GI Flashbacks: The 1999 Murder of SFC Jeanne Balcombe

A Night of Drinking Turns Into Murder

In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 21, 1999 Sergeant First Class Jeanne Balcombe was on duty at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.  She was a platoon sergeant in the 55th Military Police Company doing what every good Non-commissioned officer does, enforcing standards.  She was conducting checks that night when she saw one of the soldiers in her platoon who appeared to be drunk and was underage to be consuming alcohol.  The soldier had been drinking with the 20-year old, Private First Class Jacob M. Bowley who also a member of her platoon.  The soldiers had been on a four-day pass and SFC Balcombe removed their pass privileges and brought the underage soldier to the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic to have his blood drawn to test for alcohol.

Soldiers getting caught underage drinking in in Korea is very common and there was nothing unusual about this incident until PFC Bowley barged into the medical clinic shortly before 4 A.M. with a gun.  After PFC Bowley had his pass privileges removed by SFC Balcombe his anger boiled over and he was determined to get back at SFC Balcombe.

On the night Balcombe was killed, she caught Bowley and another underage soldier drinking. Balcombe took away a four-day leave pass from Bowley and made the other soldier submit to a blood-alcohol test.

Messer testified that Bowley was angry the pass was taken away that night.  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]

To exact his revenge he needed a weapon.  Korean Augmentee to the US Army (KATUSA) Corporal Suh So-so worked as a military policeman in Bowley’s unit and was on duty that night which meant he had his 9mm pistol on him.  Corporal Suh who had no reason to suspect an attack from a member of his unit, was taken by surprise when Bowley approached him and then viciously attacked him.  PFC Bowley left Corporal Suh on the ground badly beaten and then took his sidearm.  Now that he was armed Bowley next headed to the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic to confront SFC Balcombe.

Camp Red Cloud Medical Clinic via Bruce Richards’ webpage.

SFC Balcombe who was unarmed at the time tried to intervene to stop the gunman and in the ensuing confrontation she was shot three times by Bowley to include once in the head killing her.  After the confrontation, Bowley repeatedly said, “She took my pass away!”  Investigators also believed that Bowley was attempting to shoot the soldier having his blood drawn because he told SFC Balcombe that Bowley was the one that provided him with the alcohol.  However, the confrontation SFC Balcombe had with Bowley provided enough time for others in the clinic to flee.

Other witnesses recounted grisly details during the first day of the hearing for Pfc. Jacob Bowley, who pleaded guilty last week to murdering Sgt. 1st Class Jean Balcombe. Balcombe, 33, worked for 1st Platoon, 55th Military Police Company, at Camp Red Cloud.

Capt. Edward McDaniel, officer in charge of the medical clinic, testified that Bowley silently walked into the facility on the morning of Aug. 21. Another soldier asked Bowley what he was doing, McDaniel said.

“Moments later, he reached behind his back and pulled out a weapon,” McDaniel said. “He pointed it in the direction of Sgt. Balcombe and (Sgt.) Huh.

“I was screaming, ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.’ ”

McDaniel and Sgt. Huh Dong-pil, a Korean soldier assigned to the 168th Medical Battalion, heard three shots. Huh, who said he was within two arms’ lengths of Balcombe, escaped into a nearby room.

“The situation was very bad and dangerous,” Huh said. “I was in a panic.”

Blood seeped under a door in the room where he hid, Huh said. After two more gunshots, he said he heard a “gurgling” sound and Balcombe’s breathing.  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 26, 2000]

Bowley after the murder fled in a military police Galloper Jeep from Camp Red Cloud.  At the exit gate for the camp he brandished his gun at the gate guard to let him through.  The Galloper was later found parked near the Uijongbu City Hall.  Bowley then made his way via train to the southeastern city of Busan.  Once there he attempted to withdraw cash from an ATM at the Yangjong-dong branch of the Seoul Bank branch in the city.  A Korean national at the bank saw the suspicious looking soldier and reported it to the police.  Bowley a short time later was apprehended by Korean police at 11:40am at the bank.  At the time of his apprehension he was cooperative as he was taken to a police car, but once in the police car he tried to pull out the gun he had concealed in his waistband.  A scuffle with the police ensured and they were able to disarm him.  Even during questioning Bowley was out of control and had to be restrained to his chair by the Korean police.

Stars & Stripes newspaper Aug. 22, 1999.

The Trial

PFC Bowley was charged with murder, aggravated assault, and five other charges after the killing of SFC Balcombe.

Stars & Stripes newspaper Sept. 2, 1999.

