Monday, July 4, 2022

The Disappearances of Amber Aiaz and Melissa Fu

 

Amber Aiaz and her daughter Melissa Fu have been missing since November 2019. Amber and Melissa resided in Irvine, California at the time of their disappearances. The two lived in an apartment with Amber's husband, Cheng Zhang. 

Amber, who was 34 years-old when she vanished, had her own seafood grocery business with locations in both Irvine and Las Vegas, Nevada. Melissa, who was only 12 years-old at the time, was a seventh grader at a local school. Amber's husband Cheng Zhang worked as an Uber driver. The three seemed to live a fairly normal and quiet life - neighbors, friends, and family members all stated that they never noticed anything unusual happening with any of them. 

On November 22nd, 2019, Amber took a day trip to Las Vegas to transport fresh groceries to her business in Irvine. Melissa stayed home with Zhang. According to Zhang, he heard a knock on their door around 4:30 PM. When he opened the door, he was greeted by a man and a woman that he did not recognize. Zhang then said that he felt something "misty" on his face that caused him to collapse and fall unconscious. When he awoke later, Melissa was gone -and there were bloodstains on the carpet and in the kitchen. Zhang also found a handwritten note with a message written in Chinese. The message stated that Amber and Melissa were okay and would be returned in a few days as long as Zhang did not call police. The note also instructed Zhang to clean up the apartment to hide any evidence that a crime and/or kidnapping took place. 

Shortly after discovering the note, Zhang said he noticed that Amber's van was parked in its normal spot, and it was full of fresh groceries. By Zhang's account, this indicates that Amber made it back from Vegas and was kidnapped, along with Melissa, very shortly thereafter. Zhang then went on to follow the kidnapper's instructions, per the note. He cleaned up the bloodstains from the apartment, replaced the carpet, and painted over the blood on the walls. Zhang called Melissa's school and said she would be kept home for a few days because she was sick. He also used Amber's phone to impersonate her while communicating with her loved ones. 

Zhang said he continued to receive notes at their apartment over the next few days. Each note said that Amber and Melissa were fine, and he should continue to behave as if nothing is wrong. Five days after the alleged kidnapping, Zhang said he received another note instructing him to leave town for two days. He subsequently traveled to Las Vegas to stay with family members. When he returned two days later, Zhang received one final note instructing him to clean the apartment again, and that Amber and Melissa would be returned in a few days.

Zhang once again followed the note's instructions - but Amber and Melissa never returned. He also never received another note. After this, Zhang finally decided to contact police to report the kidnapping of his wife and stepdaughter. 

Police obviously questioned Zhang's story from the start. Irvine is considered a very safe place to live, and very few kidnappings are ever reported in the area. Additionally, there are many aspects of Zhang's version of events that seem far-fetched. However, as police continued to investigate, they found reason to believe that Zhang might actually be telling the truth.

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From early December 2019 to mid-January 2020, investigators put Cheng Zhang on 24-hour surveillance. Detectives watched his every move to see if he would do something that might incriminate him in the disappearances of Amber and Melissa. Detectives thought that if Zhang had killed them, maybe he would return to the place where he hid their bodies. Maybe detectives would catch him talking on the phone to a co-conspirator. 

However, no such things happened. According to detectives, Zhang did not do anything suspicious while he was under surveillance. In fact, Zhang was actually incredibly cooperative with the investigation and attempted to be helpful. He reportedly led detectives to evidence that he destroyed while cleaning the apartment. With Zhang's help, detectives were able to find traces of blood in the residence. Forensic testing later revealed that the blood belonged to Amber Aiaz. 

On January 15th, 2020, Zhang voluntarily went to the police station, where he was interrogated thoroughly for hours. A behavioral analyst from the FBI studied him during his interrogation. Without prior notice, investigators asked Zhang to take a polygraph. He agreed, and he passed. The polygraph examiner reportedly did not find any signs of deception. It was at this point that the detectives working the case began to think that Cheng Zhang might not be the culprit after all. 

