China Unsolved is a SupChina weekly series profiling China’s most notorious unsolved mysteries.
Five bodies were in the recreation room, one woman died in the kitchen, another outside; one was found in a ditch beside his motorbike on the factory road. The youngest victim was just five days shy of his 10th birthday. All of them were killed, expertly, by knife.
Images by Katie Morton
It was December 26, 2007. A celebratory holiday for those enjoying Christmas — which did not include the eight employees of a lime plant in deepest rural Hong’an County, Hubei Province. What started for them as just another working day would end with a brutal reckoning.
That winter’s evening, factory boss Wang Shishu 汪世书 and his wife Chen Xiaoyong 陈晓咏 were overseeing the plant with shift workers Wang Shijun 汪世军 (a distant relative of Boss Wang), Huang Shigui 黄世贵, and Yuan Jiazi 袁架子. At some point, 33-year-old truck driver Wu Xiaofa 吴晓发 and his wife Wang Chunlian 汪春莲, along with their son Wu Liangbo 吴良波, arrived back at the plant — and apparently interrupted a massacre. Their bodies, along with the five others, would be found the following morning by fellow workers Wang Huayi 汪华意 and his uncle. All eight were killed by a single knife-stroke: Five bodies were in the recreation room, one woman died in the kitchen, another outside; Wu Xiaofa was found in a ditch beside his motorbike on the factory road. The youngest, Wu Liangbo, was just five days shy of his 10th birthday.
The police had several promising bits of evidence. Forensics revealed the perpetrator was five-foot five, powerfully built, and wore size-40 leather shoes. He was likely known to the victims and certainly familiar with the plant’s layout. Moreover, the massacre seemed to have been carefully planned, and might even have involved several parties.
There was no lack of potential leads. Wu Xiaofa and his family seemed to have been merely unfortunate in their timing. The case, police believed, centered on Wang Shishu. A month earlier, Wang’s nephew, Wang Haitao, had reported large sum of cash stolen from Boss Wang’s home, but no one had yet been charged. Boss Wang was also in the midst of a deal to sell his plant to a “Mr. Yuan” for 150,000 RMB ($22,600), even though both sides had yet to settle the terms. Neither cash nor property had been stolen from the scene after the slayings, though, suggesting the motive wasn’t money.
The other popular theory was revenge. Friends and neighbors of the Wangs, though, had a hard time accepting this idea. The family had a reputation for friendliness and were considered honest in business. True, there was the matter of an apparently unpaid debt over a coal plant in a neighboring province, but the police couldn’t find anyone who disliked the Wang family enough to kill them in such a cold-blooded and calculating manner.
Some days after the murder, a “reliable source” informed a local newspaper that the police were fairly certain the killings has been committed by a local pair, one young, one middle-aged, but neither were ever named or charged. Two years later, in 2009, the Huanggang City Public Security Bureau offered a reward of 500,000 RMB ($75,000) for anyone who could provide clues to solve the Hong’an County December Murders. Ten years later, they’re still waiting.