We are no strangers to brutality on this show ladies and gentlemen, in the twelve months that The Casual Criminalist has been examining evil and magnifying the macabe Simon has discussed a doctor who murdered hundreds of his communities most vulnerable, beheadings on public transport, and the dissolving of human remains in acid baths to name but a few. Nontheless I feel it is only fair that I issue a content warning for today’s show, as today’s case is so twisted and foul, that frankly producing this script rendered me uneasy for a time. To not beat about the bush, today’s episode concerns the butchering and disposal of an entire family of 10 in a single night in 1980’s Macau. All necessary efforts have been made to present the facts of the case frankly and fairly, to preserve the humanity of today’s victims, and to deride the evil creature which ended their lives.
As tempting as it may be to duck out of today’s episode following that warning, I would implore all of you strong stomached enough to remain. Outside of Hong Kong, Macau, and the Guandong Province of China this case is all but unkown, barely making a footprint in popular memory. Remain with us today ladies and gentlemen not to hear a story of murder, but to hear a story of heroism in the face of unremitting evil, to hear the story of the brave men and women who sought justice for the killer, and most importantly to learn about and memorialise the poor victims in your minds.
With that, let us begin….
The Wild West of Asia
Those of you who have visited Macau may find it an unlikely backdrop for such a tale of unmitigated violence and brutality, and indeed modern Macau most certainly is. It is a city of opulence, advancement, and above all, wealth. Macau is one of the richest places on earth. In 2020 it surpassed Qatar as the location with the highest gross domestic product per person on a purchasing power parity basis. It’s GDP per capita in 2019 was $86,117.66 USD. This wealth is built upon that most traditional of human vices: gambling. Gambling alone makes up roughly 50% of this juggernaut of an economy, and 23 casinos are crammed onto the tight Macau peninsula. Around these casinos have sprung up monoliths of steel and glass. So much construction has taken place in Macau since the 1999 handover from Portugal to China in fact that the city ran out of space, and accordingly roughly 33% of modern Macau is reclaimed land clawed back from the sea.
Visitors to Macau in the 1980’s would not be treated to such an opulent spectacle. There were no skyscrapers, no mega-casinos, and instead the forerunner to modern Macau was a city in which dirt piled both literally and metaphorically. A Portuguese colony for 450 years, Macau in the 1980’s was a city on life support, a holdout and relic of a once great colonial power whose relevance in, and command of the world had long since diminished. A city so neglected, crime ridden, and at times lawless that some had taken to referring to it as ‘the wild west of Asia’.
Prostitution ran rampant; triad people traffickers would lure women from Burma, the Chinese Mainland, the Phillipines, Mongolia, Russia, South Africa, and Thailand with the promise of well compensated and dignified jobs in the service sector, only to have their passports stolen by the traffickers and forced into sexual slavery. If they were lucky and stayed in the good graces of their captors they would be released when they aged and were no longer profitable, if they were unlucky and their captors thought they may head to the police… then the Macau Maritime Police would be dealing with yet another tragic case of the mutilated and unidentifiable corpse of a foreign woman washing up on the shore.
The opium plague that had cursed 19th and early 20th century China had not ended in Macau, it simply evolved with the times. Where once Portuguese merchants unloaded ton after ton of opium onto Macau’s wharfs freely and openly, modern smugglers unloaded ton after ton of refined heroin from the Port of Macau openly after bribing immoral dock workers, and threatening moral ones.
Most certainly Macau of the 1980’s was a city gripped by foul wickedness, and it is within those dark and dangerous streets which today’s tale takes place.
The Eight Immortals was a Macanese restaurant buried deep in the industrial maze of the Port of Macau. The restaurant was owned and run by Zheng Lin. Lin was the epitome of working class done good. An uneducated man, Lin had laboured his entire life to provide for his family, firstly for his parents and siblings in his adolescence, and latterly for his wife and children during his adulthood. He began working as a labourer at the Port of Macau while only a teen after immigrating from the mainland, and after noticing the unquenchable demand for food and refreshments from the constant flow of people in and out of the port, he decided to improve his lot in life by pursuing a career catering to their faminishing needs. Working within the confines of his meagre means Lin began working as a street vendor, selling food and drink from a street side stand, and eventually he was able to save enough money to invest in an actual restaurant which he named The Eight Immortals. Continuing this slow and methodical approach to his business Lin continued to pool his ever expanding profits, and a couple of years later invested in a hotel to complement his restaurant, which in the spirit of continued tradition he named the Eight Immortals Hotel.
