byeong-soo, not knowing that the emergency patient was the President, said, "If you are D.O.A., why are you contacting me? You should contact the morgue at Capital Hospital and make preparations." Kim Byeong-soo rushed to work at 8:20 p.m. and rushed to the emergency room for an autopsy, but was found in front of the door. Entry was blocked by KCIA agents guarding the area, and Kim Byeong-soo eventually went up to the hospital director's office, changed into his military uniform, and when his identity was confirmed, entry was not blocked and he was able to enter the emergency room. Moreover, suspicions were further amplified when Chief of Staff Kim Gye-won was contacted and told to "respectfully take the patient to the president's hospital room." Kim Byeong-soo said that when he went in, he thought he was just an emergency patient, but when he went in, he saw that the patient's face was covered with a white towel. Kim Byeong-soo asked the bodyguards who he was, but they only answered that they didn't know. Kim Byeong-soo said they needed to know who he was, so in the end, the bodyguard lowered the towel halfway and showed only the right half. Later, Kim Byeong-soo only showed the left half to show that it was President Park Chung-hee, but Kim only saw half of his face for the first time, so he didn't recognize Park. At 8:30 p.m, when Kim Byeong-soo took off the patient's shirt to check for gunshot wounds, he saw a white spot on Park's abdomen and only then did he realize that he was the president. However, Kim Byeong-soo did not show the security guard that he knew that the dead person was President Park Chung-hee, because it was such a huge thing.[47]

At around 8:40 p.m, since the Armed Forces Capital Hospital, the hospital where Kim Byeong-soo is located, was under the jurisdiction of the Security Command, he decided to contact Security Command Commander Chun Doo-hwan, thinking that even if the President was dead, the body would have to be guarded. The bodyguard stayed close to Kim Byeong-soo and watched his every move. Kim Byeong-soo went into the medical director's office and called Chun, but failed to tell him that the president was dead due to the security guard's surveillance, and returned to his room. At around 8:50 p.m, while Kim Byeong-soo was thinking about somehow informing the security headquarters that the President had died, Brigadier General Woo Kuk-il, the Chief of Staff of the Security Command, called. Woo asked Kim Byeong-soo to just answer what he said and asked whether he had passed away, whether he was Chief Cha, or whether he was Code 1. Kim Byeong-su answers the phone and answers only three words: 'yes, no, yes.' At this time, when the bodyguard asked what phone call he had made, Kim Byeong-soo said he asked, "Is everything okay?" and said, "Yes." He asked, "Are you in danger?" and asked, "No." He said, "I will protect you well, so don't worry." and said, "Yes." "I answered," he said. It was at that time that the security command knew for sure that the president had died. Kim Byeong-soo named only a few of those who had been summoned in an emergency to maintain security and sent all the rest home. At around 9:20 p.m, Kim Byeong-soo finished taking x-rays of the size of the wounds and gunshot wounds on the body in the emergency room and moved the body to the president's room in the hospital. The bodyguards were keeping Kim Byeong-soo immobile.[47]

After confirming that Park had already died, Kim Gye-won, who went to the Blue House, also urgently contacted key ministers. Kim Gye-won then went to Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah to reveal what happened that night, and he said martial law must be declared. Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah arrived first, followed by ministers. Afterwards, Kim Jae-gyu, who was in the headquarters bunker, and Kim Gye-won, who was at the Blue House, spoke on the phone, and it appears that they asked each other to come to their side. In the end, Chief of Staff Kim Gye-won said to Prime Minister Choi Gyu-hah, "Let's go to the headquarters bunker," and he and his ministers arrived at the headquarters bunker at around 9:30 p.m.[28]

