A farmer has been arrested for murder in a southern Chinese village where 17 people, almost all teenagers, have vanished in recent years.
When children started disappearing in Nanmen, near the city of Kunming, their distraught parents believed they had been kidnapped to work in illegal brick factories.
The parents of one missing teenager said nobody thought that Zhang Yongming, a quiet, chess-playing, 56-year-old farmer who lived in a shack on the edge of the village, might be responsible.
On May 9, police investigating the disappearance of Han Yao (19) found his bank and telephone cards inside Zhang's home. They later arrested the farmer.
The teenager, who disappeared in April, was last seen near a cold storage unit a few hundred yards from Zhang's house. As his family asked around the village, they discovered that at least eight other youths had gone missing in the same area in the past five years. Six of them vanished in the last 15 months.
There are suspicions that Zhang may be linked to as many as 17 deaths. As the families of the missing children gathered outside his house earlier this month, they saw policemen removing several green plastic bags of evidence, including one that appeared to contain a bone.
"I know Zhang," said Li Yudong (42) whose 12-year-old son Hanxiong disappeared on May 1, 2007. "Zhang never spoke to anyone, not even the people who lived next to him.
"We used to see him every day but we never paid any attention to him. Now, like everyone else, I think he may be responsible for my son's disappearance. We are all worried."
Mr Li said he had been working on the farm the day his son disappeared. He was surprised not to find him at home for lunch. When he did not return by 5pm, he reported the case to the police.
"We searched for him for months," Mr Li said. "We thought he must have been sent to work in a sweatshop or brick kiln."
The local police have admitted that Zhang was sentenced to life for murder in 1978, after dismembering a victim. He was released in 1997.
Then, last December, he was found trying to strangle Zhang Jianyuan (17) with a belt. At the time, the villagers called the police, but Zhang laughed off the episode, saying that he was just fooling with the boy.
A special team has been sent from the ministry of public security to carry out the investigation, while the local police chief, Da Qiming, and another official, Zhao Huiyun, have been dismissed for failing to act on so many disappearances. The police declined to comment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)