It’s a big, bad world out there, and most of us rely on that thin blue line for protection. but when the normal methods fail, when the system breaks down, when that little extra something is needed, there are a number of officers that put their comrades to shame. These super cops vary in profession and distinction – some are masters of a single criminal art, some put deductive reasoning in the front seat, and some use cunning and patience. together, these men track murderers, thieves, poachers, and kidnappers, using a particular skill set to hunt the hunted in their own special way. Whatever their expertise, these sleuth get the job done. From the elderly figure cut by China’s premier detective Wu Guoqing to the brave face of scientific certainty in Wang Qingju, all the way through to the patient voice of Zhang Yong – these detectives are a cut above the rest, an insight into what it takes to be extraordinary in an ordinary job. Where others see a dead end, Wu sees motive; where the beat cops see mystery, Wang sees science; and where villagers hear rumor, Zhang hears opportunity. Undoubtedly, there are far more police officers throughout the country – all equally brilliant tales to tell – deserving of praise and commendations, but these intriguing crimes and the officers behind them should inspire any young beat cop, or, for that matter, any lover of mystery and subtle genius. Being a police officer is not an easy job, but if the deeds of these fine specimens are anything to go by, lawbreakers of China better beware.
The Cinderella Man
Give him a foot, and he’ll find your foe
A house in Shangqiu, Henan Province, locked from the outside, was doused in petrol and set alight, killing a five-year-old boy and badly injuring an old lady and her daughter-in-law on February 3, 2002. The fire destroyed almost all trace of the murderers, except a string of footprints belonging to a man and a woman. The police later found the woman’s shoes and socks discarded in a well nearby. However, the case was stuck there. Like a gruesome caricature of Cinderella, finding justice for the victims rested on finding the owner of the shoes.
The local police turned to Wang Qingju, an expert footprint specialist, for help. Arriving at the scene and checking the footprints, Wang caught the police off guard telling them that the pair they were looking for were, in fact, both men. “It was a man who was wearing a woman’s shoes that were smaller than his own feet,” said Wang. “The pace is 80 centimeters long, usually belonging to a young male. A woman’s footprint is usually evenly pressed towards the ground, while the footprint in question had very different pressures on each end, particularly heavy on the big toe. I was positive that the footprints belonged to a man, and that he was younger and shorter than his accomplice.” This helped the police to identify two brothers who had been involved in a territory dispute with the victims, and planned to kill them to solve the problem.
Wang Qingju has been applying his expertise in crime detection for over 30 years and has solved over 1,200 cases. By looking at footprints he can do a quick criminal sketch, determining the person’s gender, height, age, weight, physical condition, and, of course, the way they walk. Sometimes the description can go into incredible detail. For example, after examining a string of footprints left by a bank robber, Wang told the police, “The man walks with his left shoulder thrusting forward and the right shoulder slightly leaning backwards.”
In many cases, Wang Qingju’s arrival is a godsend. In the case of a safe-breaking in a private home, the only clues were a single fingerprint and a string of footprints. Inspecting the footprints, Wang told them: “The suspect is a male around 30 years old. His height is around 178 centimeters. He is a large man and has been driving, frequently, for many years, because of the particular indents on the soles. From the way the burglar went straight to the safe, he is probably a friend of the house owner.” These descriptions led directly to the right suspect, the homeowner’s cousin and mahjong partner.
Of course, Wang Qingju was not a born footprint genius. He became familiar with footprint identification in 1974, on becoming a criminal detective. The police was stuck with an arson case and sought help from China’s first footprint expert, Ma Yulin. Ma, born in 1908 in Inner Mongolia, initially developed his technique by identifying runaway sheep, tracking them down via their footprints, later using this technique to solve crimes. Ma, being to sick to come, sent his student to the scene, whose skills blew Wang’s mind. Fascinated, Wang spent several years studying footprint identification, adeptly mastering the technique. The accuracy of footprint identifi cation depends heavily on a specialist’s experience.
On May 28, 2010, a young girl was raped and murdered on her way to school in Taikang, Henan Province. At the scene police found a single hair belonging to the criminal and a string of footprints. DNA testing alone left them with no suspects. Over 400 officers made little headway. As in many other cases, it was time for Wang to step in. His verdict was that the criminal was at least 30 years old and 166 centimeters in height. This quickly narrowed down the suspects, particularly to a man named Chen Haigang who had been jailed for three months previously for harassing a female student. Chen fit the profile and police found a pair of shoes in his home that had exactly the same soles as the footprints from the crime scene. However, Chen was already on the run and the police needed more substantive evidence. They tested the DNA of Chen’s son, but it turned out that the DNA at the crime scene wasn’t a familial match. With that, police had to give up on their only lead and look for a new suspect.
Despite Wang’s obvious authority and experience, confidence began to wane, and his Sherlock-like powers of shoe deduction looked like little more than hocus pocus. However, Wang, after 25 years on the beat, is not the type to give up easily. He demanded to see the soles of Chen’s shoes again and asked that they be cut open so that he could examine them more thoroughly. Reluctantly, the police caved to his wishes, destroying a possibly invaluable piece of evidence.
Wang cut the shoes open and saw two clear impressions made by two bare feet. The bone structure, the pressure points, and the shape of the feet all matched perfectly with the criminal’s footprints. “Everything matches. It has to be him,” Wang boldly claimed.
The police were caught between the obvious DNA evidence clearing Chen and Wang’s expertise. The police chief, after much deliberation, decided to take Chen Haigang’s father’s DNA for one final test. The result shocked them all: this time, the DNA was a faithful match. As it turned out, the boy they tested was not Chen’s biological son. Only with Wang’s considerable powers of deduction, not to mention confidence in his own abilities, was the murderer discovered.
Now, 75-year-old, Wang has been retired for over 10 years, but he is still hired as an expert consultant by the police. His employer, the Henan Public Security Bureau, established a “footprint studio” for him, where he submerges himself in footprints and their fine details. “It is the only thing that fills my head,” he says. Around 10 years ago, the Ministry of Public Security issued a notification that shoe impressions could no longer be used as evidence in court. The ministry have their reasons, but ever since the notification, Wang has been looking for a way to digitize footprint identification so that they no longer need to rely on experienced experts like him. “You can change shoes, but you can’t change your feet,” he says: “The future lies in digital identification. We need to develop a highly-accurate computer program that, once receiving a scanned footprint, can automatically identify the characteristics of the suspects.” His dream project is to build a gigantic scan archive of footprints, and that one day, footprint can once again be used as effective evidence on court. It’s a big project, but if Wang proved one thing in his illustrious career, he is not a gumshoe to give up on.
The Chinese Holmes
The perfect detective stands guard for six decades
On his first day of school, aged just 14, Wu Guoqing had never seen a car, couldn’t read, and couldn’t tell the time. Born in Inner Mongolia in 1936, brought up on horseback, this illiterate boy would one day grow to be a well-trained criminal investigator and profiler—one of the best in China. By 1962, he was already deemed a rare talent, and that talent would go on to solve over 1,000 cases in 60 years on the job. Now at 78, he remains the premier criminal expert in the Ministry of Public Security. His tenure has seen more than its fair share of monsters, bloodthirsty killers, not to mention callous bombers—all dangerous criminals he helped catch—such as the likes of Zhou Kehua, an infamous serial killer in 2012, and Ma Hongqing, who was responsible for an explosion, killing 83 and injuring 93…
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