Zheng Lin was living the dream of every mainland immigrant to Macau: work hard, open a business, provide for your family, and make sure your children get the best education and opportunities you can afford before sending them out into the world to enjoy bigger and better successes than you yourself could attain. But Lin’s otherwise impeccable and enviable life was blemished by a particular vice that would prove to be his and his families undoing: gambling.
Put simply, Zhen Lin and his wife Zhen Hway Yee were gambling addicts, the urge to risk everything on a high stakes thrill was as adrenaline inducing and gratifying to them as a smoker breaking the seal on a fresh pack of Marlboro Reds after a stressful day in the office. The grip this addiction had on the couple grew in tandem with the success of their business, which in turn provided more and more resources for them to wager. Accordingly they were frequent patrons of Macau’s many mahjong parlours, and it was within one such sordid establishment that they would cross paths with Huang Zhiheng, the man who would eventually end their, and their entire families lives.
The Zhens and Huang Zhiheng were long acquainted before the killings. They drank and gambled together for many years, and eventually regarded each other very cordially. One evening in 1984 Zhen Lin, Zhen Hway Yee, Huang Zhiheng, and one of Lin’s chefs sat down for a game of five card stud at the Eight Immortals, with Chen Lee Dong, Zhen Hway Yee’s mother hovering around the peripheries as a non-participating observer. They all put in 16,000 Pataca ($2,000 USD). Lin, sure of an almost immediate win on his second hand, pushed all 16,000 Pataca of his chips across the table, his confidence being complimented by a large ear-to-ear smile that filled his face. They showed their cards, at which point those chips continued sliding across the table and into the hands of Huang Zhiheng.
“Not a problem” Lin boldly declared as he laughed off the loss with a deep chuckle. “I’ve come back from much worse losses than that before, and I shall do so again!” he further added as he wagered yet more money. But he did not come back from those losses. He lost his next hand, then his next hand, and then his next hand in a blighted pattern of luck that set the tone for the entire night. As the night drew to a close, Lin’s smile had long gone, and he was down 1.4 Million Pataca ($180,000 USD). Obviously he did not have the means to settle this debt immediately, so he and Huang Zhiheng closed the night by negotiating terms of payment:
“What about collateral?” Huang Zhiheng soon asked.
“Your f*cking standing in it. If I don’t get you the money within a year I’ll give you this damned restaurant!” Finding these terms more than agreeable Huang Zhiheng took his leave and disappeared into the night.
The clock was ticking for the Zhens, and Huang Zhiheng had no intention of letting them forget it. Once a month for the next year Huang Zhiheng would pop into the Eight Immortals and enquire about the status of his payment. Each time he was hurried out of the door without seeing a single pataca.
Given what we know is coming later in our story, it may shock you dear viewer to hear that these meetings were always conducted in the spirit of mutual cordiality. Huang Zhiheng had no reason to be angry, these things happen in gambling he thought, and whatever happened he was either 1.4 Million Pataca richer, or the new proprietor of a most upstanding Macanese eatery.
The fourth of August 1985 was a typical night for the Zhen family. The Eight Immortals was full of customers, many regulars to whom the owning family were familiar friends, and a few new customers sampling its delights for the first time. Steam filled the air of the restaurant, carrying the mouth watering aroma of Zhen Hway Yee’s cooking with it. Zhen Baoqiong, the couple’s eldest daughter raced between the tightly packed tables, her arms laden with bamboo serving containers piled taller than her head. Jokes and laughter imbued the air, the sound only interrupted by the regular clacking and slamming of the trusty old till as Chen Lee Dong, Zhen Hway Yee’s mother collected the fruits of their collective labour. An aura of serenity and joy filled the restaurant.
A familiar figure entered the restaurant, and Zhen Baoqiong goes to greet him and take him to a table. The man politely refuses, instead asking if she could see her father as he needed to talk business. Zhen Lin emerged from behind a beaded curtain, and approached the man whom he immediately recognised as Huang Zhiheng. He strolled across the restaurant, placed his elbows on the table, his head into his hands and let out a weary sigh. This had become a regular and tiresome ritual for Lin, having to deal with Huang Zhiheng and his nagging every single month.
This time was different however. Today Huang Zhiheng would not simply be hurried out of the door and close the day with pockets as empty and light as when it began. He turned to Zhen Lin as he left and snarled at him:
“I’ll be back later tonight.”
True to his word Huang Zhiheng re-appeared in the doorway as the restaurant was being closed up. He announced that he had had quite enough of the delay tactics. He gestured towards the large calendar that hung above the till and reminded Zhen Lin that as it had been over a year since the debt was incurred he was owed the deed to the restaurant, as per their agreement.
