South Korean police have identified a suspect more than 30 years after one of the country’s most notorious serial murder cases, but are unable to launch proceedings because it’s too long ago.

Between 1986 and 1991 a record number of police officers were mobilised to try to find the person who raped and murdered women in rural parts of Hwaseong, south of the capital, Seoul.

They investigated 21,000 individuals and compared the fingerprints of about 20,000 more without success, and the case inspired South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 box office hit Memories of Murder.

But using the latest forensic techniques to retrieve DNA, officers have identified Lee Chun-jae, 56, as a suspect in at least three of the killings, said Ban Gi-soo of the Gyeonggi Nambu provincial police agency.

Samples collected from evidence, including a victim’s underwear, matched Lee’s, the police said according to the Guardian UK.

Lee is serving a life sentence for raping and murdering his sister-in-law in 1994. He denies involvement in the Hwaseong murders and the 25-year statute of limitations has expired, meaning he will not be prosecuted, police added.

“I express my deep condolences to the victims and their families, as well as the Korean public, for not having been able to solve this case for a long time,” Ban said. “We will do our best to discover the truth with a sense of historical responsibility.”

The Hwaseong killer’s victims ranged from teenagers to a woman in her 70s.

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