As the case went to trial PFC Bowley decided to plead guilty and his defense lawyer asked the judge to show leniency during sentencing blaming drinking caused by the stress of being in Korea for his actions:

During her closing statement, defense attorney Capt. Donna Hansen said
Bowley’s guilty plea showed he had taken responsibility for his actions.
In asking for a 10-year sentence, Hansen said Bowley had the potential
for rehabilitation.

“What Jacob Morgan Bowley did is wrong, but he is not evil,” Hansen
said. “Punishment is a must, but the degree of punishment must be
tempered.”

Heavy drinking and difficult duty in Korea put stress on Bowley, Hansen
said. The murder represented “an aberration to the real Jacob Bowley,”
she said.  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 31, 2000]

Bowley also took the stand pleading for leniency as well blaming stress and drinking for what he did:

Pfc. Jacob Bowley testified at his sentencing hearing Friday that he wished he could “erase this nightmare” begun when he fatally shot a military policewoman in a fit of rage.

“I wish I could stop the suffering I’ve caused, but there’s no going back,” said Bowley, who pleaded guilty last week to murder in the Aug. 21 shooting of Sgt. 1st Class Jeanne Balcombe, 32, of the 55th Military Police Company at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.

“All I can do is say that I’m sorry, but that will never be enough.”

Bowley made the statements during unsworn testimony, meaning he could not be questioned by government prosecutors.

Unsworn statements carry less weight in court during deliberations.

Bowley said he wishes he knew why he took a gun into the medical clinic at Red Cloud and shot Balcombe to death. Balcombe belonged to the same unit as Bowley.

“I shot an MP,” Bowley said. “I shot my platoon sergeant. I have to live knowing that I could do something like that.”

Bowley said he had a drinking problem, and alcohol “was pretty much the only way I could find to release (tension).” He said he tried to enroll in a treatment program, but that noncommissioned officers in his company wouldn’t let him. As a result, his drinking continued, Bowley said.

Reading from two prepared statements, Bowley apologized to the slain woman’s husband, Michael Balcombe, who flew from McMinnville, Ore., to attend the sentencing. But Bowley said he felt he could someday become a productive member of society.

“Still, I beg for mercy,” Bowley said to Col. Ronald White, the military judge. “I ask that I have another chance for life. Sir, I ask you to give me that chance.”  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]

It must have worked because the judge in the case, Colonel Ronald White sentenced Bowley to 56 years in prison, but he was given the possibility of parole after 10-years.  Bowley wanted another chance at life and the possibility of parole left that opportunity out there for him.

Why Did He Do It?

The violence perpetuated by Bowley seemed to be out of character for him if you believe what his friends and family from his hometown in New Hampshire had to say:

Bowley’s father, Freeman Bowley, who lives in Henniker, N.H., told The Associated Press his son was “just a wonderful kid. He loved the Army. He was having a great time.”

“All I’ve heard was there was some kind of altercation at the base where he was at . . . and one person is dead. And it’s not Jacob. And he’s involved in the questioning somehow,” he said.

He said his son has been serving at Camp Red Cloud since November and was planning to go into the criminal justice field after leaving the Army.  [Stars & Stripes – Aug. 24, 1999]

Others in his hometown called him a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant”:

Other testimony Thursday came from numerous people who knew Bowley from his hometown of Hillsboro, N.H. All said they were shocked to learn of the murder, many describing Bowley as a “teddy bear” and a “gentle giant.”  [Stars & Stripes – Jan. 29, 2000]

Clearly the so called “gentle giant” had some lingering anger management issues that was made worse by the drinking and drugs he was doing while in Korea.  In 2007 while confined at the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Bowley wrote a letter that was published by a Buddhist publication called Mindfulness Bell that discusses his anger and substance abuse issues and how Buddhism helped him address these problems:

I was confined in the summer of 1999, twenty years old and more a prisoner of my own deep inner fears than the walls around me. Wrapped up in the great speed of the world, I had been able — with the help of drugs and alcohol — to maintain in my mind an impressive illusion of control. Here in prison the reins were clearly not in my hands; I knew no way to keep up my speed. Forced to stop, or at least slow down, I had to face the bitter truth: my will did not rule the world. This disappointment was too much for me to contend with day after day so I closed my eyes in anger. I would rage against the whole world until it consented to the perpetual gratification of my senses.  [Mindfulness Bell]

You can read the rest at the link, but Bowley in the article said that he would like to become a monk whenever he is released.

