Zongzhi Gao was a man whose torso was discovered inside of a well in Zhaolou, China. He was initially misidentified as Zhenshang Zhao, with his nephew's neighbor being charged for his supposed murder, but the neighbor was freed after Zhao was found alive in 2010.
In 2011, Gao was identified through DNA samples and 3 men were sentenced for his murder, with a fourth having already been on China's death row for a separate crime.
On the 8th of May, 1999, a resident of the Zhaolou village in China's Henan Province was cleaning an old well when they discovered a decomposing torso at its bottom. Police were able to retrieve the remains and examine them, though due to a lack of DNA testing available in rural China, the body was identified merely by what the authorities felt fit any local missing person cases. Following an investigation of a report that Zhenshang Zhao had gone missing in 1997 and his nephew accused their neighbor, Zuohai Zhao, of being involved. The torso was hastily identified, and Zuohai was named a suspect.
Upon questioning, Zuohai denied any involvement with the torso though police did not believe he was being truthful. Authorities then arrested him and later his wife before torturing the two as a form of questioning. The wife reported that she was not allowed to sleep and made to kneel on bricks while being beaten with sticks until she professed that her husband murdered Zhenshang. Zuohai would break down not long after the beginning of his torture, but his wife wouldn't confess until a month later, with the couple making 9 separate confessions about the death of Zhenshang.
In 2002, Zuohai's trial began in Shangqiu with the prosecution claiming that Zhenshang and Zuohai were having an affair with another villager named Mou Du. According to them, Zhenshang had found Zuohai and Du together and the two men began fighting with an additional factor being that Zuohai owed 1,800 yuan to Zhengshang that he refused to return. After the fight, they reported that Zuohai followed his rival before killing him and dumping his body in the well. Having been charged with intentional homicide, Zuohai was sentenced to death two months after the beginning of his trial with his case being appealed to a higher court for confirmation due to Chinese law. By February of 2003, Zuohai's death sentence was confirmed with the man telling the court that he did not plan to appeal further. After being reported as having good behavior and receiving an education in prison, Zuohai's sentence was commuted to life in prison.
8 years after Zuohai was sentenced for Zhenshang's reported murder, the case was reexamined after Zhenshang returned to his village alive and well. Reportedly, Zhenshang was unaware that he was considered legally dead and thought to have been murdered but confirmed that Zuolai did owe him a substantial amount of yuan. Additionally, Zhenshang denied having an affair with Du but claimed he had seen Zuohai in the middle of an affair when he was confronting him about his missing yuan. He then confessed that on the day he disappeared he had taken a knife and slashed at Zuohai whilst confronting him again about the missing yuan. Believing he may have accidentally killed Zuohai or that he may be killed in retaliation, Zhenshang gathered his ID cards with a small number of his belongings, abandoned the knife on a roadside, and fled the village on a bicycle. He reportedly led a transient life during the years he was considered dead, though returned to Zhaolou after running out of yuan and being diagnosed with hemiplegia. Once informed of Zuohai's wrongful conviction, Zhenshang simply responded that he deserved it and needed to learn a lesson.
Zuohai was informed of Zhenshang's return by his relatives during a visit in May of that year, with the police being outraged and claiming that Zhenshang should serve Zuohai's sentence instead. Zuohai was quickly granted a retrial and acquitted 5 days after he was informed of Zhenshang's return with the prosecution's claims against him being revealed to have been fabricated as there was no evidence that he had ever been having an affair with Du. He was quickly awarded compensation for his wrongful conviction, though returned home to find that his brother had been murdered, his wife had remarried, and two of his children were up for adoption while the others were far away.
Following his acquittal, an investigation was opened into the police's behavior during Zuohai's case and to who the torso truly belonged. In 2012, six police officers were arrested and charged for mishandling the case and torturing Zuohai & his wife.
Reinvestigation and identification
After finding that the well where the torso was found was still standing, investigators dug ditches around the well in hopes of finding the remaining parts of the decedent's body to no avail. Shortly after, the torso was excavated and found to have belonged to someone much taller than Zhenshang. Following DNA testing conducted on the remains, police were able to identify the torso as belonging to Zongzhi Gao, who had disappeared from the Shihehe village in September 1998 after leaving his home in the evening. The four suspects who had already been tracked in his disappearance were quickly found and arrested, with one already being in prison on death row for a separate case from 2006. To ensure the mishandling would not happen again, the interrogation of the four men would be taped.
Reportedly, one of the men, Haijin Li, bore a grudge against Gao over a moon cake business and instructed two of the men, Mingu Yang and Yuanxi Liu to meet with him at the Li Cun village. There, the three met with the fourth suspect, Xiangliang Zhang, before murdering Gao, dismembering his body, and traveling to Zhaolou to dump his torso in the well. His legs and arms were reportedly then stored in stone drums and dumped into other wells in the region. The four men would lead police to the locations of Gao's remaining body parts shortly after their interrogation. Currently, no further information is available on Gao's case but the four men are reported to have been charged with his murder.