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Making a killing in Asia

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Don’t look now, but you’re surrounded by serial killers. They’re all around you, and there’s no escape.

Are they hiding in your closet? Prowling in the alleyway behind your apartment? Waiting in that suspicious-looking truck parked across the street? Hitting on you at the bar? Maybe, maybe not.

More likely, you’ll find them in your DVD player, lurking in TV series like Dexter and films like The Silence of the Lambs, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Zodiac. They’re also on your bookshelf, in works of fiction like Bret Eaton Ellis’s American Psycho and Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, as well as in countless non-fiction “true crime” volumes detailing the exploits of real-life psychopaths.

And they’re on your iPod, in songs like “Midnight Rambler” by The Rolling Stones (about Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo), “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen (Charles Starkweather), “Suffer Little Children” by The Smiths (Ian Brady and Myra Hindley), “Arc Arsenal” by At the Drive-in (possibly about Jeffrey Dahmer) and “Ted Admit It” by Jane’s Addiction (Ted Bundy).

Yep, we love our serial killers. They’ve been a source of public obsession since Jack the Ripper enthralled newspaper readers in London in 1888, and the fascination has since grown into an industry that encompasses all forms of media, including the morally questionable online trade in murder memorabilia.

America’s far-reaching, hyperactive media meat-grinder has seen to it that the whacky hi-jinks of serial killers from the United States – Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeff Dahmer and the like – are well known, well dissected and well studied around the world.

But every continent has its own serial slayers, and Asia is no exception. Following is a short survey of some of the region’s most infamous sociopaths.

Shen Changyin and Shen Changping (China)

One classic misconception about serial killers is that they are reclusive social misfits who live, and kill, alone. But China’s butcher brothers, Shen Changyin and Shen Changping, turned murder and cannibalism into a family affair, and even brought in some outsiders to help.

The brothers started their two-year killing spree in June 2003 by luring a prostitute named Yao Fang into their house and stealing her bank card. After running to an ATM to confirm that the PIN she provided was correct, they strangled and dismembered her.

The Shen brothers’ next would-be victim was a bit more street-savvy. Also a prostitute, Li Chunlung was spared the chopping block after she offered to lure more victims to chez Shen. True to her word, she brought four more victims to the house over the next several months, sometimes killing them herself. Kidneys were removed and eaten, and the bodies were burned with sulfuric acid and flushed down the toilet.

In April 2004 the happy trio moved to Taiyuan, Shanxi province, and procured another helper in the form of Zhao Meiying. When she lured her first victim to the Shen’s apartment, the brothers forced her to commit the murder by stabbing the woman to death, feeding her body through a meat grinder, and committing the pieces to the commode.

The grisly group continued their spree in Hefei, Anhui province; Baotou, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region; and Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, picking up two more helpers, and dispatching a number of victims, along the way.

Zhao was the first to surrender to police, in mid-2004, and Li was picked up soon after. In August police raided an apartment in Shijiazhuang and found Changyin and Changping, along with their newest female accomplice, in the presence of a woman’s corpse – described by Xinhua news agency as “brutally dismembered” – as well as an array tools and stolen bank cards.

The brothers confessed to murdering and dismembering 11 women, and were – along with Li – sentenced to death for their trouble. Three other women aged 16 to 26 were jailed for three to 20 years for helping procure victims.

Yang Xinhai (China)

Yang Xinhai was apparently better at killing than at keeping cool. His three-year career as a serial killer was brought to an end when he “appeared suspicious” during a routine police inspection of entertainment venues in Cangzhou, Hebei province, in November 2003.

Police brought Yang to the station for further questioning and soon realized he was wanted for homicides in Hebei, Anhui, Henan and Shandong provinces.

It wasn’t long before the cops had wrung a startling confession from Yang, who claimed to have committed 65 murders, 23 rapes and five assaults causing GBH (grievous bodily harm) starting from 2000, when he was released from a labor camp, to the time of his arrest in 2003.

His method was to enter houses at night and use different tools – usually axes, hammers and shovels – to dispatch anyone and everyone found therein. South China Morning Post cited one case in October 2002 in which Yang used a shovel to kill a man and his six-year-old daughter, then raped a pregnant woman, who survived but sustained serious head trauma.

