Yu Yan arrived at his sister Yu Miao’s house, and it was already past 8 in the evening.
The underfloor heating was on, making the place feel warm as soon as he entered.
His sister and brother-in-law had already finished eating but left some food for him. The aroma of various dishes filled the room.
Today, they had made spare rib soup, three-cup chicken, stir-fried mushrooms with vegetable hearts, minced pork with preserved egg and tofu in thin sheets. Seeing him arrive, his sister said she would prepare an additional dish for him.
As Yu Yan took off his coat, he said, “Sister, no need to bother. This is already much more sumptuous than takeout.”
Yu Miao replied, “No problem. I won’t make anything complicated. I’ll just stir-fry your favorite beef for you. Start eating, and it will be ready soon.”
Only then did Yu Yan not say anything further.
The warm light filled the room. The host of the house, Lu Bosheng, poured himself a cup of tea and poured a glass of warm water for Yu Yan before sitting across from him.
As Yu Yan picked up some food with his chopsticks, he asked, “Brother-in-law, how’s Lu Junchi doing abroad recently?”
Lu Bosheng said, “That kid has been independent since he was young. We don’t need to worry about him. He still has half a year of schooling left. He told me on the phone that he wants to return to China. If he comes back, he might serve in the Hua Police Department. Have you been busy with work recently?”
Yu Yan replied, “I’ve just taken on a new case and am still investigating.”
Lu Bosheng commented, “Your department seems short-staffed. Don’t push yourself too hard and end up exhausted.”
Yu Yan said, “Our department has been granted additional personnel slots. If everything goes smoothly, new recruits will join us after the New Year. It won’t be as busy by then.”
Lu Bosheng nodded, feeling relieved.
They chatted for a while, and then Yu Miao brought over a plate of sizzling green onion-flavored fatty beef, saying, “Our green cards have been approved too. We might be going abroad next year. By then, Haochu will be studying in China, and when Junchi returns, you guys can look after each other. You should spend more time with them.”
Lu Bosheng chuckled, “So, you’re treating your younger brother like a babysitter.”
Yu Miao replied, “Why not? Wasn’t Yu Yan the one who raised them when they were kids? He’s closer to his uncle than to me, his mother.”
“No worries, it’s not troublesome. Now that Lu Junchi is grown up, who knows, maybe he’ll end up taking care of me instead.” Yu Yan took a bite of the beef. His sister’s cooking was excellent; the dishes were fresh, fragrant, tender, and not at all overcooked. He asked again, “How’s Haochu’s grades?”
Yu Miao said, “They’re alright. He ranked around 130 in the recent school mock exam. His English is a bit weak, though, so he wants to stay in China and not go abroad with us for further studies.”
Yu Yan suggested, “How about I help him with his English?”
Yu Miao replied, “His English won’t improve overnight. How can I trouble you, a busy person like you?”
After thinking for a moment, Yu Yan said, “I have a colleague from university whose English scores were good. I’ll ask him if he has the time to help.”
He thought of asking Yao Fei as well, which could also bring in some extra income.
“Sure, ask him. You eat more. I’ve noticed you’ve gotten thinner again recently.”
Yu Yan acknowledged with a sound and continued eating.
Yu Miao and Yu Yan kept saying, “Lu Haochu also wants to study at Hua Police Academy. I hope he won’t follow his brother’s footsteps in criminal investigation. I suggest he works in logistics. Both of these kids you’ve raised, each one wants to be a police officer. They head wherever danger is.”
Parents naturally worry when their children become police officers.
Lu Bosheng looked at his wife, then at Yu Yan, and tried to mediate, “Police work is good, serving the people. I support it.”
After a while, Lu Haochu returned from walking the dog, came inside, and called out to his uncle. He let the dog off the leash and wanted to sit at the main table, asking, “Uncle, are there any interesting cases lately?”
“What’s interesting about cases?” Yu Miao pushed him gently, “Your escapade is over, stop pestering your uncle and go study inside.”
After finishing the meal, Yu Yan put down his chopsticks and offered to help with washing the dishes.
Yu Miao insisted, “You’re busy with work. I’ll take care of this. You should go back and rest early.”
Lu Bosheng reminded him, “My company sent some oranges. Take a few back to eat.”
Only then did Yu Miao remember and brought out a big bag, saying, “Take a few more, distribute them to your colleagues.”
