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Samuel LAU





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: June 16, 1997
Date of birth: 1952
Victims profile: His wife, Arlene, 49, and sons Sammy, 21, and Terence, 17
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Seattle, Washington, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day

On June 16, 1997 a family of four was found dead inside their home in the well-to-do Seattle neighborhood of Bellevue.

What at first seemed to be a mob hit, unfolded instead into another case of familial murder-suicide. Sam Lau, a successful businessman from Hong Kong, citing "personal and financial problems," fatally shot his wife, two sons and himself in their home in Seattle.

Strangely, this was the second family killing in Bellevue, a leafy neighborhood of $400,000 homes on curving streets and cul de sacs, in the past six months. The previous killing occurred in a house two miles from the Lau home. A Bellevue couple and their two daughters were killed in January by Alex Baranyi Jr. & David Anderson, two thrill-killing 17-year-old boys.

In 1994, a family of three -- parents and a 20-year-old daughter -- were bludgeoned to death in their Bellevue home.


Murder Motive Remains Mystery

Friends, Family Say Bellevue Slayings 'Inconceivable'

By Susan Byrnes - The Seattle Times

Wednesday, June 18, 1997

They bought Samuel Lau's fireworks, listened to him boast about his sons and met him on the golf course.

But even Lau's relatives, closest business associates and friends say they don't know what drove the successful fireworks broker to shoot his entire family and then himself.

"It's inconceivable," said William Weimer, general counsel of B.J. Alan, an Ohio-based fireworks company that traded with the Laus' company for two decades.

Lau shot his wife, Arlene, 49, and sons Sammy, 21, and Terence, 17, several times each in the upper body in an upstairs bedroom of their Bellevue house early Monday, authorities said. The 55-year-old Hong Kong native then shot himself in the head with a 9-mm pistol he bought several days earlier.

Police said Lau left a note, several pages long, blaming "business and personal reasons" for his actions.

But one police source here said despite its length, the note failed to detail a motive. The source said Lau accepted responsibility for the slayings and rambled about forgiveness without answering the question why.

"Sam Lau is a happy-go-lucky guy," said Lau's brother, Peter, by phone from Hong Kong. "He is the last person to have an enemy. If there's anything beyond our knowledge within his own family, we do not really know."

Peter Lau had last seen his brother during Samuel's recent visit to Hong Kong, but they met only briefly.

The company, which has been in the family for three generations, had stopped hearing from Samuel Lau about two days ago, Peter Lau said. Usually, they heard from him two to three times a day.

Their relatives in Hong Kong - including Samuel's parents - are being "very strong," Peter Lau said. "We become a strong team to face this tragedy."

By all accounts, Samuel Lau was a savvy, gregarious businessman, well-respected by those who traded with his Hong Kong-based company, China National Fireworks. Industry experts say Americans are buying more sparklers and firecrackers every year, and the Laus' well-established business appeared to be succeeding.

"He's a real giant in the industry," said Jerry Elrod, president of Pyrodyne American of Tacoma.

The family planned to move from Bellevue's Amherst neighborhood near Coal Creek Parkway to a larger house with a three-car garage after a trip to Hong Kong this summer.

Yet there were some hints of trouble.

Some friends noticed a change in Lau recently, saying he was less talkative and more sluggish than usual. He even lost weight. When Lau didn't bring up any concerns, friends took his mood for jet lag, as Lau returned from a trip to Hong Kong just one week ago.

Dennis Su, president of the Hong Kong Club on the Eastside, attended Puiching High School in Hong Kong with Samuel Lau. He dined and played golf with Lau whenever his old friend was in town.

Lau was taking tranquilizers

Lau had been taking tranquilizers for the past few months, Su said, but friends didn't know why.

Lau had complained to Su about stiff competition in the fireworks industry in recent months, but there was no indication his business had faltered.

The fireworks trade clearly is not worry-free. Strict regulations, varying demand and product-liability issues inject it with a degree of uncertainty.

The Lau company was facing two product-liability lawsuits, said Weimer, the general counsel of B.J. Alan. Weimer said he discussed the two lawsuits with Lau several weeks ago.

"We talked about worst-case scenarios, and he had a pretty good comfort level with them," Weimer said. "I'd be really surprised if these two cases would've driven him to this."

One of the lawsuits involved Robert Silverman, a Pennsylvania resident injured in an explosion during a fireworks display in Annapolis, Md., July 4, 1994, according to Silverman's attorney, Bruce Phillips, of Pittsburgh.

Phillips said Silverman was seeking damages for injuries suffered when a large aerial fireworks exploded in its tube, setting off others and injuring him. Silverman was the operator of the company putting on the fireworks show, Phillips said.

Lau and his wife were scheduled to give depositions in the case in Pittsburgh tomorrow, but Phillips said the lawsuit was routine.

"I would not call it a heavy lawsuit," Phillips said, explaining that his client suffered significant but not disabling injuries.

Industry executives say such lawsuits are considered part of the fireworks trade. Most companies arm themselves with ample insurance.

Lau's associate Elrod said he didn't remember Lau mentioning the particulars of any cases.

"(Lawsuits) happen," he said. "He has been through a lot of fireworks seasons; I'm sure he's used to something like this."

The Lau family has owned China National, known in Hong Kong as Kwongyuen Hangkee Ltd., for decades and is well known in Hong Kong. News of the shootings ran on the front page of today's South China Morning Post.

In recent years, Samuel Lau had become more of a broker, moving the headquarters to Hong Kong. The company contracted with factories in mainland China and exported the fireworks to the United States.

Lau supplied a few companies in Washington but mostly dealt with companies elsewhere in the U.S., including Missouri, Ohio and Texas.

Colleagues in Hong Kong puzzled

Samuel Lau's Hong Kong colleagues were equally puzzled and upset.

"I just could not accept the fact that his whole family died all of the sudden," said Wilson Mao, director of Hop Kee Pyrotechnics, a fireworks company similar to the Laus'.

Mao, who has known Samuel Lau since childhood, said he was surprised to learn from news accounts that Lau might have had difficulties with his business.

Lau co-founded the Hong Kong Pyrotechnics Association, which now counts 10 companies as members. The companies are "all very big and old families of fireworks," he said.

The Laus had sold their house at 13820 S.E. 62nd St. and planned to travel back to Hong Kong to visit relatives this summer.

The eldest son, Sammy Lau, was a senior majoring in business administration at the University of Washington where he was on the dean's list. A friend said he had taken a summer job in Hong Kong and was to leave this week.

Arlene Lau had planned to take the younger son to Hong Kong on June 20. Terence was a junior at Newport High School where Principal Fred Cogswell described him as an excellent student.

Last night, neighbors met in a private home a short distance from the Laus' home to discuss the shootings with police. A group of Sammy's friends stood on the sidewalk and hugged each other before they walked across the lawn to the house and began crying. They sat on the front step and held each other.

"This was an e-mail Sammy sent out last year," said one young woman who knew Sammy through the Hong Kong Student Association at the UW. "It seems appropriate now," she said of the poem that was sent to the association at the end of the school year.

"What drew us together was a mystery, where each of us is heading is a mystery as well . . ."



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