Such stories led the media to refer to Yang as the “Monster Killer”, a nickname that surely didn’t help his cause in court. Neither did the fact that police used DNA evidence to place Yang at several of the crime scenes.

His trial lasted one hour. Verdict: guilty. Sentence: death by gunshot, lovingly carried out by Chinese authorities on Valentine’s Day 2004.

No definitive motive was established for Yang’s crime spree, with some sources saying he was angry over being rejected by his girlfriend. But Yang just seemed to enjoy being a serial killer. In an interview on China’s Central Television after his trial, he said: “When I killed people I had a desire (to kill more). This inspired me to kill more. I don’t care whether they deserve to live or not. It is none of my concern. I have no desire to be part of society. Society is not my concern.”

Lam Kor-wan (Hong Kong)

The Jars Murderer. The Rainy Night Butcher. The Hong Kong Butcher. Such were the colorful names given to Lam Kor-wan, a taxi driver on the nightshift who in the early 1980s murdered four women.

Method: Pick up a lone female passenger in the taxi (usually on a rainy night). Strangle her with electrical wire. Dismember the body in the apartment he shared with his brother (who never suspected a thing, as he worked during the daytime when the process of butchery occurred). Use the taxi to dispose of the body in the New Territories or Hong Kong Island (all four were eventually found).

In 1992 a movie called Doctor Lamb was made about the murderer. But don’t mistake Lam for genius cannibal Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. In this case the killer blew his own cover in the stupidest possible way: He stopped by a Kodak shop to drop off a roll of film with photographs of one of his dismembered victims.

The shop manager tipped off police, and the hapless Lam was nabbed on August 17, 1982, when he returned to pick up his gruesome photographs. Police found other incriminating evidence when they checked his apartment, including more photos, a video of Lim having sex with a corpse, and Tupperware containers holding a collection of extraneous sex organs (thus the Jars Murderer moniker).

In early 2004 Lam was found guilty of all four murders and sentenced to death by hanging, later commuted to a life behind bars at Shek Pik Prison.

Admad Suradji (Indonesia)

Are you a good little boy or girl who always listens to your parents? What if one of those parents is your dead father? And what if your dead father tells you in a dream to kill 70 women and drink their saliva, as a means to become a powerful mystic healer?

That’s what Indonesian cattle breeder Ahmad Suradji claims happened to him, and of course he was a good little boy and did what daddy said. But daddy must have been very disappointed in his son when the killing spree was brought to halt after 11 years, with a body count of only 42 victims – well short of the 70-corpse goal.

The killer was arrested, aged 59, in May 1997 after the body of a woman, last seen at Suradji’s house, was found buried in a sugarcane field near his home in North Sumatra province. The 41 other corpses of women aged 11 to 30 were later found nearby.

Suradji apparently preyed on women who, thinking he had special powers as
a sorcerer, visited him seeking spiritual healing, good fortune and help in making their husbands or boyfriends faithful.

In dispatching his victims, the sorcerer followed a ritual in which he buried the women in the ground up to their waists, strangled them with cable and buried them with their heads pointing toward his house. Then he did like he was told and drank their saliva. Because father knows best.

When Suradji was arrested, police also hauled in his three wives, all sisters, for assisting in the murders and helping to hide the bodies. One of them, Tumini, was tried as his accomplice.

Suradji maintained his innocence throughout the trial, which started in December 1997. By that time, a film about the case had already been released in Indonesia, leading Suradji’s lawyers to argue that the publicity was preventing their client from getting a fair hearing.

Despite this protest, in April 1998 the sorcerer was found guilty by a three-judge panel and sentenced to death, amid loud cheers in the courtroom from the victims’ relatives. On July 10, 2008, he was executed by firing squad. Tumini also earned a death sentence, which was later reduced to life in prison.

Tsutomu Miyazaki (Japan)

So many Japanese psychopaths, so little space on this page. Among them all, Tsutomu Miyazaki might just deserve the title of Emperor. Although his body count (four) was relatively low among serial killers, he more than made up for this through sheer perversity.