Zhen Lin finally snapped out of the bored disposition that had dictated his dealings with Huang Zhiheng for the last year and aggressively turned on him. He wasn’t going to pay, and Huang Zhiheng must have been an absolute idiot to think he was ever even going to attempt to clear such a ludicrously large and unenforceable debt. Huang Zhiheng was no triad, he wasn’t physically imposing, he had no political or social capital he could bring down on his head. Huang Zhiheng was a nobody and Lin was absolutely sick of having to maintain the facade of legitimacy he kept while dealing with him for the past year.
“What the fuck are you going to do about it then c*nt? You have no contract. You have no paperwork. You have NOTHING” he barked at Huang Zhiheng as he gradually closed the distance to him, bending his larger and broader frame down and pressing his forehead against Huang Zhiheng’s forehead. The expletive ridden vitriolic tirade continued, as Lin verbally tore down the pathetic little man who would take everything he had worked for over a drunken card game while staring him dead in the eyes.
“Go on then! Show me what you’re going to do about it!” Lin continued on. At this point Huang Zhiheng snapped and decided to oblige his request. He manoeuvred his hands upto Lin’s waist and shoved him away from him, using the newly created distance between him and Lin to plant a right hook on his jaw. Despite getting the jump on Lin this went about as well for Huang Zhiheng as you might expect from Lin’s description of him. Lin leapt forward and punched Huang Zhiheng in the stomach, winding him and making him bend forwards at which point Lin followed up with a punch to the face which sent his opponent crashing to the floor with all the grace and dignity of a podgy amateur boxer going five rounds with Mike Tyson.
Zhen Lin continued to beat on Huang Zhiheng as he lay on the floor, delivering one powerful kick to his stomach. He grabbed him by the shirt and began to manhandle him towards the door, confident that the tiresome nagging about that insufferable debt was finally over. Unfortunately for Lin, Huang Zhiheng still had some fight left in him and he struggled from side to side as he was escorted to the door. He reached just far enough to grab an empty bottle of Tsingtao Beer on the table to his side, immediately he flipped it upside down in his hand and brought it down on the edge of the table it had just been stood on. He swung the razor sharp improvised weapon over his left shoulder, desperate to land any slash on Lin that would see him unhanded from his grip.
Zhen Lin immediately did exactly that, releasing his grip on Huang Zhiheng and jumping as far back as a single leap would carry him. Huang Zhiheng slowly moved forward, his face plastered in the wicked confidence of a man who knew he held all the power. The only exits from the restaurant were the customer entrance to his rear, and the fire escape to his left flank. With every possible route of escape from the building carrying them within slashing distance of his broken bottle the Zhen family all backed into the furthest corner away from Huang Zhiheng and screamed at the children to get behind them as they formed a quarter circle in front of them.
Unfortunately one of the children did not heed their parents’ desperate cries, and just stood frozen, staring at Huang Zhiheng in abject fear, paralysed like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a fast approaching car. Zhen Qwan Lee, Zhen Lin and Zhen Hway Yee’s seven year old son was scooped up by Huang Zhiheng and raised off the grounding, his legs left flailing in the air as he was placed into a choke hold between Huang Zhiheng’s left forearm and bicep. He pressed the broken bottle into the boys neck just hard enough to draw a single narrow line of blood and began to cackle:
“Now why don’t YOU show me what you are going to do Lin!”
As the adrenaline controlling Huang Zhiheng’s actions faded he began to think clearer and he plotted his next course of action. He never intended this to happen, but he was getting his money.
He barked at Chen Lee Dong, to fetch some rope – motivating her to hurry along obediently by squeezing his captives neck just hard enough that he emitted occasional pained screams, and then ordered her to tie up and gag the family. When her aged hands proved to frail and lacking the fine motor skills needed to complete the task, he passed it onto Zhen Hway Yee, who obediently set about the task given to her. When the rest of the family was bound, he handed her Zhen Qwan Lee and ordered her to continue.
The moment Zhen Hway Yee’s son was handed to her, her maternal instincts took full control, and she bolted straight for the door, gripping her son tightly. She screamed for help in a deafening pitch at which point Huang Zhiheng raised the broken bottle and without hesitation drove it into her neck as she passed.
Zhen Hway Yee fell to the floor and her son landed on top of her. She squirmed on the floor, desperately trying to breath, but with more oxygen escaping through her wound than she could draw in she soon passed away. A thick pool of blood continued to form on the floor around her as her family looked on, desperately they tried to scream, but through their gags they could barely muster a whisper and could do nought but look on in horror.
Huang Zhiheng didn’t utter another word to the family. His face was blank and expressionless. He took no pleasure from the task at hand, but knew what he believed he had to do if he was to have any chance of walking away from this encounter a free man.
