​​         Chinese Stories in English   

A Murder with No Crime Scene

[This story first appeared in the Liberation Daily, the official organ of the People's Liberation Army, and in the People's Daily, published by the Chinese Communist Party. It is apparently a "true crime" story, or as close to truth as one might expect from those two newspapers. – Fannyi]

     Luo Hui (a pseudonym) had moved to Shanghai from Zhejiang Province and had contacted her family online several times during the year. She even sent gifts home three times, but she always refused to call home on the phone. What was behind this strange behavior?
     Her parents were sick with worrying about her and initiated a missing persons search. The official blog of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, "@Police Express-Shanghai", had just received the request for assistance to track her down, and the Blogging Team had informed the Pudong District branch of the situation within a few minutes of receiving the request.
     Although it was only a request for assistance, with no direct indication that a crime had been committed, the Pudong office did not let the clues get lost in the shuffle. In the end, they required only 24 hours to break down the suspect's psychological defenses and to crack this year-old murder case.

Suspicions Pile Up

     It was about 6:00 p.m. on February 19, and it was getting dark. Five people were crowded into the Zhang River Precinct station, clamoring for the police to help find someone.
     The missing woman's name was Luo Hui. She was from Jiande, Zhejiang, and was working in Shanghai. She had arrived in the city in February last year, and in April [sic] she went to Suzhou, and then in November to Yunnan. Her family had not seen her for more than a year. She had chatted online with her sister from time to time during that period, and sent gifts of cigarettes and liquor home, but she wasn't willing to talk on the phone. She had even said no when her sister wanted her to turn on the video during their online chats.
     Luo Hui's parents were accompanied by their youngest daughter and two other relatives when they began to look for her. They had first gone to look in Suzhou, at the return address on the parcel Luo Hui had sent them. The police there investigated but found no trace of her, and the family had then come to Shanghai.
     The reason they'd come to the Zhang River Precinct was that Luo Hui had had a boyfriend named Zhang Qing who lived on Lane 247 off Broad Blue Road.
     Officer Gu Guohua went to the address right away and found that indeed there was such a man. At the moment he was playing cards at a friend's house, but he came down to the Precinct within a half hour.
     Zhang said he'd met Luo Hui on QQ, the internet messaging service. He'd helped her quite a bit when she came to Shanghai, looking for a job and renting an apartment, and he'd also given her some pocket money. In February last year, she'd come to him and said her phone had been ripped off. "At the time I thought the woman had too many problems. She was too much of a hassle, so I didn't have anything to do with her after that." What Zhang said matched what Luo Hui's family had said. Lacking any further evidence, the police let him go home.
     But the officers didn't feel the case was that simple.
     The police questioned Luo Hui's family in-depth overnight. Last year [when she came home for] the Spring Festival, Luo Hui had told her family that she'd found a boyfriend in Shanghai. "He has a wallpaper shop, and two condos." She'd pulled out her cell phone and showed them his picture. The "boyfriend" in the photo was Zhang Qing.
     The police contacted Zhang again the next day. This time he took only 10 minutes to get to the police station.
     Zhang insisted that he and Luo Hui had not been in a relationship. After he had stopped having contact with her, her father called him saying that he couldn't reach her by phone, and asked him to go to her place on Central Market Street in River Sand District to have a look. "I went to her place on February 17, in the evening, and it was vacant."
     Officer Cao Junwei began to investigate Zhang's story.
     At a rental agency on Central Market Street, an agent remembered Luo Hui and Zhang Qing coming together to look at a place. "The two of them were all lovey-dovey, like sweethearts." When he was interviewing Zhang's family and friends, one of the friends also reported that Zhang had mentioned "getting a girlfriend."
     The police also verified that there was a record of Luo Hui's identity card having indeed been used to buy a train ticket to Suzhou in February [sic] of last year. On November 19, she had also purchased a ticket to Yunnan Province via Shanghai. The officer also looked for an opportunity to have Zhang Qing write down a few words, and compared the handwriting to the parcel Luo Hui's family had provided, but it was different.
     There was still no conclusive evidence after this meeting.
     Instructor Gu Baoliang of the Zhang River Precinct said: "At the time we thought there were three suspicious points that we were unable to explain: Luo Hui said her mobile phone was stolen and she had no money to buy a new one, and for more than a year she would only contact her family on QQ, rejecting their requests to use the video and audio features; When she sent a package to her family she had to ask them for their address, and; The two had been in a hot relationship, but Zhang Qing stopped seeing her because she lost her phone, and he wouldn't ever admit that he and Luo Hui were lovers. There's no explanation for that."
     An audacious idea emerged in the officers' minds: Luo Hui had been missing without a trace for a year. Was she really still among the living? Could the online "Luo Hui" have been Zhang Qing impersonating her? After all, he'd been the last person to see her.

