'Finding Yingying': Who was Brendt Christensen? Murderer assaulted Chinese student and claimed killing 13 girls

Jiayan 'Jenny' Shi latest documentary film 'Finding Yingying' traces the crimes against the visiting Chinese scholar by Brendt Christensen


                            'Finding Yingying': Who was Brendt Christensen? Murderer assaulted Chinese student and claimed killing 13 girls
Brendt Christensen and Yingying Zhang (Macon County Sheriff's Office/Screengrab: 'Finding Yingying'/Kartemquin Films)

Yingying Zhang was an ordinary girl. Like you and I, she had plenty of dreams and plans for herself. The 26-year-old brilliant student had travelled all the way from China to the University of Illinois to get a PhD. Battling culture change and loneliness, she powered through in the foreign land promising to herself every day that tomorrow would be better. She had a simple ideology she subscribed to, "Live a simple life, be effective".

She wanted to make difference to society and go back to her homeland and volunteer as a teacher. Yingying might have been an ordinary girl, but in that, she was extraordinary. Her dreams, unfortunately, would never be fulfilled. Eventually, her boyfriend Xiaolin, who described her as a "companion and role model", would go on to realise her dream and work as a volunteer teacher. Jiayan "Jenny" Shi latest documentary, 'Finding Yingying', traces the crimes against the visiting Chinese scholar by Brendt Christensen, who abducted her, held her against her will, sexually assaulted her and then went on to dispose of her body is the most devastating way. Yingying's life was cut short by a predator who one day decided to go out "looking for a victim".

During early investigations into the disappearance of Yingying, police found a black Saturn Astra that was doing the rounds of the campus. Six days after the day, they brought in Brendt Christensen, a Champaign, Illinois, resident who was a former Physics graduate student. At first, he made several false and lame claims that he was at home all day playing video games. But upon further questioning, he said, he "may have picked up a girl". The police had all the reasons to suspect Christensen was the perpetrator of the crime but had no way of getting him to talk. What made matters worse for them was that Yingying was nowhere to be found, dead or alive.

Screengrab: 'Finding Yingying' (Kartemquin Films)

 

For the months at a stretch, Yingying's family continued to look for her. Christensen attended the vigil with then-girlfriend Terra Bullis and went on a brag. When the FBI stepped in, they approached Bullis, who agreed to wear a wire to get him to confess on tape. This tape was then used to bring Christensen to justice. Brendt had also admitted to Bullis that Yingying was "number 13". While bragging about his crimes, he said, "It was me." He took Bullis' phone and used the notepad app to type in, "She is gone. Forever." Then erased it. He also told her that Yingying "just didn't give up. She fought more than anyone I knew". FBI, however, couldn't find any other victims and doubted his claims that Yingying was his thirteenth victim.

In court, Christensen's lawyers admitted straight forward that he did kill Yingying, but made a case against the death penalty. Illinois might have done with death penalties but it being a federal matter, Christensen's lawyers were worried he'd be done for good. It was On June 12, 2019, just over two years since the disappearance, it was revealed what really happened that day.

Brendt Christensen attended the vigil with then-girlfriend Terra Bullis (Screengrab: 'Finding Yingying'/Kartemquin Films)

 

On June 9, Christensen went out "looking for a victim". Before he asked Yingying in his car, Christensen asked another woman who refused to get in. He pretended to be a police officer and Yingying trusted him enough to get in. From here, he took her to his place and held her against her will. He tortured her and sexually assaulted her. Then he took Yingying to his bathtub, where he hit her in the head with a baseball bat. A brave Yingying, as he admitted on tape, fought till her last minute and so he used a knife to stab her in the neck.

It was later revealed to Yingying's family that he decapitated her, stuffed her bodies in garbage bags that he went on dispose in the dumpster right in front of his house. This was then taken to a private landfill where any efforts to find her body would be difficult and expensive. Yingying was forever lost in the debris of that landfill.

'Finding Yingying' will be available in virtual theatres on Friday, December 11, 2020.

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