BEIJING - One of China's most wanted men, Zhou Kehua, was shot and killed by police early Tuesday morning in the western city of Chongqing after he'd eluded Chinese authorities since 2004. The 42-year-old Zhou had allegedly left a trail of terror and bodies across China, and was suspected of killing at least nine people, including a 29-year-old police officer who'd tried to question him Saturday, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Money seemed to be Zhou's motivation, as many of his alleged robberies and killings took place outside bank ATMs. He appeared to have lived completely off the grid yet had the means to pop up in several provinces across the country, according to state news reports.
A massive manhunt with hundreds of armed police and soldiers was mobilized in Chongqing last weekend after Zhou allegedly gunned down a woman and injured two others outside a bank in the city's shopping district last Friday.
Zhou was classified as a Class-A suspect - the highest possible level. The bounty on his head from various provinces had reached a total of 5.4 million yuan (about $850,000).
Gun-related crimes are exceedingly rare in China, given the limited access to firearms, including a ban on private ownership of guns. Zhou's alleged crime spree captured the country's attention in part because of its reported brutality and Zhou's ability to elude China's well-funded public security apparatus, despite having what the Chongqing police described as only a "junior middle school education."
Prominent China watcher Bill Bishop coined Zhou as the "Evil Chinese Rambo" on his Sinocism blog for Zhou's ability to avoid capture for so long.
The Burmese newspaper Irrawaddy reported that Zhou may have operated, somewhat like Rambo at least in the 2008 installment of the movie, as a mercenary in Myanmar, formerly Burma, whose restive north shares a border with China's southwestern Yunnan Province. The newspaper also cited local news agencies that reported the gun Zhou might have used was of Burmese origin.
China's Xinhua News Agency also reported on Monday that Zhou had spent time in a Yunnan jail in 2005 for arms trafficking , which places him near the Chinese-Burmese border.
Before Friday's deadly robbery, Zhou was last sighted earlier this year on the other side of the country in Nanjing, where he was suspected of another robbery-homicide. At the time, Nanjing authorities unsuccessfully attempted to cast a net around the city with checkpoints to prevent his escape. They couldn't catch him but managed to lift his DNA from the crime scenes and shared it with their counterparts across to country in an effort to close the net on Zhou.
Zhou Kehua was also wanted for four murders in Changsha in central China.
Chongqing's massive weekend manhunt extended into the forested mountains surrounding the city where authorities believed Zhou was living off the land in a cave. The China Daily reported the police were only able to find "a ragged green T-shirt, two cigarette cartons, some skinned wires and fresh excrement."
It all ended at around 6:45 a.m ,Tuesday, when two Chongqing police officers were ordered to follow a suspect matching Zhou's description who had been spotted near a bank.
One of the officers told CCTV News how it unfolded:
"When he looked back and saw us, he ducked into an alley," the officer told a CCTV reporter. "We followed him and when we were about 10 meters away, he suddenly turned toward us."
The officers said that they ducked out of the way as Zhou Kehua fired the first shot.
A firefight then ensued. Zhou Kehua reportedly shot three rounds toward the officers, who managed to return two rounds each.
It all ended quickly, said the officers, and graphic images of Zhou Kehua's body, bloodied from an apparent head wound were splashed on TV screens across the country on the morning news.