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Tue, Nov 30, 1999 - Page 3 News List

Three years on, her killer is still at large

INVESTIGATION Though taxi drivers and their families continue to come under scrutiny, the police's failure to find Peng's killer has raised allegations of incompetency


Over the past three years, no fewer than 70,000 of the island's taxi drivers have had their palm prints analyzed in the search for Peng Wan-ru's (彭婉|p) killer. Not one of them has yielded a clue to investigators.

Police say they have never given up hope of catching the man, which they still to this day believe was the taxi driver who picked Peng up that fateful night. The widely held hunch has led police to conduct thousands of roadside inspections on both taxi drivers and other drivers in possession of an older model of the yellow Ford Telstar Peng was last seen climbing into.

To date, police claim to have checked more than 30,000 taxis in extensive regions south of Chiayi County. Not only the drivers, but their families, too.

Put together with spot checks conducted on bus and truck drivers across the island, the total number of people investigated comes to more than 130,000.

While the police force's efforts have no doubt been tireless, however, they have born little fruit, resulting in scathing public criticism being directed against the force for its perceived inefficiency.

The search has not been without its dramatic moments. On at least three occasions, police thought they were on to a certain lead as people came out to admit they had been Peng's killer. Public hopes were soon dashed, however, after initial investigation negated the claims.

Two different men came out with claims about a year apart -- one in July 1998 and the other in June 1999 -- but were later found to have been serving jail terms at the time of Peng's murder. As it turned out, they had been trying to put their families in line for the reward of NT$22 million from police for information leading to Peng's killer.

The third disappointment came in September this year when a taxi driver was found dead in his car with a suicide note, saying, "I apologize about Peng Wan-ru." Unfortunately, blood and fingerprint tests conducted on his body forced police to rule out the possibility that he had indeed been responsible for Peng's murder.

The police's efforts have spawned intense debate between supporters of law enforcement agencies in Taiwan and their most vocal critics, who say Peng's case is the clearest evidence of just how incompetent the nation's public security system is.

Peng's husband, Hung Wan-sheng (洪萬生), now remarried, has repeatedly expressed the frustration he and his son have had to endure over the lack of developments in the murder case during the past three years.

"If the killer is ever arrested, it will be thanks to God's mercy," Hung said. "We've never given up hope that the case would be solved some day. But I've also had to come to terms with the reality that it's not something we can force.

"It was a terrible trauma to go through three years ago, but we've survived. I know many people have focused their attention on the investigation and raised their hopes that the murderer will be found -- which I myself have always hoped for. But I think a top priority now is to see what efforts we can make to ensure another such tragedy is prevented from happening," Hung said.

Peng's 1996 murder came at a sensitive time for the government, as it took place soon after another high-profile killing -- the Nov. 21 assassination of former Taoyuan County Commissioner Liu Pang-yu (劉???/CHINESE>) and seven others at his home -- and was followed by the kidnap murder of a TV celebrity's daughter, Pai Hsiao-yen (白曉燕), in April, 1997. Taken as a string of events, public outrage grew against a perceived deterioration in social order, which ultimately led to a protest march through the streets of Taipei on May 4, 1997, attended by nearly 100,000 people.

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