Chicago, IL - Brendt Christensen, the suspect in the kidnapping and probable murder of international Chinese grad student Yingying Zhang, visited a fetish website before the incident, and researched topics on abduction and kidnapping, according to CNN.
The investigation into the disappearance of Yingying Zhang led police to Christensen, and federal charges have been filed against him for kidnapping. The incident began on Friday, June 9, about 1:39 PM when she was running late for an appointment to sign an apartment lease. She tried to flag a bus down but it refused to stop, and she waited at the bus stop.
Surveillance video shows her getting into a black Saturn Astra, which had initially driven past her, circled the block, and came back. In court records filed by FBI Agent Anthony Manganaro, he said that the driver of the car stopped, had a brief conversation with Zhang, who then got into the car. She has not been seen since.
Surveillance video didn't clearly show the driver's face. Research of the car led police to Christensen's vehicle, a Saturn Astra. When the FBI visited him, they noted that the car had a sunroof, and a cracked front passenger hubcap, just like the car in the video.
Police obtained a search warrant for Christensen's car, and Agent Manganaro noted that 'the front passenger door' of his car "appeared to have been cleaned to a more diligent extent than the other vehicle doors." In the complaint, he wrote "I believe that this type of action may be indicative of an attempt to conceal or destroy evidence."
Christensen was interviewed on June 12 and June 15 by the FBI. He changed his story twice before he admitted to driving around the University of Illinois campus, and seeing a "distressed Asian female with a backpack" standing at the corner. That female was Zhang. He also admitted that she told him she was late for an appointment, and he agreed to give her a ride.
He then said that he may have made a wrong turn, that the Asian female 'panicked', and that he stopped his car and let her out.
Police searched Christensen's phone, and found that he had visited the website FetLife, and that he had then gone into the website to an online forum called 'Abduction 101'. In the criminal complaint, there were various threads including "Perfect abduction fantasy", and "Planning a kidnapping".
On its website, FetLife gives this description: "the Social Network for the BDSM, Fetish & Kinky Community. It also notes in 'online policy statements' that "it is a place for consenting adults to trade advice and images of themselves, and to arrange to meet."
Those who sign up for the website remain anonymous, but list their age, gender, and what role they want to play. The site claims to have more than 5 million users.
The website has already been involved in several criminal cases, before this case. In an online note to members, Canadian founder John Baku wrote that several fetish categories had been banned this year in an attempt to reduce criminal liability and risks to members, according to CBS News.
Its guidelines state that interactions must be between adults and must be consensual, whether online or in-person. It said, "FetLife's community is ... open-minded and non-judgmental. Our number one priority is to create a fun and safe place for kinksters."
Police obtained more search warrants and began constant surveillance of Christensen, and evidence was found that showed that he had lied about what happened to Zhang after he picked her up.
He was caught talking on audio recording about how he had kidnapped "Y.Z." Agent Manganaro wrote in the complaint "that he brought Y.Z. back to his apartment, and otherwise held her in his apartment against her will." Based on the evidence, the agent wrote that "law enforcement does not believe Y.Z. is still alive." Her body has not been found.
Christensen was also a grad student in Physics, and a teaching assistant until May, at the University of Illinois. Zhang had only been in the United States for about two months, and it is not believed that they knew each other. She was a grad student studying environmental sciences at the University of Illinois.
He had a hearing on Monday, July 3, in federal court in Chicago, and is being held without bond. He could receive life in prison