Chinese jail break fugitives caught after three days on the run

Convicted child killer and serial escapee tracked down after massive manhunt, during which two police officers were killed in a road accident

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 10:49pm

Two inmates who escaped from a prison in northeast China have been caught after a major manhunt in which 1,000 villagers were mobilised to join the search and two auxiliary police officers were killed in a car crash.

Wang Lei, 33, and Zhang Guilin, 39, who had already escaped from jail twice before, were found hiding in a rural area of Pingquan city in Hebei province on Saturday afternoon soon after they were spotted by drones, according to media reports.

The two, who were both serving life sentences, were reported to have used a key card and stolen guards’ uniforms to escape from Lingyuan No 3 Prison in the neighbouring province of Liaoning on Thursday. On Sunday, officials said the chief of the prison had been fired, according to The Beijing News.

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Police offered a 100,000 yuan (US$14,500) reward for information about the escaped pair, while anyone who found them would be rewarded with 200,000 yuan.

The first tip-off that the police received was when the pair were spotted in a small grocery shop near the border of Liaoning province – about 20km (12 miles) away from the prison – at 11am on Thursday.

On the same day at 5pm, Wang visited another shop 10km away from the previous one across the border in Hebei.

The owner later told police the fugitive had spent 130 yuan on a bottle of white wine, six bottles of beer, 10 bottles of water and some sausages.

After studying surveillance camera footages, authorities in Hebei and Liaoning dispatched 1,300 police to search for the fugitives in hilly terrain, and mobilised villagers to join the hunt and set up roadblocks in the area.

An official in Hebei, identified only by his surname Sun, told Shanghai-based news portal “The whole village was mobilised to join the search, because we had heard they were involved in serious crimes.

“In order to protect the safety of the village, citizens and party cadres teamed up in groups to lead the way for police and set up roadblocks. Some helped deliver meals for everyone.”

After a luckless overnight search on Friday, the net started to close on Saturday afternoon when police in the Hebei city of Chengde dispatched drones to scour the area and spotted the convicts in the village of Taitoushan.

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About an hour later Zhang stopped to ask a villager for directions when he spotted a group of police officers heading in his direction.

He was arrested after an unsuccessful attempt to flee and his fellow escapee was caught 20 minutes later.

Three villagers started chasing him after they became suspicious about what he was doing there.

“I was not sure whether he had a knife, so I picked up a rock and a knife,” a villager told The Beijing News.

People shouted for police to help and chased him through the fields and into some woodland, where he was eventually cornered and detained by officers.

A bag containing food and water that was believed to belong to the inmates was later found nearby.

The escape, which came in the middle of a week-long holiday, gripped China after media provided rare details of such a case and it generated extensive discussion online.

During the investigation, two police officers were killed and another two were injured during a traffic accident when the car they were travelling in flipped over and hit a tree.

Wang, who is from Dengta in Liaoning, was convicted of kidnapping and murdering an 11-year-old boy in 2013. He was sentenced to death, but that was commuted to a life sentence in December. He had been at the No 3 prison since 2016.

Zhang, who is from Lingquan county in Anhui province, had previously served a seven-year sentence for robbery.

But in 2008, nearly two years after he was released, he reoffended and was sentenced to life – again for robbery.

He previously escaped in June 2011, and again in July 2012, but both times he was recaptured. Two years later, he was found guilty of assaulting another prisoner.