The World’s Worst Mass Murderers

Woo Bum-kon (South Korea) - formally the worst.

By this title I don’t mean of course to speak of people who decided for whatever reason to go on a killing spree but just weren’t very successful… (‘The World’s Best Mass Murderers’ doesn’t sound quite appropriate for some reason).

A recurring theme when talking to friends about travel is a general perception that many countries are dangerous and best avoided. While living in Korea I was chatting with a Korean friend about a trip I had taken to Turkey, which I found out was high on the ‘I would never go there’ list – not because of the violent anti-government protests and terrorist bombings there in recent years, but because a Korean person had been killed in Turkey a few years earlier.

Personally I’m of the opinion that there are good and bad people in every country and, given that Koreans are found pretty much everywhere, it is an unfortunate statistical reality that Koreans will from time to time fall victim to violent crime abroad, just like everybody else. This opinion isn’t widely shared in some quarters however.

I once asked my university students which countries they considered dangerous, and which ones safe. Their answers weren’t surprising. Dangerous places – North Korea, Nigeria, Afghanistan etc. Safe places – Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc.

I told my students that there are good and bad people everywhere, and asked them if they’d ever heard of Martin Bryant, the intellectually impaired Australian currently serving a 1000 year sentence for killing 35 people in the Port Arthur (Tasmanian) massacre of 1996. Unsurprisingly nobody had heard of him.

Martin Bryant (Australia) - the English-speaking world's worst spree killer.
Martin Bryant (Australia) – the English-speaking world’s worst spree killer.

More surprisingly, very few recognised the name Anders Behring Breivic, the narcissistic Norwegian madman who killed 77 people in and near Olso in 2011 (the worst recorded spree killing).

Anders Behring Breivik (Norway) - the worst recorded spree killer.
Anders Behring Breivik (Norway) – the worst recorded spree killer.

Most surprising though was that not one student knew the name Woo Bum-Kon, the South Korean policeman who in 1982, in the Southern province of Gyeongsangnam-do, killed 57 people (including himself) and injured 37 more with an arsenal of firearms and hand grenades.

Woo Bum-kon (South Korea) - formally the worst.
Woo Bum-kon (South Korea) – formerly the worst.

Woo was said to suffer from anxiety and a major inferiority complex. One evening he flew into a blind rage when his girlfriend woke him by swatting a fly on his chest. After assaulting her he went to the police station and somehow gathered his arsenal unnoticed. He then went to the Post Office where he proceeded to go postal, killing everybody there before cutting the phone lines to the entire area. Woo roamed from village to village, demanding entry to homes and killing everybody inside. He also shot his girlfriend who had gone out looking for him, but she survived. Woo’s 56 victims, plus himself, made him the world’s worst spree killer, a record that would stand for 29 years until Breivik in 2011

It is interesting to observe how various societies react very differently to similar situations. In the case of the Martin Bryant massacre of 1996, the Australian federal government swiftly passed sweeping new gun laws, initiating a compulsory “buy back” scheme. Almost all Australians were to be paid for their firearms, which were then destroyed, and heavy punishments served to anyone found not to have surrendered their weapons. From that time it has basically been only farmers and gangsters who have guns, and shooting deaths in Australia immediately dropped to among the world’s lowest.

The Australian gun buyback
The Australian gun buyback

South Korea is culturally very different from Australia of course, and while gun violence there is also low, the Woo Bum-Kon story is rarely mentioned. Whereas all Australians know of the infamous Martin Bryant, the Koreans appear to have placed the Woo Bum-Kon incident in a file marked “This isn’t happening”, and (with regard to the younger generations at least) simply erased Woo from the collective national consciousness.

Then of course, there is the most powerful, third most populous, and arguably the strangest country on earth… the United States of America. By this I mean no offence. As a long-term expatriate and traveler, I have many American friends who are lovely people. It’s just that… well, many of the world’s 7 billion people (the number of people who aren’t American) find America as a whole to be unfathomably bizarre.

