Thursday, 6 March 2008
Exciting exciting! 好刺激，好刺激！
I had my first big crime story last night. It involved missing dinner, tearing through the streets of Taipei City and Taipei County (at times it felt like we were going 150 kph on local streets and 200 kph on the freeway), going on a wild goose chase and finally finding in the dead of night, the seven-day-old decomposing body of a 192 cm man first knocked out by a blunt object and then choked to death, buried in the mountains of Da-zhi, Taipei, and also, a sprained ankle.
The case is still under investigation, but our understanding is that this man was killed by a 19-year-old high school student and his two friends. The leading suspect owed more than TWD130.000 in baseball gambling debts, and the victim went after him to get the money. After killing the victim, the suspect took a flight out to Kinmen to hop on a boat and escape to China. However, the coast guard caught him during a routine check and arrested him. First, he would not tell the police where he had dumped the body. Then he said it was in a car and sent the police on a wild goose chase. After running all around the greater Taipei area, the police were fed up with his lies and decided to just give him over to the court. Then his two accomplices turned themselves in and he realized that if he didn't cooperate and his accomplices did, he was going to get the death sentence. He finally coughed up the truth and led the police to where the body was buried.
Our crew (me, my cameraman and driver) got there first. In a mountainous road very dimly lit, we found an empty police van parked at the entrance of a trail. However, no one was in sight. We thought if the police were nearby, we'd at least see light coming from flashlights, but they were so far down the side of the mountain that we could not see anything. Dead body, murder suspect, pitch dark mountain side, high heels...I did not want to go forward. Our indecision came to a conclusion when another crew and another policeman showed up, and we went together down the trail, using light from my cameraman's camera and the light from the screens of our mobile phone (I had never appreciated how bright those things were until that moment). Some very scary minutes later, we were stopped before where the rest of the police and suspect were. The suspect was showing the police where the body was, and some of the policemen were burning ghost money right around the site.
Then some other crews caught up, and some of the other cameramen were close enough and said, "hey, you can see a hand" or "hey, you can see a foot." I wanted to run run run away! But I couldn't. Instead, I just stuck my microphone into the general direction of where they were excavating and turned my head away. I asked my cameraman, "what's going on? I'm too afraid to look." He said, "don't worry, you can't see anything even if you tried to look. It's too far down."
A few moments later, family members of the victim came to the scene and identified the body. After the family left, the police started digging up the body. And I went to do a live broadcast from the satellite news truck. After the 23h00 and 24h00 broadcasts, the body had still not been fully excavated, and even though live news ends at 01h00, we had to stay and film them cart and drive the body away. Oh god... I usually don't like to be on a scene crawling with reporters and cameramen, but this was one of those rare exceptions.
Before the body came up, the medical examiner told us that they found the body to be totally stripped of clothing, the head bearing marks corresponding to blunt force trauma, and ligature marks around the neck (I never thought I'd ever have to use vocabulary from the CSI TV show). They also found the body dumped into the shallow grave head first.
Then the body came up, I stuck out the microphone and hid my head again and then it was all over.
It was an exciting, scary and valuable experience. I don't know if I want to do it again, but after some explaining by Guangzhong, the acting night shift assigner, covering this type of news is really good training, because as the story keeps developing, you have to be continuously thinking about the questions the police are trying to solve and their every next move. You have to think about the suspect's background, motive, how the crime was committed and the evidence that's involved. To get information from the authorities, you really have to be buddy-buddy with them, or have earned their respect one way or another.
There were a couple of cultural aspects to do with the dead that I learned. When the police found the body, they burned ghost money. That was to tell the soul that he's been found and that things will be alright. The police also found the body naked. The suspects stripped the body because they were afraid that the ghost would come and haunt them, and according to Chinese myth, if the ghost is naked, it would be too embarrassed to roam around and therefore would not go find its killer. Interesting.
Oh, just so glad it's over.
Now I have to get rid of the cold I caught and fix the ankle I sprained last night. *Sniffle*
(pictures via TVBS News)