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Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Tong Shao Murder Case

    Tong Shao grew up as the only child in a middle-class family in Dalian, China, a coastal city of 7 million 300 miles east of Beijing. Her parents saved up $100,000 for her college education in America. In the fall of 2012 she enrolled as a chemical engineering major at Iowa State University in Ames. As one of 5,000 Chinese students in the state, her parents thought she'd be safe living in central Iowa.

      In the summer before she started her junior year Shao completed an internship in Kentucky where she had purchased a gold-colored four-door 1997 Toyota Camry.

     On September 6, 2014 Shao drove to Iowa City to visit her boyfriend Xiangnan Li. Xiangnan also attended Iowa State University as an international student from China. Shao had met Li in the summer of 2011 in Beijing where they took English prep classes.

     Xiangnan Li was from Wenzhou China, a city of 9 million on the country's east coast 300 miles south of Shanghai. He had transferred to Iowa State University from Rochester Institute of Technology to be closer to Shao.

     In the U.S. Li resided in Iowa City at an apartment complex called Dolphin Lake Point Enclave. He also stayed in the Ames apartment Shao shared with her roommate Jean.

     Two days after Shao left Ames, a message sent from her cellphone to a friend said she was driving to Minnesota to visit someone. Her college friends didn't hear from her for more than a week after the September 8 text message. On September 17 her roommate Jean reported Tong Shao missing to the Ames Police Department.

     On Friday September 26, 2014 police in Iowa City, at Li's apartment complex along U.S. Highway 6, found Tong Shao's Toyota parked in the parking lot. After smelling the odor of death coming from the trunk area of the vehicle officers acquired a warrant to search the car.

     Inside the trunk of Shao's vehicle officers found the decomposing body of the 5-foot-2-inch missing college student. Next to her body lay a 15-pound barbell. According to a resident of the Dolphin Lake Point Enclave, the 1997 Toyota with the Kentucky plates had been parked in that spot for a couple of weeks.

     Xiangnan Li's blue 2009 BMW was also parked at the Iowa City apartment complex. On September 8 he flew back to China. (He had boarded the plane in Cedar Rapids Iowa and had a layover in Chicago.) Iowa City police officers searched his car. Inside the vehicle they found Li's flight information.

     In November 2014 a forensic pathologist with the Johnson County Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy on Tong Shao's remains. A medical examiner's office spokesperson, however, didn't announce the postmortem results until January 2015. According the autopsy report the college student had died from asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. (The dual causes of death was unusual. Was she strangled or bludgeoned to death?)

     According to homicide investigators the text message from Shao's cellphone had been sent on September 8 from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago where Li was laid over en route to his home in China.

     Karen Yang, a friend of Li's, told detectives that he had been jealous over Shao's interest in another man. Li had overheard Shao complain to this man over the phone that she was not happy with her current relationship. This made Li extremely angry.

     Detectives with the Ames Police Department learned that on September 5, 2014 Li and Shao checked into room 218 at the Budget Inn in Nevada, Iowa. Hotel surveillance camera footage showed Shao walking alone in the lobby the next afternoon. She was also seen in the town of Nevada driving a gold-colored car believed to be her Toyota. According to hotel records the couple checked out on September 7, 2014. They had stayed at this place in 2013 and earlier in 2014.

     Detectives believed that Shao had been murdered by Li during the early morning hours of September 7 at the hotel. The walls in room 218 were stained with "splatter and drips of various dried liquids." Crime scene investigators also found dried blood behind the headboard of the bed.

     When police discovered Shao's body in the trunk of her car on September 26, 2014 they discovered that her head had been wrapped in a towel with the tag "Premium Quality," the same kind of towel used at the Budget Inn and Suites.

     On March 23, 2016 in eastern China, Li Xiangnan pleaded guilty to murdering Shao Tong. Since the Chinese do not extradite its citizens he remained in China where he would spend the rest of his life in prison.    


  1. Pretty obvious isn't it? The boy-fiend is in China, hiding out. I imagine authorities there could nab him. Whether or not he could be extradited to Iowa to stand trial is another matter. But within China, perhaps the parents could find justice for their daughter. He looks guilty as sin, and if he is not, he has only to step forward to tell his side of the story.

  2. The hotel was not in Las Vegas, it was in the town of Nevada, Iowa.

  3. he attended the University of Iowa at Iowa City. She attended the State University of Iowa at Ames. There are about 2 hours apart.