Gao Chengyong was the quiet man in his neighbourhood who lived in a house down the lane, ran a grocery store with his wife and saved enough to send his two sons to university. He appeared just a little detached from his family but then it’s hardly a crime to keep to one’s self.
Last Friday, when armed police personnel stormed the 52-year-old’s nondescript grocery store at Baiyin and pinned him down, Gao turned out to be someone else – allegedly China’s worst serial killer who found release in raping, murdering and dismembering his female victims.
China’s “Jack the Ripper” – as Gao was quickly named by the Chinese media – was a serial killer on the loose in the north-central province of Gansu between 1988 and 2002, sexually assaulting and murdering 11 females, including an eight-year-old child.
Gao, according to case records reported by the Chinese media, targeted mostly single women who stayed alone. He also had a fetish for the colour red and victims were often found in red dresses.
As with the original Jack the Ripper, a serial killer active in London in the late Victorian era who is believed to have murdered five women, some of Gao’s alleged victims had their reproductive organs removed.
According to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Gao’s first alleged killing was in May 1988, the year his first son was born.
“The first victim, a 23-year-old woman, was killed in her home in Baiyin and was found with 26 wounds to her body. The subsequent murders followed a similar pattern. The killer targeted young women who lived alone, pursuing them to their homes before raping and killing them, according to earlier media reports,” the report said.
Police had said at the time of the murders that “patience” was one of the killer’s traits as he waited to pounce on the most vulnerable victims. The murders spread terror in the region, with women not venturing out alone.
“The suspect has a sexual perversion and hates women,” police said in 2004, when they linked the crimes for the first time and offered a reward of 200,000 yuan ($30,000) for information leading to an arrest.
Gao was very good at hiding and the case was all but closed for more than a decade. But his luck began to run out earlier this year.
“In March this year, the Ministry of Public Security’s Criminal Investigation Bureau launched a new investigation using the latest technologies to re-examine DNA and biological evidence. Police eventually linked Gao with the murders and managed to collect his DNA, which was a match for the killer,” state-run China Daily reported.
Police said Gao had confessed to the murders.
But many questions remain unanswered. For one, why did Gao stop committing murders after 2002? Or did he?