A year after Chinese family murdered, no suspects here or elsewhere

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Like nothing I’d ever seen before,” is how New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations Captain Scott Coburn, center, described the murder of the Chen family in Guilderland a year ago. At a press conference in Guilderland town Hall on Tuesday, Coburn is flanked by Curtis Cox, left, deputy chief of the Guilderland Police, who urged patience, and by Albany County District Attorney David Soares. Soares said it was frustrating to stand before the press a year on from the murders with no resolution, but that, if bringing the case back into the public eye could help generate any new leads, it would be worth it.

GUILDERLAND — Police in Mississippi and Texas have been as stymied as police here in solving brutal murders of Chinese families.

A year ago today, Oct. 8, 2014, the Chen family — Jin Chen, 39; his wife, Hai Yan Li, 38; and their sons, Anthony, 10; and Eddy, 7 — were slain in their home at 1846 Western Ave. in Guilderland, the town’s only quadruple homicide.

Over 600 leads have been followed, said New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations Captain Scott Coburn at a press conference Tuesday in Guilderland Town Hall. “For a crime of this magnitude, it’s kind of a low number,” he said. 

Coburn said that investigators on the Guilderland case have been in touch with investigators on one case in Mississippi and another in Texas — cases that appear to have parallels but not direct connections.

In Harris County, Texas, four members of a Chinese family — Maoye Sun, 50, an engineer; his wife, Mei Xie, 49; and their sons, Timothy, 9; and Titus, 7 — were found shot to death in their Houston home on January 30, 2014.

The Enterprise contacted the Harris County Sheriff’s Office but was unable to get any comment by press time.

A year after the slaying, in February 2015, the Harris County sheriff held a press conference, similar to the one in Guilderland this week, to reach out to the public in hopes of jogging loose new clues.

In that conference, the sheriff, Adrian Garcia, spoke directly to the killer or killers. “I hope every time you blink, that you see the images of these two children,” Garcia said at the time. “I want you to remember that you killed two children.”

At Tuesday’s press conference in Guilderland, Coburn said the murder scene at the bungalow on Guilderland’s Western Avenue “looked like nothing I’d ever seen before.” Asked to elaborate, he said, “Just the fact that it was an entire family, with children.”

In D’Iberville, Mississippi, three adult members of a Chinese family were killed on October 5, 2011 — husband and wife, Rong Chen, 40, and Mei Rong Li, also 40, and the wife’s sister, Mei Jin Li, 53. The husband and wife were the owners of a local restaurant called Chinese Happiness, according to D’Iberville’s Captain of Operations Terry Hines.

He told The Enterprise that he and an FBI agent are still at work on the case. Hines spoke about the case frankly and wrote in a follow-up email, “If you have any other questions please ask. You never know where new information could come from to break a case wide open.”

The bodies in D’Iberville were discovered by a 10-year-old family member, Hines said. The victims in that case had been stabbed.

“We have always believed that it was a professional hit, but at this time I have no way of proving the theory,” said Hines.

Investigators on his case think that it “stretches all the way up to New York,” said Hines. They believe, he said, that “the people who did this” came to Mississippi from New York City. “But we just haven’t been able to prove that yet.”

Asked if he thought the case had any connection to undocumented workers or human trafficking — as some media have suggested about the Guilderland case — he said, “No. We think it was over money.” 

He added, “The Chinese community is very closed. They don’t really talk to us a whole lot, so it’s been very difficult to follow leads.”

Witnesses in the D’Iberville case speak Mandarin, he said. The Chen family in Guilderland and their relatives spoke the Fujian dialect, police said, making for a slow start to solving the case as interpreters had to be found.

Hines said that he received a call about a 10-year-old girl who had shown up at a local auto repair shop to report that she had found a family member stabbed. When Hines arrived at the shop, he placed the girl in his police car and drove her toward her home. She was very upset and had a hard time talking, he said.

Just before reaching the residence, she pointed out a man police now refer to as the “cook.” Hines said. The cook was walking away from the residence, and was stopped and detained by officers.

According to Hines, the cook is someone who came from New York City to help out at the restaurant. He has never been charged with anything and, Hines said, “I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s a person of interest at this time.”

He added, “We don’t believe he was the person who did the murders. But we do believe he has more information.”

“This was a very brutal murder down here,” Hines said. Asked to elaborate, he said, “Just the amount of times that — the violence of it all,” suggesting that perhaps the victims had been stabbed numerous times.

Investigators in Mississippi have theories as to why the family in D’Iberville was killed, but still “no way of proving them.”

Hines said that he is familiar with the Guilderland case and has talked to investigators on that case. 

Asked if he thought the D’Iberville and Guilderland cases were linked, he said, “I do feel there is a connection with the two cases. Not sure if the motivations for the homicides is the same, but the suspects could be from the same area in New York City.”

Hines was not familiar with the case in Houston.

Trooper Mark Cepiel, Troop G public information officer with the New York State Police, told The Enterprise on Wednesday “we absolutely have” spoken with investigators working on the D’Iberville and Houston cases.

Asked if he thought that the cases were connected, he said, “We haven’t ruled any of those possibilities out. Certainly we would be remiss in not looking into similar types of cases.”

More Guilderland News

  • Albany H&S Hospitality received a $21.84 million loan to purchase the 4.4-acre hotel property at 1651 Western Ave earlier this month.

  • Neil Sanders, always speaking in measured tones with ready explanations for sometimes thorny questions, shepherded the district through the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009 when Guilderland cut over 100 jobs but did not suffer a budget defeat. His advice as another recession looms on the horizon: “It all goes back to being a team effort. Everybody’s got to be part of that discussion and process.”

  • The pandemic hit two months after Danielle Walsh became the chamber’s executive director. “We kind of had to throw everything out the window,” she said. “We found creative ways to stay relevant.”

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