The Wah Mee massacre was
a mulitiple homicide on
1983, in which Kwan Fai "Willie" Mak, Wai-Chiu
"Tony" Ng, and Benjamin Ng gunned down 14
people in the Wah Mee gambling club on Maynard Alley S. just south
of S. King Street in Seattle's Chinatown.
Thirteen of their victims lost their lives, but one
survived to testify against the three in one of Seattle's highest-profile
trials ever. It remains the worst mass murder in the State's history.
The Wah Mee club operated illegally in a basement
space in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood. The club's regulars
included many wealthy restaurant-owners, several of whom were among the
victims. Security at the club was based in part on a system of passing
through multiple successive doors, which had been used in similar
Chinatown gambling dens for generations, and had usually been quite
Mak and his accomplices defeated the
system only because they were known and trusted by the people at the
club. Their presumed intent was to leave no witnesses, since club
patrons could readily identify them, as, in fact, the one survivor did.
In fact, Mak had been planning the robbery for weeks, and he enlisted
Benjamin Ng, and later Tony Ng.
February 24, 1983,
Benjamin Ng and Willie Mak were charged with 13 counts of aggravated
first-degree murder. Benjamin Ng was represented by famed Seattle
defense lawyer John Henry Browne. Mak was represented by the Associated
Counsel for the Accused lawyer Jim Robinson. The State was represented
by William Downing and Robert Lasnik.
Wai-Chiu (Tony) Ng became the third suspect, charged
in absentia on
March 30, 1983
with 13 counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
In August 1983 Benjamin Ng was convicted of murder
and sentenced to life in prison.
In October 1983, Willie Mak was convicted of murder
and sentenced to die.
June 15, 1984
Tony Ng became the 387th person to be listed on the Federal Bureau of
Investigation's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list (see FBI Ten Most Wanted
Fugitives, 1980s). He was arrested
October 4, 1984
in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Tony Ng was acquitted in April 1985 of
murder, but convicted of 13 counts of first-degree robbery and a single
count of assault with a deadly weapon. Each robbery charge brought a
minimum sentence of five years, to be served consecutively.
February 17, 1987
the Washington State Supreme Court issued a stay of execution a month
before Willie Mak's scheduled execution, but on
May 2, 1988
the state Supreme Court let Mak's murder conviction stand. However, then
November 10, 1988
Willie Mak's execution was delayed indefinitely by a federal judge.
January 8, 1991
U.S. District Judge William Dwyer overturned Willie Mak's death sentence,
saying Mak's attorneys failed to present evidence on their client's
background that could have saved his life. On
July 16, 1992
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate Mak's death
November 9, 1994
a King County Superior Court judge denied Mak's bid for a new trial but
allowed prosecutors to hold a new sentencing hearing.
February 15, 2002,
a King County Superior Court judge scheduled a sentencing hearing for
April 29, 2002
a King County Superior Court judge ruled that Mak will not face the
death penalty because the 1983 jury wasn't asked to determine how much
of a role he had in the crime.
September 6, 2006,
a parole board met to determine whether Tony Ng should receive parole on
his 12th robbery term. If given parole, he would begin serving his 13th
term, and be eligible for parole and potentially freed in 2010. Both
former King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng and former Seattle Police
Chief Patrick Fitzsimons asked the parole board to deny parole on the
12th count. Relatives who came to the hearing expressed outrage that
they were not made aware of previous parole hearings and that Tony Ng
was so close to possible release because of it.
Wah Mee Massacre
On February 18, 1983, three armed, young Chinese American men enter the
historic Wah Mee gambling club in Seattle’s Chinatown. They walk away
with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, leaving 14 people for dead.
One of the victims survives and testifies during what were arguably the
three highest-profile trials Seattle has ever seen.
The Wah Mee was a historic speakeasy and gambling
club that dated back to the early 1920s. The club, a romantic, classy
enclave patronized mainly by semi-affluent restaurant owners and
business people in the Chinese community, hosted some of the highest-stakes
gambling that could be found in Seattle and, for that matter, in the
entire Pacific Northwest.