Suffering from deformed hands due to a premature birth, Miyazaki was ostracized as a child and found solace in being alone, and later in mutilating and murdering girls aged four to seven years.

The atrocities occurred in 1988 and 1989 in Tokyo, the victims apparently selected at random. He sexually molested the corpses, drank the blood of at least one victim, and ate the hand of another.

The first was four-year-old Mari Konno, whose body Miyazaki left to decompose outside before chopping off the hands and feet and storing them in his closet. He cremated the rest of the corpse in his furnace, put the ashes in a box – along with the girl’s teeth, photos of her clothes and cryptic postcard reading “Mari. Cremated. Bones. Investigate. Prove.” – and left the package on her parents’ doorstep.

Other families received similar treatment, including letters detailing the murder of their children. All four families reported being harassed by repeated silent phone calls.

Miyazaki’s spree was mercifully short. He was arrested on July 23, 1989, when he attempted to take nude photos of a schoolgirl in a park in suburban Tokyo.

Searching Miyazaki’s home, police found body parts as well as nearly 6000 videotapes, with footage of his victims interspersed among violent anime and slasher films. The video collection resulted in the press dubbing him “The Otaku Murderer” and fuelled a moral backlash against violent anime. (Otaku is a Japanese term for someone with a nerdish obsession with anime, manga or video games.)

During the trial, which began in March 1990, Miyazaki refused to take the blame for his actions. He told judges that he had committed the murders in his dreams, or that he had been ordered to kill by a “rat person” alter ego, cartoonish pictures of which he drew for the court.

He also refused to apologize to the victims’ families, deeming his murders an “act of benevolence” and telling the court he had done “a good job”.

Court-appointed psychiatrists subjected Miyazaki to a battery of tests, one finding that he suffered from a multiple personality disorder, while a second said he was schizophrenic. Yet another said Miyazaki thought his crimes would resurrect his grandfather, who had died three months before the first murder.

The Tokyo District Court didn’t buy the insanity defense and pronounced a sentence of death by hanging. The world was rid of Miyazaki on June 17, 2008.

Nikolai Dzhumangaliev (Kazakhstan)

Not much has been written about Nikolai Dzhumangaliev in the English language, but what there is makes Jeffrey Dahmer look like Mary Friggin’ Poppins compared with this fanged fruit loop.

A tip to the ladies: Avoid dates with anyone who has replaced his natural teeth with white metal chompers.

Despite this unsettling quirk in Dzhumangaliev’s appearance, his acquaintances in the city of Alma-Ata, Kazakhastan, considered him to be a polite, well-spoken and generally kempt chap. Lesson: Sometimes it pays to judge a book by its metal teeth.

Dzhumangaliev, aka Metal Fang, had already spent a year in jail for manslaughter in the late 1970s before he started working as a laborer in Alma-Ata. Somewhere along the line he picked up an interesting little off-hours hobby: ridding the world of prostitutes.

Fang usually pursued his favorite hobby in a riverside park, where he lured women into dark areas, raped them, and hacked them to pieces with a knife and axe. Then it was time for Dzhumangaliev to indulge in his second hobby: whipping up rare ethnic dishes, invariably meat-based, to share with his unsuspecting friends at happy little get-togethers in his house. Strange how these little parties always occurred shortly after Fang was spotted hanging out in the park.

Dzhumangaliev’s generosity to his friends was brought a halt in 1980 when two people he had invited over for one of his special meals discovered a woman’s severed head and intestines in the kitchen, ready for the stew pot. They quickly alerted police, having apparently lost their appetites.

The killer was charged with seven murders, although it has been speculated that he might have committed many more. The court decided he was not responsible for his actions for reasons of insanity and had him committed to a mental institution in Tashkent.

In 1989 Dzhumangaliev managed to escape from authorities while being transported to another institution. He was on the lam for two years, with nary a word spoken to the public about the loose nut on the loose.

In August 1991 he was recaptured in Fergana, Uzbekistan, after a woman told police that a man with metal teeth had propositioned her earlier in the day. He was immediately picked up and tossed back into an asylum. But one wonders what hobbies he might have pursued during his two years of freedom.

