Man laughed while de­scrib­ing how he killed Chi­nese scholar, his ex-girl­friend tes­ti­fies

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SCHOOL SCOOP - By Jamie Munks

PEORIA, Ill. — Sit­ting on a bench at a vigil for the miss­ing Chi­nese scholar Yingy­ing Zhang in 2017, Brendt Chris­tensen grabbed his girl­friend Terra Bullis’ phone and pulled up the Notepad function.

One at a time, he typed four lines, delet­ing them af­ter show­ing them to Bullis.

“It was me.”

“She was num­ber 13.”

“She is gone.”

“For­ever.”

That night, when he saw the crowd gath­er­ing for the vigil, he told Bullis “they’re here for me.”

Bullis wore a wire for the FBI to record a to­tal of nine con­ver­sa­tions with Chris­tensen, in­clud­ing a lengthy one that same evening in which Chris­tensen told her in graphic de­tail how he killed Zhang.

Chris­tensen was “ex­cited” and boast­ful” as he re­counted killing Zhang, who he said was his 13th vic­tim, Bullis tes­ti­fied Thurs­day dur­ing her former boyfriend’s trial for the kid­nap­ping and murder of Zhang, a scholar at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign.

“They have the bat I hit her in the head with,” Chris­tensen told Bullis, re­fer­ring to the FBI.

Chris­tensen said he first tried to choke Zhang to death. “I couldn’t be­lieve she was still alive,” he said.

He car­ried her to the bath­tub, he said. “I got the bat and hit her on the head as hard as I could and it broke her head open,” Chris­tensen said.

He then stabbed her in the neck, and “chopped her head off,” he said, laugh­ing.

The con­ver­sa­tion took place on June 29, 2017, about three weeks af­ter the June 9 dis­ap­pear­ance of Zhang, as au­thor­i­ties were ze­ro­ing in on Chris­tensen as a sus­pect.

At one point on the record­ing that was played in court, Bullis’ heart­beat is au­di­ble, picked up by the record­ing de­vice she had hid­den within her clothes.

Bullis con­veyed in­ter­est in what Chris­tensen was say­ing, even as he ex­pressed ad­mi­ra­tion for se­rial killer Ted Bundy, in an ef­fort to keep the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing. But she was “dev­as­tated,” she said.

“Do you think you might be the next suc­cess­ful se­rial killer?” Bullis asked Chris­tensen.

“I al­ready am,” he replied on the record­ing.

Chris­tensen was smil­ing a lot and ap­peared happy at the somber vigil, Bullis said.

De­spite his boasts, FBI agents have tes­ti­fied that no ev­i­dence has been found to link any other vic­tims to Chris­tensen. Chris­tensen’s de­fense at­tor­neys ad­mit­ted on the first day of the trial that Chris­tensen killed Zhang, but have in­sisted he wasn’t be­ing truth­ful when he said he’d killed other peo­ple.

Chris­tensen is fac­ing the death penalty, which was abol­ished in Illi­nois state courts, but is still an av­enue fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors can pur­sue.

Zhang was last seen June 9, 2017, getting into a black Saturn As­tra in the Univer­sity of Illi­nois area in Cham­paign-Ur­bana.

Thurs­day was Bullis’ sec­ond day tes­ti­fy­ing in the fed­eral trial in Peoria. Ju­rors listened to the record­ings she made for the FBI through head­phones.

Dur­ing one recorded con­ver­sa­tion, Chris­tensen told Bullis that Zhang’s fam­ily, who had trav­eled to the United States from China in the wake of her dis­ap­pear­ance, would leave “empty-handed.”

“No one will ever know where she is,” Chris­tensen said.

Days ear­lier, Chris­tensen had told Bullis in a text mes­sage he picked up Zhang, but de­nied wrong­do­ing.

Chris­tensen was drinking al­co­hol from a wa­ter bot­tle while the two at­tended the vigil for Zhang, but Bullis said Chris­tensen didn’t ap­pear to be drunk. She told Chris­tensen in the recorded con­ver­sa­tion that she didn’t think he would harm her or his wife, Michelle, with whom he was in an open re­la­tion­ship. Chris­tensen told Bullis she was “safe.”

Bullis said she wouldn’t be safe if she told any­one about their con­ver­sa­tion.

“That’s true,” Chris­tensen said.

Chris­tensen, 29, was ar­rested the day af­ter that con­ver­sa­tion. He called Bullis mul­ti­ple times af­ter his ar­rest, she said in court Thurs­day.

Bullis be­came emo­tional sev­eral times dur­ing her many hours of tes­ti­mony Thurs­day, at times wip­ing her eyes. She had left her job in the wake of Zhang’s dis­ap­pear­ance in part be­cause af­ter pho­tos were made pub­lic of her with Chris­tensen, she couldn’t con­tinue work­ing in a pub­lic set­ting, she said.

She later sought men­tal health ser­vices, for which she sought fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from the FBI. She has re­ceived be­tween $7,000 and $8,000 in as­sis­tance from the FBI, largely through re­im­burse­ments, she said Thurs­day.

Dur­ing a July 2, 2017, recorded phone call be­tween Chris­tensen, who was in jail, and his wife, he asked her to reach out to Bullis.

“Please text her or call her and tell her not to say any­thing to any­one ex­cept our lawyers,” Chris­tensen said, adding “tell her I’m in­no­cent and ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be OK.”

In his cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of Bullis, as­sis­tant fed­eral de­fender Robert Tucker high­lighted Chris­tensen’s “se­vere” is­sues with al­co­hol, the emo­tional and psy­chi­atric is­sues Bullis was deal­ing with, and her al­ter­na­tive sex life with Chris­tensen.

Bullis had said she was strug­gling at the time, tak­ing mul­ti­ple med­i­ca­tions and suf­fer­ing from PTSD from prior trauma.

ALEXAN­DRA WIMLEY/CHICAGO TRIBUNE FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

Stu­dents com­fort each other out­side of the U.S. Court­house on July 3, 2017 in Ur­bana, Ill., be­fore the bond hear­ing for Brendt Chris­tensen, who al­legedly kid­napped visit­ing scholar Yingy­ing Zhang.

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