Stanford Student Vanishes. Car Found.


Very bad news on the Zhou case.   Her car has been found and there is a body in the trunk.  No ID yet on the body but it’s probably May Zhou.

More Car: Silver 4 door 2006 Corolla Lic# 5VFG430

Student classified as “At Risk”

Police are asking the public’s help in looking for Zhou and her car. Zhou is described as an Asian woman, 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 120 pounds. She has brown eyes, black hair and a medium complexion. Her roommate recalled only that she’d been wearing blue jeans when she left the apartment Saturday morning.

Anyone with information about Zhou can call Stanford University police at (650) 723-9633, or after hours at (650) 329-2413.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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28 Responses to Stanford Student Vanishes. Car Found.

  1. M Squared says:

    Joe – Thanks for getting this posted!!! – M2

  2. Fools Gold says:

    Vehicle is 2006. Does anyone know if a 2006 Toyota Corolla would be likely to haqve been OnStar equipped? My impression would be ‘no’ but I don’t know for sure.

    I believe the vehicle itself is high on the list for theft but think it probably more likely that the individual would be the target. By this I mean that although the car might be popular with thieves and perhaps car-jackers, the real target would be a young attractive female.

    Left ‘to run (unspecified) errands’ that seem to have required driving somewhere yet what errands do grad students run that require an off-campus Saturday morning drive? Isn’t everything do-able online and in the housing unit these days? Banking, dry-cleaning, etc. What would have required a car trip? Did she have any personal miscellaneous items that she bought in bulk rather than at the campus drug store such as makeup or computer disks? Any class assignments that might require a specific trip such as for an upcoming project? I understand that California has had recent weather that was unusual: can anyone confirm the status of ice that day? Were roads icy?

    Would a random sampling of other young female grad students in her major provide any help such as ‘when you drive offcampus on “errands” where do you go?’.

  3. Fools Gold says:

    I guess the campus might be prime ‘prowling grounds’ where a rapist might find young ladies who were inattentive while entering their cars but so too would parking lots at other destinations.

    I think its far too late now to use an air-scent dog but that would have given initial direction of travel.

    I wonder if vehicle had any campus decals or distinguishing knicks, dents, scratches or cleanliness. I also wonder how common it would be for the missing person to comment to her roommmate about her destinations?

  4. Fools Gold says:

    I’m sure campus cops know enough to look into her computer account and her emails etc but I also wonder about how soon the roommate raised an alarm and what emails and calls preceeded any such alarm. It would take alot to trigger such action even if the normal lifestyle was ‘very studious’.

  5. Fools Gold says:

    25,000 reward. No phone, email or campus computer account activity. Doctoral project involved computer vision so it is hard to imagine any ‘errands’ would relate to that.

  6. Fools Gold says:

    Disliked driving in general and particularly disliked driving long distances. No activity on cell phone or credit cards. Anyone know of water hazards in the area?

  7. M Squared says:

    Fools Gold – Some great thoughts. I don’t know if anyone has looked at her past emails, etc. As for ice: it has been unusually cold the last few weeks. However, ice would be a very unlikely problem. Especially by 10:30am.

    “Water hazards” is an excellent thought. There was a case about a year ago where a doctor just vanished (similar to this). They ended up finding her car (w/ her in it) a few months later submerged at the end of a boat ramp. I know one of the people involved in the search & he stood at the exact spot early on watching the police “search” the area. He said he was not confident at all that it had been cleared when they declared it “clear”. He was right.

  8. Fools Gold says:

    I thought of a ‘water hazard’ as a way of explaining the loss of any cell phone signal, the failure of the purse to be found, the failure of any credit cards or atm attempts. Ice at 10:30am is less of a problem than at earlier hours, but I am under the impression that she particularly disliked driving and so would be inexperienced on even the slightest ice.

    There doesn’t seem to be anything as far as emails or stalkers or anything.

  9. JoeDuck says:

    During the Kim story we talked a lot about how to harness the crowd to help with the case. This may conflict with confidentiality things, but it would sure be helpful to have more personal info like myspace or facebook info, pictures of the car, friend contact info.

    It’s almost certain that *thousands* of people saw this car driving on Saturday. So why is it so hard to get better leads in these cases?

