Years ago in Yonsa, a small North Korean town near the Chinese border, residents gathered to watch a man die. Executioners tied him by his neck, chest, and waist to a log in the town square, then shot 90 bullets into him. When it was over, all that remained were two legs.
The man, an executive at a trading company, had been ratted out for illegally cutting down and selling trees to China. When the police came to his property, they found his ceiling papered with money and a getaway boat filled with wads of cash. Or so the story goes among locals.
*Names have been changed.
But it was what became of this man’s daughter that haunted a 12-year-old Kim So Won*. The daughter was tall and beautiful and made small but daring fashion statements. “I remember she wore earrings and tight jeans,” says So Won, “and she wore a tight red jacket” — none of which was officially allowed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Rumors circulated that the girl could jump incredible distances, that she could fly across a room. “She was a star.”
Then one day, in 2007, not long after her father was publicly executed, the daughter vanished. No one ever saw or heard from her again. But So Won would always remember the earrings, the skinny jeans, the red jacket.