Terra Bullis was Brendt Christensen’s girlfriend who wore a wire for the FBI and captured a confession. Christensen and Bullis went to a vigil for Yingying Zhang, and he bragged that he had killed the 26-year-old visiting international scholar.
You can read the full transcript of Terra Bullis’ recording with Brendt Christensen here.
At the time of the murder June 9, 2017, in Champaign, Illinois, Christensen was in an open relationship with his wife, Michelle Zortman. Bullis was polyamorous, and living with a group of polyamorous housemates, according to the Chicago-Tribune. Bullis was terrified to hear her boyfriend detailing the brutal murder. After he was arrested, she sought mental health treatment and could no longer work, according to the News-Gazette.
“When I care about someone, I truly care about them,” Bullis testified in federal court, according to the Chicago Tribune. “But I also cared about this missing person. And it’s incredibly painful.”
The story of Zhang’s tragic death is being retold on ABC 20/20 in an encore episode that airs Friday, June 12, 2020 at 9 p.m. Now, Zhang’s family is still looking for closure.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. ‘Yingying Is Gone,’ Brendt Christensen Told Terra Bullis on a Recorded Conversation at Zhang’s Vigil
Terra Bullis recorded her conversation with Christensen for the FBI while she was wearing a wire at a vigil for Yingying Zhang, the visiting Chinese scholar Christensen brutally murdered. You can read the full transcript of Brendt Christensen’s confession here.
“It’s 6:46 on Thursday, June 29th,” Bullis began. “We’re at the benefit for the walk and Brendt has a thing of alcohol and he is drinking while he is here, so, I’m thinking I’m just gonna turn this on right now so that it’s on while we walk,” she said. “This is kind of ridiculous.”
The transcript shows they spoke casually, talking about the route for the walk and the alcohol he was drinking. Bullis asked Christensen if he was trusting her.
“Yeah, of course I am,” he said. “It’s because you’re mine. By the end of this night, you’ll be… mine.”
“You don’t know what that means, do ya?” he asked.
“I don’t know what that means, but I’ll go with it,” she answered.
They continued to speak casually, chatting about their relationship, and how she was the submissive and he was the dominant. He talked about the FBI, and how to spot their unmarked cars. He said he felt like the FBI was following him.
He then told her their conversation was only between the two of them.
“Thirteen,” he said cryptically on the recording.
He took out her phone and opened the Notes app, writing four lines and then deleting them, according to the News-Gazette.
“It was me. She was No. 13. She is gone. Forever,” he wrote.
Christensen claimed to Bullis he killed 13 people, a claim the FBI could not corroborate. Later in the transcript, Christensen claimed he started killing people when he was 19.
In a claim later that evening, he said Yingying was the only person he killed who “actually had a public profile,” according to the transcript. He expressed concerns he would not “get away with it.”
The pair was talking as they were walking down the street. She said she was nervous about being by the road.
“My version of safer is walking at night with a serial killer,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Christensen answered.
He discussed the vigil and said it was “weird” that so many people who attended “want her home safe” but did not know where she was.
“They have no idea what happened,” he said, laughing. “Nobody knows what happened.”
Christensen described Zhang as “valiant.” He later said she was “truly resilient” and said it was “supernatural almost how she just didn’t give up.”
“She fought more than anyone else I’ve ever met,” he said.
“She was a lot stronger, mentally, than anyone I’ve ever been with,” he added later.
He described in detail the brutal murder, saying he choked her, beat her with a baseball bat and decapitated her. The details of Zhang’s cause of death could not be proven because Zhang’s body was never found.
“I’ve wanted to talk with someone about this so much,” he said.
He went on to compare himself to Ted Bundy, claiming he was a serial killer with skills that went unmatched for decades.
Bullis asked Christensen if she and Michelle Zortman, his wife, were safe from him. He called himself “the most dangerous person in 200 miles.”
“You’re safe. And I mean that,” he said. “You are very safe. You are.”
“Unless for some reason I’m a complete idiot and say something to somebody and then I’m not safe,” Bullis answered.
“That’s true,” he said.
“Yingying is gone. I won’t tell you where she is. I won’t tell anyone where she is,” he said, according to the transcript. “The FBI has looked for her. The police and FBI don’t know where she is. I’m apparently very good at this.”
“They will never find her. The family, you know, they won’t leave until she’s found,” he said later. “They’re gonna leave empty-handed because no one will ever know where she is…She’s gone forever…That apparently is my expertise.”
