On this date in 2011, China executed a karaoke bar proprietor in Zhejiang province for a rape spree.
Not to be confused with his documentary filmmaker countryman, Chen Weijun “targeted young innocent middle-school girls after seducing them with money and violently threatening them,” said the official report. “He raped 14 Lishui middle-school girls, including nine children, in cars, karaoke bars, hotels and underground parking lots.” (The legal definition of a “child” here is 14 years old, which is why some students were and some were not.)
On this date in 2011, China’s “land granny” was executed for plundering 145 million yuan ($23 million) from China’s swelling bubble in real estate.
Luo Yaping was head of a land sub-bureau in a district of Fushun, a city in northeast China — not an especially high position — and yet she was able to use her power over land development and compensation to accumulate a fortune in bribes and embezzled compensation,” according to Reuters.
Though anti-corruption investigators tarred her racket as “the lowest in class, biggest in sum and evilest in tactics,” neither the person nor her boodle were very big game at all for China’s bananas real estate market. Chinese conglomerates write budget lines for routine bribery far beyond what Luo feathered her nest with.
China’s new fortunes chasing after property — and vice versa — have given the country a wild kaleidoscope: astronomical urban rents; colossal speculative ghost cities awaiting tenants who might never arrive; and underhanded deals among developers and government officials to split up the spoils. Average housing prices across the country tripled from 2005 to 2009.
Whatever the inanities of the market, more buyers have always been there because real estate has long been seen in China as one of the few fairly reliable places to put one’s money. In fact, China’s newly minted millionaires have even globalized the real estate markets of some European and North American cities.
But for China’s 99% the tectonic social changes so profitable to builders are full of dislocations; probably fewer people feel kinship to a grandmother waxing fat on the boom than to a grandmother literally buried alive by ravenous builders.
It would take deeper knowledge than this site can pretend to to figure why the Land Granny in particular got fitted for the harshest sanction, but it seems reasonable to presume that in carrying it out China had a mind to redress some grievances.
China’s real estate sector has continued to go great guns in the years since Luo died — only recently as of this writing (in 2014) showing signs of faltering.
On this day in 2011, multi-filicide Reginald Brooks was executed in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.* He was the fifth man executed that year and, at 66, the oldest since 1999.
Brooks (top) and the children he murdered.
Although his guilt was never in question, he had spent close to thirty years on death row while his appeals wound their way through the system.
On March 6, 1982, just days after his wife filed for divorce, Brooks shot their three sleeping sons: Reginald Jr., 17, Vaughn, 15, and Niarchos, 11. He then bought a bus ticket to Las Vegas, taking the gun with him in his suitcase, as well as his birth certificate and high school diploma. The police caught up with him in Utah.
Brooks had some history of domestic violence, but his only prior arrest had been for grand theft. His aunt, when asking the appeals board for clemency, said he had a normal, loving relationship with his children. Before shooting them all in their sleep, that is.
His attorneys argued that his crimes were motivated by mental illness, namely paranoid schizophrenia. Brooks had a normal childhood and young adulthood, but started to fall apart in the years prior to the murders. He quit his job in the 1970s because he thought his coworkers were trying to poison him. (He never worked again and his wife had to support their family.)
Beginning around 1980, he began isolating himself from friends and family, and accused his wife of committing incest with Reginald Jr. The family tried to get psychiatric help for him, to no avail.
In spite of overwhelming evidence, Brooks never admitted to his crime and suggested various bizarre theories as to what had really happened. A psychiatrist who evaluated him in 2010 and 2011 believed Brooks genuinely could not remember shooting his sons.
There was, however, clear evidence of premeditation: Brooks had purchased the murder weapon nine days before the murders, lying on his application form where it asked if he’d ever been convicted of a felony. He also turned on the stereo in his apartment and left the music blaring loudly, presumably to drown out the sound of the gunshots. Then, after the murders, Brooks immediately left town, taking documents he would need to start a new life — clearly suggesting cognizance of guilt.
The prosecution conceded Brooks did have schizophrenia, but argued that his illness was not so severe as to make him incompetent or legally insane, and that he was lying when he said he couldn’t remember committing the murders. Attorneys for the state suggested he murdered his children to spite his wife, “through a twisted sense of jealousy, hatred, or despair.”
Brooks’s ex-wife, Beverly, witnessed his execution. He had no last words, but he did give a message: glaring at the glass behind which the witnesses were standing, he stuck out the middle fingers of both hands. And as he slowly lost consciousness and breathed his last, his middle fingers still stood erect.
Thirty-six-year-old Joan Mae “Jo” Rogers and her daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, were vacationing in Florida when they vanished on June 1, 1989. Three days later their bodies turned up in the Tampa Bay. All three were naked from the waist down and had their hands and feet bound, their mouths taped shut, and concrete blocks tied to their necks. Michelle had managed to free one arm before she drowned.
