They claimed to be part of a religious group known as the “Soldiers of Christ” and convinced a woman from South Korea to travel all the way to Gwinnett County to join them, police said.
But that woman was later beaten and starved to death, wrapped in a blanket and tossed in the trunk of a car, authorities said. Investigators also believe those responsible for killing her were part of a gang and additional charges were filed in the case.
“Said accused knowingly and unlawfully did increase or maintain his status within his gang by committing the criminal offense of felony murder,” one of the male suspects’ warrants state.
Six people, including a teenager, were charged with murder Wednesday, a day after the woman’s 70-pound body was found inside the car outside a Duluth-area bathhouse and spa, according to police. Medical examiners believe malnourishment contributed to the death of the woman, who was thought to be in her mid-20s to 30s, police said.
The woman’s name has not been released by police because her relatives have not been notified.
The adult suspects were identified as Eric Hyun, 26, Joonhyun Lee, 22, Joonho Lee, 26, Hyunji Lee, 25, and Gawon Lee, 26. They are each facing charges of felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence and concealing the death of another. A 15-year-old, Junyeoug Lee, was also charged with murder and was being held at a youth detention center, police said.
All of the suspects were later charged under Georgia’s criminal street gang laws, Cpl. Juan Madiedo with Gwinnett police said. Georgia law defines a criminal street gang as “any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity.”
On Friday, four of the suspects had their first court appearances at the jail and were all denied bond. Hyun did not appear in court, while the teenager charged is expected to appear in juvenile court.
Police did not release specific details about the “Soldiers of Christ” during a Thursday news conference, but a local Korean pastor said he had not heard of the group. When he heard about the arrests, Pastor David Ree of the Korean Church of Atlanta UMC in Duluth did a little research but came up with nothing.
”I don’t know if they are connected to a cult in South Korea or what’s going on,” Ree told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “None of my peers know anything about Soldiers of Christ.”
The woman was found late Tuesday inside a silver Jaguar sedan outside Jeju Sauna, a popular 24-hour Korean bathhouse on Gwinnett Place Drive, police said. Madiedo said investigators believe she may have been dead for more than a week before her body was placed in the trunk.
Authorities believe Hyun drove his car with the woman’s body inside to the business parking lot early Tuesday. He then called a family member to pick him up and take him to a hospital for unspecified injuries, Madiedo said.
While at the hospital, Hyun asked the person to retrieve an item from his car. That’s when the family member saw the body and called 911, police said. The family member was not charged.
Investigators then searched the Lawrenceville-area home at 2415 Stable Gate, where Hyun previously lived with the Lee family. The five-bedroom, two-story house is in the Steeplechase subdivision, about a mile from Sugarloaf Mills mall. According to property records, the home was purchased by Jee Yong Lee in 2021, but neighbors said they knew little about the people who lived there.
Ashley Towers, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2008, said she didn’t have a bad impression of the people in the house across the street from her. She just had no impression at all.
”I never saw them. I saw, maybe, the mom and dad — I don’t know who they are — working in the yard,” she said.
Other neighbors described the residents of the home as standoffish and said they were rarely seen outside. Towers said she never saw the younger adults until they were being arrested in her front yard Thursday.
”Ultimately, I saw them on the news,” she said.
Investigators believe the woman was killed in the home’s basement. Photos released by police showed several pairs of what appeared to be hiking boots along with pieces of wood and areas where investigators observed blood.