He started with Zhen Lin. He dragged him from the corner and knelt him down by the corpse of his wife. He looked him in the eye and silently drove the bottle into his neck before pushing him on top of her and letting him share her fate. Huang Zhiheng folded his arms and watched patiently as he waited for his second victim to stop squirming.
Then he moved onto Zhen Bai Lam, Zhen Lin’s 61 year old cousin and repeated the process again. He kicked her to the side of Lin and Yee and watched her bleed to death, still not uttering a single word, the closest thing to emotion displayed being an occasional blink.
The final adult in the room then met her fate. In a now sickeningly familiar pattern Chen Lee Dong, Zhen Hway Yee’s 70 year old mother was dragged out from the corner, and stabbed in the neck as Huang Zhiheng silently and patiently watched her bleed to death.
Then it was the turn of the children. They however met a different end. Huang Zhiheng believed it too barbaric to stab them to death, so opted instead to strangle them. One by one he took the children, lifted them off the ground, and looked them in the eye as he clamped his hands around their necks. He squeezed as tight as he could, and waited for the tears, the wriggling, and the muffled screams to stop, before he tossed them aside and moved on to the next one.
He saved Zhen Qwan Lee till last. The boy was still unbound, and had sat petrified in the corner throughout the killings. Before he met his grizzly fate he uttered one single sentence to Huang Zhiheng:
“My Aunt will call the police and have you arrested”, as the poor boy fell limp and lifeless he had no idea that his words had just doomed his aunt to the same fate as everyone else in the restaurant. Huang Zhiheng now knew there was a loose end to tie up.
Chen Li Zen, Zhen Hway Yee’s auntie, was sitting at home late that evening when someone buzzed her apartment intercom. Curious about who would be visiting her at such an unsociable hour she picked up the handset and was met by a deep and unfamiliar voice. The voice didn’t give a name, but whoever it was, they were panicked and short of breath. They explained they were a family friend of Zhen Lin, and implored her to race to the Eight Immortals with him because Zhen Qwan Lee was having a seizure and the family needed help. Of course she immediately offered to drop everything to help him, and after throwing on a jacket ran downstairs to greet the man. As I’m sure you have realised viewers, Huang Zhiheng was waiting for her. The pair hailed the nearest taxi, and by the close of the hour Huang Zhiheng had tied off his loose end.
Chen Li Zen’s death brought the killing spree to a close, Huang Zhiheng had stolen 10 innocent lives in a single night. Such a barrage of brutality can be a difficult thing to quantify and rationalise, so let us take a moment to list the victims:
- Zhen Lin, owner of the Eight Immortals restaurant and family patriarch. 50 years old. Murdered trying to protect his family’s livlihood.
- Zhen Hway Yee, family matriarch. 42 years old. Murdered, and died a hero, trying to make sure at least one of her children survived.
- Zhen Qwan Lee, only son of Lin and Yee. 7 years old. Murdered while bravely refusing to cower before a demon of a man.
- Zhen Baoqiong, 18 years old, Zhen Baohong, 12 years old, Zhen Baowen, 10 years old, and Zhen Baohua, 9 years old. 4 sisters murdered simply as loose ends.
- Chen Li Zen, auntie of Zhen Hway Yee. 60 years old. Murdered while selflessly trying to aid her family.
- Zhen Bai Lam, cousin of Zhen Lin. 61 years old. Murdered because her selfless devotion to her family put her in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Chen Lee Dong, mother of Zhen Hway Yee. 71 years old. Murdered because she selflessly chose to spend her golden years aiding her daughters business, which put her in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With his evil work now finished Huang Zhiheng set about the grim business of disposal. But how exactly does one set about disposing of ten human corpses? You only have to scroll through the Casual Criminalist archive to find a plethora of testimonials which show just how difficult a task it is to dispose of even one human corpse without being caught, much less ten.
After some consideration, and a night of restless sleep as a consequence I (George) frankly decided that this was a question I didn’t want to answer, and I deleted the initial detailed chapter I wrote on this matter.
The full details of the disposal can be found in articles and books that discuss the case should you really want to know, but I worry that today’s episode will wander too much into the territory of gore-porn if we dwell on the matter too long and in too much detail. When my desire from this episode is to promote the memory of the Zhen family, hopefully you all agree that this redaction is for the best.
The important information for our story was that Huang Zhiheng butchered the family’s remains, and then disposed of some in the garbage and some in the sea.
With that fleeting explanation finished, let us move on…..