At the Ministry of National Defense, an emergency cabinet meeting held in the headquarters conference room, Kim Jae-gyu hides the fact that Park is dead and says that since His Excellency is currently in exile, this fact must be kept under security for at least 48 hours and martial law must be declared quickly, and if Kim Il-sung finds out, it will be a big problem. However, contrary to Kim Jae-gyu's expectations, the State Council members, including Deputy Prime Minister Shin Hyeon-hwak, protested. Justice Minister Kim Chi-yeol refuted this by saying that such a serious situation cannot be hidden for 48 hours through security for no reason, and that the United States should also be informed of this fact. It makes no sense for Deputy Prime Minister Shin Hyun-hwak, who arrived late at the headquarters, to suddenly impose martial law on Kim Jae-gyu, and the whole story is unknown as to what happened. He protested by saying that before Shin Hyeon-hwak arrived at the headquarters, other ministers were in a state of trembling due to Kim Jae-gyu's momentum, but when the State Council members strongly opposed Kim Jae-gyu's intention to declare martial law while hiding the fact that the president was assassinated was frustrated.[48] Finally, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Kim Seong-jin and others protested and demanded a suspension, and the cabinet meeting was suspended. As Kim Gye-won watched the State Council members protesting, he realized before anyone else that there was nothing behind Kim Jae-gyu and that he had no special plans in mind, and decided to reveal the truth.[49]

At around 11:40 p.m, Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won secretly told Jeong who is the Army Chief of Staff and the Minister of National Defense Noh Jae-hyun[49] that Kim Jae-gyu was the culprit. At 11:40 p.m, when Jeong learned of what happened from Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won, he ordered Major General Chun Doo-hwan, commander of Security Command, to take Director Kim into custody and investigate the incident. A cabinet meeting was held at around 11:50 p.m, and Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah did not mention that the President had died. 'A serious situation concerning national security has occurred. That's why we convened a cabinet meeting,' that's all he said. Even then, many members of the State Council were unaware that the President had died.[28]

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. on the October 27, Kim Jae-gyu was arrested after he was lured to a secluded area outside army headquarters on the pretext of meeting with Jeong.[50][28] At around 1:20 a.m. on October 27, State Council members went to the Armed Forces Capital Hospital to confirm President Park's death. Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah, Deputy Prime Minister Shin Hyun-hwak, Minister Kim Chi-yeol, Minister Kim Seong-jin, and Chief of Staff Kim Gye-won arrived at the hospital together. After crying and mourning, they return.[47]

Around 1:30 a.m. after the State Council members left, the security agency launched an operation to arrest the central government agents who were monitoring Kim Byeong-su, and succeeded in arresting the two people. Their arrest operation was led by Lee Sang-yeon, head of the National Security Agency's inspection office. After hearing the news of President Park's death around 2:00 a.m. his second daughter, Park Geun-young, came to visit. She too wailed. Her bodyguards who followed her were her security agents. Before putting new clothes on Park's body, Kim Byeong-su tried to remove the bullet lodged in the left side of Park's face, but his family opposed it, so he left it alone. They demanded that Kim Byeong-su "not put a knife to his father's face." Around 3:00 a.m, Kim Byeong-soo moved Park's body to the Blue House. Park Geun-hye also held President Park's body and wailed loudly.[47]

The Cabinet meeting resumed. At around 3:45 a.m, it was decided on the spot to declare martial law, and martial law was declared in all regions except Jeju Island, this is because if the entire country is declared a martial law area, all administrative authority is concentrated in the martial law commander. This is because the martial law commander, i.e. the Army Chief of Staff, can receive command and supervision from the Minister of National Defense.[28][51]

Early morning on October 27, 1979, safe house in Gungjeong-dong. Lee Ki-ju, who is the same age as security guard Yoo Seok-sul, came urgently carrying something. Lee tells Yoo to take a pistol, a few shell casings, and the slippers Kim Jae-gyu was wearing and hide them in the garden.[24]

At 7 a.m, while people were confirming the death of Cha, who died at the scene on October 26, they confirmed that bodyguard Park Sang-beom was alive and rescued him.[47]

At 8 a.m, according to a radio broadcast by Tongyang Broadcasting Company, announce that an accidental conflict occurred between KCIA Director Kim Jae-gyu and Security Chief Cha Ji-cheol, and President Park Chung-hee died after being hit by a bullet fired by Kim, and Kim was detained by martial law forces and investigated.[24]

