I went down a rabbit hole after researching Boston Chinatown history. Somehow, it journeyed from a crime boss, to the Chinatown massacre to “Bac Guai” John Willis whose story is quite fascinating – so fascinating that a book was written and a film is in the works.

The book itself was ok. I found some parts of it to be repetitive and some aspects that made me go hmmmm like this passage:

On January 11, 1991, he sat in a corner booth at Dong Khanh on Harrison Avenue and enjoyed a bowl of pho, a Vietnamese rice noodle soup served with a rare steak cooked in hot water.

Is the rare steak cooked in hot water? Do some people do that? I always thought you just let it cook in the boiling, hot soup?

Anyhow, I enjoyed learning more about the underworld of Chinatown especially places I’m familiar with – to find out its dark side cuz who knew the now shuttered Vietnamese restaurant Dong Khanh also served as a morning meeting space for the gangs? I just always thought they had the best noodle soups and shakes in town.

In terms of rooting for Willis, you’re not going to want to especially considering the brutality he dished out to people he thought disrespected him. Also, as far as being part of the Chinese culture? No. He was just part of the gang culture.

If you want to find out more about the book, the author and the story:

New Book Captures Boston Chinatown’s ‘White Devil’,
WBUR’s Radio Boston (January 11, 2016)

‘White Devil’ Unlikely Chinatown Gang Leader,
NPR’s Here & Now (August 16, 2013)

Chinatown’s ‘White Devil John’ Sentenced To 20 Years,
NPR’s Code Switch (August 16, 2013)

The amazing true story of the only white man to rise to the top of the Chinese mafia.

In August 2013, “Bac Guai” John Willis, also known as the “White Devil” because of his notorious ferocity, was sentenced to 20 years for drug trafficking and money laundering. Willis, according to prosecutors, was “the kingpin, organizer and leader of a vast conspiracy,” all within the legendarily insular and vicious Chinese mafia.

It started when John Willis was 16 years old . . . his life seemed hopeless. His father had abandoned his family years earlier, his older brother had just died of a heart attack, and his mother was dying. John was alone, sleeping on the floor of his deceased brother’s home. Desperate, John reached out to Woping, a young Chinese man Willis had rescued from a bar fight weeks before. Woping literally picks him up off the street, taking him home to live among his own brothers and sisters. Soon, Willis is accompanying Woping to meet his Chinese mobster friends, and starts working for them.

First published June 16, 2015

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