Discovery and Investigation
Four days after the killings, on the 8th of August 1985 a local man was swimming by Areia Preta, a beach just along the coast from where Huang Zhiheng had dumped some of the remains. The man was happily swimming along, daydreaming about nothing in particular and focusing on his breathing when he was interrupted by the sensation of something soft, squishy, and putrid smelling bumping into his face. He levelled himself out and lifted the wet goggles from his eyes to get a clearer look. His heart nearly leapt from his torso when he discovered it was a semi decomposed human foot.
Police arrived quickly en masse. Uniformed officers occupied the beach to comb for more remains, catalogue what was recovered, and interview the swimmer. Maritime patrols sped up and down the coastline in speedboats searching for any further remains. Between the combined efforts of the maritime police, and the natural tide bringing them to shore, by the end of the day 8 pieces of human remains in total had been recovered: 4 soles from right feet, 2 soles from left feet, and 2 arms. Attached to the aforementioned were two dorsal (top) sections of foot, 4 fingers, and 2 toes. The police who catalogued the scene did some morbid mathematics and deduced that they had the remains of no less than 4 people.
2 days later on the 10th of August a doctor walking his dog further down the coast was hauled toward the current by his canine companion, who had become entranced by some meat it had smelt by the waterline. The doctor wretched in disgust when he saw a human arm between his best friend’s teeth but wrestled the limb away before too much of it could be consumed and notified the police, who tallied it in their ever increasing grisly collection after noting it belonged to a female.
3 days after that on the 13th of August two final pieces were discovered, a female right arm and right heel. In total 11 pieces of human remains were recovered from the waters around Macau.
Officers on the beach initially assumed the jumbled remains belonged to illegal immigrants from mainland China. It was hypothesised that a large group of people were crossing the water either with ill suited or improvised water craft, and had hit perilous water, which caused their vessel(s) to disintegrate and the group to drown, the shocking conditions of the remains being attributed to the work of sharks who had feasted on the group after their demise.
Macau Police CID ran with this hypothesis and began examining the remains after they were carefully delivered back to Taipa Police Station in refrigerated and thankfully smell-tight boxes as the remains were entering the early stages of putrefaction and decomposition after several days floating at sea. This hypothesis quickly collapsed however as the forensic scientists who examined them noticed exceptionally straight and clean cuts on the remains; if their condition (or lack thereof) had been from a shark attack the edges of the limbs would be torn and shredded. They formed a new hypothesis, that these limbs had been separated by human hands, with a large, heavy and razor sharp implement… such as a commercial grade meat cleaver…. A dedicated task force was immediately established by the Macau Police to investigate further.
Unfortunately the police found no substantiated leads in the months that followed, and the case gradually began to go cold, as officers were pulled from the task force to deal with more pressing, and solvable cases. That was until April 1986, when a Mr Lin (a surname that should sound familiar to you dear viewer) sent a letter to the Interpol office in Guangzhou and the Macau Police Department.
This letter outlined the man’s concern for his brother, Zhen Lin, whom the author of the letter claimed he had not heard from for 8 months. He explained that his brother was an honest, hard working family man, unlikely to be involved in any shady dealings, or have any need to hide or abscond. He went on to explain that he had contacted friends in Macau previously to go and check on his brother for him, these friends reported back that Lin, and in fact his entire family were nowhere to be found at the Eight Immortals Restaurant, the Eight Immortals Hotel, or in fact any of the frequented locations he asked his friends to investigate.
Furthermore, he went on to explain that neither of the aforementioned premises were abandoned. Quite the contrary, they were all as bustling and busy as ever, but with a new proprietor claiming ownership over them, a Mr Huang Zhiheng. He then gave details about the last time he had seen his brother, back in July of 1985 when he travelled to Ghangzhou with his two youngest daughters Zhen Baowen and Zhen Baohua to visit himself and some of their mutual relatives.
He closed his letter by offering his own hypothesis: he speculated that Zhen Hway Yee, his brother’s wife, had been having an affair with Huang Zhiheng, who may have jointly plotted to kill his brother. He explained the disappearance of the entire family by guessing that after Huang Zhiheng had replaced Zhen Lin as family patriarch some kind of argument ensued, and Huang Zhiheng, realising the leverage the murder conspiracy gave Hway Yee over him killed the entire family to protect himself. He begged the police to investigate, and signed the letter off with his chop.
The Police found the claims in the letter substantiated enough to warrant an investigation, and called into the Eight Immortals restaurant where sure enough Huang Zhiheng is found proudly proclaiming himself to be the proprietor of the establishment. They inquisit the man, who’s brash confidence and room filling personality wanes and falters as soon as conversations about his ownership, and possession of the restaurant are raised.