Yu Yan thought for a moment, “I’ll take a few for my apprentice.”
Yu Miao chuckled, “Your apprentice is Yao Fei, right? I’ve heard you mention him several times. You keep calling him ‘apprentice’ at every turn.”
Lu Bosheng teased him as well, “You’re not only raising kids at home, but also at the General Bureau.”
The two of them continued to pack oranges into a bag for him until Yu Yan said it was becoming too heavy.
Leaving his sister’s house, Yu Yan hailed a taxi and headed home. Upon opening the door, he put down the oranges and the files from his bag on the table.
It was winter, and even though the heating was on, the room still felt a bit cold.
Yu Yan was alone in the room, facing a cold stove, and it seemed no amount of warmth could make him feel truly warm.
He suddenly envied the warmth in his sister’s home…
Yu Yan poured himself a cup of hot coffee and started looking through the files.
The more he read, the more serious his expression became.
Early the next morning, Yu Yan entered the office with a bag of oranges. Yao Fei was already sitting there, legs propped up on a nearby chair. When Yu Yan walked in, he put his legs down, saying, “Morning, Teacher.”
Yu Yan handed him the bag of oranges, saying, “Oranges, take them home to eat.”
Yao Fei was surprised, looking at the bag filled with oranges. Upon opening it, he could smell the sweet aroma, “Why are you suddenly giving me oranges? Where did you buy them so early in the morning? Is this some kind of act?”
“My sister gave them to me. I can’t finish them myself, so I thought you could help,” Yu Yan glared at him, “Stop talking nonsense. Come with me to the Criminal Investigation Division.”
Yao Fei took the oranges and stood up. He could hear a hint of seriousness in Yu Yan’s tone. He rolled up his sleeves and asked, “Are we going to fight?”
“Always thinking about fighting…” Yu Yan sighed. Raising children wasn’t easy.
He explained, “There’s something wrong with that case. It can’t be closed.”
Yao Fei paused, “What’s wrong? Do we need to combine cases?”
Yu Yan handed him some organized documents.
After flipping through a few pages, Yao Fei understood, “I told you, this case isn’t that simple.”
With Yu Yan in the lead and Yao Fei following, they entered the Criminal Investigation Division building. They went straight to the office of Team Four. As they walked in, Yu Yan asked, “Where’s Captain Li?”
A young police officer saw them and pointed to the entrance, where Captain Li was carrying youtiao and baozi.
Yu Yan said, “Captain Li, there are still doubts about that case from yesterday.”
“Alright, let’s discuss it in the conference room later,” Captain Li said, guiding them to an empty meeting room on the side.
He sat down, picked up his breakfast, and prepared to eat while talking.
Yu Yan took a deep breath, and with a serious tone, said, “This is a series of connected murder cases.”
Captain Li almost choked on his baozi, “Leader Yu, we’re about to close the case. You’re telling me it’s a series of connected murders? We need evidence for that.”
Yu Yan had Yao Fei put the materials and photos on a whiteboard nearby.
These were the materials he had spent half the night sorting and collecting from hundreds of records, finally discovering some clues.
Yu Yan: “These are the death records in the nearby area for the past three years that are questionable. The deceased are all elderly people aged sixty to ninety, living alone, with no children, spouse, or parents alive. The causes of death are unknown and categorized as natural deaths, but there were no autopsies conducted.”
Captain Li furrowed his brows, “Why weren’t autopsies performed?”
Yu Yan explained, “Given the advanced age of the deceased and common ailments they had, along with bodies left for a few days before being discovered, leading to decomposition, they were naturally assumed to have died of natural causes. For citizens who die normally without suspicious circumstances, the neighborhood committee and health clinic can issue death certificates.”
Yao Fei, standing beside them, crossed his arms and said, “To perform an autopsy, someone needs to report it. If no one reports it, the local police won’t meddle. There are almost a hundred deaths in one area every day. The forensic examiners at the sub-bureau can’t keep up. Besides, who’s going to cover the autopsy expenses?”
Yu Yan nodded, “The ones who discovered these deaths were mostly Yu Ran. She also issued the certificates.”
At this point, Captain Li began to realize the case was more significant, “Yu Ran? The one from the neighborhood committee? So, her suspicion is quite high?”
