Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Bob Horan last week outlined what is known about a seven-year-old triple homicide that allegedly occurred in a quiet neighborhood off north Seneca Road in Great Falls.
A young man named Edward Chen was charged with shooting his father, mother and brother with a rifle, stuffing their corpses into duffel bags weighted down with concrete, and dumping them in Chesapeake Bay.
The bodies of Wu Hong Chen, 53; Shieh Yeh-Mei Chen, 52, and Raymond Chen, 26, have never been found.
Edward Chen, the Chens' younger son and Raymond's younger brother, is now charged with three counts of murder. He was 20 when his family disappeared, according to police.
Chen was arraigned in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Monday. He requested the services of a public defender, but Judge Jane Delbridge found he has sufficient financial resources to pay for an attorney. She declined to set bond.
A hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. on May 3.
SINCE 1995, when his family disappeared, Chen has told people in the family's native country, Taiwan, that his family died in a car wreck in the United States. When he told the same story in the United States, he changed the location of the car wreck to Taiwan, Horan said.
In the meantime, the younger Chen, like his brother a graduate of Herndon High School, sold the family's home in Seneca Knoll for $310,000. The house is situated among homes that in today's rising market are valued between $800,000 and $1,000,000.
The Chens' former home on Elmview Place is hidden from the road, obscured behind a thick screen of hardwoods and native Virginia cedars.
IN THE MEANTIME, another innocent family moved into the house and fell in love with it.
"It was a shock to us to find this out," said Al Fostin, the owner. "The media probably knows as much about it as we do."
Fostin said the family moved in two years ago. "We really love this house," he said. "We've done a lot of work here."
Police said the Fostins have fully cooperated with an investigation that revealed enough forensic evidence to charge Edward Chen on three counts of murder.
"We think there is sufficient evidence" for the charges, Horan said, "with or without the bodies."
Though police are searching for the family's remains, Horan, who's never lost a murder trial, said he thinks he can get a conviction even without the bodies.
Horan has indicated he will consider seeking the death sentence for the younger Chen.
THOUGH NO MOTIVE was cited, investigators are sifting possible evidence that Chen assumed his older brother's identity and lived off the profit from real estate transactions.
Fairfax County tax records indicate that while the family home changed hands in 2000 for $310,000, it is valued at $702,780 for tax purposes today. Two similar houses in the same neighborhood sold last fall for $825,000 and $1,000,000, according to county records.
The circumstances of the Chen family's death had prosecutors and investigators shaking their heads in amazement during a Good Friday press conference where the deaths, and arrests, were announced.
"This is a truly rare situation," said Horan. "This is truly peculiar."
"There was no suggestion that Mr. and Mrs. Chen had died in the United States. No one had suggested it. No one had whispered it," he said.
But "We are satisfied from the forensic evidence that it happened," Horan said.
Investigators believe the family members were shot in their bedrooms, with a rifle, in the house in Great Falls.
Fairfax County Police are searching for their bodies, Horan said.
Asked how they could be located after so much time had passed, Horan said “That’s an art form all by itself.”
EDWARD CHEN, who attended the University of Virginia for a time, apparently lived in the Great Falls house for a time before he moved to Herndon, fathered a child, and divorced her mother, Horan said.
At the time of his arrest he was living in an apartment he rented at Worldgate in Herndon. "It is very unclear whether he was working," said Horan.
At his arraignment Monday, Chen told the court he is not employed. He left a $25,000/year job in February, Horan said, “because he didn’t want to do it any more.
The child, who was living with her father, is being cared for by friends, Horan said. Although the child’s mother is “in the area,” care for the child “will have to be sorted out by some court,” Horan said.
The elder Chen was thought to be in "the import-export business" or a consultant, said Horan.
He and his wife spent most of their time in Taiwan, giving rise to the assumption that is where they were, Horan said.