taiwan (5/5)

The drama-documentary series that tells the gripping real-life stories of travellers detained overseas concludes. The last episode in the series tells the story of a diplomat whose family was taken hostage by Taiwan’s most wanted criminal.

On a November evening in 1997, South African military attaché Colonel McGill Alexander was settling in for an evening at home with his wife and three children. But the night was to take a shocking turn when a man broke into the house and took the family hostage. The assailant was Chen Chin-hsing, a notorious felon who had committed a host of robberies, kidnappings, murders and sexual assaults.

Chen was known to the Taiwanese public because of a high-profile case in which he and a group of accomplices abducted and later murdered Pai Hsiao-yen, the teenage daughter of a famous Taiwanese television presenter. While some of the gang were apprehended, others, including Chen, escaped and rampaged across the island nation on a crime spree. One of those captured was Chen’s wife, Chang Su-chen, and it was to negotiate her release that he decided to seize Western prisoners. The Alexander family provided the perfect target.

After entering the victims’ home, Chen proceeded to tie the family up and then made them contact the local media. He claimed he would kill the Alexanders if his demands were not met – chiefly the release of Chang Su-chen. Chen also requested conference with a lawyer and asked that the authorities give him and his family safe passage out of the country.

Having served over 30 years in the military, McGill was experienced in battle and capable of killing with his bare hands. However, with the lives of those he held most dear at stake, he could not afford to take any risks. McGill instructed his family to position their bodies in such a way as to avoid being fatally shot and called on his negotiation skills in his dealings with Chen. But this measured approach was to be in vain when the Taiwanese police arrived at the scene.

With a wanted criminal in their sights, the police were intent on his capture. A gun battle ensued in which McGill’s 22-year-old daughter, Melanie, was used as a human shield. She sustained bullet wounds, as did her father, but at 10pm they were both released and taken to hospital for treatment. This left McGill completely powerless to influence what happened to his wife, teenage daughter and seven-month-old foster son who were still in the hands of a ruthless thug.

Fortunately, the bloodshed had resulted in the authorities declaring a ceasefire. They could now begin negotiations with Chen. Talks continued throughout the night and into the following day, until the baby was released. Chen then won the support of a lawyer and politician who had become involved in discussions. With a guarantee of legal representation for himself and his family, Chen freed 12-year-old Christine from his clutches.

Only one hostage remained – McGill’s wife, Anne. Finally, police promised that they would work to prove Chang Su-chen’s innocence, thus persuading Chen to surrender his final prisoner. The ploy worked – Anne walked free and Chen followed at 8pm. The crisis had ended and all the members of the McGill family made a full recovery. In 1999, Chen was sentenced to death. Shortly before his execution, McGill and Anne Alexander publicly forgave him.

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