The Golden Dragon Shooting that put Asian gangs on the map
September 4, 1977 — It’s 2:40 AM at night. The sun was long gone when a blue Dodge Dart pulled up on Washington Street in San Francisco Chinatown. Three men jump out of the vehicle, armed with 12-gauge pump-action shotguns and a submachine gun. They don black leather jackets and have nylon stockings pulled over their faces, just about revealing their oriental facial features.
Seconds later a voice is heard yelping in Cantonese and English: “Man with a gun!” A bustling crowd of around fifty patrons panic and duck under their tables. Within seconds, the atmosphere in the lively Cantonese establishment changes from a gregarious family diner to a cutting atmosphere.
Unnerving screaming is cut short by the rhythmic sound of a submachine gun firing away, dichotomized by the serrated pops of shotgun-fire.
One of the assailants walks up to Paul Wada, a law student in the onset of his life. He is shot unreserved with a .38 Walther revolver, and then seven more times after he tumbled from his chair onto the ground.
After 60 seconds the gunfire ends abruptly. The masked assailants run out through the second entrance of the restaurant, leaving behind a bloody rampage of death and decay. That night, at 818 Washington Street, five people died and eleven fatally injured — none of which were gang members, criminals or even gang sympathizers.
Tony Cheuk is an animator and filmmaker making Super Wok Explosion, a unique animated web-series about Chinese organized crime. On this website, you can find articles about Asian organized crime, Chinese tongs and triads. You can also learn about the universe of the series. If you have an interest in organized crime and would like to learn more about the project, click here!
All men are brothers
The five assailants were members of the Joe Boys, a Chinese American street gang of Hong Kong immigrants, out to end a decade old feud by killing rival Wah Ching leaders. The Joe Boys were founded in the ‘60s and called themselves Chung Ching Yee after ‘Water Margin’, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. The gang was based in the Richmond and Sunset District in Western San Francisco after splintering off from Wah Ching.
Wah Ching, literally translating “chinese youth”, were a street gang founded in San Francisco by leaders who had ties with the Kuomintang. The gang was founded to protect young Chinese immigrants from being bullied by what they referred to as ABC — or ‘American Born Chinese’. Starting off doing petty crimes, they evolved first to protect illegal gambling joints in Chinatown. As they gained more power, they ended up demanding “pai peng” — or a cut of the profit. Journalist William J. Cardoso explains how the Wah Ching became the Hop Sing Tong’s “Braunhemden” — a youth branch of the Hop Sing fraternity functioning as ruffians.
The Golden Dragon Massacre was a direct consequence of a gang feud that escalated over the years.
Kin Chuen Louie
On May 31 in 1977, Kin Chuen Louie left his Kearney Street flat for a red Plymouth Fury when a young, long-haired Joe Boy approached him. A hand trailed to his black leather jacket.
Instinctively, Kin began to run. The assailant displayed a Walther automatic pistol in plain sight of Kin— who quickly got into his car and slammed it into reverse.
The assailant moved up to the driver-side window execution style and popped a .380 in his head. Kin’s foot got stuck on the accelerator, embedding the Plymouth into a white car and into a red-brick building.
The long-haired Asian man moved around to the windshield and planted seven bullets into Kin’s head and neck, leaving him undoubtedly dead before disappearing in a Sonoma alley.
Peace Garden Shooting
A little more than a month later, on July 4, Felix Huey and Melvin Yu were posted up at the Ping Yuen apartment complex or “peace garden” complex at Pacific Avenue. They were conducting a sale of illegal fireworks, which was a popular vice for Chinese gang members at the time.
The two were ambushed and shot point-blank by the Wah Ching as an immediate reprisal of the death of Kin Chuen Louie.
The Golden Dragon Massacre
The tone was set between the two street gangs. Tom Yu, a 17-year old leader of the Joe Boys, masterminded a retaliation that would emerge the Joe Boys victorious — so he thought.
A weekend before the shooting, Tom Yu stored a .45 caliber Commando Mk. III rifle, two 12-gauge pump-action shotguns and a .38 caliber revolver in a closet at an apartment in Pacifica.
The plot consisted of Tom Yu himself, Chester Yu, Dana Yu and Melvin Yu (who were brothers), Peter Ng, Peter Cheung, Curtis Tam, Kam Lee and Don Wong — none of who were older than 21 years old.
Weeks before the raid, Tom Yu had met up with Carlos Jon, a member of another gang. Yu thought that paying a member of another gang to collect information wouldn’t spark attention from the Wah Ching. He paid him to figure out places where Wah Ching members hung out regularly so he could figure out a plan of approach. Jon figured out, over the Labor Day weekend, that Wah Ching leaders and Hop Sing members gathered at their favourite restaurant late at night: the Golden Dragon restaurant at Washington Street. The place also happened to be co-owned by Jack Lee, a high ranking member of the Hop Sing Tong. This was a win-win, because the attack would directly impact Lee’s livelihood.
Tom Yu met up with Carlos Jon and told him to call to the Pacifica apartment early in the morning of September 3. On Friday night, September 2, the group that was supposed to conduct the raid, was rounded up by Tom at Pacifica. They collected the weapons Tom had stashed from the closet, but after a phone call with Carlos at 1 AM in the morning, they put the weapons back.
