The murder of Fiona Yu, a young woman dedicated to pursuing her education and dreams, unfolded in the confines of her apartment, leaving investigators grappling with a crime devoid of witnesses or leads. As the police sought closure, a series of attacks on women in the same area and with similar patterns commenced, leading authorities to believe they were on the verge of apprehending the elusive killer. The details of this perplexing case are delved into in the Crime Junkie Podcast’s ‘Murdered: Fiona Yu.’
How Did Fiona Yu Die?
Fiona Yu, a senior at Arizona State University, was diligently pursuing her studies in accounting while simultaneously balancing a part-time job at the Alumni Association’s Gift Shop. In the early stages of her adult life, Fiona was described by friends as a mild-mannered and focused individual. Immersed in her academic pursuits, she navigated through her coursework with dedication, striving to overcome the challenges of university life.
On August 4, 1997, a neighbor observed Fiona cycling near the intersection of East Lemon Street and South Terrace in Tempe, Arizona, roughly between 4 and 4:30 pm. Residing in an off-campus apartment with her friend Kazu, Fiona likely returned from her job around this time, following her usual routine. Her flatmate arrived at the residence around 5 pm, assumed Fiona was upstairs, and went out for some errands. However, upon returning at approximately 6 pm, concerned by Fiona’s absence or lack of activity, she went to check on her upstairs.
It was when Kazu went into the room that she saw Fiona had been attacked. Her shirt was taken off, and her pants were pulled down. She also saw that there was blood on the 21-year-old’s body and that she was barely breathing. Kazu responded quickly and informed the authorities, who took Fiona to the hospital but shortly after arriving at the hospital, she passed away. The official reports stated that Fiona had been sexually assaulted and she had died as a result of strangulation.
Who Killed Fiona Yu?
Law enforcement had several individuals under suspicion in the investigation of Fiona Yu’s murder. Her boyfriend, Mark, vehemently asserted his innocence, providing an alibi that placed him in New York at the time of the crime, which the police deemed solid. The apartment cleaner attested to seeing an unfamiliar 6-foot-tall Black man in the complex around the time of the attack. Fiona’s boyfriend further asserted that she had started spending time with another man from a bar, but efforts to trace this individual yielded no conclusive results. Despite these leads, the police could not make much progress in the case.
One month after Fiona’s assault, on September 15, another woman on the ASU campus fell prey to a similar attack. Miraculously, she survived the assault, providing the police with a description of a tall Black man who had solicited money from her before launching the attack. Shortly thereafter, yet another woman on the campus was targeted, this time by two men who also asked for money before assaulting her; she described one as a tall Black man. These strikingly similar incidents prompted the police to consider a potential connection and raised hopes that, by examining these cases collectively, they might uncover leads that could shed light on Fiona’s unresolved case.
The police successfully identified the assailants responsible for the attacks on the two women after Fiona’s assault: 16-year-old Derrick Wood and 17-year-old Lee Comier Junior, both high school students. However, when questioned about Fiona’s case, they maintained their innocence. Moreover, DNA reports from December 1997 did not align with the evidence found at Fiona’s crime scene for these two individuals. Likewise, the DNA of all the suspects initially considered by the police failed to match the genetic material recovered from the site of Fiona’s attack.
For an extended period, Fiona’s case remained unsolved, lacking any new leads or reexamination methods. However, in 2017, a breakthrough occurred when Parabon NanoLabs collaborated with law enforcement. Employing Snapshot DNA Technology, they utilized DNA recovered from Fiona’s crime scene to generate a composite image predicting the potential appearance of the assailant. The technology revealed that the individual’s DNA at Fiona’s crime scene belonged to a Hispanic/Latino man with black hair, brown or hazel eyes, a light brown or fair complexion, and an estimated age of around 45 years in 2017.
Despite efforts and advancements in forensic technology, the police have yet to make any arrests or identify an individual matching the provided description in Fiona’s case. More than 25 years since Fiona’s death, the investigation remains unsolved. Though the case has gone cold, the loved ones of the young woman are still holding onto hope. Authorities continue to encourage the public to come forward with any information that may assist in bringing closure to Fiona’s case.