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Philip Wong, 25, charged with murder, manslaughter after Jianqin Zhang, 54, found dead in Eagan hotel

WCCO digital update: Evening of Nov. 20, 2023
WCCO digital update: Evening of Nov. 20, 2023 01:15

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Twin Cities man is charged with murder and manslaughter in connection with the death of a 53-year-old woman last month.

The Dakota County Attorney's Office says 25-year-old Philip Jedidiah Wong, of Little Canada, is accused of killing Jianqin Zhang inside an Eagan hotel on Oct. 12.

Zhang, from Shanghai City, China, was found dead inside the Microtel Inn & Suites, according to the Dakota County Medical Examiner's Office, who ruled her death a homicide from strangulation.

The criminal complaint, which was filed on Oct. 30, states Zhang was found dead on a bed by her friend and a hotel worker.

Her friend told police Zhang was a sex worker, and the "organization" she worked for contacted the friend to do a welfare check after they hadn't heard from her for several hours, the complaint states.

The friend gave investigators the phone number of Zhang's final client, who was soon identified as Wong. Hotel surveillance showed him arriving on Oct. 12 just before 3 p.m., and leaving the hotel less than an hour later, according to the complaint.

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A hotel housekeeper told police that about 40 minutes after Wong left, she entered the room to empty out trash cans and saw Zhang on the bed, and quickly left.

The complaint states investigators found Zhang had a 15-night reservation, and a search of her room yielded items such as several cellphones, condoms, a locked wallet, bloody sheets, pill bottles, food, clothes, and a hat that Wong had been wearing when he entered the hotel.

A search of Zhang's cellphone found her last outgoing text message, sent to her employers about 10 minutes before Wong left the hotel, which contained the Mandarin word for "walk."

The complaint states Wong's residence was searched by police on Oct. 17, where they found clothes he appeared to be wearing in hotel security footage. Wong told investigators he responded to an online ad and went to the hotel to meet Zhang for "a massage and cuddle," and then paid extra for sex. Wong said afterward he showered and left, hearing her phone ring as he exited, the complaint states, and forgetting his hat in the process.

Wong also told investigators he was called by Zhang's employers later that night to say she was dead, but he thought they were lying and just trying to scam him out of more money, the complaint states.

Three days later, Wong's roommate met with police. The complaint states Wong told her Zhang tried to blackmail him after sex, and he "choked her out," but left thinking she was still breathing. The roommate said Wong later asked for her forgiveness, saying "he doesn't know what the future holds for him or how long the trial will be," according to the complaint.

On Oct. 26, investigators spoke again to Wong, who kept his original story despite their reveal that they interviewed his roommate. The complaint states Wong told police the roommate "didn't take things well" and moved out, and he told his parents "minimal details about the investigation and … he could be going away for a while."

The next day, one of Wong's family members spoke to police and said he met with them a few days prior to say he was involved in "an altercation" with Zhang, and he may be arrested soon for voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, according to the complaint.

Wong was arrested and charged in late October with second-degree murder without intent and first-degree manslaughter. If convicted, he faces up to 55 years in prison.

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