  10. M Squared says:

    Agreed Joe. Part of the problem is that 99.9% of the people who may have seen the car don’t know about it. If the family of the missing isn’t quick, adept & proactive in pushing the story into the media…it quickly falls off their (the media’s) radar. Usually, by the time the families realize that LE isn’t going to keep working the case … the window of opportunity for publicity is gone.

    The Kim family & friends did a fantastic job of making the story a “media event” early on. Of course, a family of 4 gone missing is a “great story” from the media’s perspective.

  11. Fools Gold says:

    Also a family of four missing in a largely recreational outdoors oriented state is different than a grad student missing from stanford.

    It seems the family is quite convinced that ‘stress’ is an absurd thought as are social relationships. The reason for the atrisk designation is the extreme out of character circumstances.

    Something may have happened well after 10:30am, but we don’t know. It may be vehicle related. We don’t know.
    Its hard to get media notices for a very popular car in a densely populated area. Nothing seems to be happening on the cell phone front, so I doubt anything is going to be happening with it. There is no doubt that batteries are real low by now but I’m sure there were calls prior to the realization that she was missing. Now one wonders if any of those accumulated voice mail messages can show that she never even checked her own messages past 10:30am.

    I’d tend to look for sharp curves near lakes or something like that. What do her credit cards show for lunch places on other offcampus trips? Are they waterfront restaurants? Dark parking lots?

    Why would a PhD student in computer vision be going off campus? Other PhD students who are studious Asian females might be of help here.

  12. JoeDuck says:

    … by the time the families realize that LE isn’t going to keep working the case … the window of opportunity for publicity is gone.

    The Kim family & friends did a fantastic job of making the story a “media event” early on.

    M this is a really good point. I had not thought about the fact that “search begins” it’s a much bigger story than “search ends”. This may be another area where online can help by allowing families to spread the word earlier and fast.

    However I did note my Digg of the Mercury story has little traction and won’t get viewed much. cf the Kim Story which was one of the must Dugg items in Digg history.

  13. Fools Gold says:

    Yes, initial publicity can be vital.

    California issued one Amber alert that put a stolen vehicle on all radio, tv and roadside signs and later prosecuted the vehicle owner who falsely reported a simple auto theft as one that had his neice in the backseat just so he could benefit from the increased media attention and regain his stolen car more easily.

    Here we have a daily publication at Stanford, a Scared Monkeys entry and a few education related entries and now its been on msnbc as well. Unfortunately, by the time it gets any real media play it will a week old sighting of the car if any reports come in and that usually means a false sighting anyway.

    I would imagine that the Stanford police are used to having young female students be out and about without having missing person reports filed. Its hard to get off to a fast start in such a situation.

  14. M Squared says:

    Car found…with body in the trunk.

    Looks like it’s going to be an unhappy ending on this one. Damn.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/16546362.htm

  15. Fools Gold says:

    Well, inter-agency coordination can be a bit slow, but it seems sad that parents are offering rewards and the authorities already have the car and the corpse!!

    What was a PhD candidate doing at a Junior College? I guess it was just a “good” place to dump the car and fade away to his own home or his own transportation?

    No way of yet knowing where the initial contact took place.

  16. Paul says:

    The lastest news says some findings in the car are consistent with a suicide, but what would she be doing in the trunk if that were the case ?? Perfect SAT scores, extremely bright and hard working…confusing at best at this point.
    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/16546616.htm

  17. Fools Gold says:

    ‘items consistent with suicide’
    ‘no immediate indications of foul play’
    Autopsy scheduled for Friday.
    Car there four days so it appears that
    whatever happened, it happened fairly promptly.

    Had anyone wondered why the family’s reported
    statement upon learning of their daughters
    disappearance made a reference to suicide not
    being an option in our family.

  18. Fools Gold says:

    I think it was most unfortunate that some reporter seems to have been the one who informed the San Diego family of the discovery of the car and the then unidentified body in the trunk. Still seems strange that with the car locked and a body in the trunk they are speaking of suicide but it appears they must know what they are doing. The ‘wife crying in background’ and the husband saying ‘we just want our daughter back’ are so difficult. Well, the search for her and her vehicle have each ended.

