Information revealed by Johnson County Officials in Tong Shao case


The boyfriend of Tong Shao, the ISU student who went missing last fall and was later found dead, was arrested in China.

Alex Connor

As new details emerge in the murder of 20-year-old and former ISU student Tong Shao, the verdict of a case that has been ongoing for the past year and a half might finally bring some relief to family and friends.

Xiangnan Li, 23, confessed to the murder of Shao at his trial in the Intermediate People’s Court in Wenzhou, China, on Wednesday, March 23. He was charged with international homicide.

After a seven-hour trial, Li is waiting on a verdict that will determine whether he faces a sentencing from 10 years to life in prison, and even the death penalty, which is a possibility for his charge according to Chinese law.

It was revealed by Iowa authorities at a news conference on Monday in Iowa City that Li’s motive for murder was based on a conversation he had overheard, in which Shao discussed wishing to date another individual. 

Authorities said that the murder was most likely premedative.

Shao was first reported missing on Sept. 18, 2014. Her body was later discovered in Iowa City stuffed in the trunk of her car, which Iowa City Police identified on Sept. 26, 2014.

However, Li, a former University of Iowa international student in business, had already returned to China on a one-way ticket that he bought a few days prior to Shao’s death. 

Li supposedly returned on “family business,” but according to Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, Li’s mother was unaware he had even returned to China.

“Why would he suddenly get a one-way ticket?” Lyness said. “He told people it was for a family emergency, but his mother didn’t even know he was going back to China. So, not much of a family emergency could be proven.”

Lyness said that Li fled to Tibet, 2,748 miles from his home in Wenzhou.

Further evidence was also present that leads to the conclusion that the murder could have been premeditative. This is due to the fact that Li bought the one-way ticket before the murder, purchased hand weights and a new suitcase.

Li said that he bought the suitcase because he was planning on moving apartments, but Lyness said after talking with Li’s landlord, they discovered there was no discussion of Li moving and that it was a “total fabrication.”

Investigators were also able to trace Li’s phone the night of the murder. 

They discovered he had driven from his and Shao’s hotel in Nevada to the Skunk River, where officials believe that he planned to sink the suitcase with Shao’s body in the river. 

However, the water had receded at the time.

Police then tracked Li’s route from Ames to Iowa City via cell-phone technology where he then took a cab from Iowa City to the airport, leaving Shao’s body abandoned in the trunk of her Toyota Camry at the Dolphin Lake Point Enclave, where Li lived at the time.

Shao’s body was discovered nearly a month after her disappearance, and an autopsy conducted by the Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Shao died of asphyxiation. Officials also said that Shao received blunt force trauma.

“The blunt force trauma she sustained to the face was not enough to cause her death,” said Detective David Gonzalez with the Iowa City Police Department at the news conference Monday. “Because she was placed into a suitcase, and the material the suitcase was made out of, we believe it was some type of asphyxiation.”

Gonzalez, along with Detective Andrew Rich and Assistant Johnson County Attorney Elizabeth Dupuich all traveled to China to assist in the trial.

Lyness said that it was “extremely unique” for Gonzalez, Rich and Dupuich to travel to China for the investigation, an opportunity not many, if any had done before.

Because there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China, the Chinese government did not have to cooperate with the U.S. or its laws. However, Lyness said that they had been very cooperative not only in hosting their detectives and attorney, but in accepting evidence beneficial to the case.

“They were treated very well by the Chinese authorities,” Lyness said.

Lyness said that Gonzalez and Rich felt that in having investigators from Iowa present for the case, that the Chinese authorities took more interest in the case.


Li turned himself into authorities on May 13 and was immediately put into criminal detention.

Because of Li’s cooperation in turning himself in, nearly nine months following Shao’s death, the Chinese system will take that act into account before sentencing him, a factor that is not considered in the U.S.

Li denies that the death of his girlfriend Shao was premeditated argues that it was a crime of passion.