Toward the end of the conversation, Michelle Zortman, Christensen’s wife, picked up Bullis and Christensen in her car. He asked his wife how her night was, calling her “sweetie,” and joked, “Nobody knows who I’m talking to when I say ‘sweetie.'”
2. Terra Bullis & Brendt Christensen Met Online When he Was Married to Michelle Zortman & Bullis Is Polyamorous
Terra Bullis is polyamorous, according to the News-Gazette. She and Brendt Christensen started dating in 2017. At the time, Christensen was married to Michelle Zortman, and they were in an open relationship. The newspaper reported Bullis and Christensen met on the dating site, OkCupid.
She testified at his trial, saying she was “emotionally attached” to Christensen and “wanted to know if he had done anything or not.” She wanted to wear a wire so that she could have that knowledge, and potentially also inform law enforcement.
Throughout the transcript of the recorded conversation, she expressed fears that Christensen would hurt her, according to the government’s full transcript. He told her she was safe.
“Unless for some reason I’m a complete idiot and say something to somebody and then I’m not safe,” Bullis said.
“That’s true,” Christensen answered.
Their evening together on June 29, 2017 as Christensen gave Bullis a confession of the brutal murder was a stark contrast to their first date. She described it as “whimsical,” according to the News-Gazette. They started out walking around a bookshop. She said he was “very flirtatious. He seemed kind, courteous, amicable.”
While Christensen was sharing an apartment with his wife, Bullis was living with a group of polyamorous housemates, according to the Chicago Tribune. She once texted Christensen to let him know she just had casual sex, which he said was fine and called her by her pet name, “bunny.”
3. Terra Bullis Introduced Brendt Christensen to an Online Fetish Site Where he Researched Kidnapping
Terra Bullis admitted she introduced Brendt Christensen to FetLife, a fetish social media website, according to the News-Gazette. Christensen’s activity on the website was part of a startling discovery investigators made after taking his phone and computer into evidence.
In April, Christensen visited a forum called “Abduction 101” on the website, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case. He also visited sub-threads called “perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.” The FetLife website describes itself as “the Social Network for the BDSM, Fetish & Kinky Community. Like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me. We think it is more fun that way.”
At Christensen’s trial, his defense team argued that Yingying’s murder did not involve substantial planning and premeditation. Instead, he was in a downward spiral and, at the same time, happened to be introduced to the dominant-submissive lifestyle. Bullis testified she had introduced him to BDSM and to the social network FetLife. She also said she introduced him to flogging and showed him a video of a flogging demonstration.
“I introduced him to the ideas. He was not part of the community,” she said, according to the News-Gazette.
She added, “I did not aim to teach. I was answering inquiries.”
An exhibit list annotating evidence from Christensen’s defense team indicates they admitted Terra Bullis’ FetLife records into evidence.
4. Terra Bullis Played a Submissive in her Relationship With Brendt Christensen
Terra Bullis played a submissive role in her relationship with Brendt. During their recorded conversation, they discussed their dominant-submissive relationship. She referenced a time when she had been tortured, saying she had Stockholm syndrome and wondered if she had been mentally damaged, according to the transcript of Christensen’s confession.
“Bullis said she was a submissive in their dominant-submissive relationship, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom for Christensen because he ‘did not like to clean bathrooms,'” the News-Gazette reported.
Her submissive status in the relationship also allowed her to ask more questions for the FBI. She played dumb and asked for details, often downplaying her intelligence, apologizing or saying she was dense, the transcript indicates.
“She used her submissive status to elicit more information, pretending to be confused and asking lots of questions,” the newspaper reported.
5. After Recording the Confession She Said She Was No Longer Able to Work in Public & Sought Mental Health Treatment
Terra Bullis was terrified as she listened to her boyfriend described the brutal murder of Yingying Zhang.
“At one point, prosecutor James Nelson asked about loud thumping that could be heard through much of the June 29 audio,” ABC News reported.
“That was my heartbeat,” Bullis responded.
At the end of their evening together on June 29, 2017, Bullis went home and called the FBI. She testified she was feeling “devastated,” according to the News-Gazette. Christensen was arrested the next day.
Bullis said she began seeking mental health treatment. She was “no longer able to work in a public environment” during her testimony. She asked the FBI for some financial assistance, and received between $7,000 and $8,000.
A transcript of Christensen’s confession indicates Christensen told Bullis she would not be safe if she went to the authorities with the information he gave her. He said she was the only person he told, and that he trusted her. Even after he was arrested, he did not suspect her. He was concerned about her, and passed along messages to his wife to give Bullis, according to the News-Gazette.
When asked why she wore a wire and recorded Christensen, she said, “Because it was necessary.”