  19. Fools Gold says:

    No visible signs of trauma.
    “Indications” of possible suicide.

    There are some problems however:
    Disliked driving, but drove 98 miles to kill herself at a place of no known significance to her life.
    No depression indicated to roommate.
    (Query as to how ‘normal’ her activities were however).
    Counseled others on stress so it seems an unlikely ‘out’ for her to take.
    And ofcourse there is that ‘crawled into the trunk’ to do it. Or to succumb to something already ingested. This is rather uncommon, I think.

    I’d sure like to fasttrack those toxicology tests and crank up the investigation on who she may have known at or near that location. Just seems strange. And tragic. But its no longer a SAR matter. Purely investigative now!

  20. Fools Gold says:

    Unusually large online banking transaction prior to leaving dormitory room.

    Had telephoned father to discuss resume revisions for her summer internship application but essentially received an appointment from him for further discussion at the scheduled time.

  21. M Squared says:

    Fools Gold –
    Where did you see the info about the banking transaction & discussion w/ her dad? I hadn’t seen those yet.

  22. Fools Gold says:

    There was also a ‘missed class’ on Thursday but a later class attendance which was perfectly normal and upbeat.

    I just can’t see a 98 mile drive for someone who hated driving and a recent update to her resume for a forthcoming summer job and then a suicide. It might indeed be suicide, there are some indications but I’m sure suspicious of a police rush to judgment on the suicide issue.

  23. Fools Gold says:

    Sorry MSquared, I don’t recall just where it was but I’m not a very good searcher so if I could find it I’m sure it won’t take you long at all.

  24. Fools Gold says:

    Small trunk.
    I don’t know the significance but apparently the car has a rather small trunk.
    I can understand the ‘forward looking actions’ of resume revision and class attendance. I can perhaps understand that the phone call for advice happened to take place when the father was busy at work and he may have been less helpful than was expected but I don’t think a woman who was 23 would go all to pieces and kill herself when her father was not as helpful as she expected. Also such a fragile trigger would indicate that the friends and roommates would have been expected to notice something was amiss.

    Apparently the unusually large online banking transaction was not any sort of cash withdrawal at an ATM, just a transfer at her own computer. This would be consistent with expediting probate procedures showing an intent to take her own life. I think its going to be a real long wait for that toxicology report!

  25. M Squared says:

    Good point on the probate procedures (or avoiding them).

    If it does turn out to be suicide, it’s not a real stretch to believe that she could have hidden her true feelings from her family. On top of that, parents are significantly biased when it comes to their kids. Unless there was a history of mental illness, I think most parents would react as her father has. Unfortunately (or fortunately???), parents often aren’t very objective in these matters. (I doubt that I would be…)

  26. Fools Gold says:

    It is indeed true that parents are not objective. Although a few people on campus commented that their contacts were limited, it appears that no one felt she was depressed or behaving in an unusual manner.

    The roommate has not ever indicated anything seemed amiss or was communicated to her in an unusual manner. The roommate’s sole concern was the elapsed time, not any sort of nagging doubts about mental status or troubles of any sort.

    Fellow students, roommates and professors are more likely to be objective and probably have more contact than family members half the state distant.

  27. E.B. says:

    It seems possible to me that someone could have been too narrowly focused on her studies. She may have been lonely or lacked joys in her life other than those provided by accomplishment. She may have come from a family/culture where emotions are not expressed and the pressure to succeed academically was very high, trumping any other needs. Those other needs may never have been dealt with consciously; the resources to deal with such needs may never have been developed.

  28. FoolsGold says:

    There were multiple independent purchases of the items ingested with no indication of coercion or overt emotional distress. One of the purchases is on tape with her being alone and not at all under the control of anyone else. Surveillance tapes for the other purchases were not available to investigators.

    The family apparently has refused to release the text of the ‘farewell email’ to the sister but still wants to assert than some unknown (and apparently invisible) person forced her to ingest the toxic items.

    The fact that the student had tried but failed to contact her father concerning a rather trivial matter on her resume may have played a role in her emotional state. If it gives the family some comfort to invent a phantom murderer, so be it, but four separate and solitary purchases of the toxic substance and a farewell email shows a persistence of intent.

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