Javed Iqbal (Pakistan)

In December 1999 police in Lahore, Pakistan, received a shocking parcel from a man named Javed Iqbal Mughal, who confessed in an accompanying letter to having murdered 100 boys between the ages of six and 16.

He claimed to have strangled and dismembered them, and used vats of hydrochloric acid to dispose of the remains. The parcel also contained evidence in the form of photographs of victims, as well as a notebook filled with page after page of details of the murders. Police raced to a three-room house indicated in the letter, only to find that Iqbal had fled – but not before leaving behind more evidence: bloodstains on the walls, more photographs, and two vats of acid containing partially dissolved human remains. Investigators filled nine plastic bags with the clothes and shoes of apparent victims.

Authorities immediately launched what turned out to be Pakistan’s biggest manhunt up to that time, but too little avail. Iqbal eventually grew tired of waiting to be arrested and turned himself in on December 30, 1999.

Despite the evidence that he himself had provided, Iqbal kept changing his story in court, sometimes claiming the whole thing had been a hoax aimed at drawing attention to the plight of street children, at other times saying he had committed the murders to avenge injustices he had faced earlier in his life.

More than 100 witnesses testified against Iqbal and an accomplice named Sajid Ahmad, both of whom were found guilty.

On March 16, 2000, the judge read out the sentence of death by hanging, but added that he wished the two defendants could get the same treatment as their victims: strangled, dismembered, and dissolved in acid.

The sentence was never carried out. On October 8, 2001, Iqbal and Ahmad were found dead in separate cells in Kot Lakhpat prison. It appeared as though they had hanged themselves using bed sheets, but autopsies revealed that they had been beaten prior to death. Justice served, Pakistan-style.

Yoo Young-chul (South Korea)

Yoo Young-Cheol already had an impressive rap sheet before he turned to murder in 2003, having been to jail on several occasions for a total of 11 years on 14 counts, including theft, forgery and the rape of a 15-year-old girl.

His jail term for child abuse ended on September 11, 2003. His first order of business as a free man was to round up some stray dogs and club them to death, possibly to practice for his new career as a psycho. On September 24, he turned his attention to bigger prey, murdering two people (aged 72 and 67), the first with a knife, the second with a special homemade hammer.

The hammer became Yoo’s tool of choice for most of the rest of his killing spree, which lasted until July 2004 and ended the lives of 21 people (22, if you count Yoo’s forthcoming execution) in and around Seoul.

The killer’s victims were mostly prostitutes and wealthy old men, and following his arrest he explained his preferences in a televised interview: “Women shouldn’t be sluts, and the rich should know what they’ve done.”

Yoo started his spree with the rich, sometimes picking expensive-looking houses near churches to break into, and at one point deliberately choosing a house near a small police station because he thought residents would perceive the area as safe and leave their guard down.

In January, following a brief arrest for theft at a sauna during which police failed to connect him with the nine murders he had already committed, Yoo turned his attention to prostitutes, apparently in revenge for having had his advances spurned by an escort girl in December.

Rather than break into houses, Yoo changed his method: He phoned escort services to lure girls to his house, smashed their heads with his trusty hammer, dismembered the bodies and disposed of the parts on a wooded hillside behind a Buddhist temple. Before dismemberment, he shaved the skin off the victims’ fingertips to make identification more difficult.

Yoo murdered his last victim on July 13. Two days later he was arrested with help from a pimp who had started connecting the disappearance of his girls with calls from
Yoo’s phone.

Once arrested, Yoo confessed to 21 murders and also told police that he had eaten the livers of some of his victims because “it made my mind and body refreshed”. The court convicted him of 20 murders (the other was dismissed on a technicality).

He was sentenced to death on June 19, 2005. “My actions cannot be justified,” he told the court. “If we live in a society where people like me can live a good life, there will not be another Yoo Young-chul.  I am thankful for the prosecutors’ request for the death penalty. I will be repenting what I have done until I die.”


This article was published in the “Crime and Punishment” edition (June5-11) of The Myanmar Times Weekend magazine.

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