U of I kidnap victim Yingying Zhang's body could be in downstate landfill

The mystery at University of Illinois -- what happened to Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang -- could rest in a landfill in downstate Vermilion County.

Zhang, 26, was kidnapped and killed in June 2017 by former University of Illinois graduate student Brendt Christensen, who was sentenced last month to life in federal prison without parole.

WATCH: Yingying Zhang's family speaks following Brendt Christensen's sentencing
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Yingyng Zhang's family spoke to the media following Brendt Christensen's sentencing.

Christensen, a former physics grad student at U of I, picked up Zhang at a campus bus stop and then raped and tortured her in his apartment before secretly disposing of her body.

Zhang's DNA was also found inside his Champaign apartment. There were also recordings played at trial in which Christensen described in gruesome detail the kidnapping and murder.

As the guilty verdicts were read in court in late June, Christensen didn't flinch. His demeanor appeared similar during eight days of testimony as the prosecution painted him as a "cold, calculating" killer who tortured Zhang and tried to hide his crime.

Despite the conviction, Zhang's body has never been found.

However, Zhang family attorney Steve Beckett tells the ABC7 I-Team that federal authorities now have reason to believe Christensen disposed of the woman's body in a way that her remains could have ended up in a Vermilion County dumpsite.

That information, according to Beckett, was provided to the government by Christensen's attorneys under an immunity agreement.

"When the family first came here, their wish was to find Yingying and bring her home," said the Zhang family's attorney Zhidong Wang said after Christensen's sentencing in June. "That's still, that's still their hope."

"(Christensen) had a dark desire to kill for the sake of killing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller in closing arguments. "He wanted a certain type of woman. A petite woman who could easily be disposed of."

It isn't known whether any search efforts have been undertaken and there are two landfills in Vermilion County. A spokesperson for Republic Services that owns both of the dumps on Friday afternoon told the I-Team that the company is "fully cooperating with the investigation and any additional media inquiries should be directed to local authorities.

Zhang's family attorney was scheduled to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. Friday in Urbana however it was cancelled.

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