Editor’s note: This is a developing story. Below you’ll find the seventeenth (and final) journal entry that Caitlin Wang, our advice columnist who went missing in mid-February, wrote after she and her husband, Dr. Li Wang (from UT’s virology lab), fled Austin. Caitlin asked us to publish her journal in the hopes it will help her efforts to find her missing husband who disappeared in the Hill Country in May. A lot has happened in the interim, but we’ve made the editorial decision to finish publishing the journal before we catch you up on the horrific events that came soon after Caitlin asked for our help. (After this entry, we will tell the rest of the story as it happened.) We highly recommend starting at the beginning with our series of videos, when we first announced that Caitlin was missing til when we finally found her and met in person for the first time. If you’d like to start with her journal entries, click here. We’ve included a summary at the bottom of this post of all her previous journal entries.
May 24, 2020
Sunday… in my former life this would have been a day to relax, sleep late, eat a leisurely breakfast with Li, who usually stayed home from the lab and practiced his music on Sundays. We would have French Roast coffee thick with cream, buttery croissants, dark brown local honey, orange juice squeezed fresh. Here in the house Randi had taken me to, I found bread in the freezer, coffee and honey in the pantry, half a dozen free range eggs left in a carton in the fridge…but I was too anxious about Li to be hungry. In my dreams last night I saw Li sitting at a cafe, smoking a cigarette. I rushed to get close to him, but he picked up a red flag and started waving it at me over and over again. When I finally reached his table, he shook his head and faded to mist.
I woke with a sick feeling in my stomach.
I’ve had that feeling all day.
Outside the weather is sunny and beautiful, but I’m too depressed to even notice. I can’t go out anyway because of my lupus, so I spent the day on the couch watching TV. In the late afternoon I went for a swim, taking Lola with me and splashing her gently with a garden hose (how she loved that, screeching “More!” when I tried to put the hose away). But even though this was a happy activity, my heart is so heavy and dark that my whole body feels like concrete. And I’m still not hungry, have only eaten half a piece of toast all day. I’m grateful to be in this house with all its comforts, but somehow the place feels ominous, as if its walls are closing in.
And then I got a call from V. I didn’t want to talk to her after what happened, but I picked up my go phone anyway. “Kitty!” she exclaimed before I could even say hello. Kitty — only my husband calls me that; her use of the name made my stomach curdle.
“Caitlin,” I corrected.
“Whatever. I have important news. This is gonna make you so happy. Your husband is still alive, Kitty! He’s still alive!”
I took a deep breath. My mouth was suddenly very dry. “How do you know that?” I said, trying not to get too excited. In my heart I know I can’t trust this woman.
“I was coming out of my house around seven o’clock, about an hour ago, and these two Asian men appeared out of nowhere and started beating me up. They hurt me pretty bad — I’ll text you a photo of all the bruises later — but I think they just wanted to scare me because once they had me on the ground, they shouted: ‘Dr. Li Wang is still alive! If his wife wants to know where he is, she must hand over the key fob!’ Do you know what they’re talking about?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Okay, so they said you were to meet me tomorrow with the key thing, and then they would contact me.”
“Meet you where?”
She hesitated a second. When she spoke again, her voice was weird — had they broken one of her teeth? “In the parking lot at Davenport Village. In front of the PakMail.”
I thought quickly. Davenport Village was about ten minutes from here by car. “When?” I shouted into the phone, all worked up by that point.
“Tomorrow at noon.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“Oh sweet jesus, Kitty, I just fucking got beat up because of you! I didn’t ask to be part of this mess.”
It was true, she hadn’t. After we hung up, she texted me a photo of herself with a big shiner on her left eye and bruises on her throat. I feel bad about that, but the idea of handing over the key fob to someone I don’t really know makes me extremely nervous. Li had said to give it to no one but Otto Ling. And once I relinquish the key fob, how can I be sure I’ll get valid information about where my husband is? How do I know the Asian men who beat up V will tell the truth?
These are the thoughts that hound me.