The Aftermath

SFC Balcombe was 32 at the time of her early death and left behind a husband Mike Balcombe who was a retired Army NCO and two young daughters.  Her family was living in her home state of Oregon during her one year tour of duty in Korea.  SFC Balcombe was buried in McMinnville, Oregon at the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.

She was buried with full military honors by an honor guard from Fort Lewis, Washington.  SFC Balcombe had previously served at Fort Lewis and all the soldiers in the honor guard either knew or served with Balcombe there.  Her husband Mike was presented her Soldier’s Medal, the second-highest honor that can be bestowed during peacetime.  The medal was posthumously awarded to SFC Balcombe because of her actions confronting Bowley which allowed other soldiers to escape the medical clinic.  Additionally in front of the Camp Red Cloud medical clinic a marker with a tree was planted in honor of SFC Jeanne Balcombe.  It can still be seen there today.  A final honor for SFC Balcombe was that in 2016 she was inducted into the National Army Museum.

As for Bowley I could not confirm whether or not he was paroled.  However, I was able to find a Jacob M. Bowley that lives in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, that is the same age as the Private Bowley that was incarcerated.

Additionally the Jacob Bowley in the listing is related to a Freeman Bowley.  Freeman Bowley is the name of Private Bowley’s dad as identified in the prior Stars & Stripes article.  So I think it is a pretty safe assumption that Private Bowley has in fact been paroled.  If he has been paroled it seems like pretty light punishment to be in jail for less than 20 years after committing such a horrible murder.  Hopefully he lives the rest of his life trying to atone for taking away a fine NCO from her soldiers and more importantly a wife and mom from her husband and two kids.

Further Reading:

ROK Lawmaker Complains About the US-ROK SOFA Though It Is Currently Working the Way He Wants

Here we go again with the Korean left pushing propaganda about the US-ROK Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA):

Rep. Park Byeong-seug (left) of the ruling Democratic Party shakes hand with Chinese State Councilor for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi. (Yonhap)

Nearly 7 in 10 criminal offenses committed by members of US forces stationed in South Korea end up with no one being charged by South Korean authorities, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

According to government data released Tuesday by Rep. Park Byeong-seug of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, the nonprosecution rate for crimes committed by US military personnel here stands at a whopping 70.7 percent as of July this year, up from 58.2 percent in 2014.

The figure for violent crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, is even higher at 81.3 percent, meaning 8 out of 10 offenders do not go through the Korean system. This proportion is higher than in 2014, when the number stood at 63 percent.

As for illegal drug use, which is strictly punished in South Korea, 42.9 percent of the accused members of US forces avoided indictment this year, up from 33.3 percent in 2014.

Rep. Park pointed to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and South Korea as the main reason behind the leniency.  [Korea Herald via a reader tip]

Can someone name the last Korean that was murdered or even raped by a US soldier?  I can’t even remember the last murder committed by a US soldier because it has been so long.  The last rape accusation was back in February and guess what the soldier was charged by Korean authorities.  Since then nothing has come out about this case which people can draw their own conclusions about.  Bottom line there is not a rash of rapes and murders going on in Korea as Representative Park leads people to believe.  That leaves violent crimes being mostly assaults and robberies.  So why weren’t these servicemembers not charged by Korean authorities like Rep. Park Byeong-seug wants?  Because ROK authorities gave up jurisdiction to the US military:

He did not give details on how the US military dealt with those crimes it took under its jurisdiction, or what proportion of nonprosecutions were prosecuted by the US military.

“When such crime is committed by US soldiers, the US Army sends a request to South Korea’s Justice Ministry to give up the jurisdiction, and in most cases, we accept their request,” the five-term lawmaker explained.

“SOFA should be revised immediately to protect our jurisdiction rights and lives and property of our citizens.”

So what is Rep. Park complaining about the SOFA when it is working the way it is supposed to?  If Korea wants to handle every assault and robbery case involving a USFK servicemember they can.  However, they choose not to.  Why is that?  It could be because local authorities do not want to deal with the paperwork and the need for translators to properly handle a SOFA case.  Instead of complaining about the SOFA Rep. Park should take measures to ensure local authorities are better resourced to handle SOFA cases if he wants more servicemembers tried in Korean courts.

GI Myths: The Unfair US-ROK SOFA Agreement

However the real issue here is not the SOFA, but instead this is just another area where the Korean left is trying to draw a wedge between the US and the South Korean public.  Remember the Korean leftists want the US military out of Korea because they feel this is what is hindering reconciliation with North Korea.  However, the majority of the ROK public wants the US military to stay because of the threat from North Korea.  So the leftists have to demagogue these fake issues like the SOFA to change the public’s opinion of the US military.  They have for decades pushed this narrative that US troops are running around Korea committing all these crimes and getting away with it.  This is of course proven by data to be untrue.  This latest SOFA claim is just the continuing of this drum beat.