Eventually, everyone involved in the assassination was arrested, tortured and later executed. In the process, Chun Doo-hwan emerged as a new political force by investigating and subordinating KCIA under his Security Command, and Jeong Seung-hwa became the chief martial law administrator. Later, when Chun Doo-hwan seized power in the Coup d'état of December Twelfth 1979,[52][50][53] he had Jeong Seung-hwa and Chief Secretary Kim arrested on suspicion of conspiring with Director Kim.[54]

The Joint Investigation Headquarters ordered the women who attended the President's dinner to use the pseudonyms of Sohn Geum-ja (Korean손금자; Hanja孫錦子) (Sim Soo-bong) and Jeong Hye-seon (Korean정혜선; Hanja鄭惠善) (Shin Jae-soon), but the real names were circulated among people and eventually turned out to be true.[55]

Theories regarding motive[edit]

Kim Jae-gyu's motive in killing his long-time benefactor President Park has been controversial and the subject of much discussion. There are many theories on Kim's true motive of killing Park. The following are just some of these theories.

The killing was an unplanned, impulsive act[edit]

One theory is that it was an unplanned, impulsive act.

  • For several months, Kim had been under extreme pressure from a series of political crises. In addition, Cha had been aggressively encroaching on KCIA's turf and Park had been showing an increasing preference for Cha over Kim. During the dinner Cha and Park severely criticized Kim for incompetence— this was the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Kim did not have a gun hidden and ready in the same building— he had to go to another building to get a gun.
  • Kim told his closest subordinates nothing about his plans until just before he acted. Park Seun-ho later regretted that Kim hadn't given him enough information to handle the aftermath more effectively at KCIA.
  • Kim had virtually no plan for the aftermath of Park's assassination.
  • Kim went to Army HQ instead of KCIA HQ.

The killing was deliberate and premeditated[edit]

One theory is that Kim deliberately planned the assassination of Park.

  • Kim invited the Army Chief of Staff to a dinner at 4:15 pm, after learning that he would have a dinner with Park at 4:00 pm. Kim appears to have decided on the assassination at 4:15 pm at the latest.
  • It was not customary for Kim to carry a gun to dinner with Park.
  • Kim claimed that he had wanted to end Park's dictatorship ever since the Yushin Constitution was ratified in 1972. He claimed that he had attempted to assassinate Park three times: once in 1974 and twice in 1979. He told his lawyer that his first attempt to assassinate Park was on September 14, 1974, when he was appointed to be Minister of Construction. A newsreel of this event does show something protruding out of Kim's pocket when he shook hands with Park.[56][57]
  • Shortly before the dinner banquet, Kim told Chief Secretary Kim Gye-won that he would get rid of Cha.
  • Kim was not entirely wrong in reading the mood of the military and of Army Chief of Staff Jeong Seung-hwa. During Kim's trial, Jeong said that Park's regime acted wrongly in some cases, quoted some of Kim's statements word-for-word, and appeared to defend Kim's actions. After the assassination, 50 out of 52 generals in the military voted to repeal the Yushin Constitution. Although the military dictatorship continued under Chun Doo-hwan, the Yushin Constitution was repealed a year later, on October 27, 1980.
  • The main proponents of the theory that the assassination was unplanned were Kim Gye-won[16] and Jeong Seung-hwa, who had a vested interest in portraying the event as an impulsive act, as they were both suspected[by whom?] of being co-conspirators.

The killing was motivated by jealousy of Cha[edit]

Kim Hyong-uk in 1968

One theory is that Kim assassinated Park out of jealousy toward Cha, when he was losing his status and power as No. 2 in Park's regime.[9]

  • When Kim shot Park, his rallying cry was not about democracy but rather reflected his resentment of Cha.
  • Kim worked tirelessly to sabotage the opposition party's election and prevent Kim Young-sam's chairmanship.
  • As Kim testified in his trial, his relationship with Park was one of real brothers. They came from the same hometown and were classmates at the South Korean Army Academy.

The killing was motivated by a desire to restore democracy[edit]

One theory is that Kim assassinated Park in an attempt to restore democracy.

