A 12-year-old boy was just metres from home when a strange man jumped from a dark Jeep, shoved a jacket over his head and dragged him into the vehicle.
A 12-year-old boy was just metres from home when a strange man jumped from a dark Jeep, shoved a jacket over his head and dragged him into the vehicle.

Terrified boy tried to escape kidnapper multiple times

A 12-year-old boy was just metres from his home when a strange man jumped from a dark Jeep, shoved a jacket over his head and dragged him into the vehicle.

A costume mask was crammed on to the boy's head and his vision marred by duct tape over the eye holes on the afternoon of May 11, 2018.

This would be the start of a terrifying 16-hour ordeal for the Gold Coast boy who would never stop trying to escape from his captor, Zhenjie Zhang.

His attempts including trying to guess a phone password, yelling for help and trying to run while still bound.

The car which Zhenjie Zhang used to kidnap the 12-year-old boy.
The car which Zhenjie Zhang used to kidnap the 12-year-old boy.

But the 55-year-old was using the boy as "collateral and a pawn" in an attempt to get the boy's father to repay a multimillion-dollar gambling debt.

For the first time it can be revealed what happened in the car, the chilling messages Zhang sent the boy's father, how the boy's father allegedly ended up millions in debt and the terrifying events in the lead up to the kidnapping.

 

BEFORE THE KIDNAPPING

In January 2018, Zhang started making the first threats if the money was not paid to him.

"If you do not give me the money, wait for pick up the body," he wrote.

In the following months Zhang, who does not speak English, would continue to send threats via WeChat, a messaging and voice application popular in China.

On April 7, he walked into the garage at the boy's home while the boy was there.

The boy screamed for his mother.

Zhang placed his hand of the boy's shoulder and told his mother: "You remember this … your husband still owes me money."

The next day he sent a long WeChat message to the boy's father.

"We all know that every debt should be repaid," he wrote.

Zhenjie Zhang arriving at the Southport police station on May 14, 2018. Picture: AAP image, John Gass
Zhenjie Zhang arriving at the Southport police station on May 14, 2018. Picture: AAP image, John Gass

"But you made lots of excuses to escape the repayment. Until now, I have shown respect for you. So if you will evade repaying the debts, we have to ask your family for repayment.

"We have known about the whereabouts of your family, including your properties and restaurant, the school your children go to and relevant interest classes.

"Also, we know that (name removed) arrived home about 10pm these two nights.

"Since you choose to gamble, you should bear the consequence.

"Don't let your debts hurt your family. You should have self-knowledge! Welcome to call the police for settlement."

Two days later Zhang told the boy's father if he wanted to avoid "unnecessary things" he should pay him $30,000.

Zhang wanted the money to pay for his mother's medical bills after she had a stroke.

The boy's father responded by calling Zhang a "bastard, cheat and racketeer".

"Thank you for reminding me," Zhang replied.

"I'm just an intermediary, but you tricked me ungratefully. So I will be a bastard to you.

"I can surely meet your satisfaction."

On April 26 or 27, Zhang called the boy's father who told him he was in China.

He never heard from him again.

 

IN THE CAR

After being kidnapped from a Mudgeeraba street on his way home from school on May 11, the boy is barely able to see as the dark-coloured Jeep heads south.

Zhang was asking if he knew why he was being kidnapped.

Because his father stole money, Zhang told the boy.

Zhang later said they were looking for a place to stay for the night and were going to meet his mother because she would give them money.

When they stopped for the first time, Zhang told the boy his mother never showed up.

At the second place they stopped, the boy tried to run, so Zhang tied his ankles together with rope.

At night the boy's clothes were changed and the rope changed so his hands were tied behind his back.

Detective lead Zhenjie Zhang into the police station.
Detective lead Zhenjie Zhang into the police station.

The car would stop again soon. This time the boy tried to scream at a passer-by.

Zhang rewarded his efforts by stuffing a towel in his mouth.

The boy was finally able sleep and in the early hours of May 12 he woke in New South Wales to find the car parked and Zhang out of the car.

The boy saw his chance, taking Zhang's mobile phone. However, he was not able to guess the passcode to the phone.

Still he did not give up, this time trying to get out of the car.

Zhang saw him, tightened his restraints on his ankles and wrists, placed the mask back on his head and tied the boy to the car seat with a rope around his neck.

About 10am a couple spotted the car, recognising it from the Amber Alerts sent out through Queensland and northern New South Wales.

Two hours later, police arrived and heard the boy crying. He was still tied to the car seat.

The ropes had been tied so tight he was left with swelling and indentations.

 

THE GAMBLING DEBT

Zhang came from humble beginnings in the Guangdong Province in China. Both of his parents worked and he was raised by his grandmother.

At 17 he joined the Chinese army before making his fortune with an import/export business.

He would move to Melbourne in 1998 and by the year 2000 was living on the Gold Coast.

In Australia he worked in property development and had a health food import company.

A decade later, while living between the Gold Coast and Sydney, Zhang would meet the boy's father.

They bonded and became friends, often gambling together, including on trips overseas to spend up big at casinos.

In 2015, it is alleged the boy's father would hand write an IOU agreeing that he owed about $5.5 million to a casino. In early 2018, he signed a repayment plan promising to pay $200,000 each month.

Zhang, who is now an Australian citizen, agreed to act as an intermediary with the casino in exchange for a small percentage of the repayments.

The boy's father also owed Zhang a smaller amount, he claimed.

 

THE APOLOGY

Zhang faced the Southport District Court on Tuesday this week where he was sentenced to a seven-year prison.

He will be released on parole in February next year.

During the court proceedings Zhang tearfully read, through an interpreter, an apology to the court.

"I have chased him for a long time but it was in vain," he said.

"Because your father was acting terribly I feel I have no other options."

Zhang claimed he did not intend to "do malicious things" to the boy.

He spoke about how he tried to help the boy by giving him water, bringing him clothes when he was cold.

Zhenjie Zhang read a tearful apology to the boy during sentencing.
Zhenjie Zhang read a tearful apology to the boy during sentencing.

"During that time you were talking to me about your study and your family situations," Zhang said.

"We got along very well, just like good friends."

The boy did not get to see the apology - he had wanted to attend but had exams on the day of the sentencing.

He is still trying to recover from his traumatic ordeal with his mother describing him as "sad, frightened and miserable".

Zhang has been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression.

He will remain in custody until February next year when he will be released on parole.

Originally published as How terrified boy tried to escape kidnapper


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