The victims (left to right): Joan, Michelle, and Christe Rogers.
The police initially suspected the girls’ uncle, John Rogers, even though he was in prison at the time.
Rogers had been incarcerated for rape; one of his victims was Michelle, and authorities theorized he had a third party kill her and her mother and sister. Eventually that gentleman was cleared, as was his brother Hal, husband and father of the victims.
The sexual abuse, which had gone on for years, had torn the family apart, and part of the reason for the Florida vacation was so that everyone could relax and get some distance from what had happened. Hal had wanted to join his wife and daughters on their trip, but he had to stay and look after the family’s dairy farm.
The murders and subsequent investigation were covered in heartbreaking detail in St. Petersburg Times reporter Thomas French‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning series here.
Characteristically, local gossip pursued Hal and John for years, particularly Hal. His neighbors in Ohio thought he didn’t appear traumatized enough,* noting that he never cried in public and that he continued to take care of his farm in the wake of the murders.
They didn’t care that the farm was Hal’s livelihood, that cows could not milk themselves. They didn’t care that there was no evidence that he’d left Ohio during the critical time period, and that the police had very quickly cleared Hal as a possible suspect in Jo, Michelle and Christe’s deaths. They didn’t know that he was too traumatized to sleep in his own home and spent months couch-surfing at friends’ houses. They didn’t know that he was devastated, that he’d tried to take his own life at one point so he could be with his family.
As Hal’s sister-in-law said, “There’s no protocol here. There’s no Murder 101 class. No Grief 101 that anybody thinks to give you.”
Stranger-on-stranger crimes are incredibly difficult to solve. It wasn’t until October 1989 that the police linked the Rogers family’s murders to the rape of a Canadian tourist that had happened in May, two weeks before the triple homicide. The rapist had lured the woman out onto a boat, threatened to kill her, and threatened to duct-tape her mouth if she didn’t stop screaming. After the rape he apologized to her, threw up over the side of the boat, took her to shore and let her go.
Police released a composite sketch of the woman’s attacker, whom they believed was the same man who killed the Rogerses. That got over 400 tips from the public, but none of them panned out.
The authorities found some driving directions written on a brochure in Jo’s car which were not in her handwriting and which they thought were written by the murderer; they released samples to the public in the hopes that someone would recognize the writing.
Composite sketch of the suspect (top); Oba Chandler as he looked around the time of his 1992 arrest (bottom).
Finally they got a break: one of Chandler’s neighbors recognized the sketch of the rape suspect and turned his name over to the police. That same neighbor had hired Chandler to build out her porch, and she had a copy of the contract he’d written out for her. She turned the contract over to the authorities, and handwriting experts determined it was written by the same man who wrote the driving directions found in Jo’s car. Investigators also found Chandler’s palm print on the brochure.
In September 1992, convinced that they were on the right track, the police flew to Canada to interview the rape survivor from May 1989. She picked Chandler’s photo out of a line-up. With that, the authorities finally had enough evidence to make the arrest.
Chandler, an Ohio native like his victims, gave the impression of an ordinary, mild-mannered sort, but he was in fact a career criminal: he went by many alias names and had an arrest record dating back to when he was fourteen years old, for a wide range of offenses including car theft, robbery, kidnapping, receiving stolen property, possession of counterfeit money, and various sex crimes. By the time of his 1992 arrest he had racked up six felony convictions.
Chandler testified at the murder trial, against the advice of his attorney, and admitted he had met the three victims and given them directions. He could hardly deny that, given the handwriting and fingerprint evidence.
He did deny having ever seen them again after that, and he swore he’d never taken them out on his boat and never harmed them. He called the very idea “ludicrous.” In fact, he maintained his innocence until his death.
But the prosecution eviscerated him during cross-examination. Chandler claimed that on the night of the murders he’d gotten stuck out in Tampa Bay when his boat’s fuel line sprung a leak and he ran out of gas. A boat mechanic employed by the Florida Marine Patrol examined the vessel and determined that this story was impossible: the boat had an anti-siphon valve that would have prevented a leak.
The Canadian rape victim was permitted to testify. She didn’t cry as she described what happened to her, but some of the jurors did. One of Chandler’s adult daughters (he had eight children by seven different women) also testified, saying her father had told her he’d raped a foreign tourist and also killed some women in Florida.
The judge who presided over the trial later said Chandler was “the vilest, most evil defendant I ever handled.” When the jury retired, they took an initial poll among themselves and discovered that all twelve believed he was guilty. For form’s sake, however, they waited an hour and a half before returning with their verdict.
There’s some speculation that Chandler was involved in other murders besides those of the Rogers family.