  • In his last statement at his trial, Kim gave five motives for assassinating Park: "firstly, to restore free democracy; secondly, to prevent further bloodshed of Korean people; thirdly, to prevent North Korean aggression; fourthly, to completely restore the close relationship with our strong ally the United States, which fell to the worst point since the founding of South Korea and advance our national interest through closer cooperation in defense, diplomacy, and economy; and fifthly, to restore [South] Korea's honor in the international community by cleansing the bad image of [South] Korea as a dictatorship country."[58]
  • Kim said in court: "I shot the heart of Yushin in the heart of [the] beast. I did that for [the] democracy of this country. There [was] no ambition and greed."
  • According to people close to Kim, in the 1971 presidential election, at Kim's suggestion, Park promised voters that it would be his last term. Kim was very disappointed when Park broke his promise and ratified the Yushin Constitution, which guaranteed Park's dictatorship for life.
  • According to people who were Kim's subordinates when he was the commander of Third Army Group in 1972, Kim was very disturbed by the Yushin Constitution. Kim claimed that if Park were to visit his base during a tour of military bases, he planned to arrest Park and force him to resign. A small house on the base would be used to detain Park, and the wire fence surrounding the house was indeed modified to permit entry but prevent exit.
  • Declassified U.S. diplomatic cables revealed that Kim was thought of as an unusual KCIA director who often spoke of democracy and as a more approachable figure who often carried Washington's messages on human rights to Park.
  • Long after Kim's death, it was revealed that he had maintained contacts with opposition leaders. Respected opposition leader Jang Jun-ha felt that Kim was a patriotic soldier who would one day work with them for democracy. According to Jang's eldest son, the two would pretend to run into each other accidentally when they met, and Kim secretly helped Jang's family financially. In 1975, Jang died under suspicious circumstance while climbing a mountain. Later, when Kim was KCIA director, he met Jang's son to tell him with deep regret that Jang's death was not accidental but that the regime was involved.[57]
  • Kim asked a relative, a consul serving in Japan, to draft a "third way"— a way to amend the Yushin Constitution that would allow Park to maintain military power but yield political power to a civilian government.[50] According to Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan, Director Kim once asked him to talk to Park about a "third way"— a way to amend the Yushin Constitution that would be acceptable to Park. Director Kim believed that as a Catholic cardinal, Cardinal Kim was the only person who could speak frankly to Park without repercussion. He was disappointed when the talk proved fruitless.[50][59]
  • In 1979, Kim often wrote calligraphy about freedom and democracy, which were found in his house after his arrest.
  • One argument against the theory that Kim was acting out of a love of democracy is the fact that the KCIA's chief function was to maintain Park's dictatorship by suppressing opposition parties, democracy activists, leftist students, and intellectuals. In his capacity as KCIA director, Kim used all of the KCIA's tools of repression, including torture, unlawful imprisonment, and murder.[60] In light of his actions as director of KCIA, it is difficult to believe that Kim was a closeted believer in democracy, although it is possible that he tried to be a mitigating influence on Park and KCIA.

The possible U.S involvement[edit]

  • One theory is that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was behind the assassination of Park. According to this theory, the CIA wanted to prevent the development of a nuclear weapon by South Korea, something that Park was pursuing. Later the United States recognized Chun Doo-hwan's legitimacy on the condition of his abandoning the nuclear weapons program.
  • Kim claimed that the United States was behind him. The United States Ambassador denied any American involvement in his diplomatic cable to the State Department. Diplomatic cables show that Ambassador William H. Gleysteen worried about the possibility of Kim claiming that he and his predecessor incited Kim to assassinate Park. In any case, it is possible that Kim believed that his coup would have the support of the United States if successful. In 1999, Gleysteen said that the U.S. became unwittingly involved in Park's assassination without explaining further.[61]
  • Kim had frequent meetings with Robert G. Brewster, CIA chief in Seoul, and other American diplomats. He met with Ambassador Gleysteen on the day of the assassination, just five hours before the shooting.[62]
  • Kim cited the worsening American–South Korean diplomatic relations as one of his reasons for assassinating Park.
  • Another theory is that Kim was protected by the CIA and was even seen alive after his "alleged" execution. However, this claim is not widely believed.

