The cloud of suspicion hanging over Brendt Christensen is the outcome of one of the most unusual disappearance cases in recent American history.
A man was charged Friday with kidnapping a visiting University of Illinois scholar from China who authorities believe to be dead after she disappeared three weeks ago. A federal criminal complaint alleges the suspect’s phone was used to visit an online forum in April called “Abduction 101.”
Yingying Zhang, the 26-year-old daughter of a working-class factory driver from China, disappeared on June 9, just weeks after arriving at the Urbana-Champaign campus in central Illinois where was doing research in agricultural sciences and was expected to begin work on her doctorate in the fall. Friends and family described her as extremely bright, hardworking, caring and devoted to her parents.
Some 5,600 Chinese students are enrolled at the university — more than at any other college in the nation — and Zhang’s disappearance fed anxieties of families of Chinese students studying in the U.S.
Federal authorities say Brendt Christensen, who turned 28 on Friday, of Champaign, Illinois, is charged in a criminal complaint with abducting Zhang shortly after she stepped off a bus near the university campus. Video shows her getting into the front seat of a black Saturn Astra.
According to the 10-page affidavit filed in federal court by FBI Special Agent Anthony Manganaro, Christensen was under surveillance Thursday when agents overheard him explaining he kidnapped Zhang. Authorities say based on that and other facts uncovered during the investigation, agents believe Zhang is no longer alive.
Asked Friday night if authorities had any leads on where Zhang’s body might be located, the spokesman for the FBI Springfield office, Bradley Ware, declined comment.
Christensen will remain in custody pending his initial federal court appearance, which is set for Monday in Urbana.
Heavy offers more details about Christensen.
Both Christensen and Zhang were graduate-level scholars.
According to his LinkedIn page, Christensen is a PhD Student Researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and he has worked there for 3 years and 7 months. That’s the same university where Zhang was a visiting scholar.
Christensen wrote on LinkedIn: “I am a PhD candidate in experimental condensed matter physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, I fabricate nanoscale-level devices and perform electrical measurements on them in order to discover new things about mesoscopic physics. These measurements are done with a variety of devices; most notably probe stations and cryogenic systems. Along the way, I utilize an assortment of programs and skills, such as Python, LabVIEW, electron-beam lithography, atomic force microscopy, and much more.”
Zhang was an international scholar who focused her research in the areas of photosynthesis and crop productivity. She had only arrived at the University of Illinois in April 2017. According to CNN, Zhang “had a year-long position at the university’s department of nature resources and environmental sciences.”
Heavy also reports that he was married to a woman named Michelle, who may or may not be the same woman in this photo.
Heavy also notes that the affadavit charging Christensen contains some very disturbing information about his porn habits.
The affidavit alleges that Christensen’s phone accessed the abduction threads on a site called FetLife. FetLife’s home page reads, “FetLife is the Social Network for the BDSM, Fetish & Kinky Community. Like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me. We think it is more fun that way. Don’t you?”
Authorities claim his mobile phone was used to access a thread entitled “Abduction 101.”
The thread has more than 3,000 members. The other thread authorities accuse Christensen of visiting is entitled “planning a kidnapping” and contains a post from someone else that reads, “I’m a lucky sub. I actually have a friend who is going to kidnap me. She also has 3 helpers. The catch is we’ve never done this before. Suggestions thoughts and ideas for the actual abduction are most welcome. We need help lol.”
In the last few hours, both Heavy and the Daily Mail are reporting that Christensen attended a vigil (or rally) for Zhang with a woman, apparently his wife. Comments at the DM are of the “weirdo” variety and have him convicted already.
Here’s a rally photo of the man believed to be Christensen.
Christensen should be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.