Linda Lois Little, a Daytona Beach woman, disappeared on his birthday in 1991 and was never found. One of Little’s sisters thinks saw him at her apartment complex a few days before Little disappeared. Chandler refused to answer law enforcement’s questions about Little’s disappearance and his involvement has never been proved one way or the other.
During his seventeen years on death row, Chandler never had a single visitor, not even any of his own relatives. The execution, which went smoothly, was attended by Michelle and Christe’s cousin, as well as a reluctant Hal Rogers. He remarried more than a decade after his family’s murder and became a stepfather of four, but wasn’t able to have any more children.
When asked if he had any last words, Chandler simply answered, “No.” He did leave a written statement that simply said, “You are killing an innocent man today.”
No one believed him.
* “Didn’t display the right kind of grief in the right kind of way for the right amount of time” was also one of the raps on wrongly executed “arsonist” Cameron Todd Willingham.
He was asked to concoct a spell that would cause the officer’s father to leave his second wife.
According to the officer’s account Abdul Hamid agreed to carry out the curse in exchange for 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (approximately £1,000).
He was beaten after his arrest and thought to have been forced to admit to acts of sorcery.
In a secret trial, where he was not allowed legal representation, he was sentenced to death by the General Court in Medina in March 2007.
Few details are available about his trial but he is reported to have been tried behind closed doors and without legal representation.
At the time of his arrest, English language Saudi daily The Saudi Gazette ran an article entitled Magic Maids which said that ‘we must face up to the threats from some maids and servants and their satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime that have been highlighted by both experts and victims of these crimes’.
A year ago today, coal truck driver Li Lindong was executed for the murder of a 35-year-old man named Mergen.*
The victim was dragged down the street for 160 yards, or 145 meters, before he finally died. His death is symptomatic of the serious ethnic/class tensions in Inner Mongolia, where the crime took place.
Li Lindong was Han Chinese; Mergen was an ethnic Mongol herder. Inner Mongolia covers over 10% of China’s landmass and has 24 million people. Han Chinese make up almost 80% of the population, but the ethnic Mongol minority were there first.
A yurt on the Mongolian steppe.
While the Mongols continue to live a traditional, pastoral existence, the region’s coal industry has been booming of late and many Hans, like Li, have flocked in vast numbers to work in the mines.
Problem: mining and sheep-herding don’t exactly go together.
The Mongols claimed a number of grievances:
The noise from the mines is difficult to live with.
The coal pollution is turning the steppe into desert, making it impossible for them to find pasture for their animals.
The miners are intruding on their land, tearing up the grass and even running over and killing their livestock.
The Chinese government is trying to force them to to give up their nomadic existence and live in permanent houses.
According to The Guardian, these complaints had merit and the damage was obvious, even from a distance:
Many students are from herding families who have been moved into cities as the wide-open pastures are fenced off. The government says such measures are necessary to promote development, prevent overgrazing and protect the fragile grasslands, much of which have turned to desert in recent years. Locals say herders’ rights have been violated and the fencing and mining have created bigger environmental problems, including pollution, noise, traffic and dust storms that blow across much of north-east Asia.
The transformation is evident on the flight to Xilinhot. From the air, the grasslands are blotched with sandy areas near farms and the dark smudges of open-cast pits. From the road, the clouds of dust from mines and trucks is visible miles away.
So outraged were the Mongol herders that they actually began organized protests, which aren’t terribly common in China, particularly among Mongols. (The precedents aren’t good.)
This was what lead to Mergen’s murder.
He and about 20 to 40 other herders had formed a human chain to try to block a convoy of coal trucks. There was a standoff as the truckers tried to persuade the herders to move aside. Finally Li, infuriated, simply hit the gas and ran over some of the herders, killing Mergen.**
The government claimed otherwise, saying they were going to overhaul the coal mining industry and shut down the worst polluters, as well as try to cut down on other environmental problems like water shortages and soil erosion. (They have, at least, shut down over 200 mines.)
As for Mergen’s murder, their response was swift, as Chinese justice tends to be.
Mergen was killed on May 10. Li Lindong was arrested shortly thereafter and tried on June 8, in a six-hour procedure that resulted in the death sentence. That sentence was carried out two months later.
Nor was he was the only person to face charges. Lu Xiangdong, the passenger in Li’s truck, was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Wu Xiaowei and Li Manggang got three years apiece for obstructing justice by blocking the police cars that arrived on the scene and allowing the truckers to escape.
The government also gave a monetary settlement to Mergen’s grieving family, but they would probably rather have him back instead.
As for Inner Mongolia … it’s hanging in there, but it remains to be seen whether the environmental problems will or even can be relieved.
* In his culture, there are no last names.
