SHISUN VILLAGE, China — The three miners befriended a lonely, luckless man and offered him work down an iron mine in eastern China. After working together for 10 days, the three pushed a 220-pound boulder down a steep tunnel, crushing the man to death. They reported it as an accident.
Days later, three men and a woman turned up at the mine, saying they were the dead man’s relatives and demanding compensation. The mine owner offered them $110,000 if they agreed not to report the death to officials.
Prosecutors and the police now say that this death, in Shandong Province in 2014, was one of many in which a sophisticated network of grifters dispatched isolated, hard-up men, some mentally impaired, and dressed up their deaths as accidents to swindle compensation from mine owners.
The investigation led the police to Shisun Village in southwestern China, where mine murders for cash appear to have become a cottage industry. Of the 74 suspects indicted in late May in 17 killings, up to 40 were from Shisun Village, prosecutors said. The police said they were still investigating reports of 35 more possible victims.
But Shisun is not the only place where such cases have cropped up.
A search of court judgments online and news reports of court verdicts turns up dozens of instances across China of gangs killing vagrants and workers in dark, isolated chambers far underground, and using the deaths to defraud mine owners. There have been at least 34 such cases over the past two decades, Caijing Magazine, a prominent business weekly, estimated in June.
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