Other motives[edit]

  • Kim deliberately assassinated Park in an effort to seize power for himself. This was the official determination of Chun Doo-hwan's investigation.
  • Kim suffered from temporary insanity due to hepatic encephalopathy related to his liver disease. However, his physician Kim Jeong-Ryong stated that Kim's liver disease was well controlled and not serious enough to affect daily activities.
  • A combination of factors led to the assassination—Kim had planned to assassinate Park but the actual assassination was an impulsive act provoked by the behavior of Cha.

Fate of KCIA conspirators[edit]

Kim Jae-gyu on trial

Park Heung-ju, Kim Jae-gyu's secretary and former aide-de-camp of Kim, was executed by firing squad on March 6, 1980: he was executed first because he was on active military service at the time of the assassination.[9][63]

Five men were hanged on May 24, 1980:[9]

  • Kim Jae-gyu, KCIA chief and assassin of President Park.
  • Park Seon-ho, senior KCIA agent and pupil of Kim Jae-gyu when the latter was a middle school teacher.
  • Yoo Seong-ok, a driver in the KCIA safe house.
  • Lee Ki-ju, head of the safehouse security service.
  • Kim Tae-won, safe house security agent: while he did not actually kill anyone, he was heavily involved in the planning, and after the assassination (on Park Seon-ho's orders), he fired an automatic rifle into the safe house in an attempt to disguise the shooting as an ambush by North Korean commandos.

Kim Gye-won was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment a few days later, and he was released in 1982.[9][16]

Seo Young-jun, a safe house security agent, was released after serving 17 years of a sentence of life imprisonment.[9]

Except for Park Heung-ju and Park Seon-ho, the co-conspirators followed Kim Jae-gyu's orders without knowing whom they were shooting and why.


Cultural references[edit]



  • Joo Byung-jin's Show (Korean주병진쇼; RRJubyeongjinsyo) (1993)[65][27]
  • Unanswered Questions (Korean그것이 알고싶다; RRGeugeosi algosipda) - Episode 74, 75 (1993)[66]
  • Now We Can Tell the Story (Korean이제는 말할 수 있다; RRIjeneun malhal su itda)
    • Episode 78 (2004)[50]
    • Episode 96 (2005)[67]
  • Kkokkomu (Korean꼬리에 꼬리를 무는 그날 이야기; RRKkorie kkorireul muneun geunal iyagi) - Episode 99 (2023)[68]

TV series[edit]

See also[edit]


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  72. ^ [#제5공화국]제1부 - 김재규, 유신의 심장을 쏘다! [[#Fifth Republic]Part 1 - Kim Jae-gyu, shoots the heart of Yushin!] (in Korean). 옛드 : MBC 레전드 드라마 (published April 23, 2005). December 2, 2019. Retrieved December 26, 2023.
  73. ^ [#제5공화국]제2부 - 김재규는 왜? 육본으로 향했을까? [[#Fifth Republic]Part 2 - Why did Kim Jae-gyu head to the army headquarters?] (in Korean). 옛드 : MBC 레전드 드라마 (published April 24, 2005). December 2, 2019. Retrieved December 26, 2023.
  74. ^ [#코리아게이트]10월 26일, 박정희 대통령을 향해 총을 쏜 김재규|#풀버전 #1회 [[#KoreaGate]On October 26th, Kim Jae-gyu shot at President Park Chung-hee|#Full version #Episode 1] (in Korean). 빽드 - SBS 옛날 드라마 (published October 21, 1995). May 22, 2023. Retrieved December 26, 2023.
  75. ^ [#코리아게이트]대통령을 암살한 김재규를 체포하다|#풀버전 #2회 [[#KoreaGate]Kim Jae-gyu, who assassinated the president, is arrested|#Full version #Episode 2] (in Korean). 빽드 - SBS 옛날 드라마 (published October 22, 1995). May 23, 2023. Retrieved December 26, 2023.

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