Details of Disappearance
Melissa was last seen in Irvine, California on November 22, 2019. She disappeared with her mother, Amber Aiaz
. On the day of the pair's disappearances, Cheng Zhang, who is Aiaz's husband and Melissa's stepfather, was home with Melissa at their apartment in the vicinity of Michelson and University. Aiaz was driving home from Las Vegas, Nevada with a carload of produce they planned to sell at the market.
Someone knocked on the door at 4:30 p.m., and when Zhang answered, he saw a woman and man he did not recognize. The woman had something in her right hand. Zhang felt something wet and misty on his face, then collapsed, unconscious. When he woke up hours later, there were bloodstains of the carpet and a bloody handprint on the kitchen wall. Melissa was gone. Aiaz should have arrived home by this time, but she was gone too. Neither of them have ever been seen again.
Zhang found a white lined paper with handwritten instructions from the kidnappers in Chinese. The note said Aiaz and Melissa were okay and would be home in a few days, but only if Zhang didn't contact police; if he did, the note warned, he would never see his wife and stepdaughter again. The note instructed him to clean up the apartment and act normal until they returned.
After the abductions, Zhang followed the kidnappers' instructions and carried on as normal for a week. He cut away the bloody carpet and replaced it, painted over the bloody handprint on the wall, posed as his wife on WeChat, and told his stepdaughter's school she was home sick. He found his wife's Ford Explorer parked in its usual spot, still full of the produce, and sold the food.
He stated that during this period he would sometimes find notes slipped under his door, telling him he was doing fine, would see Aiaz and Melissa soon, and to keep behaving normally. Five days after the abduction, he got a fifth note, telling him his wife and stepdaughter were still fine but he should leave town for two days. He went to Las Vegas, stayed with a relative, and returned two days later to find a sixth, final note telling him again that everything was fine, instructing him to clean the house again, and saying he would see Aiaz and Melissa in a few days.
When those few days passed without any more notes and without his wife and stepdaughter reappearing, Zhang finally went to the police. This was on December 2. Authorities were initially very skeptical of his account of the kidnapping and the events that followed. However, an extensive investigation, including more than 40 hours of interviews with Zhang, and 44 days of round-the-clock surveillance of him, did not disprove his story and in fact tended to support it.
Zhang did not behave suspiciously during the time he was under surveillance, and he directed police to where they found find the physical evidence he'd tried to cover up or destroy. He had thrown out the bloodstained carpet, but forensic techs found blood on the padding underneath, blood which they believe was Aiaz's. When investigators looked into sprays that could instantly knock someone out, they found out an anesthetic drug called Fluothane matched that description.
The abductors are described as both being in their forties and apparently of Chinese descent. The woman was 5'8 tall with an average build, and black hair pulled back in a bun. The man was 5'10 and about 190 pounds, with an average build and short black hair. They may have been driving a black Cadillac.
Prior to her disappearance, Melissa had talked to her grandmother daily. They have not spoken since the date of the child and her mother's alleged abduction. Aiaz left her American and Chinese bank accounts untouched, both her and Melissa's passports were left behind in the apartment, and neither of them is known to have entered China since their disappearances.
Investigators believe the motive for Aiaz and Melissa's abductions may have something to do with Aiaz's past. She had told Zhang she was a wealthy woman with millions of dollars in investments and hundreds of thousands in cash, and he was shocked to find out after her abduction that this was untrue. It's possible she had upset someone by deceiving them about her money, or that the kidnappers abducted her and her daughter expecting her to pay them money she did not possess.
Authorities are investigating the cases as possible kidnappings. They remain unsolved.