Orlando spree killer Omar Mateen
Orlando spree killer Omar Mateen

America’s latest horrific mass murder, though undoubtedly not for long, was recently committed by Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in a gay nightclub before himself being killed by police. From the inevitably immediate and often contradictory media saturation we learned that Omar had earlier been deeply offended by seeing two men kissing in public… that he himself was a regular at the gay nightclub and member of gay social networking apps… that his ex-wife said he was disturbed and mentally unstable… that he was an ISIS terrorist… that he was self radicalized and acting alone, maybe… that his wife actually knew of his plans and may have been an accomplice… the stories keep coming. Meanwhile the endless arguments about gun violence in America rage on, while politicians make speeches about how sad it all is, and… in rare moments of honestly admit in not so many words that their hands are tied by lobby groups far more powerful than the government itself and that there’s really nothing they can do to end this. Citizens rage on about freedom and the constitution and the right to bear arms, versus others who scream out that this is all getting ridiculously out of hand and that this most cherished American document, which apparently can’t be changed for some reason, was written somewhat before the invention of current military-grade assault weaponry. The answer to all of this appears to be to further militarize the police force (some laws apparently can be changed for some reason), and the killings continue.

As one who isn’t American, and so clearly doesn’t understand the complexities of American life, there is one thing I do know. I’m not the only one asking myself… what on earth is going on with you guys?


  1. I like it. Posted it to my timeline. A refreshing change from all the other crap that’s coming out about this. Peace, man. xxoo

  2. What on earth is going on!!!!! We are the ones they call when other countries get in trouble, that’s why other countries can have ridiculous gun laws. By the way I heard that the Aussies crime has not gotten better since their guns were taken awat

  3. What Annette me is that the gun laws here are reasonable. Background checks are mandated, but psychological evaluations are just unsustainable. By that, I mean a person’s psychological state could change any number of times over any given amount of time. Plus, gun homicide rates are actually a really low. More people are beaten to death or shaved than killed by firearms. I’d wager that more people die in automobile accidents than firearms.

  4. Pent up anger and never back down….I believe it’s called having a backbone but you can twist my words til you make me angry or you can just read this comment and move on. I’m an american and proud but by all means let me visit your country and I will show you respect and defend you cause that’s how my mother who is also American raised me. No fear and never backdown and be honest. That simple

    • No worries Atomsk, I won’t try to twist your words… to be honest, I don’t entirely understand what you were trying to say. Of course, you are welcome to visit my country any time, and thanks, but there’s no need for you to defend me. Better just to enjoy your vacation!

    • True. But not all violence is like orlando. I’ve heard of a man killed over a hat being a certain color over on California. Some people are just that dumb and harm others for no reason. Orlando’s pulse night club is a tragic event over a man who hated for no reason other than what I think is jealousy. They were enjoying life and he wasn’t so he preyed on unfortunate souls just enjoying life.

    • Mebbe but my guess is he was simply that uncomfortable with sexuality in general and his own in particular. And that coupled with a noticeable ongoing anger component and all of that stuff swimming in our present stew of hatred and intolerance here in America.
      Hey, you can blame Fox too.
      But I think we should mainly just fault the asshat shooter who wouldn’t contain his adolescent anger issues.