Former South Korean Media Darling is Now Accused of Murdering 14-Year Old Girl

This alleged murdered was a one-time South Korean media darling who no one in the media did any background checking on:

Lee Young-hak

Lee, better known by the public as “Molar Daddy” for losing most of his teeth except one molar while undergoing surgery five times to remove tumors from his gums, appeared to pay tribute to his late wife in the eerie eulogy.

Viewers’ reactions to his YouTube video were cold. “A murderer,” one internet user wrote.

Lee is under investigation for slaying a 14-year-old girl identified only by her last name Kim and abandoning her body in the mountains in the eastern county of Yeongwol earlier this month.

Lee has led a double life.

He became a high-profile victim of rare disease after he and his family appeared in TV documentaries several times since 2006. In the public eye, he was portrayed as a poor but caring father who did everything to save his sick daughter A-yun, now 14, and raised money to finance her medical bills.

He is the author of the book, “A Happy Molar Daddy” (2007), in which he recounts the ordeals he and his family suffered after his daughter was diagnosed with gigantiform cementoma, a rare dental tumor.

But his public image didn’t reflect the monster inside. Lee is now a murder suspect who allegedly took the life of the 14-year-old girl. He has a criminal record of 18 incidents. He is an alleged sexual deviant who forced his wife to have sex with other men and record it on video. He was reportedly involved in the sex trade, too.  [Korea Times]

You can read the rest at the link, but it is also claimed this guy was living a lavish lifestyle based off the money the media was helping him to raise to assist his daughter.

Korean Couple Arrested for Leaving Kids Unattended in Car During Visit to Guam

I think this may be a case of a cultural difference because I have seen kids left unattended in vehicles in Korea quite often where in the US this will land you in jail like this Korean couple visiting Guam have found out:

A South Korean judge-lawyer couple has been accused in Guam of child abuse. They reportedly went shopping on Monday with their two children locked in a car in sweltering weather.

U.S. law punishes parents who leave minors unattended inside a car as child abuse.

The children, aged six and one, were found “slumped forward” in the car parked near a shopping center Monday afternoon.The engine was off and the windows closed.

Two people noticed the children and called police after failing to find their parents. Police rescued the children who had “sweat streaming down their foreheads and the sides of their faces. They are now recovering, according to local media.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

Legislation in Korea Would Stiffen Penalties for “Revenge Porn”

People best think twice before sharing any images or videos of ex-lovers while living in South Korea:

The government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea will push ahead with legislation to toughen penalties on revenge porn.

If the National Assembly passes the new law, which it is very likely to, those who attempt to humiliate ex-lovers by sharing images online or videos of their naked bodies, won’t just be slapped on the wrist with a fine as many of them are currently. Instead, they may face up to five years in prison without the option of a fine.

Under the current law, such criminals face up to five years in prison or a maximum fine of 10 million won ($8,800), and most end up with the fine.

Hong Nam-ki, head of the Office of Government Policy Coordination, announced a package of measures Tuesday to better protect people from the crime, which has become a social issue in recent years.

Those who commercially use such images or videos could face up to seven years in prison.

The new law will also require offenders to pay the costs of removing the contents online.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

Teenager Who Murdered and Dismembered 8 Year Old Girl In Incheon Gets 20 Years in Prison

I feel so bad for the victim’s parents that this murderer was only sentenced to 20 years for this horrible crime:

The Incheon District Court on Friday sentenced the suspect who murdered an 8-year-old girl and dismembered her body to 20 years in prison, and doled out a life sentence for the accomplice. The court also said the two must wear ankle monitors for 30 years.

“Kim very carefully planned the crime,” the court said. “And Park was in a close relationship with Kim and she was her accomplice through the act.”

The suspect is a 17-year-old female student surnamed Kim. Her accomplice is an 18-year-old female student surnamed Park.

The Juvenile Act prevents anyone under 18 from receiving a life sentence or death penalty for murder or other serious crimes. The act says a minor convicted of murder can receive a sentence of up to 15 years. But Kim was sentenced to 20 years after the Act on the Aggravated Punishment of Specific Crimes was applied to her case.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

Korean Woman in Yeosu Cuts Off Husband’s Penis for Playing Too Much Golf

I suspect it was more than playing golf that got his wife this upset to cut off his penis and flush it down the toilet:

A woman has been arrested on charges of cutting off her husband’s penis while he was sleeping, police said Monday.