** According to one widely reported but unconfirmed account, he joked about it, saying he had enough insurance to cover the death of a “smelly Mongolian herder.”
Xu Maiyong (right), former vice mayor of Hangzhou in Zhejiang and bearer of the Santa Claus-esque nickname “Plenty Xu”, was on the hook for $30 million of embezzlement as part of a wide-ranging campaign of public graft in service of a suitably luxuriant lifestyle filled with homes and mistresses.
Jiang Renjie, deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, construction, transportation, communications and housing in Suzhou, had made about half that much in bribes from developers around 2001-2004.
West had the depressing background so common to condemned prisoners, a litany of childhood sexual abuse that drove him to drug abuse and a PTSD diagnosis: he would claim that he “freaked out” when the homeowner Donald Bortle surprised him and started yelling at him, and that he didn’t think he’d killed Bortle at all.
The public triple-hanging in Azadi Square in the ethnically Kurdish west Iranian city of Kermanshah on this date was just a drop in the bucket relative to Iran’s hundreds-strong annual execution toll. But this one made the headlines.
Fazel Hawramy of Kurdishblogger.com provided the following video of the public hanging to Amnesty International, which helped focus worldwide attention on the event … although to what real consequence for “the continuing horror of the death penalty in Iran” (Amnesty’s words) is harder to say.
Equally hard to say from here is what relationship the hanged men’s rape conviction had to reality.
A year ago today, 20-year-old Scott McLaren of the 4th Battalion (The Highlanders) the Royal Regiment of Scotland was captured by Afghan insurgents and summarily shot.
The baby-faced McLaren, not yet three months in Afghanistan at that point, had left his base in in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province during the middle of the night; reports suggest that he’d done so in order to retrieve mislaid night-vision goggles whose loss he would have been punished for. (This detail, while poignant, is not completely certain.)
Whatever the reason for his sortie, it ended with him being captured by Afghan insurgents.
As British, U.S., and Afghanistan forces mounted a 17-hour manhunt for the missing soldier, McLaren was reportedly stripped of his body armor and equipment and, at some point, shot in the head and dumped in a canal. The exact circumstances of his capture and death may never be known.
On this date last year, a young pianist turned public enemy number one was executed in China for a notorious roadside murder.
Yao Jiaxin, a 21-year-old student at Xi’an Conservatory, hit a waitress on her bike while driving in October 2010.
Seeing her taking down his car’s license plate and fearful that she would revenge herself with financial demands for her minor injuries, an infuriated Yao stabbed her to death there at the scene.
“Yao stabbed the victim’s chest, stomach and back several times until she died,” in the words of one court. “The motive was extremely despicable, the measures extremely cruel and the consequences extremely serious.”
Appropriately, the execution took place on the very day that Chinese students were facing grueling university entrance exams, like the ones Yao himself had passed a few years before.
This event sparked massive national outrage, and Yao — the ivory-tickling son of a well-off couple who worked for the defense industry but didn’t have the pull of true elites — proved to be perfectly cast for the role of public pariah in a country undergoing the cataclysmic social displacements of internal migration, urban proletarianization, social stratification, and uneven capitalistic growth. He reportedly told police in his confession that he feared that his victim, a “peasant woman[,] would be hard to deal with.”
So-called “netizens” thrilled to the scandalous murder and bombarded online communications spaces with demands for Yao’s condign execution — an offering to the hollow bromides of legal egalitarianism that people in China as everywhere else see flouted every day. Yao’s family even fed that in a backhanded way by offering the victim’s family a larger compensation than that demanded by law if they would back off their demand for execution. Those “peasants” spurned the bribe.
Despite the familiar spectacle of public bloodlust over an infamous crime, Yao’s case also had an unsettling effect for at least some. He was, after all, a promising young man undone by a moment of madness and moral frailty: his downfall was distinctly tragic, in the classical sense, and not such a stretch to read as symbolic of China’s challenges and transformations.
Palpably grief-stricken and contrite about it — his parents took him to the police station to turn himself in, and cameras tracked the frail-looking youth through his few months of legal calvary all the way to a pitiably sobbing spectacle in his final court appearance as he pleaded in vain for his life — Yao could inspire pity as well as loathing.
The nature of Yao’s crime makes him an unlikely poster-boy for ending capital punishment per se. Yet there was also something discomfiting about authorities’ theatrical and foreordained compliance with a bloodlust that they had arguably stoked.
And in a China which has moved towards dialing down executions in recent years, even Yao’s individual culpability met some overt challenge: academics and legal professionals prepared to frame it as a crime of passion or something akin to “temporary insanity,” meriting a lesser punishment.
“A lot of people felt shocked,” a Chinese death penalty opponent told a western reporter. “They felt shocked by the process. Some people thought the netizens pushed the court into giving Yao the death penalty.”