  5. Because power corrupts. When people have too much power for too long, they eventually don’t care what the people want. The only way to have control of your government is to have the ability to take power back if need be. Yes, the constitution can be changed. Laws can be changed and laws can be written. But the rights we have are specifically to keep the government from gaining too much power. The right to bear arms is the backbone of the ability to keep control of our government and allows for the protection of our other rights. The “lobbying group” you speak of is not a lobbying group. They are a civil rights group, made up of millions of Americans. We are just exercising the purpose of the second amendment by telling the government to leave our rights alone and remind them who they work for. It also adds national security because not just the military will shoot you if you invade the U.S.
    Then there is the “military grade weapons” falsehood. An AR-15 is absolutely not a military weapon (different rounds, higher velocity, and fully automatic firing capability) or an assault rifle (fully automatic firing capability). The recent shooter didn’t even use an AR-15, but facts just don’t matter in an argument. It’s also called “high powered” by the media. Once again, absolutely false. The appeal of the AR-15 in part, is due to the lower power and thus lower recoil. Then they tell people that it has a higher rate of fire. Nope, it’s just semi automatic. That means that it fires one round for each pull of the trigger, the same speed every other semi-auto rifle, semi auto shotgun, and pistol fires.
    A country with less guns may have less shootings, but why are we only worried about shootings? The U.S. has more shootings, but we’re way down the list on murders and violent crime in general. The big picture (to those of us who support the right to bear arms) is prettier than any one small portion of that picture. You can’t be very intelligent if you would rather have more murder and violent crime as long as no one gets shot.
    Let’s be honest and clear, this wasn’t “gun violence” perpetrated by an unstable person, it was a terrorist attack. There was another one today in Texas but it was stopped when the terrorist was shot before he could kill anyone. France has much tougher gun laws and it didn’t stop terrorists from shooting a lot of people there. And no one blamed the attacks in Paris on the weapon or any of the laws there. I mean, who seriously blames the victim? Terrorist attacks elsewhere and we’re all praying, offering support, sending money, willing to fight the terrorists with and for everyone else. But when we have an attack, you offer “what’s up with your gun laws, you crazy bastards”. That’s what’s going on here, what’s going on with you guys?

    • Thanks for your comment Brett. By the way, I didn’t call you crazy bastards. I did mention that I have many American friends that are wonderful people. It is simply the sheer volume of weapons in America that most people in the world think might have something to do with the insane number of shootings there. And yeah, I did read this morning that it wasn’t an AR-15 used in this attack. There are a huge number of issues with the corporate media, but that’s another story.

    • So explain why you think the problem is our guns when we are actually pretty low on the violent crimes list. It isn’t guns that are the issue, it is the human heart. Other countries prove that if it weren’t from gunfire, the murders would just come from a different weapon.

    • Australia and the UK both enacted gun bans on 1996. Both had huge spikes in violent crime shortly after and have since declined back to the same as before the gun ban. Both also added more police. The UK added 22,000 more officers. But the gun ban only allowed shootings, not violent crime. We aren’t comparing the UK to the US, we’re comparing violent crime rates of the same people with and without guns. It doesn’t make a difference. A murder is still a murder whether its carried out with a gun, knife, bat, pipe, car, or rope. Why does the anti gun crowd only look at guns? Isn’t it actually the murder we care about?

    • Since 1996 gun ownership in the US has doubled, and violent crime has dropped by 40%including murders, but Australia and the UK are the same(actually a little higher) than in 1996, including murder. But you just can’t see past a gun. That’s like cutting off your foot so you don’t stub your toe and then wondering why we keep our foot even though we stub a toe from time to time.

    • How about comparing violent crime rates or murder rates for a more accurate picture. I am sure that we do have more firearm related deaths if we have more firearms, but that does not mean that more guns mean more crimes. Brittian has always had a low gun crime rate but since they banned most firearms their stabbing rates and violent crimes have gone up significantly. Also stop using suicides and justified self defense shootings in the stats. As it was once said….. there are 3 types of lies….. lies, damn lies, and statistics….. two peoe can use the same numbers to prove two different views.

    • I would also like to point out that an inanimate object does not act in its own. It’s at the mercy of the operator. In the United states alone 1 person is killed every 53 minutes by a drunk driver. Do you blame the automobile? Driving laws? The car? Do you blame the booze? Budweiser? Heineken? Maybe the establishment in which the booze was bought? Do you blame the car dealership? Do you blame the government for allowing the person to have a license? What if they don’t have a license? Plain and simple nobody blames a drunk driving related death on anything other than the DRUNK DRIVER! Why are you blaming a murder on a gun? Stop it. You sound stupid and your logic is VERY incorrect. #micdrop

    • Shane, of course I don’t blame murder on guns. Murder is committed by people, and guns just make it very easy. Actually the majority of shooting deaths in America are suicide, which has increased dramatically in recent years, whereas, as many people have pointed out, violent crime has indeed decreased. Many who look at the spiraling suicide rate believe that the ready access to guns makes it simply too easy also, and without a gun handy, many contemplating suicide would otherwise take pause to reconsider.