With the claims in the letter so far having been vindicated they investigated further. They dug through tax records and government documents to look for traces of a sale. They found no such documentation, instead they discovered that the restaurant’s deed of ownership, and liquor licence were all still in Zhen Lin’s name.
They then continued to escalate their investigation, and trawled through the police’s warehouse full of unsolved death and murder records. They reviewed corpse after corpse, case after case, comparing every scrap of information available to the notes of the Zhen family which remained pinned on the most prominent wall of the investigation room for reference.
Soon they came across the case file of those limbs that washed up on the beach back in August. They compared the few scattered fragments of fingerprint they were able to recover from the remains and found a match, the finger print on one of them was a match for that found on Zhen Hway Yee’s government ID file. The police were now confident beyond reasonable doubt about exactly what happened to the Zhen family, the hunt was now on for the smoking gun piece of evidence that would let them nail the b*stard.
The police then set about interviewing the owners and employees of the businesses around the Eight Immortals Restaurant, and found 20 useful witnesses who vouched there had been some kind of incident in the restaurant. Most reported hearing shouting, with a few giving more detailed testimony about hearing crashing furniture and some kind of physical altercation. You may be wondering now dear viewers why none of these twenty reported this to the police on the night. Remember that violence was commonplace in 1980’s Macau, and believing they heard no more than a heated argument, or minor fisticuffs being exchanged didn’t believe it to be worth the police’s attention in light of the more major incidents that occupied their time on a typical day.
The police also eventually managed to track down former employees and various professional contacts of the Zhen family. A chicken and duck farmer who used to supply the restaurant reported to the police that on August the 4th 1985 he made a delivery to the restaurant in the early hours of the morning and all was completely normal. Zhen Lin and Zhen Hway Yee were both alive and well, and he saw the children hurrying out the door to go to school all in the perfect picture of health. The next morning however, he delegated the delivery to one of his employees, who reported finding a note on the door of the restaurant claiming that they would be closed for three days. Zhen Lin and the man were on very cordial terms after years of doing business so he paid him a courtesy call that evening after finishing work – he found it out of character for the hard working and dedicated man he knew to be taking a break and leaving no one to man the restaurant. He found it even stranger when the door was opened by a stranger: Huang Zhiheng.
A neighbour of Chen Li Zen was probed about the missing woman’s whereabouts by the police, and she gave testimony that on the fourth of August she saw a man who appeared to be in his 30’s knock on the door of Li Zen’s apartment. She happened to be carrying rubbish to the bins at the time. She believed she had become privy to some juicy gossip so hung around a nearby corner and eavesdropped to find out exactly why such a young man knocked on her 60 year old neighbours door. She testified that she heard the stranger explain that a relative of Li Zens was running a fever and he needed her help. Being disappointed by such a mundane explanation she moved on and thought no more of it until the police came knocking at her door.
“But actually, now you mention it, I haven’t seen her since then, that is weird isn’t it!” she added. You may have noticed a particular irregularity in that testimony, Huang Zhiheng was not in his 30’s and consequently, the police suspected for a time that he may have a younger accomplice. We already know of course that this was not the case.
Slowly but surely the police built up a healthy body of evidence they could use to prosecute Huang Zhiheng with the murders of the Zhen family. But still it wasn’t enough, they needed to find that proverbial smoking gun if they wanted to guarantee conviction. They continued their investigation.
They continued and found that Huang Zhiheng had dismissed all of Zhen’s staff and hired his own team since taking over the restaurant. Odd given how acclaimed and well received the restaurant’s food had been during the Zhens ownership.
They also discovered that Huang Zhiheng had taken up residence in the Zhen family home with his wife, daughter and son. He also had leased out all of their rental properties under his own name. Once again he did not provide any paperwork or evidence to show he had come into possession of the properties legally.
The Arrest and Interrogation
On the afternoon of September the 28th 1986, a 19 year old border guard named Kwan Kin Hong was sitting in his kiosk at the Posto Fronteiriço das Portas do Cerco mainland border crossing. The young man was bleary-eyed from a night of heavy drinking, and he barely paid any attention to the mundane and repetitive tasks his ever so thrilling occupation presented him – checking and stamping an endless stream of documentation with his head slumped in his left hand. To his right stapled to the wall was a large black and white photograph of a rather menacing looking man in his 50’s, some guy called Huang Zhiheng who was to be detained if he tried to leave. The young Kin Hong had no idea what the guy had done, only that it must have been serious for his mugshot to have pride of place in his kiosk. This was quite a common procedure, and one that Kin Hong was no stranger to, but sadly on a normal day nothing terribly exciting ever came of them. Little did the young man know however, today was going to be anything but a normal day.
