‘He was just bones and nothing else’
Life has been like a bad movie for the grieving son of a man who was killed and his body dumped in the desert of the UAE, writes Amanda Saxton.
THE last time William Luo saw his father was when he waved him goodbye at Auckland airport in May.
Hong Xi’s skeleton was found buried in the desert of Abu Dhabi, the largest emir in the United Arab Emirates, in September. Luo, 29, had the bones cremated, then travelled to China with the ashes for his father’s funeral but, now back home selling houses in the south-east Auckland suburb of Flat Bush, he says the past few months have felt like being in a thriller movie.
His mission now: ‘‘to make my mother happy’’.
Authorities in Dubai believed Luo’s 56-year-old businessman father was murdered by a colleague during a stopover in early August. They said his body got stashed in the boot of a car, driven to Abu Dhabi and hidden in sand dunes.
Looking back, what Luo found creepiest were the texts via WeChat – a Chinese social media mobile application – from his father’s account, suggesting he was still alive when his body was decaying in the desert. One message said Hong Xi had travelled to Thailand on a fake passport and needed money and that Luo should go to Thailand to help him.
After the sender refused to send a selfie confirming his identity, Luo dropped everything and flew to Bangkok, but Luo now believes those messages were sent by his father’s killers.
After failing to locate his father, Thai authorities told him to go to Dubai. Police there launched an investigation and a body was found on September 15, right where four arrested Chinese suspects — including Hong Xi’s business partner and her son— said it would be.
Luo believes the suspects –who are currently in custody in Dubai – killed his father for money. He says he has since learned the woman owed many people money and that her son had large gambling debts.
Hong Xi’s injuries included several broken ribs and a broken spine, which Luo was told was the likely cause of death.
Luo has able to view his father’s remains.
‘‘He was just bones and nothing else. I never thought that the last time I’d see my father he would be bones.’’
Luo took his father to the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah as foreigners are not allowed to be cremated in Dubai.
At the crematorium, Luo faced problems because Hong Xi’s passport had never been found. While he had a letter from police in Dubai stating it was lost, officials in Sharjah insisted they needed the original. A bribe got it sorted.
Luo grew frustrated with the archaic bureaucracy in the UAE.
‘‘Everything must be on paper because there are no computers, and it must be stamped— anything via email or in electronic format means nothing,’’ he said.
‘‘The only thing you can do is beg and say nice things to the policeman. If he’s happy, if he likes you, then he will stamp the document. Otherwise you have to wait.’’
He laughed in retrospect: ‘‘They also say ‘OK, no problem’, constantly. But I can say nothing over there is no problem.’’
In November Luo flew from Dubai to his father’s hometown, Nanjing, for a traditional Chinese funeral. Four generations of family spent three days and two nights with Hong Xi’s ashes, at his parents’ home.
Hong Xi’s family, friends, and colleagues colluded to keep the details of his death a secret from his elderly parents as they did not believe they would be able to handle the truth of what happened to their son. Rather than being murdered in a foreign desert, they were told Hong Xi had died in hospital after a sudden illness.
‘‘We managed to hide everything from them perfectly,’’ Luo says. ‘‘My grandmother was born in the 1920s and cannot read. My grandfather can, but we kept him away from the news during that entire time’’.
Back in Auckland, Luo, his wife, and kids are rallying around Luo’s mum. She’s staying with them for a few months, as she struggles to come to terms with her husband of 29 years’ murder.
For Christmas they took a trip to Rotorua, hoping hot pools and tranquil lakes might soothe her.
‘‘It’s hardest for my mother. She’s a very traditional chinese woman, and thinks her husband is the sky: if her husband dies, the sky falls,’’ said Luo.
‘‘It’s tough for us all, though. We know he’s passed away, but we still think about the plans and dreams we had together with him.’’
We know he’s passed away, but we still think about the plans and dreams we had.’ WILLIAM LUO, ABOVE