Detective who investigated Cecilia Zhang murder reveals moment he knew her mother wasn’t the killer

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TORONTO – The detective investigating the murder of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang says she first accused the little girl’s mother of killing her daughter, but there was a moment in a police interview that she quickly knew it wasn’t her. Was.

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Stumped for suspects in the kidnapping, a detective on the case says Toronto police had to clear the family as suspects, and allege his mother’s role in the kidnapping.

Steve Ryan, a former Toronto Police Service homicide investigator who is now CP24’s crime analyst, says it was his job to bring Sherry Xu in for questioning.

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“It was so hard, in fact I often wonder if I saw that woman today, I was forced to apologize and I was doing my job, but looking back at it now, I can hardly see her.” Went near. “

Ryan says it was fairly early in the investigation and it seemed almost impossible to believe a kidnapping at midnight.

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The Class IV student was taken away from her North York home in October 2003. The back window screen was cut, a knife was found on the side of the house.

There was no other clue.

“You have two parents in the house when their daughter goes missing and doesn’t hear anything. They last saw her at 8:30 p.m. On October 19, they had dinner together and then some piano playing A Witness was playing some piano in the house, Cecilia playing the piano.”

Ryan says that her mom put Cecilia to bed and then, when her mom went to pick her up for school the next morning at about 8:30, she wasn’t in her bed.

“Child abductions are very rare, especially when someone breaks into someone’s house in the middle of the night and takes away a child and no one hears a bad word. This raises some concern and suspicion as an investigator ,” Ryan said.

Cecilia’s father, Raymond Zhang, and her mother were both brought to the City of Toronto Police Service (TPS) headquarters for questioning.

Ryan interviews the mother.

“Mom suddenly went silent and I thought I had that, I thought this is it, this is the moment,” Ryan said.

“So I roll my chair – chairs roll up, they always roll, they’re always like that because when you’re interrogating someone, you want to get out of that person’s private space – so I Walked in along, really close and I lowered my voice. I said ‘It’s okay, I know you did it, time’s up, help me understand why you did it.’ “

“There was silence. She kept her head down for the longest time. I’m face to face with her and then she jumps straight from her chair into my face and screams ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I was stunned to see how loud she was screaming on my face. She was very confident.”

‘You start from within’

Both parents were cleared as suspects, but investigators had nothing.

He had to talk to everyone living in that house, including an international female student living in the basement.

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“You start from the inside and you want to know what the parents did, the people associated with the parents, anyone who went to that place in the last six or eight months. Who did you talk to outside the house? ? Who knows your living arrangements? It’s a big job.”

But before Cecilia’s parents were approved during an interview at police headquarters, detectives wanted to know what was going on inside their home.

Police got a warrant from the court, then entered the house and installed hearing aids while they were out.

Not just on their phone but with lights all over the house. But in this case, when Cecilia’s parents came home unexpectedly, the officer inside was almost caught.

“The officer was almost caught,” Ryan said. “He was in (the house) and they have to do this thing really quickly, and of course people are watching. The family is on the way home and this officer was still in the house. It was a little bit of a panic, that the police had to do it.” As happens with work, things just go from zero to 100 and he has to get out as fast as he can. But before leaving the house he had to make sure everything was working properly and that’s it. I got out the time before reaching their family home.”

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This is the stuff movies are made of, the cops putting up listening devices inside the house when the owner of the house is pulling into the driveway and the lookout is yelling at him to get out of the house.

“They never knew,” Ryan said. “We continued to watch him for some time. As I said, there was nothing on the wire, nothing that we had heard, even suggested, remotely suggested, that of his daughter. It had nothing to do with the disappearance.”

Then who took the child in the middle of the night?

No ransom demand was made. The only unusual thing, two hang ups on the phone line the morning Cecilia disappeared.

Police launched hotline

“Those phones were traced, one in Brampton and one in Mississauga. I was sent by my detective sergeant to investigate one of those pay phones. We monitored them, but there was nothing to help us.” can do.”

The police kept looking at the pay phone for some time, hoping that some suspect would come back, but no one came back. The next step was to set up a police hot line and have it up and running at the time the police chief announced it.

Tips flooded in. There were visions of Cecilia throughout the city, all over the country.

“We had to track down all those tricks. It takes a lot of time, it’s tedious, but it’s very important because it prevents tunnel vision. It stops focusing on one person. You have to clear them no matter what. No matter how vague you think. Tip is, you have to clear them up.”

Four days after his daughter went missing, Raymond Zhang went to television cameras to plead for Cecilia’s safe return.

“As a father I beg you, I beg you. Please see her face, look at her eyes, she is an innocent and sweet girl.”

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But nothing came of the argument, whoever snatched the girl was not talking and not demanding ransom. Everyone was hoping there would be demand, at least it would be a lead, Ryan said.

“At that time the officer-in-charge asked an officer to stay home 24 hours a day with the family, if that call comes back, you wanted some instructions on what not to say on the phone but the call never came.”

The police later learn that the ransom demand never came because Cecilia was already dead.

Christmas was approaching, a $50,000 bounty was issued, Cecilia’s photos were pasted across town, on buses, on newspaper boxes, and officials were distributing posters at the Santa Claus parade.

Nothing so far.

It won’t be until spring when the detectives catch a break, not the break they were hoping for.

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In March, a jogger walking along the Credit River in Mississauga will see some remains.

“And it’s no surprise that Cecilia’s remains were found in such an area because that’s often what is done,” Ryan said. “Suspicious people often bring remains to an area that is heavily forested, thinking that maybe animals will get them, but they always come to the surface because animals get them. They will dig them up or an animal that’s left. Or will be attracted to it. In this particular case you have someone running, a jogger, who comes across some sort of avalanche.”

At first the police did not even know whether these remains were human or animal.

Medical records would soon confirm that they were the remains of Cecilia Zhang.

Now the spies need to find out who put them there and who killed them. The case was handed over to the Peel Police homicide detectives after the remains were found in Mississauga.

Ryan says the killer skipped identifying evidence in the form of DNA and fingerprints.

Back at the crime scene in North York, the female international student living in the basement mentions the name Min Chen to the police. He was a fellow student from China who was studying at Seneca College. He had gone to meet the student in the basement on several occasions.

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“So peel [police] able to interview them. He also gave them the consented DNA sample and fingerprints.”

Investigators soon had a match—and—finally—his suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Cecilia Zhang.

Min Chen was charged with first degree murder and convicted of second degree.

Why did he do this?

In an agreed statement of fact, read in Brampton court, Chen said he needed the money and was going to demand a ransom.

But Cecilia died the same night she suffocated when he took her to his car and put her in his truck.

Chen was failing school and running out of cash. He feared deportation back to China. She planned to live in Canada to enter into a marriage of convenience, the cost would be $25,000 which she did not have.

Ryan doesn’t believe the story.

“I think he was too self-serving on his part. It doesn’t really explain much. I think it helped him, he felt it helped him, he thought it helped him.” Will help because there is really no pain at that time. She’s dead almost immediately, so she doesn’t have to come up with an explanation. What did he do to her? Did he sexually assault her? Did he abuse her? It was never learned because the remains were so badly decomposed. We only learned his cause of death when he said it bothered him,” Ryan said.

If Chen is ever granted parole from a Canadian prison, he will be deported to China, where he will be tried again by Chinese courts this time for the murder of Cecilia Zhang.

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