When local police arrived at the temple, they unzipped the bulky, black bag to find the corpse of a young Taiwanese man, naked except for a pair of tartan boxer shorts wrapped around his head. The man had been dead for two days, although the cause of death was hard to determine. Murder was a given. Why else would the body have been disposed of so brutally and anonymously?
Back at the police lab, the coroner's report transformed the case into a sex crime: physical evidence suggested the victim had had passive anal sex shortly before his death. A fingerprint check came up with his identity, as it would for most males in Taiwan, who are printed before the island-state's two-year manadatory military service: Lin Chih-hao, a 20-year-old accounting student at Taipei University who lived with his parents. Classmates described Lin as a perfectionist.
That discovery last month made the Suitcase Murder one of Taiwan's juiciest crime stories, and it's only gotten raunchier since. The case landed on the desk of Taipei detective Shih Yi-ting, of the force's two-year-old Cybercrime Squad. Shih began by looking at Lin's computer and studying the records of his Internet provider. She discovered that on the night of his death, Feb. 3, Lin had been on line for 57 minutes starting around 6:00 p.m. The provider also revealed that Lin had visited a gay website and had entered a chat room dedicated to sado-masochism. It was one of many sites catering to Taiwanese gays, offering chat rooms and risqué personals bearing such headlines as: BOTTOM WHOLLY FOR YOU and the fetishistic ANY AMPUTEE FRIEND?
Going to the website's logs, Shih discovered a conversation on the night of the death between two people using the handles Sadistic Dog and Come Out To Play Now. The two cyberpals agreed to meet at a bank across from the Taipei Railway Station. Police had already found Lin's discarded backpack in a trashbin near the station. Inside was a bus ticket confirming that the student traveled to the station at 7:32 that evening. Breakthrough: the victim was linked to the chat room.
Shih then tracked down the Internet account used by Sadistic Dog. This led her to a Taipei resident named Chen, who disclosed that his former lover occasionally used his account. A month to the day after the suitcase appeared, detectives arrested Liao Chien-kai, an unemployed 25-year-old. After 20 hours of questioning, Liao admitted he had met Lin in the chatroom and arranged to get together for rough sex, though Lin had stated on line that he had "no experience" of such activities. They met at the bank and from there returned to Liao's apartment.
That's where fun turned to tragedy. Liao bound Lin's wrists, tied him to the bed and covered his mouth and nose with adhesive tape. After some sex-play, involving digital penetration but not intercourse, Liao passed out. When he awoke, he found an asphyxiated Lin beside him. He panicked, and disposed of the body by motorbike. "During our interrogation, Liao was overcome with regret," says Wang Rong-jung, who headed up the investigation. "He said he wanted to die." Liao checked himself into the psychiatric ward of Chen Hsing hospital where police arrested him on March 3.
The Internet incriminated Liao; it also may absolve him. The chat transcripts have convinced detectives the death was an accident. It's a measure of how cool Taiwan has become that the case has triggered none of the opprobrium that would have been knee-jerk just 10 years ago. Liao is out on bail, and will probably be charged with involuntary manslaughter and destruction of a body, which together carry a maximum prison sentence of seven years. The lesson: think twice if someone asks you to come out to play.