COLUMBIA — The man who MU police say killed Jeong Im in 2005 jumped to his death from a downtown parking garage in August, prompting an acquaintance to come forward with information that helped link Timothy Aaron Hoag to the unsolved slaying.
That break led investigators to a person who said he brought Hoag to the Maryland Avenue parking garage "to get a car" on Jan. 7, 2005, and later picked him up when he was carrying a gas can and wearing a face mask as smoke poured from the third floor of the garage where Im's body was later found.
MU Police Department Capt. Brian Weimer said witnesses were afraid to come forward with information because they were afraid Hoag might hurt them and their families.
Weimer described Hoag as a "violent individual."
Investigators determined that Hoag's DNA, extracted from blood collected at the suicide scene, matched the blood, hair and "touch DNA" found at the scene of the homicide, Weimer said.
Weimer said the case remains open, though investigators believe Hoag was solely responsible for the slaying. Weimer said he hoped Wednesday's news would prompt other witnesses to come forward with information that would help investigators determine a possible motive, which remained unclear.
Weimer was able to confirm that Hoag didn’t know Im.
Hoag jumped to his death from the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut on Aug. 9, 2012, at the age of 35. (Read more about Timothy Hoag here.)
Weimer said there appeared to be no connection between the suicide and the homicide. He said Hoag was suffering from medical issues related to a 2008 car accident.
On Jan. 7, 2005, the body of Im, 72, was found in the trunk of his white 1995 Honda Accord in the Maryland Avenue parking garage. The retired research assistant at MU had been stabbed multiple times.
Investigators determined that gasoline was poured on the trunk lid of the car, and it was lit on fire.
At 12:24 p.m. that day, MU police received a call from an emergency phone at the parking garage, reporting a vehicle that was on fire. MU police officers and the Columbia Fire Department responded to the call, and firefighters were able to extinguish the fire.
Firefighters then discovered Im's body in the trunk of his car.
In December 2012, someone informed the MU Police Department that he or she had information about the person behind Im's homicide, Weimer said.
The December 2012 informant led investigators to a potential witness who could confirm the facts and details of the case. The witness told investigators that he received a call from Hoag, asking to be picked up from a business on the north end of the university. Hoag also requested that the person bring a gas can.
After Im's death, his family moved to California. His wife, Tesuk, remained in touch with MU police during the investigation, Weimer said. He said the Im family has requested privacy.
The family did release a statement through MU: "We are very relieved and grateful for the resolution of the case. This brings closure on the tragedy, to our family, as well as the University of Missouri and Columbia communities as a whole.
"We are deeply grateful to the MU Police Department, university administration and all the other law enforcement agencies involved, for their dedication, professionalism, and tireless commitment over the last eight years, which have resulted in solving the case. We also thank the community for all of their support."
Seungkwon You, an assistant professor of Korean studies at MU, who knew Im for 10 years, said: “I am a native Korean, and the Korean community is quite close, and he was my neighbor. He had a big garden and he brought lettuce and other things to our house.
Mark Foecking, who worked with Im in the microbiology and immunology lab at the time of Im's death, said he was happy — especially for Im's family — that they found his colleague's killer.
"I'm glad to see that (MU Police) kept working on the case and that they kept adding evidence," he said.
“It’s a huge relief for the department," Weimer said. "I mean, this is something that has literally been on our mind for eight years. Sgt. (Shawn) Spalding had Im’s picture behind his desk, along with the timeline for this. So, it’s something he saw every day. We didn’t think about it occasionally; we thought about it daily.”
He continued: “We fully believed all along that we would solve this case.”
Weimer expressed some frustration about the criticism the department received for for failing to solve the 8-year-old case earlier.
“Too many people watch TV and think, evidently, you don’t have evidence because if you put evidence in the computer it automatically shows you a photo and tells you (who did it)," he said. "But that’s not how it is.”
Video: MU Police Chief Jack Watring and Capt. Brian Weimer announce the investigation into the death of Jeong Im has been solved.
Im had retired from MU at the time of his death. He had returned to work part time in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He was working on the sixth floor of the Medical Science Building near the garage.
He was supposed to be having coffee with other researchers at 11:30 a.m. the day he was killed. When he didn't show up, his colleagues grew concerned.
On Jan. 8, 2005, investigators released composite sketches of a man who was spotted at the scene near the time of Im's homicide. The "person of interest" was between 6 feet and 6 feet 2 inches tall and was wearing a painter's or drywall mask.
Almost seven hours after police discovered Im's body, they asked for help from the Mid-Missouri Major Case Squad. MU police also sought help from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to solve the case.
In October 2005, MU police released further details about its "person of interest," saying he was of "medium-length brown hair, possibly wearing faded-blue baggy jeans, a hooded red sweatshirt and a blue winter coat," according to previous Missourian reporting.
The department also released details about a vehicle that was in spotted near the crime scene. Police described the vehicle as a 1980s Ford F-10 pickup with a faded black driver’s side door.
Police also uncovered an Old Hickory kitchen knife that had an 8-inch blade and a 5-inch handle at the scene, according to previous Missourian reporting. The department thought the knife was purchased on the Internet.
MU has continued to offer $25,000 as a reward for any information that would lead to the arrest of Im's killer.
For a little more than eight years, however, the homicide case remained unsolved, even as MU police asked for help from "cold case" expert Lou Eliopulos, who was a senior homicide analyst for the National Criminal Investigation Service.
During the eight-year investigation, MU police remained unsure about the motive behind Im's homicide. Police couldn't determine whether Im had been robbed by his assailant or assailants.
MU police also investigated an Internet-based conspiracy theory that said Im's death was part of a worldwide campaign against microbiology researchers and other scientists.
Former MU Professor Henry Liu wrote a letter to the Columbia Daily Tribune in February 2005 in which he criticized the lack of attention being paid to the case. Liu, who continued to put pressure on MU police to solve the case, died in a car crash in 2009.
Liu believed Im's homicide may have been race-related.
In January 2012, MU police sent the Im homicide report to the Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center in Springfield for a fresh look at the case. MU Police Department Capt. Brian Weimer denied that the crime center was taking over the case, despite several news reports to the contrary.
Im, who was born to a farming family in 1932, was self-educated. He taught at Cheongju Normal School, before receiving a full scholarship to attend Seoul National University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in physical chemistry there.
He also earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1967 and was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.
He came to MU in 1987, where he worked as a research professor in the MU Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Although he retired from MU, he worked part-time making proteins for other MU researchers.
Christine Coester contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.