A large car pulled up to his checkpoint with a family of four inside. They were going to visit family in Zhuhai? How thrilling the young officer thought as he took their passports from their hands and began to inspect them. The mother’s was fine, the daughter’s was fine, and the son’s was fine, but something didn’t feel right about the father’s documentation. He lifted the passport from his desk and held it in front of him, and that was when he twigged. He put the passport down and kept his head facing forwards, peering at the aforementioned mugshot on his wall out of the corner of his eye.
“F*ck me” he thought. “It’s Huang Zhiheng.”
In an instant his revolver was out of its holster and pointing squarely at the driver of the car. He kicks the panic alarm beneath his desk, and officers swarm the car and place Huang Zhiheng under arrest.
After his arrest Huang Zhiheng was interrogated by the police. His stories and explanations changed repeatedly, and ultimately, his alibis proved as watertight as a sponge.
He claimed he bought the Eight Immortals Restaurant and Hotel legitimately from Zhen Lin in cash, hence why there was no paperwork. According to Huang Zhiheng Lin wanted to relocate to the mainland and offered him a good price for expediency. Later he conceded that he had won them as pay off for a gambling debt Lin owed him, but maintained that the exchange was mutual and cordial, the Zhen family simply having disappeared to start afresh on the mainland.
When being probed about his initial claim of having bought the businesses legitimately, the police naturally asked how he came into so much money. First he claimed to be a professional gambler, then he later “admitted” to being a smuggler. This was a lie of course, Huang Zhiheng was never a smuggler, this was just a ill-thought out belief that “admitting” to a less major crime would somehow get him off the hook for the murders despite the overwhelming evidence that pointed the finger squarely at him being the murderer.
Huang Zhiheng‘s arrest also had the benefit of finally giving the Macau Police the justification needed to search his residence. Upon executing this search they found the key to Zhen Lin’s safety deposit box, the entire family’s passports, as well as the birth certificates and student ID’s of all five children. When Huang Zhiheng was asked about why these items were found in his possession, and not taken with the Zhens “abroad” he refused to answer. He pretended to have an asthma attack in a sad attempt to end the interview. When this didn’t work he became emotional and threw what can only be described as a tantrum. Sweeping the copies of evidence laid out before him off the table and onto the floor. He slammed his hands on the table and screamed. Eventually he threatened to commit suicide by bitting his own tounge off if he wasn’t immediately.
As you surely know viewers, police officers have a duty of care to the people in their detention. So the officers did the only correct thing that could be done in this situation and threw him to the ground, restrained him, and gagged him – for his own protection of course! During this altercation he also fell and hit his head on the desk – twice if you can believe such rotten luck. I’m sure Simon, and you dear viewers are just as gutted as myself that Huang Zhiheng proved to be so clumsy.
Eventually however, due to the absolute cavalcade of evidence that showed his guilt, Huang Zhiheng was finally arrested irregardless of the “totally consistent and believable” lies he pulled out of his backside and was formally charged with the ten murders on the 2nd of October 1986.
Following Huang Zhiheng‘s arrest on the 2nd of October 1986 he was transferred to Coloane Prison, the only adult prison in the small territory of Macau. It may come as a shock to you viewers to learn that child killers tend not to receive the fondest reception in prison, and that the unsavoury characters that make up the rank-and-file of a prison population are generally much less restrained in expressing this dissatisfaction than the police officers that gave Huang Zhiheng a good shoeing in the interview room. It took less than 24 hours for him to receive a savage beating in prison.
In the early hours of the 3rd of October a group of inmates began forming around the single occupancy cell that held Huang Zhiheng. Mysteriously, the normally exceptionally fastidious and attentive wardens forgot to lock his cell door that night… The heavy cast iron door of his cell was ferociously swung open by the group, impacting the thick brick frame and letting out a deafening crack that echoed around the otherwise silent prison. The group of inmates piled into Huang Zhiheng ‘s cell and set about giving him a quick and brutal introduction to prison justice. How exactly not one single warden heard the slam of the door, or the agonised pleas for mercy coming from his cell is a mystery I don’t suppose we will ever solve….
In yet another mysterious turn of events, a guard happened to patrol past Huang Zhiheng‘s cell at the very moment all of his assailants abandoned their noble hunt and fled the scene. The battered, bloodied, and bruised man was scooped up off the floor and into the back of an ambulance, then he was transferred to a local hospital and kept under armed supervision while he made a recovery.
The unlikely twists and turns just keep coming in this episode ladies and gentleman. Can you believe it took him only a day to recover from this savage beating? That’s what the prison warden testimonials examined for the completion of this episode said anyway, and I for one see absolutely no reason to doubt the word of these hard working, and dedicated men and women.
