SEOUL, AUG. 29 -- Thirty-three people were found dead in a factory today in what appeared to be a murder-suicide linked to a religious cult, police said.
They said the bodies were discovered in the attic of a factory at Yongin, about 50 miles south of Seoul. The factory owner, Park Soon Ja, and her three children were among the dead, said state-run KBS television.
Police said the victims had been dead for up to two days.
"The investigation is still going on but there are suspicions that it was a religious incident," a local police officer said by telephone.
Authorities said Park, 48, was called "Benevolent Mother" by her followers. She had claimed God appeared to her and told her to seek disciples, authorities said.
The sect claimed to be Christian and preached that the world was mired in decadence and about to come to an end. It demanded extreme spiritual discipline and blind obedience, police said.
Park disappeared Wednesday after police began investigating charges that she swindled $8.7 million from more than 220 people, many of them apparently involved in the cult. Police declined to confirm the report that Park was among the dead.
Police said the bodies were stacked on top of each other in two large piles, with 14 bodies in one and 19 bodies in the other. Many of the victims were scantily clothed in underwear or pajamas, they said.
KBS said the dead were 29 women and four men, but other reports said the dead included some children. Most of the victims had their hands and feet tied, the network said.
Police said a maid at the factory told them that Park had been hiding in the attic since Wednesday. The maid said she had been taking food to Park once a day and last saw her yesterday.
Park also ran a charity for orphans, homeless elderly people and the poor in the central Korean city of Taejon.
Korean news reports indicated that Park and aides indoctrinated charity recipients into the cult. Some reports suggested poor people and children were used as labor in the Yongin factory, which made ornate traditional Korean furniture for sale to foreign tourists.
KBS said the bodies were found shortly after 4 p.m. when Park's husband went looking for his wife.
A television reporter said cords were tied around the necks of some of the bodies. He said the noses and mouths of many bodies were clogged with toilet paper, indicating the victims had been strangled.
"It appeared that one of them, wearing gloves, poisoned and strangled others before killing himself or herself," he said.