The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was plunged into panic on June 9, 2017, when Yingying Zhang vanished. People were looking for the visiting Chinese scholar urgently. But the authorities soon discovered—through the use of CCTV—that the solution might be far closer to home than previously believed. “See No Evil: Far from Home” on Investigation Discovery details Zhang’s disappearance and the horrific journey she went through prior to her untimely death.
How Did Yingying Zhang Die?
Chinese national Yingying Zhang was a visiting student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before travelling to the US in April 2017, she was a gifted student who had won multiple awards in China. Her original plan was to stay in the US for a year. Zhang, who had recently moved to the nation, had not yet fully settled in when her amazing existence was abruptly ended by a terrible situation.
Zhang was scheduled to meet with a leasing agent on June 9, 2017, the day she vanished, to sign a lease for a new flat. Since the flat was off-campus, Zhang had to do a significant amount of trip from her institution to get there. Zhang was seen by a CCTV camera at a bus stop across from the university’s own radio and television station at around 2:00 p.m. Zhang was waiting there when a black Saturn Astra passed her by and was captured on camera. But the automobile came back and Zhang was observed getting inside it three minutes later.
That was the last time Zhang was seen or heard from. The agent texted her, but she didn’t respond, when she didn’t show up for the lease signing. Zhang’s companions were also unaware of her location and were concerned that the visiting student might get into difficulty in a strange place. But as time passed and Zhang’s phone remained unanswered, the concern increased. After hours without hearing from the Chinese student, the university administration made the decision to call the police and report the student missing.
The news that Zhang was missing caused a huge commotion at the campus. The FBI was called in to support the local police department while the students banded together to locate her. But despite extensive searches and promises of large financial incentives, the police received very few leads that produced no results. Zhang’s relatives had flown in from China by this point to assist with the hunt. Authorities opted to use CCTVs as a last-ditch effort to discover her because they were determined to put an end to the investigation. In the end, it was discovered that she had been decapitated and sexually raped, but her bones have not yet been found.
Who Killed Yingying Zhang?
In 2019, the same university’s former Ph.D. student Brendt Christensen was found guilty of Zhang’s murder. Brendt Christensen, the owner of a black Saturn Astra, was discovered by the police when they started investigating black cars in the vicinity of Zhang’s last sighting. According to an ABC news story, Brendt has previously struggled with mental health concerns. In 2017, he confessed to having thoughts of killing people after researching serial killers. Counsellors were highly disturbed by this, although they concluded subsequently that he did not require hospitalisation right away. But after being asked to come for a second counselling session, Brendt never did.
Brendt also held a master’s degree in physics, but he left his doctoral programme early, stating that he was looking for work. Upon questioning by the authorities, Brendt refuted any involvement in Zhang’s disappearance. He said he was home at the time in question to the authorities. Upon first inspection, nothing seemed unusual when the police examined his automobile. Nonetheless, a few exact features allowed Brendt’s Saturn Astra and the CCTV footage to match. Additionally, they discovered proof that a section of the vehicle had been extensively cleaned, which suggested Brendt might be concealing something.
Brendt initially denied ever meeting an Asian person and said during questioning that she had misread the dates. He eventually broke down, though, and admitted to the police that he had picked up an Asian female, even though she hadn’t been in his car for a while. There was more reason for suspicion when Brendt stated that he had dropped the girl off at what appeared to be a residential neighbourhood, but he was unable to locate the precise spot.
However, law enforcement also discovered that Brendt was dating Terra Bullis and had an open marriage with Michelle Zortman. When the FBI went up to Bullis, he was certain that Brendt wasn’t guilty. Bullis volunteered to wear a wire for the FBI and go with her lover on a memorial walk for Zhang because she was eager to clear her boyfriend’s reputation. Brendt told his girlfriend a horrifying reality while the FBI listened in.
He acknowledged that he had picked Zhang up and driven her back to his flat while disguising himself as an undercover police officer. Then he brags of having killed her with a baseball bat, choked her, and sexually assaulted her. In order to lessen the likelihood of being discovered, he even admitted to having chopped off her head before discarding the various parts of her body. Brendt allegedly claimed to be a serial killer, although this claim has never been verified and is thought to be untrue, according to reports. After Brendt made a confession, the FBI detained him and accused him of killing Yingying Zhang.
Brendt Christensen is Serving His Life Sentence Today
Brendt Christensen’s trial was closely monitored by the Chinese government, and the prosecution was adamant about pursuing the death penalty. A number of witnesses, including Terra Bullis, testified against Brendt during the trial. Additionally, FBI agents testified that Brendt was inextricably tied to the crime since Brendt’s apartment contained both Zhang’s blood and DNA. Brendt, though, had declined to provide any details regarding Zhang’s last resting place.
It did not take the jury long to find Brendt guilty of the crime, given that the defence had previously acknowledged that Brendt killed Zhang. Brendt, however, was only given a life sentence without the possibility of release in 2018 because the jury could not agree on whether to execute him. In addition, he was found guilty of two further crimes of lying to the FBI, for which he received two sentences of five years each, to be served consecutively with the life sentence. In addition, he was mandated to pay a substantial $250,000 fine for every conviction. Brendt Christensen is currently a 34-year-old federal prisoner at the United States Penitentiary, Coleman II, in Florida, serving a life sentence.
The whereabouts of Yingying Zhang’s body weren’t made public until after Brendt’s trial and conviction. It was discovered that he had cut up her body into pieces and placed them in different trash bags, which he left outside his apartment for the neighbourhood garbage trucks to collect. By the time Brendt was found guilty, authorities believed that her bones may have been dispersed across many landfills as they were transporting their goods to various locations throughout the city. Yingying Zhang’s remains have thus, regrettably, never been located.