image: Qian Liu
AP
Qian Liu of Beijing, a York University student, was found dead in her apartment near school Friday. She was last seen alive on a webcam by her boyfriend in China, who witnessed her struggling with a man before the camera was abruptly shut off.
updated 4/22/2011 12:34:30 AM ET 2011-04-22T04:34:30

A man charged with murdering a Chinese student whose struggle with her assailant was seen on webcam by her helpless boyfriend in China lives in the same building as the victim, police said late Thursday.

The body of York University student Liu Qian, 23, of Beijing, was found Friday in her apartment in Toronto a few hours after her boyfriend witnessed the attack, police said. Police refused to publicly release any details about the crime or its possible motive.

She was naked from the waist down but there were no obvious signs of sexual assault or trauma severe enough to kill her. An autopsy on Liu's body was inconclusive, and police say it may be weeks before the results of toxicology tests are known.

Brian Dickson, 29, lived in one of the units at 27 Aldwinckle Heights and Liu lived in the basement apartment, a police source said on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

Dickson stood before the court in a wrinkled white shirt and blue jeans as a charge of first-degree murder was read out. He did not enter a plea and his case was held over until April 26. The justice of the peace imposed a publication ban on nearly all other details.

Dickson was arrested Wednesday. Toronto spokesman Tony Vella said Dickson was known to police but would not elaborate.

Police only announced his name and age on Wednesday and asked the media not to publish any photos of Dickson, saying it could compromise the investigation. Vella declined to elaborate on the request further.

Liu's father, Liu Jianhui, who arrived from China after being notified of his daughter's death, thanked authorities for their quick action. Jianhui visted the coroner's office on Thursday.

"I sincerely thank the people concerned with my daughter's case," he told reporters after the arrest. "Our daughter was studying very hard."

Police released no motive or details about Dickson, but one friend described the Toronto man as an aspiring actor.

Patricia Tomasi, a Facebook friend of Dickson's, told The Associated Press that she acted in a play at a local theater in Toronto with Dickson in 2007.

"He doesn't seem like the type but that's what they always say," Tomasi said of the allegations. "He's tall with boyish good looks. I don't know much about him except that he wanted to be an actor."

Dickson attended York University where he studied global politics, but did not earn a degree from there.

He later worked for the Atlantic Council of Canada, a NATO-affiliated think-tank where he served as an assistant to the president Julie Lindhout. According to his biography on a newsletter from the Atlantic Council of Canada, Dickson has also been a running instructor and has been involved with Developments in Literacy, a Pakistani aid organization that raises money for children in Pakistan.

A statement from the Atlantic Council of Canada on Thursday said it was not council policy to comment on staff, but it confirmed that Dickson had been an intern with the council from September 29, 2008, until March 27, 2009.

Liu was chatting with her boyfriend, Meng Xianchao, by webcam at about 1 a.m. Friday when a man knocked on the door, police said.

Meng reported seeing a struggle break out between the two before Liu's webcam was shut off. Meng contacted other friends in Toronto who in turn called police.

The victim's father, Liu Jianhui, said his daughter studied at Beijing City University before moving to Canada, where she met Meng. Liu Jianhui is the research director of Communist Party history at the Party School of the Central Committee of CPC, which trains party officials.

Liu Qian's laptop computer, webcam and mobile phone were taken from the apartment the night of the attack, police said. Police said the online chat was on a live streaming camera and was not recorded, though investigators were trying to figure out if there was any way they could recover it.

York University is one of Canada's largest universities with more than 53,000 undergraduate and graduate students. About 3,200 of York's students come from more than 150 foreign countries, the university's website says.

The campus is located near one of Toronto's rougher neighborhoods and some students at York said they are troubled by violence near campus.

"It's about taking responsibility for the fact that these crimes are happening," said psychology student Gayle McFadden, 20, a second-year psychology student.

McFadden said the university needs to realize that many students live in the area near campus and extend its security efforts there.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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