After an eight-year manhunt across four provinces, involving tens of thousands of police officers, China?s most-wanted criminal died nine miles from his mother?s home.

Zhou Kehua, 42, was shot in the head after reportedly trading fire with police in an alley behind a shoe shop in a suburb of the central city of Chongqing, according to the state-run China Central Television (CCTV).

However, the Chongqing Times reported that Zhou had committed suicide and the Changsha Evening News said he was shot twice and had then turned the gun on himself. A spokesman for the Chinese police confirmed his death and the details in the official news broadcast.

Zhou had been on the run since 2004, killing a total of nine people, including one policeman earlier this month, in a series of armed robberies. His wanted poster was pinned up as far afield as Shanghai, and various rewards, totalling five million yuan (?500,000) were offered for his capture.

The local police in Hunan was credited for establishing a photofit of his image, while Jiangsu police managed to collect his DNA from one crime scene.

The highest single reward, of 500,000 yuan, was put up by Chongqing, the site of his first crime and his home city, after he resurfaced there last week and shot a woman dead outside a branch of Bank of China in Shapingba district.

Zhou targeted bank customers withdrawing large sums of cash and would follow and shoot his victims before rapidly making a getaway. ?He remained very calm after the murders and would decide the quickest way to escape,? said Pi Yijun, a criminologist at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

?He would do his homework by staying at a bank and observing its customers, working out the best place to strike. After so many murders, he knew he would get the death penalty, so there was no moral struggle in his mind. That is why he would shoot people on the spot, leaving little trace for the police because the crimes were swift and smooth,? he added.

After the crime last week, all local police in Chonqging were called back from leave and the army was mobilised in order to scour the forests of Gele Mountain, finding only a ragged green T-shirt and two cigarette cartons.

However, Chinese television reported that the ?manhunt? on the mountain, which was widely publicised in the media, was a ruse to give the robber a false sense of security.

Zhou had been spotted in a department store in Chongqing on August 11, leading police to believe he had remained close to the scene of his last crime, rather than retreating to his mountain hideout.

Quietly, a number of four-man teams of plain-clothed police officers were dispatched through the city to sniff him out. Eventually he was spotted in Tongjiaqiao, just nine miles from his mother?s home.

Photographs of his corpse showed him to be wearing a blue-checked shirt and grey trousers, while his hair was cropped close at the sides. In a small black bag, the police found two used train tickets, some cold medicine and around 300 yuan (?30) in cash.

Zhou left home at the age of 18 to work at a site in Jialing river collecting sand for construction companies, but his mother lives in a three-floor house and has been under constant police surveillance since mid-January.

His ex-wife lives in a neighbouring town with his 13-year-old son. He is thought to have paid them a visit after a murder in Nanjing in January. His former neighbours said he had been an honest, but introverted youth. Chen Qihong, a friend from primary school told Dahe.com, an internet portal in Henan, that he had been friendly and a good swimmer.

His first conviction came in 1997, when he was sentenced to a year of reform through labour for possessing a gun.

Source: UK Telegraph

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