BEIJING // For eight years, Zhou Kehua evaded capture as he carried out a string of killings, eventually claiming a total of nine lives.
In a country with one of the most well-developed and expensive internal security systems in the world, the armed robber's continued existence as a free man was an embarrassment to the authorities as well as a source of terror to the public.
Yesterday morning, however, the road finally ran out for China's most-wanted man; the 42-year-old suffered the fate he meted out to many others when he was shot dead by police near a shoe factory in Chongqing municipality.
State media published grisly pictures of him lying dead in a pool of blood after the shoot-out at 6.50am yesterday. It ended an orgy of violence that began in 2004 before spreading across China.
"We have not seen this kind of cold-blooded killer in years," state media quoted an unnamed police official as saying last week, adding that Zhou was always "incredibly calm".
His ability to remain at large earned him the name Rambo by one commentator, albeit without the virtuous side sometimes displayed by Sylvester Stallone's cinema character.
Yet it seemed inevitable that justice would catch up with him as police forces in the area where Zhou was believed to be hiding cancelled leave as they redoubled efforts to track down the killer.
Described as "ruthless and highly dangerous", Zhou's life in crime started when, aged just 15, he was put behind bars for two weeks for harassing women.
He later worked as a railway porter, although reports say he was also jailed for trafficking arms in Yunnan province next to Myanmar.
In 2004, he carried out his first killing when he shot dead a woman during a bank hold-up, and he was later involved in robberies and shootings across the country.
The suspect had recently been discovered in the eastern province of Jiangsu and in Hunan, which lies further west, before he fled to Chongqing, the area where he grew up.
On Friday, in Chongqing city in south-western China, he shot three people withdrawing money from a bank, including a woman who was fatally injured.
Later that day he claimed his final victim, a police officer gunned down while pursuing the robber in the city's suburbs. According to state media, his weapon was an illegally made pistol.
As they stepped up their search, police released a series of pictures of Zhou, showing him alternately shaven-headed and with a full head of hair. In all photos he looked at the camera with a cold stare.
According to state media, the bounty on Zhou's head had grown to 5.4 million yuan (Dh3.1 million) by the time he was gunned down.