    • Then explain to us why japan, which bans both firearms AND swords (and many types of fighting knives) has a much higher suicide rate than we gun slinging muricans. The availability of guns has little or no effect on suicide rates. Japan is not the only example…..look at greece, Denmark, France…..

    • Peninsularity Ensues, your illogical anti-gun arguments keep getting shut down with facts, so you change your point? People think our guns are why we have violence? nope, our violence is dropping. Well, we think guns are why you have suicide. Nope, countries with less guns have more suicide. Easy access to guns will not make someone kill themselves. That’s just ridiculous. Stop thinking emotionally so you can grasp reality instead of some feel good notion that will never be.

    • Most of these ‘facts’ you speak of are spurious at best, and downright bullshit at worst Brett. Of course, the whole concept of what is fact is questionable these days, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. One thing I won’t state as fact, because it can’t be empirically proved by chatting on a website, is the commonly held notion that America’s hundreds of millions of guns has something to do with the tens of thousands of dead Americans each year, who didn’t survive the bullets placed through them. This is something readily understood in over 200 countries (that would be all the other ones).

    • Tens of thousands? That is far from a fact……in the same post you say someone isn’t putting out facts. Just proves that you are an idiot that has no idea what you are talking about.

    • …and yes Bo, I do acknowledge that 13,000 is the total number of murders last year… it has already been explained to me that more people get stabbed and beaten to death than killed with guns, so… yes, I did overstate.

  6. There is a simple truth that cowards will never comprehend. Humans at our core are wild animals. We are predators, apex predators. The ability to reason doesn’t erase that fact and as a result freedom and safety cannot coexist.

    • We have more freedom in this country than in most others. We do not charge people with crimes before they commit them. We have a revolving door justice system-in summary, the more freedom people have the more people will push the limit. Just a necessary consequence of freedom. We have more gun control in the U.S. than we ever have had yet crime is up.

    • It’s not really news Keith, on your… newsfeed. This is Facebook. Maybe their algorithm skipped the groove and inadvertently sent you something you didn’t already agree with… that’s not their aim. 😉

  7. Laws can be changed and have been. What law would have prevented the shooting? The shooter had multiple security certications, so he would have been able to get a gun, even in places like Australia. He did not use a military grade weapon. Even using g a hand gun it is difficult to see how the death toll would have been reduced. You are free to have your opinion, but the facts don’t change to fit your points. In fact, the guy that killed 77, that you mention in the article, didn’t even use guns. He used knives because of gun control laws. It’s why he went to an island filled with children. If guns are removed the mass killers will use bombs made from manure. So you tell me, how does this stop?

  8. We Americans cherish all our freedoms over safety and security. A people who put security over liberty will lose both. You have to understand that it isn’t the weapon we hold so dear, it is the idea of us being able to bear it. We don’t need these weapons to protect against crime, we need them to protect us against tyranny.

  9. Every example you provided was an individual with known mental health disorders. Why focus on firearms as a solution when the cause is negligence of mental health services and ignorance by those who watch the sign become more apparent?

    • Don’t worry Tim, Facebook is doing its best to show you only what you want to see. Frighteningly enough, its technology will probably succeed eventually. Please forgive these minor interruptions to your self validation.

  10. Here is what’s going on “with us Americans”. We Americans are appreciated of our Constitution and the 2 amendment which allows us to stand apart from the rest of the world in our right and ability to defend and protect ourselves and our families from enemies foreign and domestic.

  11. The 2nd Amendment is there for one reason only, and that is so we as Citizens can protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. The AR -15, and rifels like it, are the best of what we still have left for that purpose. Yet people are ready to give them up to “feel” safer.

  12. I think this person completely forgot about the shooting spree in Paris dwarfs any of the ones he listed. And guns are pretty much banned in France. Or how the violent crime in Australia exploded after the gun confiscation.

    • Cj, I haven’t forgotten about Paris. You are correct. 89 people died at the Bataclan theatre, shot by at least 7 gunmen, all of whom were EU citizens who had fought for ISIS in Syria. Oh, and the violent crime explosion in Australia? That didn’t happen.

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