According to Yeosu Police Station, the incident happened at an apartment in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, at 11:58 p.m. on Saturday.

The woman, 54, whose is unidentified, allegedly cut off the tip of the penis with a kitchen knife and flushed the flesh down the toilet.

A neighbor found the husband, left in pain, and took him to a nearby hospital, where he is in stable condition.

A police investigation revealed that the couple were on unhealthy terms.

Not only had the husband been violent to the woman, she had harbored a grudge because he gave her no money, but spent lavishly on his own enjoyment, such as like playing golf. [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

Korean Woman Murdered In Los Angeles for Resisting Robbery Attempt

Condolences to the family of this Korean woman killed by this animal in Los Angeles:

An American gang member has been arrested for fatally shooting a Korean woman in Los Angeles.

The tragedy happened Aug. 8.

Devon White, 20, approached Oh Hye-soon, 67, who was leaving her business in Lynwood around 8:40 p.m. He allegedly tried to steal her belongings but the woman resisted, which led to a scuffle. White then shot her, according to reports. The man was caught on Aug. 17 and is being held at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.

Glendale Police Sgt. Robert William said Oh was found next to a car in the garage of an apartment complex. She had been shot once.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

Gang of Thieves Arrested After Digging Tunnel to Steal Oil from Pipeline

I did not realize that oil theft was such a common crime in South Korea that the police regularly monitor the pipelines:

This photo, released by the Iksan Police Station in South Korea`s southwestern province of North Jeolla on Aug. 23, 2017, shows a tunnel that a gang of oil pilferers dug in Okcheon, central South Korea. (Yonhap)

Police said Wednesday they have arrested two members of a six-man theft ring accused of having dug a 40-meter tunnel in South Korea’s central province of North Chungcheong for more than one month to pilfer oil from an underground pipeline.

The Iksan Police Station in southwestern South Korea also booked an accomplice and the owner of a gas station involved in the alleged distribution of stolen oil without physical detention.

The gang, including its leader surnamed Lee, met at a warehouse in the town of Okcheon in the province in March and began to dig the tunnel with shovels and hoes to access the supply pipeline of the state-run Daehan Oil Pipeline Corp.

After 45 days of digging, the thieves reached an underground oil pipeline and started to steal oil through a rubber hose they linked to the pipeline, according to the police. They loaded 10,000 to 20,000 liters of the stolen oil a day onto a truck remodeled into a tanker.

According to the police, the oil pilferers installed a CCTV near the tunnel to monitor for police crackdowns. In the last three months, they managed to steal 370,000 liters of oil worth 480 million won (about $423,300) from the pipeline.   [Korea Herald]

You can read the rest at the link.

Suspects from the Driving Range Murder Arrested in Seoul

Below is an update from the murder of a woman at a driving range in Changwon.  It is amazing that they deliberately planned to murder this woman just to steal $3,575 from her:

A young couple who allegedly robbed and killed a 47-year-old woman at a golf driving range in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, on June 24 was arrested Monday from a motel hideout in Seoul. The victim drove an Audi, so the suspects thought she was rich, police said.

The apprehension of 31-year-old Shim Cheon-woo and his girlfriend, 36-year-old Kang Jeong-im, came nine days after the alleged murder and six days after a third suspect, Shim’s 29-year-old second cousin, was arrested while on the run.

The older Shim and Kang met in 2013 working as caddies at a golf course in South Gyeongsang and started dating. The younger Shim told police that his older cousin promised him riches if he helped in a murder plot.

The case goes back to June 24 at around 5 p.m., when the three suspects were casing a basement parking lot of a Changwon driving range in search of rich people to rob. The victim arrived in an Audi A8 sedan. The three suspects parked their Kia Sportage beside the Audi and awaited the driver’s return.

The victim returned to her car at 8:30 p.m. and the two Shims shoved her into the Sportage. Kang allegedly followed in the Audi, according to police. The victim was forced to tell them the pin code for her credit card. Kang and the younger Shim went to check whether the pin code was correct, while the older Shim drove the victim to an isolated, abandoned gas station in Goseong County, about 40 kilometers away. He killed her, according to testimony from the younger Shim, police said. An autopsy of the victim revealed she died of suffocation at around 10:30 p.m. that day.

The suspects abandoned the corpse under a bridge in Jinju, South Gyeongsang, and fled to Suncheon, South Jeolla. They withdrew 4.1 million won ($3,575) using the victim’s credit card on June 25, and went back to Suncheon to get haircuts at a salon to alter their appearances.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.