Killer Revealed Where He Dumped Yingying Zhang’s Remains—But Finding Her May Be ‘Impossible’

By (Olivia Messer)
REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

The family of murdered Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang has finally learned what happened to the body of their beloved daughter. 

Brendt Christensen, the 29-year-old who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in Zhang’s murder, informed his attorneys that after killing and decapitating Zhang, he put her body in three separate garbage bags, then disposed of those bags in the dumpster outside his Champaign, Illinois, apartment.

Christensen, a former physics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois, raped, choked, and stabbed 26-year-old Zhang before beating her with a baseball bat and decapitating her in June 2017. Zhang was a visiting scholar at the university.

Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, said on Wednesday: “If what that man said is true, it further confirms that he is a heartless and evil person. We condemn his brutal and malicious actions and we hope that he suffers the rest of his life as he made Yingying suffer in the final moments of her life.”

Ex-University of Illinois Ph.D. Candidate Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder of Visiting Chinese Scholar

He added, “We now understand that finding her may be impossible.”

Days after the murder, Christensen said he put Yingying’s clothing, backpack, cell phone, books and other personal items into a large duffel bag and then distributed them in dumpsters throughout the Champaign-Urbana area.

Attorney Steve Beckett, who represents Zhang’s family, said last week that defense lawyers provided the information about Zhang’s remains as part of an “immunity” agreement in November 2018, telling prosecutors that Zhang’s body was likely in a landfill in Vermilion County in Illinois.

As the information was provided “under immunity,” prosecutors were not able to use or communicate that information to anyone—including her family—during the criminal trial, according to a statement from the Zhang family released on Wednesday morning.

During a follow-up investigation, authorities determined that the contents of Christensen’s dumpster were picked up on July 12, 2017, “compacted at least twice,” and taken to a private landfill near Danville, Illinois, the statement said.

The portion of that private landfill that was being actively used at the time was about half a football field in width, and, by the time Christensen’s attorneys informed authorities about the remains, they would have purportedly been covered by at “least 30 feet of fill from later garbage hauling.”

“It is evident that any attempt to recover Yingying’s remains would be complicated and expensive, would require government oversight and the cooperation of the landfill owners and would have no certainty of success,” said the statement. “To date, no search has been undertaken. But the Zhang family understands that the authorities are still considering an attempt to locate and recover Yingying’s remains.”

“At this time, they think the most prudent thing to do is to allow the authorities to handle the situation and undertake the recovery of Yingying’s remains if it is feasible,” according to the statement.

WTTW-TV’s Matt Masterson also reported on Wednesday that Christensen “has not and will not file an appeal” to his convictions.

Earlier this week, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign created an endowment, called Yingying’s Fund, that is aimed at helping international students “during times of hardship, when they need it most,” according to the fund’s donation page.

Zhang’s family reportedly provided the first gift for the endowment. The fund had already amassed more than $30,000 by Wednesday morning.

A bilingual memorial service for Zhang will be held on Friday in Savoy, Illinois.

Ex-University of Illinois Ph.D. Candidate Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder of Visiting Chinese Scholar

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