In July of 1999, Serena Fang Yang of Centreville was 35, busy taking college courses and working as a waitress. Her daughter, almost 11, was living with her maternal grandparents in China until Yang could amass enough money to bring her here to America.
But the young woman's hopes and dreams ended tragically, that July 6, when she was murdered in her Heritage Estates home on Wood Rock Way. She was found asphyxiated in her bed.
Fairfax County police suspected she'd been killed by a spurned suitor, Zesheng Wang (also known as Ze Shen Wang), 43, of 502 Florida Ave., No. 309, in Herndon. The grand jury even indicted him, on Jan. 18, 2000. The trouble was, no one could find him — until now.
It turns out, he fled to his native China where he hid out near his birthplace, the city of Lanzhou, in Gansu Province. However — although it wasn't publicly known until last week — police here continued their search and never gave up on finding him.
Their tenacity paid off, and Wang is now in custody in China — culminating a 4 1/2-year, fugitive investigation conducted jointly by county police and the FBI. And although the U.S. is unable to bring him back here for trial, he may well be prosecuted there.
Fairfax County Police Chief Tom Manger and Michael Mason, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, last Friday announced his capture in the People's Republic of China. Actually, authorities there nabbed him on Sept. 27, 2003, but the information wasn't released until now.
Both Wang and Yang were natives of China, and their families knew each other. But — according to Yang's co-workers at the Westfields Marriott, where she was working as a server at the time of her death — when he asked for her hand in marriage, she turned him down.
Instead, Yang earned her law degree in 1986 from National University in Beijing, married and gave birth to a daughter in September 1988. She and her husband later divorced and, in 1994, she married a Taiwan native with American citizenship. They moved to Maryland in 1995, but separated a year later, and in 1996 she moved to Fairfax County.
In 1997, Yang (also known as Fang Yang) began her job in one of Westfields' dining rooms and took computer courses in college. But a large void remained in her life because she was without her child. Wanting to give her daughter the best life possible, when Yang emigrated from her homeland in 1995, she left the girl with her own parents in Lanzhou in northern China.
THEY WERE to take care of her until Yang was settled and secure in her new American world. But when her second marriage dissolved and she suddenly found herself all alone, struggling to survive in a foreign country, her plan to bring her daughter to America had to be postponed.
Still, she toiled diligently to save money and eventually get her American citizenship. Centreville's Tracey Doubleday — who in 1997 supervised both Westfield's gourmet dining room, Palm Court, and Yang's dining room there — remembered Yang as "an extremely hard worker, determined to do what she had to do."
As for the child, Doubleday said she was never far from her mother's thoughts. "We all knew she loved her daughter very much and couldn't wait to get her over here," she said. "She talked about it all the time."
But Yang's co-workers also knew about Wang and how upset he was when she rejected him. They were also aware, said Doubleday, that in August 1998, county police arrested Wang and charged him with car theft and abduction after he stole Yang's car and then attacked her. But his guilty plea resulted in just five days in jail and a warning to have no further contact with her.
Meanwhile, Yang obtained her American citizenship in March 1999, visited her daughter in China and brought back more than $10,000 with her to the U.S. in hopes of buying a house here and finally bringing her child to live with her. But just when it seemed as if things were finally falling into place for her, she was murdered.
Co-workers began worrying about Yang when she didn't report for work, one morning. A friend later found her body, around 9:30 p.m. And once authorities ruled her death a homicide and learned of the animosity between her and Wang — who'd previously worked as a chef in Asian restaurants — they began searching for him.
But they did it quietly, fearing right from the start that their suspect might flee. Seven months later, Fairfax County Crime Solvers was offering a $1,000 cash reward for information leading to his arrest, and Wang was nowhere to be found.
RECALLING YANG as "a quiet, sweet person who kept to herself," Doubleday said her death shocked and saddened her co-workers. Yang's parents came from China and brought back their daughter's body for burial.
And that appeared to be the end of the story until last Friday's unexpected announcement. It was then revealed that, when police here developed evidence that Wang had left Virginia to escape capture, the FBI obtained a federal arrest warrant charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
During the course of the investigation, authorities gathered evidence indicating that Wang had, indeed, returned to China and was living near his home in Gansu Province. Then, through its legal attaché in Beijing, the FBI requested assistance from Chinese law-enforcement authorities.
After an intense investigation, Wang was arrested in September, but his fate is in Chinese hands. Since there's no extradition treaty between China and the U.S., Wang — a Chinese citizen — can't be returned to America to face charges.
However, authorities in Gansu Province are currently investigating Yang's murder to determine if there's sufficient evidence against Wang to present the case to a prosecutor in China.
Meanwhile, both Mason and Manger expressed their gratitude to the Chinese authorities who, says the FBI, "in the spirit of international cooperation, are attempting to bring a subject to justice — in spite of the challenges of international law, boundaries and language."