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New Zealand man wanted in slaying may be in L.A.

Nai Yin Xue is accused of killing his wife and leaving his daughter in a railroad station before fleeing to the U.S.

September 26, 2007|Andrew Blankstein and David Pierson | Times Staff Writers

Nai Yin Xue arrived at Los Angeles International Airport two weeks ago from Melbourne, Australia, as just another face in the crowd.

Hours before catching his flight, however, the 54-year-old martial arts master and publisher of New Zealand's largest Chinese-language weekly allegedly left his 3-year-old daughter alone at a Melbourne train station on Sept. 15.

Authorities now believe Xue's arrival was part of an elaborate escape from New Zealand after he allegedly strangled his 27-year-old wife, An An Liu, whose body was found Sept. 19, a few days after he arrived in L.A.

Now, Xue is New Zealand's most wanted fugitive, the target of an international manhunt that is focusing on Chinese American communities in Los Angeles' Chinatown, the San Gabriel Valley and the Bay Area.

The U.S. Marshals Service blanketed Asian American media outlets in Southern California with Xue's image this week. Authorities say Xue's Mandarin language skills and familiarity with the area would make it easy for him to blend in both in Chinatown and around the heavily Chinese districts along Valley Boulevard in the San Gabriel Valley.

The case has consumed the New Zealand media for weeks and, in recent days, Southern California's Chinese-language media.

Cat Chao, host of a Mandarin-language talk show on KAZN-AM (1300), said she and her fellow anchors had been talking about the case so much that she brought a legal expert onto her show Tuesday to discuss how Xue could be extradited if caught.

"We'd like to recognize his face so if we're in the supermarket or something we can call the police," Chao said. "Everyone wants to help catch him. This is really big news in the Chinese community."

Michael Cheung, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assn., said rumors had been swirling that Xue was staying in a Chinatown hotel, prompting many residents to watch for him.

"I don't think he can hide long. The Chinese community here, even in downtown, is tight. People know each other," Cheung said. "If he shows up, they will know it's him right away."

Xue's case probably would not have generated international attention if not for the haunting surveillance video images of his daughter roaming alone through Melbourne's train station after he allegedly abandoned her.

It became known as the "Pumpkin case" because authorities initially nicknamed the girl after the brand of clothing she was wearing before they determined her identity.

At first, much of the attention focused on the girl, Qian Xun Xue. This week she was reunited with her grandmother from China, who is expected to return there with Qian.

Then authorities found the girl's mother dead in the trunk of a car outside the family's Auckland home.

Authorities and news accounts describe Xue as a colorful character who lived in New Zealand for 10 years and ran a Chinese-language newspaper. He also was a self-described grand master of a form of kung fu.

His martial arts skills have generated a following in the U.S. and Asia, and a decade ago he wrote a memoir in which he said God bestowed on him special martial arts skills. He also founded the New Zealand Kung Fu Assn.

But police in New Zealand told the local media that Xue was having marital and financial problems in the months before he fled. There have been reports of romantic affairs and domestic violence.

"It's been a Page One story and a talking point for a long, long time," said Ian Stuart, Auckland Bureau Chief for the New Zealand Press Assn. "People were appalled by a little girl who was left at the train station, crying, calling for her mother. It was tough, and people said, 'How could someone do this to a little girl? Let's do what we can to help.' "

Authorities in New Zealand and the United States are focusing on Southern California because Xue has done business here before and may have briefly lived in the Los Angeles area.

Thomas Hession, chief inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force, said there were always challenges when law enforcement was looking for someone trying to blend into a particular ethnic community.

"There are cultural differences and language differences," Hession said, adding that the service has Mandarin-speaking agents on the case. "Some communities may not have a full understanding about the laws and processes and may bring a distrust of the [justice] system from their home country."

He added that people in the Chinese community have been forthcoming with tips.

"This guy also once lived in Los Angeles, so he wasn't a total stranger to the Chinese community," said George Bao, a reporter who has been covering the story for the Chinese Daily News, the largest circulation Chinese-language newspaper in Los Angeles. Chao, the radio host, said the case is overshadowing the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.

"Today is like our Thanksgiving," she said. "You don't want to talk about something negative. This is a day for families to get together, but there's this awful tragedy."


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