In the late morning hours of last Oct. 12, Chang An-lo awoke in his Monterey Park home to discover that his house guest, a recent arrival from Taiwan, had disappeared overnight.
Chang thought it strange that his friend, a fellow member of the Taiwan-based United Bamboo crime syndicate, departed without saying so much as goodby. Later that afternoon, Chang received a cryptic message that his visitor, who had spent the lonely weeks away from his homeland playing guitar and cooking gourmet Chinese dishes, had "gone to kill a communist bandit."
Four days later, reading the headlines of Chinese-language newspapers, Chang surmised the whereabouts of his friend. In a San Francisco suburb, Henry Liu--a gift shop owner and Chinese-language journalist critical of Taiwan--had been shot to death Oct. 15 in the garage of his home. The newspapers identified Liu as a liberal critic of the Nationalist Chinese regime, not a communist.
In the weeks that followed, Chang would be told that his roommate and two other United Bamboo gang members had assassinated the 51-year-old Liu, a naturalized American citizen, at the behest of high Taiwan intelligence officers, who told the killers that Liu had betrayed his native Taiwan and that his murder would be an act of patriotism.
"My friends came to this country and killed an American citizen," said Chang, a Monterey Park restaurant owner known to fellow gang members as White Wolf. "But in Taiwan, it is your job, your duty, to kill communists. The government printed on their minds that Henry Liu was a communist. It wasn't until after the murder that they found out he was just a writer."
Two of the killers, including United Bamboo gang leader Chen Chi-li, were arrested, jailed and indicted after returning to Taiwan. They have confessed to the murder. Chang's house guest also returned to Taiwan but escaped a month later and remains at large in the Philippines. Three top Taiwan military intelligence officials implicated by Chen in the murder have been stripped of their duties and arrested.
But the impact of the crime has extended far beyond that handful of people. The Liu murder has shaken the Taiwan government of President Chiang Ching-kuo; politically damaged Chiang Hsiao-wu, second son of President Chiang; thrown into question the succession of power on the island nation, and strained Taiwan's relations with the United States.
Contents of Tape Recording
Now, in a series of interviews with The Times, Chang An-lo and other gang members and associates of the killers have disclosed the contents of Chen Chi-li's tape-recorded confession of how the hit squad plotted and carried out the murder. The tape recording, which Chen entrusted to these associates, was given to police and the FBI and is considered a key piece of evidence in their investigation. It sheds new light on a slaying that was carefully planned but executed with inexplicable bungling.
As recounted by Chen's associates and confirmed by police, Chen's confession alleges that:
- He was made an agent of the Taiwan military intelligence bureau in July, 1984, three months before the murder. That same month, Chen says, he and a prominent Taiwan movie producer who also was a bureau agent received several days of espionage training.
- On Aug. 14, Chen and the movie producer met with Vice Adm. Wang Hsi-ling, the head of Taiwan's military intelligence network, and two of his subordinates and were given orders to kill Liu. They were told Liu was an agent of the People's Republic of China who had betrayed Taiwan with his critical writings. They were given photographs of Liu and the addresses of his home in Daly City and his two gift shops.
- Chen, who also has business interests in Taiwan, says he was chosen to head the hit team because he had a close relationship with unnamed government officials. In 1979, during a time of domestic crisis, Chen says, he agreed to reorganize the Bamboo Gang to help the Taiwan government gather intelligence and keep dissidents in line.
- Chen, who is nicknamed Dry Duck, and the movie producer arrived in the United States on Sept. 14, but the producer unexpectedly backed out of the plot and Chen recruited as triggermen two Bamboo gang members visiting from Taiwan.
Agrees With Police Reconstruction
Daly City police Lt. Thomas Reese, who interviewed Chen in his Taiwan jail cell, said Chen's account of his movements in California and of how the killers stalked and confronted Liu conform to police reconstruction of the crime. But until investigations in Taiwan and the United States are completed, the tape's allegations connecting Chen to government officials in Taiwan remain unproven.