An acclaimed author from Anhui province was arraigned and taken into custody on Thursday after confessing to a quadruple murder committed 22 years ago.
New DNA analysis of saliva from a cigarette butt initially recovered at the scene led the special investigations unit long stymied by the case to a village in Nanling County, where police went door-to-door collecting blood samples. Weeks later, after matching the samples and tracing the crime back to 53-year-old writer Liu Yongbiao, investigators apprehended the suspect at his residence.
“I have long awaited this day,” he told law enforcement upon arrest, according to The Beijing News. “All these years my soul has known only torment.”
One early morning in late November 1995, police in the Zhejiang city of Huzhou were called to the scene of a brutal homicide at a local bed and breakfast, where they found four dead from blunt force head trauma: the two owners of the inn, their 13-year-old grandson and a guest from Shandong province. Hotel staff informed law enforcement of two guests who had checked in the night before and boarded with the man from Shandong, identifying them as Anhui locals based on their accents and eating habits. In the ensuing investigation, police happened upon the cigarette butt, which was manufactured by an Anhui-based brand.
With no regulated system of guest registration for independent hotels in China in the nineties, no apparent prior relationship between the victims and perpetrators, and criminal justice technology crude by today’s standards, the case devolved into a series of false starts and dead ends. The investigation rippled across as many as 10 provinces, and led officers as far afield as a shoe factory in Nanjing, but ultimately came to nothing. Though it remained dormant for years, it was never actually shuttered, and the Huzhou public security bureau decided to revisit the case earlier this summer.
Shortly after Liu’s arrest last week, police homed in on the man they believe to be his co-conspirator, a 64-year-old legal consultant named Wang Ming, also hailing from Nanling County. Sources told The Beijing News that Liu and Wang, facing bleak economic prospects at home, both moved to Huzhou seeking temporary work in the mid-90s, before allegedly plotting the quadruple murder and robbing the victims of their valuables.
A bonafide literary star in his home province, Liu was established as a writer even at the time of the murder. His 2005 breakthrough story collection, A Film, garnered the government-awarded Anhui Literature Prize, the highest provincial critical achievement. In 2013, he was elected to the China Writers Association, cementing his credentials as part of the literary mainstream. Though well-respected, his works are not universally praised. Fang Weibao, an Anhui-based critic and panelist for the provincial literary prize, told The Beijing News that Liu’s style, while conveying a certain resilience of spirit, is occasionally mawkish and overwrought with emotion. Fang recalled Liu sitting across from him at a dinner after a panel of writers and critics and muttering to himself repeatedly, “I really can write it. You don’t believe me?”
In an OJ Simpsonian twist furnishing yet more proof that reality has outstripped our fiction, Liu published a novel in 2010 called The Guilty Secret about a writer implicated in a wave of unsolved murders, as Sixth Tone reported Tuesday. Unfortunately for Liu, the glove very much seems to fit.
By Henry Knight
[Images via The Beijing News / Sina]
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