And now, after two glasses of wine on an empty stomach, I’m in bed writing with trembling fingers and wondering if I will survive this ordeal, if I’ll ever see Li again. I’m not a very intuitive person so I don’t trust my hunches. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other, take it day by day and hope for the best. I guess that’s all anyone can do, but I’m so sick of living this way that I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to continue without going batshit crazy. Thank god for Lola who right now is the closest thing I have to a friend and confidante. And so, drunkenly, I call out goodnight to her. From under the cover of her cage, she sings: “Sleep tight, girlfriend,” and that is the first thing today that makes me happy.
Dr. Li Wang’s sister Mei was researching corona viruses at the Wuhan lab in China, but she disappeared under suspicious circumstances after having mailed highly classified material regarding her research to Dr. Wang here in Austin. (It was sent on an external hard drive hidden inside a key fob.) When he received news of Mei’s disappearance from his niece (who lives in China) in February, Dr. Wang packed up his lab and some supplies, and he and Caitlin set out to live off the grid in a cottage outside of Doss, TX. While there, Dr. Wang had been working in full Hazmat gear on various vials he stored in the small lab fridge. He told Caitlin that if anything should happen to him, she must not, under any circumstances, go to the authorities, and that she was to take the key fob to a researcher in Galveston named Otto Ling.
One morning a few months after arriving at the cottage, Dr. Wang went to the grocery store but never returned. The next afternoon, two law enforcement officers showed up at the cottage with the keys to Li’s truck which had been abandoned, keys still in the ignition, on the side of the road. Caitlin left with the cops to get the truck and returned to a ransacked cottage – Dr. Wang’s computer and all his scientific research had been stolen. She decided to search for him, first in the small town of Doss, and then back in Austin at their house, which had also been burglarized. At that point she had no choice but to drive to Galveston to deliver the key fob to Otto Ling.
Arriving at Ling’s house in the middle of the night, Caitlin slept in her truck, and when no one came to the front door the next morning, she jimmied open a window and let herself in, where she found a chatty African Grey parrot and came face to face with Ling’s angry neighbor. A visit to Ling’s lab at UTMB was a dead end – he’s on sabbatical, no one knows where he is. The neighbor who was taking care of Ling’s parrot, Lola, was ill with what Caitlin suspects is Covid-19, so Caitlin packed the bird and her things into her husband’s truck and headed back to Austin to visit his lab at UT, something Dr. Wang had specifically warned her not to do. That’s where she ran into one of Li’s associates, Dr. Greta Shultz, who was neither kind nor helpful.
Caitlin stayed that night with her friend Henry Sullivan who graciously offered to look into Greta Shultz and to check Caitlin’s computer to see if it had been hacked. Henry is allergic to birds, so Caitlin couldn’t stay with him more than the one night. That’s when she found herself settling into the guest bedroom of her former personal shopper, V, who revealed her true (romantic) feelings for Caitlin over dinner and then, later, snuck into Caitlin’s bed in the middle of the night. Completely freaked out by V’s aggressive and angry behavior at Caitlin’s rejection, Caitlin quickly packed up the bird and her things and parked her truck in front of ArtProfiler editor Nicole’s house, where she slept for a couple hours before dawn. Later that afternoon she met with ArtProfiler’s directors, Nicole and Randi, neither of whom would allow Caitlin to stay at their homes due to Covid-19. Randi offered Caitlin her property management client’s home as a refuge, as that client will be out of town until September, so the house was empty. On Caitlin’s second evening in the house, she placed a call to Li’s niece, Fenfang, in China hoping for some answers. Sadly, the call ended abruptly and only left Caitlin with more questions.
We’ll be posting everything that came after Caitlin’s journal within the next few weeks on Mondays and Wednesdays. If you have any information on virologists Dr. Li Wang or Otto Ling, please contact us.
To start at the beginning of this story, when we first announced that our advice columnist, C.D. Knowles (now confirmed to be Caitlin Wang), had gone missing, please click here.