Experts speculate S. Korean murder suspect a 'hoarder'

A picture to illustrate a hoarder.

Crime experts raised speculation Thursday that a woman who kept two dead bodies in her house might be a patient of a disorder known as compulsive hoarding.

The suspect, surnamed Lee, reenacted her crime at the apartment in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday.

On-the-scene investigations Thursday also showed that Lee's home was "filled with old trash," suggesting she habitually avoided throwing things away.

The murder case traces back to the evening of July 29, when residents of a small apartment complex in Pocheon reported to police that they heard a boy wailing.

Police and emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene. A police report said a rotten smell overtook the first-responders as soon as they entered the small apartment.

Investigators found two bodies decomposed beyond recognition, stuffed into an 80-cm rubber basket. One body's face was covered with plastic wrapping while the other had a red scarf tied to its neck.

The boy was rescued. He had been suffering from malnutrition. Nobody else was home.

After a frantic three-day search, the boy's mother was arrested last Sunday as the prime suspect in the alleged murders.

The two bodies were identified as those of the suspect's 49-year-old boyfriend and 51-year-old husband.

How, why, when, and even whether the suspect killed the victims remain mysteries.

But a behavioural disorder called compulsive hoarding might offer clues to investigators, according to experts.

Compulsive hoarding refers to a habit of not being able to throw objects away. Sufferers of this phenomenon refuse to throw away personal items, including even fingernail clippings. Milder symptoms include finding it difficult to throw away scrap paper, or old books.

Lee's alleged actions show symptoms of the disorder, a criminal behaviour expert said.

"If you look at the objective facts that have been revealed thus far we could suspect that (Lee) is suffering from compulsive hoarding," Lee Sue-jung, professor at Kyonggi University's criminal psychology department said, according to news reports.

The suspect claims she choked her boyfriend after a verbal brawl sometime before July. Her husband had died of natural causes years before, she said.

According to the suspect's elder son, who had moved out of the home a few years before, his father had died 10 years ago, backing up his mother's statements. The elder son claims they kept the body of his father in the home.

Lie detector tests found that the elder son's remarks were "close to the facts," police said.

Circumstantial evidence add weight to the compulsive hoarding theory.

According to the book "Stuff," written by professors Randy O. Frost of Smith College and Gail Steketee of Boston University, sufferers of compulsive hoarding are sometimes victims of traumatic experiences.

The female suspect Lee had lost her second son in 1995 when he died in a traffic accident. Lee told police during investigations that she and her husband had fought over who was more responsible for the tragedy.