The Days before The Shooting
They let the night pass. It was the day of September 3. In the evening, Tom told Peter Cheung and Dana Yu to go fetch some wheels they could escape with. Around 9:30 PM that evening, they jacked a blue Dodge Dart from the other side of Chinatown and took it to the flat in Pacifica. The group waited the rest of the evening at the flat, waiting anxiously for Jon’s phone call.
At 2 AM on September 4, Tom Yu was called by Carlos Jon. Yu went into another room of the apartment to conduct a private conversation. Jon told Tom Yu that he saw Michael “Hot dog” Louie, one of the Wah Ching leaders, at the Golden Dragon restaurant.
The Night of The Shooting
Tom took the gamble. They grabbed the guns from the closet and discussed a plan. Chester Yu was going to be the getaway driver and stuck with the car. It was a quick in-and-out. Chester Yu told Curtis Tam to shoot at the ceiling, as to make the crowd panic, and only then they could pick out who to kill.
Curtis Tam was anxious about the situation and didn’t want to come at first, but was coerced into participating by Tom. He was afraid to be made out to be a “chicken”, which would smear his reputation.
After discussing the plan for an hour, at 2:40 AM Chester Yu drove Curtis Tam, Melvin Yu and Peter Ng to Washington Street. Curtis Tam wielded a shotgun with the barrel sawn off, Peter Ng carried a long-barreled 12-gauge and a handgun and Melvin Yu had the submachine gun. They pulled nylon stockings over their heads to cover up their identity before entering through the second entrance of the Golden Dragon restaurant looking for Wah Ching gang members.
Around 50 to 100 tourists had gathered in and around the restaurant at the time of the shooting.
The raid immediately didn’t go according to plan. Instead of firing at the ceiling, the three young Asians opened fire. First Melvin Yu, then Curtis Tam, then Peter Ng— They killed five, including 2 tourists and fatally injured 11 more people.
Curtis deliberately shot at the sofa first and testified that he then “shot where nobody was at” so as to not look like a “chicken”.
As they opened fire, comedians Philip Proctor and Peter Bergman just ended a show at the Great American Music Hall and were dining over at the Golden Dragon. Two cops, James Bonanno and Richard Hargens, were eating-in too. But overwhelmed by the attack, they couldn’t take a shot at the men.
In the back of the restaurant, 10 Wah Ching and Hop Sing members including Michael Louie and Hop Sing member Raymond Kwok Chow (who later became notoriously known as ‘Shrimp boy’) ducked under the table. A friend had spotted the three men coming in along one of the windows and alarmed them.
Melvin Yu walked up to Paul Wada and shot him down point-blank, mistaking him for a gang sympathizer. He shot him nine times and continued to shoot after he fell to the floor.
Sixty seconds later, they stopped shooting and left. Chester Yu drove them back to Pacifica and they put the hot guns in the closet between blankets.
The group was so restless they couldn’t sleep. They stayed up until the morning, discussing the raid uncertain about whether it was successful, and after a couple of hours of restless sleep woke up to the news of the shooting on the television.
Yu kept the triggermen in hiding and called up Tony Chun-ho Szeto. He told him to pick up noodles from the Golden Dragon for breakfast to make a damage report. Hours after the shooting, it became more clear to them they didn’t kill a single target.
When Szeto came back and they finished breakfast, the group got the guns from the closet and cut them up into pieces. Yu told Szeto to discard the guns in the bay.
Chester Yu drove Szeto to the Kee Joon restaurant Szeto worked at, and dumped the parts into the bay out of sight.
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
The Golden Dragon Massacre was the most bloody gang shooting the city has ever known. Locals say the authorities came in because most of the victims were “white” tourists. Prior to the Golden Dragon Massacre, some gang related murders remained unsolved. Simply because the police were unable to investigate and collect evidence and witness statements.
Chief Charles Gain criticized the Chinese community for their “subculture of fear”. Community members were afraid of gang related reprisals. Locals didn’t give away any information, and Asian cops weren’t on the force, rendering Chinatown an isolated community.
Wah Ching leader Michael Louie was the first person to be arrested by the Asian Gang Task Force following the murder of the girl Kit Mun Louie (not related). According to Louie, they had a romantic relationship, but Michael got jealous for “whoring around with Joe Boys”. To threaten her, he unloaded a gun and put it to her head in her sleep. He pulled the trigger with a bullet accidentally left loaded in the chamber and killed her on the spot.
After the Golden Dragon Massacre, the San Francisco Police Department established the Asian Gang Task-force. From 1977 onwards, in 1983 most gang-related violence in Chinatown was put to a stop.
Super Wok Explosion is a unique animated web-series about Chinese organized crime. The project is funded entirely by its audience. On this website, animator Tony Cheuk likes to share information about Asian organized crime—and world-building of the universe of the series, Chinese tongs and triads. If you're interested in learning more about the project, you can click here.
- Chinese Playground, a Memoir by Bill Lee
- The Golden Dragon massacre: A bloody rampage in the heart of 1970s San Francisco
- SF's Golden Dragon massacre: 40 years later, victims still have scars
- Chronicle Covers: Chinatown's Golden Dragon massacre
- The Golden Dragon Restaurant Massacre
- Wiki: Golden Dragon Massacres
- Wiki: Chung Ching Yee
- Wiki: Wah Ching