Huang Zhiheng attempted suicide twice after his arrest. The first (unsuccessful) attempt came on October the 4th 1986, only two days after his being charged, and one day after that mysterious, random, and absolutely not orchestrated beating occured. He found a steel rubbish bin, with a few millimetres of sharp edging along its rim and pushed his wrist into it with all the strength his “fully healed” body could muster and made a large cross shaped cut. Another inmate found him almost immediately and he was rushed back to the hospital he had been discharged from earlier that very same day, where after 5 hours of surgery he was (sadly) saved.
The second (successful) suicide attempt came on December the 4th, his injuries up to this point being so profound and life threatening that he was “actually” allowed some time in hospital to recover. He had been returned to prison a couple of days before, where he found his cell gutted of absolutely anything that could be used to cause harm. On December the 3rd while eating lunch in the refectory he managed to subtly pull the ring tab from a can of Coca-Cola and slip it up his sleeve, then down into his pocket.
That night when the landing lights disappeared, marking the end of the warden’s patrols for the day, he sat alone in his cell and used the ring pull he ferreted away previously to reopen the still healing wound on his wrist. He was found dead at 8am when the wardens brought his breakfast, his corpse long cold by then, and with him died any chance of justice ever been served for his 10 innocent victims.
I suspect much like myself, you are feeling somewhat emotionally numb after hearing this twisted tale. Sadly, there’s no great moral pay off, no great retribution that ever fell upon Huang Zhiheng to punish him for his sins. Put simply, he killed 10 people over nought but a gambling debt, occupied their lives as a dark doppelganger, and then just at the point it appeared he may actually face some consequences, got to end his life on his own terms. That is the world we live in sadly; bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, such is life. At least, we can derive some slight schadenfreude from the brutality he endured during his short time in prison, at least he got to enjoy a slight taste of the pain he delivered to the Zhen family. I suppose that is at least better than him completely getting away with his murders.
Let us at least try to lessen the depressing after taste this story leaves us by making sure we remember the man correctly. Cast your mind back to the pathetic situation we discussed when Huang Zhiheng was arrested. Cast your mind back, and recover the image of a petulant child masquerading in the guise of a middle aged killer. This is the image of him I would like you all to take away from this episode and burn into your memories. Don’t allow him any kind of infamous mystique. No, I want you to imagine a middle aged man, throwing a tantrum, slamming his arms down on a table as he is forced to take responsibility for the first time in his life. I want you to hear the name Huang Zhiheng and laugh. Laugh at the pathetic man, mock him, taunt him, and do everything in your means to destroy his legacy. Remember him as pathetic, because that’s exactly what he was.
- You may well be wondering how we are able to construct such a detailed recounting of these macabre events. Luckily those interested in this case actually have a wealth of primary sources available to them (If they read Chinese). We got these sources because while some of the inmates locked away with Huang Zhiheng took it upon themselves to deliver savage beatings to him (good lads), others took it upon themselves to faux-befriend him, and encouraged him to be forthcoming with the details of his crime to people he believed were like minded. They did this specifically with the intention of being able to allow the surviving Zhen family some clarity and closure.
- Huang Zhiheng maintained his innocence until the end. Before his suicide attempts he sent a letter to the editor of the Macao Daily News in which he protested his charge and proclaimed his innocence. In these letters he said outright that he had every intention of killing himself in the immediate future, so had no need or reason to lie. He denied killing the Zhen family, but did not provide any kind of alibi. He then asked the public to be forgiving to his family, whom were ignorant to the whole affair (that he apparently had nothing to do with), and closed the letter by stating that his impending suicide was due to his failing health, and a wish to end his life on his own terms, and was not to be taken as an indicator of any guilt.
- More of the Zhen family’s remains were eventually recovered beyond the time frame we focused on in today’s episode. On February the 20th 1989 bin men at a municipal dump close to the Eight Immortals Restaurant discovered a large amount of skeletal human remains. Police descended on the scene and concluded they did belong to the Zhen family, but they were unable to verify which family member most of them belonged to individually.
- On the matter of cannibalism: If you have ever encountered this case before, or the movie inspired by it we discussed at the beginning, you no doubt will have heard the testimonies and claims that Huang Zhiheng fed the Zhen family to the patrons of the Eight Immortals. Not a single shred of objective evidence has emerged to support this claim, meaning any discussion on the matter is purely speculative. Is it possible? Sure. Proponents of this theory will explain how no foul smell ever overtook the murder scene, so the bodies must have been processeed quickly in some way to stop them decaying. To rebut this I would simply draw attention to the fact that all of the bodies were disposed of the night of the killing.