A University of Idaho graduate student from China has confessed to killing a Moscow couple whose bodies were found Sunday in rural Wyoming, Moscow police said.
The student, Wenkai Li, 25, of Beijing, was arrested in Laramie, Wyo., on Monday after Wyoming investigators pieced together the victims’ address with the help of a coupon book found near their bodies.
Li, a master’s candidate studying metallurgical and mining engineering in the College of Mining and Earth Resources, was being held Tuesday night in the Albany County Detention Center in Laramie pending charges, authorities said.
Police would not identify the bodies but searched extensively Tuesday through an apartment rented to Ning Li, also a graduate student, and his wife, Xia Gu.
News of the killings shocked many of the university’s 160-or-so Chinese students, said Yaping Zong, former president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.
“He was very hard working,” Zong said of Ning Li. “A very nice guy … When I heard the news, it was a very miserable feeling.”
Without going into details, Moscow Police Chief William F. Brown Jr. said Tuesday afternoon it appears the couple was killed about a week earlier in their apartment at 443 Lewis St. The apartment sits on the first floor of a converted two-story wood-frame house surrounded by firs and maples in a quiet, residential neighborhood in southeast Moscow.
An autopsy is scheduled for today in Cheyenne, Wyo., but it appears the male victim was stabbed repeatedly, Brown said. Investigators have yet to recover a weapon, he said.
The bodies were found Sunday morning in plain view near a barbed-wire fence alongside state Route 130 south of Wolcott Junction, a town along Interstate 80 in southeastern Wyoming. The bodies had no identification but a nearby coupon book - Carbon County Sheriff Jerry Colson recalls it saying something like “Sizzler Savings” - had a faded address. Crime lab investigators using a laser lifted off a Moscow address and called police here late Sunday.
Moscow police in turn provided Wyoming investigators with information about a Chevrolet Monza registered to the Lewis Street address. On a hunch, said Colson, deputies checked with the Elk Mountain Texaco, which turned out to have towed the car Sunday from about 14 miles from where the bodies were found to Laramie.
Authorities arrested Li on Monday in a Wendy’s fast food restaurant, said Colson. He was carrying a bus ticket to Salt Lake City, he said.
It could be days before Moscow police detectives now in Wyoming formulate a charge on which to extradite Li back to Moscow.
The murder appears to be the first of a UI student since Kristen Noel David, a communications major from Lewiston, was slain in 1981. Her murder remains unsolved.