No Murder Scene

     In the afternoon on February 21, the case was transferred from the Zhang River Precinct to the Pudong No. Two Detective Detachment. Captain Jiang Weimin took the file and, like the others, felt that the case was a tangle of suspicious points and difficulties.
     Zhang's wife recalled that he had been out of town on business from April to August last year. He had indicated that he was in Kun Mountain and other places on an "undertaking". That matched with the time Luo Hui had been in contact with her family. Also, a young woman who had friended both Zhang and Luo Hui on QQ realized that on July 30, Zhang had gotten on QQ less than a minute after Luo Hui got off, and both their IP addresses were in Suzhou. But a friend of Zhang's recalled that he had indeed taken him to Suzhou several times to look at some projects there.
     Zhang could not be classified as a major suspect without direct evidence – that meant he could not be interrogated for more than 24 hours. If they wanted to get him to talk, they would first have to understand the man. His wife said his only hobby was playing cards, and he went out playing 300 days a year. His friend recalled that Zhang was "quiet and very honest."
     Officers brought Zhang in on the evening of February 21. After just one short hour, he had readily admitted that he'd traveled to Suzhou. He fell silent when asked about Luo Hui, though, and remained silent for several hours.
     Every once in a while, the detectives would speak to him about human life and ethics, but he'd just roll his eyes. Then early in the morning of February 22, after he'd rested for a couple of hours, Zhang was obviously relaxed. The detectives engaged him in small talk and eventually had lunch with him. Their strategy was, "like when a man is about to jump off a building, you don't shout, 'Don't jump', you just pat him gently on the back and lead him down from his perch."
     Sure enough, after lunch, Zhang started to talk: "My getting on the Internet, it was to keep her family from worrying."
     The detectives' hearts skipped a beat when they heard that, but afterwards, Zhang fell silent again.
     The detectives then chose the "shock" method: "Those times you went to Suzhou, what were you thinking on the night before you left?" The question did indeed arouse a strong reaction in Zhang. He knitted his brow and looked away, and his legs began to twitch. The detectives felt it was "dramatic": Rebuilding the scene is painful for those who were involved.
     The detectives asked him again: "What was the expression on Luo Hui's face the last time you saw her?"
     Zhang squirmed a bit: "I don't want to talk about it."
     The deadlock lasted until four that afternoon. "I don't want to talk anymore," Zhang sputtered. "You got any evidence, book me. I want to bury this thing in my heart forever."
     Were his words a bluff, or the reaction of a guilty conscience? The detectives decided it was both.
     They told Zhang: "If you two were really in love, you should let her family know what happened no matter what, and let your family know, too."
     After dinner, Zhang completely let go. He poured out the secrets he had hidden in his heart for over a year.     Following his confession, the police found Luo Hui's mobile phone and computer in his home right away. They also found her ID card in the greenbelt near his home. He'd gone out and buried it the same evening Luo Hui's family came to Shanghai. Finally, the police found her corpse, which had been buried for a year in the backyard of a farmer's villa he and Luo Hui had rented on West Cathay Road.
     Jiang Weimin said this was an "atypical homicide". There was no crime scene at first, and if they hadn't found all the evidence they did, and corroborated it bit by bit, the case would not have been closed.

Plotting the "Perfect Murder."

     Before he'd met Luo Hui, Zhang Qing's life had been dull and boring: an ordinary business, not many friends, and playing cards his only recreation.
     After he met her online, because they were both in the wallpaper business, they spent more and more time together, having fun chatting. He lied to her and said he was 27. When she told him her job wasn't going well, he tried everything he could to get her to come to Shanghai.
     Luo Hui's wallet was stolen by a pickpocket while she was on the train to Shanghai, and it was Zhang who went to the train station to pick her up. He helped her rent an apartment and got her a job.
     Thus they began to be "in love." When Luo Hui returned to Shanghai after the Spring Festival last year, she told Zhang she was pregnant and insisted on giving birth. Zhang had never told her he was married. He pressured her to "lose it", but Luo Hui was stubborn by nature and absolutely refused.
     In mid-February last year, Zhang took Luo Hui with him to rent another place, the farmer's villa on South Cathay Road. They spent the day together moving their things, grocery shopping and cooking, just like a young husband and wife about to start a life of happiness. At 9:00 that evening, watching Luo Hui fall into a deep sleep, and thinking about the infinite possibilities for the future, Zhang put on a pair of white gloves and strangled her.
     When it was done, he put Luo Hui in a box. For two entire days and nights he dug in the backyard, scratching out a 1.5-meter-deep pit. Nobody noticed what he was doing, because it happened to be a rather remote area and every family around there was digging up the ground to plant vegetables. Also, he used Luo Huo's QQ account to contact her sister and tell her "she" was going to Suzhou to find a job. After that, he used her ID card to buy the train ticket to Suzhou.
     He went to Suzhou himself once or twice a month from April to August to use the QQ account to stay in touch with the sister. He sent cigarettes, liquor and other gifts to her parents from the post office there. He took an unlicensed motorbike taxi every time he went to the post office, and had the driver handwrite the address on the package for him.
     His wallpaper store shut down last August. Zhang no longer had a reason to go to Suzhou often, so he got online and told Luo Hui's sister that "she" was going to Yunnan on a trip. He used her ID card to buy the train ticket from Suzhou to Yunnan via Shanghai. He made Luo Hui "disappear" on the way to Yunnan. He figured that, when the time came, her family wouldn't find anything even if they went to Yunnan looking for her. As time went by, his "relationship" with Luo Hui would simply fade away.
     No one came looking for him for a year, so Zhang thought that that he was about done with his year-old "perfect murder". He didn't expect that the family would get together to seek assistance, or that, through a meticulous investigation by the police, the entire case would be broken open.
     When Zhang took the police to the scene, lush green grass covered the ground where his sin had been buried.

Translated from Story China, also available from 中国长安网 at this page
Under the name 上海警方24小时破获一起“没有现场”的杀人案

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