Gao Chengyong is said to have murdered at least 11 women during his 14-year killing spree in northeastern China and Inner Mongolia. But Gao’s penchant for female victims isn’t the only thing that ties him to the infamous Jack the Ripper slayings which took place in east London over a century before. There are many other similarities which have led media outlets in China and throughout the world to dub Gao as the “Chinese Jack the Ripper”.
Gao grew up in Qingcheng, in the northeast province of China. He was considered a dutiful son–if a little emotionally detached–who cared for his father after the elder Chengyong suffered from a bout of paralysis. Gao is said to have “suffered bitterly” after he failed to become a pilot, which he claimed was due to political reasons. Yet despite these rather conventional childhood and early-adulthood challenges, Gao’s early life is said to be unremarkable.
At the time of his arrest, Gao had been married for over 30 years and had two sons. His eldest was born in 1988, which was the exact year of Gao’s first murder. No one knows what set Gao off on his murderous spree, or what specifically tormented the man so much that he committed some of China’s most gruesome killings; so gruesome, in fact, that his crimes drew comparisons to those of one of the most famous serial killer of all time.
Gao committed his first murder on May 26, 1988. The victim was a 23-year old woman whom he is alleged to have stalked to her home, where he attacked, raped, and then murdered her. She was discovered by police with 26 different wounds over her body. Gao’s crimes always followed the same routine: he tracked women who lived alone back to their apartments, before attacking and raping them. He would then slash their throats and mutilate their sexual organs, which signaled to police that he was harboring some deep resentment towards female sexuality.
Interestingly, the original Jack the Ripper slayings followed a similar pattern. The Ripper attacked vulnerable women on the streets of London, slashing their throats and mutilating their bodies. In some cases, he surgically removed their organs which he is alleged to have eaten. While Gao is not believed to have engaged in cannibalism, he did slash off his victims’ breasts, hands, ears, and other body parts. And many of his victims were dressed in red, which led police to theorize that the killer harbored a deep sexual fascination with women in red.
The focus on young women and the mutilated corpses led many in China to dub the killer the Chinese Jack the Ripper. In other similarities, Gao’s youngest victim was an eight-year-old girl. Some believe the Ripper murdered one young boy during his spree, though that murder was never officially attributed to the Jack the Ripper slayings.
Gao stopped killing in 2002, and no one knows why. The Ripper is believed to have halted his killing spree in 1889, which at the time confounded investigators. It has since been been theorized that the suspect was either committed to an asylum or sent to jail due to another, unrelated crime.
Even the way Gao was apprehended bears similarity to the original Jack the Ripper. Police collected enough DNA evidence to tie several murders together, but could not connect the DNA to anyone registered in Baiyin province, where the murders were committed. That’s because Gao never registered in Baiyin, he only registered in nearby Gansu province where he lived.
Gao was captured only after a close relative was brought into custody on an unrelated charge. His DNA was taken, and the sample was a near match to the Baiyin slayings. Police then sampled his relatives’ DNA, which is what led them to Gao. In 2016, Gao was arrested at the grocery store where he worked. While never arrested, Jack the Ripper was recently unmasked (at least allegedly) by a forensics investigator who used a suspect's descendants’ DNA to identify Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski, whose DNA was found at one of the scenes of a Jack the Ripper murder.
Unlike Gao, Kosminski lived in close proximity to the Whitechapel murders. However, investigative techniques were hardly as advanced in the 1880s as they are today, so one didn’t need to travel far in order to commit a heinous crime and evade authorities. That said, it is somewhat surprising that during the modern era of forensic investigation, and inside China’s surveillance state, Gao managed to elude capture for 28 years.
Of course, China is also known for swift justice (too swift, in some people’s opinions). Gao confessed to the 11 murders and was sentenced to death on March 30, 2018. Less than a year later, on January 3, 2019, he was executed for his crimes.
So in the end, the story of ‘The Chinese Jack the Ripper’ diverges from that of London’s Jack the Ripper. While the original Ripper was never caught, Gao was apprehended–albeit after a lengthy murder spree–and ultimately faced justice.
Featured photo: 聆聽中國 / YouTube