Romanian Paper IDs Woman Who Married U.S. Defector in North Korea


An undated clip from the movie "Crossing the Line", showing the last US defector in North Korea, James Dresnok, looking at a statue of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang. Photo: AFP/PIFF

WASHINGTON—A Romanian newspaper says it has identified a Romanian woman, kidnapped in 1978, who married the U.S. Army deserter James Dresnok—reportedly the last U.S. defector still living in North Korea.

In its March 20 issue, the Bucharest-based Evenimentul Zilei reports that the late Doina Bumbea, a Romanian sculptor and painter born in 1950, was abducted in 1978 from Italy to North Korea.

There, she married an American soldier who had deserted his unit by fleeing across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea

In his Japanese-language memoir To Tell the Truth , another American defector, Charles Jenkins, describes a woman named Doina, a Romanian abductee, who died of cancer in January 1997.

A 2006 British documentary titled “Crossing the Line” also mentions Dresnok's marriage to an Eastern European woman who died young.

Striking resemblance, same name

While watching a British documentary, the Romanian newspaper reported, Bumbea's family noted a striking resemblance between Dresnok's son Gabriel and Doina Bumbea.

Since Doina's younger brother had been named Gabriel, they concluded that the younger Gabriel must be Doina’s son.

All contact between Doina Bumbea and her family were severed in October 1978, when she disappeared without a trace—after telling her family enthusiastically about an Italian national who had offered her a lucrative contract with an art gallery in Japan.

I did not want to stay in [the] DPRK at first. I wanted to go to Russia...Having crossed, after a few months, I began thinking it over and decided to remain.

Romanian officials have verbally sought clarification from Pyongyang regarding the alleged Romanian abductee, but North Korean officials haven’t replied.

Dresnok, a U.S. Army private at the time, crossed over to North Korea in 1962 . He reportedly still lives in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. The U.S. military has said that Dresnok, from Norfolk, Virginia, left the army in August 1962 at age 21.

“We were under the supervision of the North Korean military,” the British filmmaking team has quoted Dresnok as saying. “They took good care of us and they requested us to teach English to military personnel.”

Dresnok and Jenkins told the filmmakers that two other U.S. servicemen had died in North Korea of natural causes — Pvt. Larry A. Abshier of Illinois, who the U.S. military says went missing from his unit in May 1962 at age 19, and Cpl. Jerry Parrish of Kentucky, accused of deserting in December 1963 at age 19.

'A peaceful people'

“I did not want to stay in DPRK at first," Dresnok told the film crew, referring to North Korea by its formal name. “I wanted to go to Russia," he said. "Having crossed, after a few months, I began thinking it over and decided to remain.”

“I find it more convenient to live among peaceful people, living a simple life,” he said.

Original reporting by RFA's Korean service. Translated from the Romanian and Korean by Greg Scarlatoiu. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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