Did China’s Former Security Chief Order the Murder of a Family in the US?

May 6, 2015 Updated: May 7, 2015

It was the proverbial “perfect murder”—investigations into the shooting of a Chinese family of four in Houston, Texas, in January 2014 yielded no suspects, no leads, and no informants.

Now, a Chinese-language news website states the mastermind, a top Communist Party member, confessed to the crime recently while being investigated for corruption.

While being interrogated in detention, Zhou Yongkang, the formerly powerful head of China’s security apparatus and member of the Politburo Standing Committee, reportedly admitted he ordered the execution of Houston-based engineer Sun Maoye, his wife, and his two young sons last year, according to the May edition of Boxun’s magazine, which is published in Hong Kong. Boxun’s website had hinted at the connection in April of last year.

Zhou had the Sun family killed—all four were found in their beds, shot in the head—because Sun Maoye, a former employee of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), was privy to Zhou’s illicit activities when the ex-security czar was in the state oil industry in the 1990s, Boxun states.

Sun had helped CNPC purchase oil wells in the United States and oil extraction equipment, two areas where Zhou had channels to accumulate huge wealth. Sun also reportedly managed Zhou’s assets in the United States, and kept classified documents handed to him by Zhou’s eldest son Zhou Bin, Boxun stated.

While at school, Sun was familiar with top Party officials that have recently been purged for corruption—Sun met former CNPC chairman Jiang Jiemin at China University of Petroleum in the 1980s, and befriended Zhou Bin in Texas while studying for his doctoral degree.

Boxun claimed that Zhou ordered Sun murdered to eliminate incriminating evidence against him—Zhou was investigated for corruption and detained late 2013, news that state media only announced in July 2014.

Boxun’s theory of the Sun family murder cannot be confirmed, and the publication has a mixed record of reporting the secret dealings of top Party members.

But the murder, which Houston authorities describe as “baffling,” still troubles residents in the suburban neighborhood of Cypress.

“Everyone was pretty deeply shaken because this was highly intentional, and not some strange sudden act,” said resident Stephen Knight to the Houston Chronicle, six months after the murder.

The Suns appeared to be an average American family. Neighbor Cathy Berry told Houston Chronicle that Mei Xie, Sun’s wife, would chat to her occasionally about her sons’ schooling. Timothy, 9, and Titus, 7, were active on the local swim team, soccer league, and Cub Scouts.

“Scary, just the whole situation was very scary,” resident Lisa Poteet told ABC News in January this year. Poteet’s children studied at the same elementary school as the Sun boys.

The local Chinese community felt “unsafe,” reported ABC News, and some have even considered buying firearms for protection, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Cypress residents still maintain the Sun family home as though they never left—the local homeowners association regularly mows the yard, a neighbor drives the cars around the block, and the lights are turned on at night.

No one has yet stepped up to offer information about the killings, though the Chinese community in Houston has a standing offer of a $75,000 reward, ABC News reports.

Although Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has pledged “all resources available to find those responsible,” the investigation has made little progress.