From that point forward, investigators began to ponder other theories about what might have happened to Amber and Melissa. In order to do this, they needed to take a look at Amber's background, her relationships, and other aspects of her life to help establish new theories.

Background.

Dalian, China. source:agoda.com

Amber Aiaz is originally from Dalian, China. She moved to the United States in 2005. Amber resided in Chicago, and she got married very shortly after moving there. In 2007, Amber gave birth to her daughter, Melissa. Unfortunately, Amber's husband/Melissa's father died of cancer a short time later. Amber then moved back to China to try and raise Melissa there, but their stay was brief. The mother and daughter eventually returned to the United States, where they settled in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

While in Vegas, Amber began her seafood grocery business. She eventually established a large client base and had many loyal customers. Amber used a Chinese-based app called WeChat to sell her goods and to interact with her customers. When Amber and Melissa moved to Irvine with Zhang, Amber expanded her business there as well. After their move, she made several trips to the Las Vegas location to transport fresh groceries back to Irvine. 

Relationship with Cheng Zhang.

Amber began her relationship with Zhang during 2017. They briefly split up in 2018 after Amber reportedly had a relationship with another man in China. However, Amber and Zhang reconciled their relationship at some point later in 2018. Shortly thereafter, Zhang, Amber, and Melissa moved to Irvine, California. The three of them resided in an apartment on Michelson and University Street. 

The Irvine apartment complex. (source: LA Times)

Reports state that Zhang was typically "non-assertive" in their relationship. According to a report from the LA Times, Zhang "avoided conflict and typically acquiesced to his wife." Although Amber had been unfaithful in the past, it did not appear that there were any serious issues in their relationship at the time of her disappearance.

While investigating Amber and Melissa's disappearance, police discovered that Amber had been dishonest with Zhang about her finances. In fact, Amber actually had very little money at the time she vanished. When police shared this information with Zhang, he reacted with disbelief. Amber had reportedly convinced Zhang that she had millions of dollars in investments and several hundred thousand dollars in cash.

When Zhang reported the kidnapping of Amber and Melissa, police had good reason to question his story. His version of events sounds more like a plot from a movie than it does an actual kidnapping. However, after several hours of surveillance, interrogation, and a polygraph, detectives could not tie Zhang to the disappearances. Police stated that, if Zhang had lied, his story "had been so flawlessly memorized that it would have challenged the memory of a professional actor, much less a seemingly simple man."

Discrepancies about money.

Cheng Zhang was apparently not the only person who Amber had lied to about money. A detective working the case is quoted in the LA Times report, saying "Amber told everybody in her life that she had money." While Zhang was completely unaware that this was untrue, others had noticed discrepancies in Amber's discussions about finances. 

The LA Times article states "interviews suggested that [Amber] had angered people who felt she had swindled them. Some had even made threats." The article does not further elaborate on these threats, though, so it is unclear if anyone had threatened Amber around the time she and Melissa vanished. 

Theories.

Police believe it is possible that Amber and Melissa's kidnappings might be related to a person that Amber dated in Las Vegas or China. However, none of these men have been publicly identified and it is unclear if police have thoroughly interviewed any of her exes.

It is also possible that the kidnappers took Amber and Melissa under the expectation that Amber would give them money. Police think it's possible that they came to harm after Amber was unable to actually provide the money because she did not actually have said money. 

Many also still believe that Cheng Zhang is responsible for the disappearance of Amber and Melissa. His story is incredibly unusual, and it's possible that he fabricated the entire story. Still, his story has held up against polygraphs, FBI analysts, and intense interrogations. 

Tips.

When the LA Times article came out in 2021, it was reported that investigators had only received four tips in the case - an astonishingly small amount. The FBI is now involved in the case. If you have any information that could lead to the whereabouts of Amber Aiaz and/or Melissa Fu, please submit a tip.

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