Family of Student Found Dead in Trunk Believe She Was Murdered

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," August 23, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: There are new developments tonight surrounding the mysterious death of May Zhou. Now, she was a Stanford University doctorate student who disappeared on January 20. Five days later, her body was found in the trunk of her Toyota. Police concluded then it was suicide, and then she was buried. Her family said no way. They had her body exhumed, and her father insists the results of a second autopsy prove this is murder.

Today, police spoke out.


SGT. PAUL HENRY, SANTA ROSA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Up to this point, no evidence of foul play has been discovered by the Santa Rosa Police Department. We have been unable to locate any witnesses who believe a known or unknown subject would want to do harm to May Zhou. The police department has examined an e-mail message sent from May to her sister moments before her disappearance on the 20th. We've had the message examined by a forensic psychiatrist. Both Santa Rosa Police Department investigators and the forensic psychiatrist believe the e-mail is consistent with a good-bye note.

On January 18 at 9:19 in the evening, Unisom-L gel was purchased utilizing May's American Express credit card at a Safeway store located at 525 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. Later on that same day, at 9:43 in the evening, a second bottle of Unisom-L gel medication was purchased at the Wal-Mart store located at 600 Showers (ph) Drive in Mountain View. Then at 9:52 hours in the evening, a third bottle of medication, the Unisom-L gel sleep medication, was purchased at a Target store located at 555 Showers Drive in Mountain View.

At this third location, investigators from the police department have discovered there's video footage documenting the purchase. We have reviewed the video, and the video depicts an Asian female who was alone, making the purchase, and it appears to be that of May Zhou.

The Santa Rosa Police Department is aware that Mr. Yitong Zhou has conducted or has hired an independent pathologist who has conducted a second examination of May's body. Numerous requests have been made to obtain the results of that examination, as well as any photographs that were taken. All requests for that information up to this point in time have been denied.

A thorough pathological examination occurred by Dr. Kelly Arthur (ph) of the Sonoma County coroner's office. The results have been shared with the Santa Rosa police investigators. At this time, we have no confirmed information to contradict the findings of Dr. Arthur. It is the opinion of the Santa Rosa Police Department at this time that the vast majority of evidence that we have uncovered supports the conclusion that May Zhou took her own life.


VAN SUSTEREN: Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden joins us. Good evening, Dr. Baden.


VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Baden, what do you think?

BADEN: Well, what happens here is the hardest cases that medical examiners have to investigate are not homicides, it's suicides of young people because the families are very unable to accept that their own child committed suicide. The job of the medical examiner, a physician, is not only to determine the cause of the dead but also to assist the living.

I think that what the — what Sergeant Henry put out sounds very much like May taking her own life. But I think the amount of drug in her body, Benadryl type, Unisom type, is not enough to kill her. It's enough to put her to sleep, but not to kill her. Going into the trunk of the car will cause her to die from asphyxia, just like the coal miners die. When the oxygen level goes from 21 percent that we're breathing down to 15 percent — not down to zero, down to 15 percent — it can't sustain human life.

And I think what — the issue I think that's a problem here, Greta, is that if the father, who can't accept that it is a suicide, goes to all the trouble to exhume the body and keep the body in refrigeration and invites the police or the medical examiner to come over, they should do that. They should come over, explain to him why their autopsy is correct and this autopsy isn't correct. And I think that would end the situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think the e-mail message to the sister — I mean, I assume the family has seen it. And you know, we don't know the content, I don't know if that was rather — you know, if — you know, if, indeed, it is a good-bye note or if it's something the police want to interpret as a good-bye note. I don't know if she took the sleeping medication, got cold, decided to get into her trunk, as bizarre as that may sound, it was an accidental death.

But the results — wasn't there some — at least, her father said there was some bruising to her, which supports the theory that she was forced into the trunk?

BADEN: Yes. I'm always suspicious of secret autopsies. That's not the father's fault. But somebody who will come and do an autopsy should say what his or her name and should make that autopsy available to the police. The fact that they haven't done that really doesn't take the medical examiner off the hook. They're supposed succor, to give help to the family.

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe that was the deal the father struck with them for privacy, or for whatever reason. But anyway, the two sides need to talk. The medical examiners on both sides need to talk just in terms of — you know, just for the sake of the family.

BADEN: And I think that'll resolve it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed. Dr. Baden, thank you, sir.

BADEN: Thank you.

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