Losing their son shattered the family. The couple quit their jobs and started searching for their son. Shen Junliang printed posters offering a reward, crisscrossing Guangdong for years in a desperate attempt to find his son.
In 2016, police detained Zhang Weiping after investigating another child abduction case. Police found that Zhang was a serial child kidnapper, starting in 1999. He had already served two jail terms in connection with child abduction.
Li Guangri, deputy director of Zengcheng public security bureau, told media that after Zhang was detained, he admitted his gang hadsold several children via a female intermediary known as “Aunt Mei.” Zhang also confessed that his gang had broken into Shen Junliang’s house and taken his son. The child was sold via the intermediary Aunt Mei for 13,000 yuan ($1,831), he said.
“Aunt Mei” was later alleged to have been a person of interest in several child abduction and trafficking cases, and while there is a description of her circulating, there is little concrete information.
Despite many tips from the public, and a reward offered by police in Guangzhou, Aunt Mei has never been found.
In autumn 2015, Shen Junliang contacted Chen Shiqu, head of the Ministry of Public Security’s office for combating human trafficking, to seek his help. After verifying Shen’s information, Chen told Shen that his case would be investigated. In September that year, police from Zengcheng told Shen they were gathering new evidence.
In early March 2016, Zengcheng police zeroed in on a gang of five people, including Zhang Weiping. His accomplices, Zhou Rongping, Yang Chaoping, Liu Zhenghong and Chen Shoubi were all arrested in different places that month. When Shen discovered the gang had been captured, he was so excited he went to buy a school bag and clothes for his lost son and even bought wine and cigarettes to have a celebration.
But police still did not know where Shen Cong was.
During the trial in October 2016 in Zengcheng, the accused told the court what had happened the day Shen Cong was abducted. Zhou Rongping and his wife waited outside the building while Yang Zhaoping and Liu Zhenghong carried pepper spray and tools to break into the apartment. They grabbed Shen Cong and sent the boy to Zhang Weiping, who later sold the boy for 13,000 yuan (US$ 1,837) to the intermediary.
Shen Junliang was outraged during the court hearing. Zhang, standing in front of Shen, confessed that he sold the child to Aunt Mei, a local person in Zengcheng, who frequented a mahjong club on Xiangjiang Road. Shen Junliang went there to see what he could find out. He spoke to a shoe polisher who had been doing business there for years, who claimed that he knew details of a family that had bought a child. But police investigations failed to turn up further information.
In June 2017, Zhang Weiping disclosed new information, claiming he was involved in the abduction of nine children from 2003 to 2005. They were all sold through Aunt Mei to families in Zijin County under the city of Heyuan in Guangdong. Shen senior shifted his focus to that area. He carried three photos, a baby picture of his son and an artist’s impression of what his son would look like aged 13, with the birthmark on his left eye clearly identified. He also had the photofit of Aunt Mei, who was supposedly around 65, 1.5 meters tall, and spoke Cantonese and Hakka, a dialect of southern China.
Police released a statement in November 2019 stating they had tracked two of the nine children Zhang confessed to having abducted.
Zijin is a mountainous place in northern Guangdong, 200 kilometers from Guangzhou. According to the police investigation, Aunt Mei had sold the child in a restaurant opposite the main bus station to a couple in their 30s. The former restaurant boss had even dined with them as they reached the deal, police said.
When police from Zengcheng found the restaurant owner, he denied all knowledge of the case. He told Shen senior he had sold the restaurant in August 2004.