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Cannibal serial killer arrested in Yunnan

Police removing plastic bags from suspected cannibal's house (Source: Chongqing Economic Times)

Yesterday AFP reported that ‘Police have detained a man suspected of murdering more than a dozen boys and young men, chopping up their bodies and selling the flesh to unsuspecting consumers’.

There had previously been a trickle of reports about teenagers that had disappeared in Yunnan. On May 8, the Global Times English edition ran a story titled ‘Yunnan town fears serial kidnapper‘. On May 24, the Chongqing Economic Times published a report titled ‘In Jinning County, Yunnan Province, 17 people have disappeared – there may be a serial killer’, naming Zhang Yongming as the suspect.

The earlier Global Times story speculated that the missing young men were possibly victims of a ‘serial kidnapper’ who may forced them to work in illegal brick kilns near Kunming. The brick kilns’ theory was actually thought up by the parents of one of the missing youths, Han Yao. His parents never suspected a serial killer; such evils barely exist in state media, while kidnappings of young men are not uncommon in the provinces. Most end up in coal mines or illegal brick kilns, but more educated kidnap victims sometimes even end up tricked into running white-collar scams like pyramid schemes.

Therefore the kilns theory was quite feasible: the Global Times report mentions one man name Lei Yusheng from Yunnan who says he escaped such a place after being grabbed off the street by ‘two strong men… armed with a sword [who] pulled him into a van. He was then taken to brick kiln where he was forced to work with 30 other men from 2 am to 12 noon every day.’

This sort of trafficking is now so ubiquitous the police barely bother to investigate and it lands on the parents to conduct their own searches. The Global Times report also mentioned another case:

One of the most disturbing cases involves Xie Junhai, a 16-year-old student who left home to collect his report card on January 27 and never returned.

‘I have searched more than 100 brick kilns. Some wouldn’t let me enter. I had to plead with the local villagers to take me in. I have not found any trace of my son,’ said Xie’s father.

The search was pointless because Xie’s son had been the victims of a prolific serial killer, a 56-year-old farmer named Zhang Yongming who lived in a shack near the cold storage unit where victim Han Yao was last glimpsed. Zhang Yongming should have been the police’s first suspect: In 1978, he was sentenced to life in prison for murder, after dismembering a victim. He was released in 1997 and lived within a two kilometer radius of all the victims. The local villagers certainly suspected something was up with Zhang: the Daily Telegraph reported on May 24 that ‘last December, [Zhang Yongming] was found trying to strangle Zhang Jianyuan, 17, with a belt outside his house’. Police arrived at the house of the convicted murderer but Zhang ‘laughed off the episode, saying that he was just fooling with the boy.’ The cops also seemed to have a good sense of humour, as they ‘simply told [villagers] he was mentally ill’.

As sadly undeveloped as China’s mental-health awareness is, this failure to detain Zhang for attempted murder probably resulted in the hideous deaths of up to seventeen boys.

Grisly details that have so far emerged include that police also found human eyeballs preserved inside wine bottles, and human flesh hanging up to dry, (according to a now deleted article on Guangxi News. The AFP report says that ‘green plastic bags containing what appeared to be white bones protruding from the top were seen hanging from his home’. Zhang is now thought to have fed human flesh to his three dogs and sold portions on the market, telling people it was ‘ostrich meat,’ according to the Hong Kong Standard.

The official reaction has been predictable: censorship and the dismissal of two individual police officers. Weibo searches for ‘Jinning’, ‘Yunnan disappeared’ and ‘Yunnan murder’ (晋宁, 云南失踪 and 云南谋杀) are blocked. Jinning county police chief Da Qiming has been sacked, alongside the head of the Jincheng township police station, Zhao Huiyun. A special Public Security Bureau task force has been sent from Beijing to supervise the case: this is the Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB), the Chinese equivalent of the FBI. While the CIB employs expert staff, they are normally brought in to deal with cases that threaten public stability, and they serve ministerial ends. The victims’ parents will probably be largely ignored, the case declared exceptional and individual, and the public afforded little further protection.

Update (June 9, 2012):

AP reports:

China punishes 12 police officers for failing to properly investigate a series of murders

Authorities have fired or disciplined 12 police officers — including two police chiefs — for inadequately investigating a series of murders in southwest China in which victims were dismembered and buried, state media reported Saturday…

…China’s official Xinhua News Agency said that the officers were punished for failing to meet their responsibilities. Among them were Jinning county police chief Da Qiming and Jincheng township police chief Zhao Huiyun, who were sacked last month, according to a statement posted on Yunnan Police’s official website.

For more on serial killers by Robert Foyle Hunwick, see Serial killers in China.

Links and sources
AFP / France 24: Chinese ‘cannibal’ detained in Yunnan province
The Daily Telegraph: Chinese boys fall prey to chess-playing serial killer
The Hong Kong Standard: Cannibal horror
Danwei: Serial killers in China, 17 young people disappear in Yunnan, police fear a serial killer
Chongqing Economic Times / Dajiangwang: 云南晋宁失踪17人 可能为连环杀人案 (image source)
Global Times: Yunnan town fears serial kidnapper