Never for one moment during the past 30 years would Chinese woman Zhang Qingfeng have questioned whether her husband Gao Chengyong could be linked to murder – let alone suspected of being one of the country’s most horrific serial killer.
“[I] really still can’t accept it,” said Zhang, still wishing the whole thing was a mistake.
Zhang described Gao, a father of two, as a quiet, reliable and honest man.
She said in an interview published today by Xibu Shangbao, a newspaper in Gansu province, in the northwest of the country, that it was these very qualities that led her to marry Gao – against the advice of her family – after they had first met in the province.
The arrest last Friday morning of Gao, 52, is believed to have solved a terrifying mystery – one that has gripped the provincial city of Baiyin for 28 years.
He is accused of raping and murdering nearly a dozen women and girls, the youngest of whom was aged only eight.
Police said in a statement, issued last weekend, that Gao had been detained after a tip-off at a grocery store at the Baiyin Industrial School.
They claimed he had admitted killing 11 people in Baiyin and Baotou, in neighbouring Inner Mongolia, between 1988 and 2002.
Reports of the arrest of a suspect in the case have shocked the nation.
Mainland media reported that key information allegedly linking Gao to the crimes had emerged earlier this year.
Gao’s DNA and fingerprints were reportedly identical to those of the killer, who had targeted young women living alone and pursued them to their homes before raping and killing them, the reports said.
The victims were usually dressed in red, while the killer had tended to carry out his crimes during the day.
In many cases, parts of victims’ bodies, including their hands, ears and private parts, were mutilated, the report said.
Despite extensive police investigations, the killer had remained at large for nearly 30 years.
Zhang said she had hired a vehicle to clear out the couple’s belongings at a school where they had run a small grocery store.
She said her life had been turned upside down and that it was still hard for her to believe that the man to whom she had been married for the past 30 years was suspected of being China’s most wanted serial killer.
She said Gao had remained calm for many years, but she believed she had noticed a change in him – that something was wrong – after police took blood samples from him a weeks ago to test his DNA.
“After drawing blood that day, his mind seemed to have become preoccupied and his hands would shake during dinner,” Zhang said, adding that he had struggled to sleep several times over the past three months as police intensified their investigations.
Zhang also recalled times after they were married when Gao would often leave home – often for days at a time or even a week – without explaining why.
On one such occasion, she said Gao had vanished, leaving her hungry at home, just after she had given birth to their baby son.
“He took on casual work at home and would then wander off for days: each time, after his return, he would have a few hundred yuan in his pocket,” Zhang said, adding that she believed he had been working while he was away.
Xibu Shangbao reported that Zhang now feared that the time he had spent away from home could have been time he allegedly committed the murders.