The suspected killer of Iowa State University student Shao Tong—her boyfriend, University of Iowa student Xiangnan Li—has been apprehended, nearly 10 months after the young woman’s strangled body was found crammed into her car trunk. His capture was complicated because he’d fled to China after her death.
Both students were originally from China, and had met there before heading to the United States to pursue their educations. (Both schools in Iowa they attended have unusually high populations of Chinese international students.) As CNN reports, the fact that both victim and suspected killer were foreign students makes the crime a rather unusual one:
There is little precedent for a case like this — when a Chinese student is wanted for questioning in the killing of another Chinese student on U.S. soil.
There is no extradition treaty between the nations, and the likelihood of China handing Li over for questioning — if he can be found — is slim, according to legal scholars.
“China generally does not in any case extradite Chinese citizens, so the most likely outcome were this person to be found would be prosecution within China,” says Ben Liebman, director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies at Columbia Law School.
“China will prosecute people within China for crimes they commit against citizens overseas.”
Sadly, however, the apparent motive in the case looks to be one that’s all too tragically familiar, no matter the culture: relationship violence turned fatal.
The Daily Mail reported that the pair checked into a hotel together on September 5, 2014. They’d stayed there before, but this time was marked by oddities:
According to police records obtained by CNN, two days earlier Tong had accidentally called Li - or ‘pocket dialed’ him - and he stayed on the line for 30 minutes, overhearing a conversation.
Tong was complaining about Li to a friend and said things that ‘were not nice’, the records noted.
The owner of the hotel told investigators Li left the hotel either on the night of September 6 or the morning of September 7, which he said was unusual, because he usually had to tell the couple to leave after the checkout time of 11am.
Li boarded a plane to China in Cedar Rapids, with a stopover in Chicago, on September 8.
He landed September 10.
Before Li left Iowa, a text from his phone was sent to one of Tong’s roommates.
‘This message was purportedly from (Tong) and read that Li had an emergency in China and was flying back there, that she was going to take a bus to Minnesota to visit friends, and she would return in about a week,’ the police documents stated.
After an extensive investigation that involved teamwork between law enforcement in both China and the US, Li turned himself in to authorities in his home city of Wenzhou, and was charged with homicide last week. He will be tried in China for the crime.