Yu Yan said, “I haven’t finished. According to regulations, they took photos of the death scenes for documentation. From the pictures, these elderly people had slight traces of blood at the corners of their mouths and signs of being wiped. Furthermore, I found a common feature at the death scenes – they were all remarkably clean. That means someone cleaned up before their deaths. The cleaner is likely Xu Zhaoran. She provides household services to these lonely elderly people at a low price, and she has a good reputation among them. The residents even help her find more clients.”
“Clean up and then poison them?” Captain Li frowned, “So, was it a joint effort between Yu Ran and Xu Zhaoran?”
Yu Yan didn’t directly answer but continued, “I’ve verified that most of these deceased elderly people were part of a check-in group. The group’s owner is Yu Ran from the neighborhood committee. In the group, they reported their health conditions. If anyone didn’t check in, Yu Ran would visit them. Those who died were removed from the group. However, I compared the group records and the times of death for some, and some were removed from the group before they were confirmed dead.”
As if Yu Ran had known in advance that these people would die soon.
“I also delved into Xu Zhaoran’s personal information. Her original name was Xu Zhaodi, the eldest in her family. Later, her parents had two sons, but one drowned and the other died from an illness, neither surviving past three years old. Subsequently, her parents passed away. She married at twenty and became pregnant a year later. Her child died at four, followed by her husband’s death.”
“That’s some bad luck.” Captain Li said, and then it dawned on him, “You’re not saying she killed all these people, right?”
This wasn’t just bad luck, it was like the Grim Reaper.
Yu Yan said, “Given the various accidental nature of her family members’ deaths, there’s not much evidence or leads left. However, considering the probability and intensity of these deaths, we can’t rule out the possibility of murder.”
Captain Li asked in astonishment, “So, why did this woman kill? What’s her motive?”
Yu Yan said, “I suspect Xu Zhaoran is a female serial killer with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.”
Then he explained, “Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy refers to a condition in which an individual deliberately causes or fabricates illness in another person, typically a dependent, to garner attention. Because it manifests as a caregiver and victim, it’s difficult to detect.”
Captain Li, now seeing the emergence of a serial killer, was so intrigued he forgot about his youtiao, leaning forward to listen to Yu Yan’s explanation.
Yu Yan continued analyzing, “Female serial killers are quite different from their male counterparts. Firstly, female serial killers awaken later in life, usually around the age of thirty or above. Secondly, unlike male killers who usually target strangers, female serial killers often choose people they know or are close to. Thirdly, while many male killers are motivated by sexual factors, female serial killers are often driven by financial interests. Fourthly, many female serial killers have accomplices. Fifthly, they tend to use less violent methods such as poisoning.”
Xu Zhaoran seemed to match these traits…
Yu Yan concluded, “If this assumption holds, then the truth of the case might be that Xu Zhaoran poisoned Zhou Bingyi during her visit with Yu Ran. When they left, Zhou Bingyi hadn’t been poisoned yet. Later, Zhou Wanglin came to visit, and during their struggle, she fell due to poisoning, stabbing herself with a knife.”
This deduction aligned with the autopsy results.
Given Xu Zhaoran and Yu Ran’s acquaintance, it was natural for them to cover for each other.
Captain Li, clutching his youtiao, thought back and started to see the hints, “No wonder that woman cried for an hour in front of me… She was flaunting her killing process in front of the police…”
This could explain the unclear testimony of Zhou Wanglin.
Yao Fei, listening on the side, couldn’t help but want to applaud Yu Yan’s analysis. Yesterday, he suspected that Xu Zhaoran might not be an “angel of death.” Now, it seemed his inference was somewhat hasty.
If what Yu Yan said is true, these two women are seriously twisted.
Yu Yan, at this point, became cautious, saying, “Of course, there’s no further evidence at the moment to directly link these deaths to our current case. However, I believe there are suspicions within these cases. It’s better to proceed with caution. The exact truth needs to be uncovered by you, Captain Li.”
Having heard this analysis, Captain Li was sweating. Now he understood the seriousness of the matter. Fortunately, he hadn’t rushed to close the case earlier, as it might have led to mistakes and allowed the real culprit to escape justice.
He quickly said, “Thank you, Leader Yu. I’ll immediately call Xu Zhaoran and Yu Ran in again to reevaluate the situation and conduct further investigation.”
After saying this, Captain Li didn’t even care about his half-eaten breakfast, hastily rushing out of the meeting room.
The entire police station immediately bustled into action.