Smyrna – On Friday, March 9, 2018, 87-year-old, Tze-Poong Liu was pronounced dead at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC) in Smyrna.
Liu, of New York, New York, was serving a life sentence plus 25 years for three counts of 1st Degree Murder, two counts of Manslaughter, two counts of 1st Degree Conspiracy, 1st Degree Arson, 1st Degree Burglary, and 2nd Degree Conspiracy. He began his sentence on 06/13/1989.
About the case:
In the early morning hours of March 9, 1988, three members of William Chen’s (“Chen”) family were killed in a fire that was deliberately set at his Claymont home. Chen, awakened by smoke and noise, observed the figure of a female intruder in his living room among the first floor smoke. Flames flashed through the house and forced Chen outside. His wife, daughter and mother perished in the fire. Their remains were later found in the upstairs bedrooms.
Deputy state fire marshals commenced an investigation of the blaze within an hour after it was reported. The investigation revealed that gasoline had been poured in three separate areas of the house in the garage below Chen’s bedroom; around a back door; and throughout the first floor living area. It was concluded that the fire was started in each of the three areas and that the rear entrance was the principal ignition point. It also appears that the strategic placement of the gasoline denied the occupants of the house a route of escape.
Investigators interviewed Chen on the day of the fire and he informed police that he had been involved in a turbulent romantic relationship with a woman from New York City named Vicky Chao (“Chao”). Chen recounted an incident in which Chao had him arrested for assault approximately one month prior to the fire. He also indicated that Chao appeared at his Claymont home nine days before the fire and became embroiled in an argument with both his wife and mother. At that time she threatened to cause Chen “big trouble.” Chen also advised investigators that at one point Chao provided Chen with four thousand dollars so that he could start his own business, but the relationship soured when Chen traveled to Shanghai to marry his now deceased wife.
Armed with the information obtained in their interviews with Chen, investigators immediately traveled to New York City to question Chao. Accompanied by New York City police officers, the contingent arrived at Chao’s apartment at approximately 1:45 a.m. on March 10. Chao cooperated with the officers and accompanied them to a local police station for questioning.
During a taped interview, Chao implicated Liu, a New York City taxicab driver and acquaintance, as the arsonist. She claimed that Liu wanted to kill Chen and that he forced her to accompany him to Delaware the previous night in his taxicab. She also stated that Liu stopped to fill a plastic container with gasoline during the trip to Delaware. Chao claimed that when they arrived at Chen’s home she was terrified and waited in the taxicab after Liu exited it because he had threatened her. She further stated that when Liu returned to the car, his hand was bleeding and he exclaimed that he had set fire to the house. Eager to further the investigation and follow up on the information Chao provided, the Delaware authorities promptly ended the questioning and hastened to find Liu.
The Delaware authorities and a New York City detective went to Liu’s apartment. Upon arriving at the apartment, the detective identified the officers and explained that they were investigating an incident that occurred in Delaware. Liu invited the officers into his apartment. Inside, one of the Delaware officers advised Liu of his Miranda rights by reading the five warnings from a written form. The officer asked Liu whether he understood each warning after it was recited. On each occasion Liu indicated that he understood the warning by affirmatively nodding his head. The officer then asked Liu if he would answer their questions. Liu agreed to speak to the officers and executed a waiver form by signing the form and checking an appropriate box. The officer also presented Liu with a consent to search form and asked if the police could search the apartment. The officer read the form to Liu and explained that he did not have to consent to the search. A search was conducted after Liu voluntarily signed the form. Clothing and other personal items were seized in the search. Afterwards, Liu was taken to the police station for questioning.