Winners went home with tens of thousands of dollars
after a single night of gambling. Beat cops supplemented their income by
tolerating (for a price) illegal gambling in Chinatown. Police allowed
the exclusive, Chinese-only members of the Wah Mee Club to preserve an
integral part of their history -- gambling -- while also profiting
In early 1983, a young, 22-year-old Chinese American
immigrant named Willie Mak racked up a several thousand-dollar gambling
debt with one of the gambling clubs where he worked. In an effort to
clear his debts, Mak singled out the wealthy Wah Mee as the target for a
heist-and-killing like no other in Seattle.
Mak enlisted the help of his old high school
classmate, Benjamin Ng. Ng's extensive criminal record dated back to his
years as a juvenile. Mak also enlisted the help of Tony Ng (no relation
to Benjamin Ng) -- a shy, quiet, reserved 24-year-old Chinese American
immigrant who worked at his parents’ restaurant in North Seattle.
Shortly before midnight on February 18, 1983, the
three young men entered the Wah Mee Club. They hog-tied and robbed 14
victims before opening fire.
One of the victims survived. He freed himself from
the nylon cords and staggered out of the club to find help. The survivor,
Wai Chin, a 62-year-old dealer of Pai Kau, a gambling game played with
Chinese dominoes, identified Willie Mak, Benjamin Ng, and Tony Ng as
perpetrators of the massacre.
Within hours of the murders, Willie Mak and Benjamin
Ng were apprehended. Tony Ng fled the country, hiding out for nearly two
years in the Chinatown in Calgary, Alberta. Ng was eventually extradited
to the United States, where he stood trial on several counts of
aggravated murder and robbery.
Willie Mak initially received the death penalty, but
his sentence was later reduced to life in prison without the possibility
of parole. Benjamin Ng also received a life sentence.
Tony Ng did not face the death penalty due to a
clause in his extradition from Canada to the United States. During his
trial, Tony Ng’s attorneys argued that their client did not open fire at
the Club and that Mak had forced him to participate in the crime. Thus,
jurors considered duress as a factor in their decision. They found him
guilty of robbery-and-assault -- not murder. Ng continues to
appeal his case, arguing that if jurors acquitted him of murder because
of the “duress factor,” they should have acquitted him of robbery-and-assault,
also due to the “duress factor.”
The 1983 mass-murder was aptly named the “Wah Mee
Massacre.” The Club is officially dead. Its entrance doors have been
padlocked and tagged with graffiti. Still, what happened at the Club is
a brutally horrific piece of Pacific Northwest history.
23 years haven't erased grief caused by Wah Mee
By Natalie Singer - The Seattle Times
Thursday, September 7, 2006
The man in the neat blue sport coat walked slowly
into the room, his head held high, mouth set in a firm line.
Behind the microphone minutes later, he crumbled.
Through tears, Jason Loui, 38, told how he was a
sophomore in high school when his stepfather was gunned down inside
Seattle's Wah Mee social club. That bloody day 23 years ago hijacked
Loui's life, transforming a carefree teen into the "man of the house"
and later into a husband and father struggling to suppress the dark
memories of the past.
"I've had to survive," choked Loui. "It's been a long
The lives of Loui and other relatives of the Wah Mee
Massacre victims unfolded Wednesday in a King County Courthouse
conference room like the brittle pages of a history book: weddings,
births, deaths, holidays, bouts of depression, opportunities seized and
missed, and always, the graveside visits.
Before three strangers on a state parole board, they
bared themselves: a son who long ago moved away but is still haunted by
his hometown; a daughter who shrinks from gunfire on television; a
family matriarch longing for her love.
With cracking voices and trembling breaths, the
families broke years of silence in hopes of persuading the parole board
not to bring Tony Ng, one of the perpetrators of Seattle's deadliest
mass shooting, any closer to freedom.
Ng, who was convicted of 13 counts of first-degree
robbery and one count of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon for
his role in the 1983 robbery and slaying of 13 victims at the Wah Mee
gambling club in the Chinatown International District, was sentenced to
a minimum of five years in prison for most of the robbery counts.
Under the state's old sentencing guidelines, as Ng
completed sentences for each count, he began serving time for the next.
Ng is now serving time for the next-to-last count.
This month, the state's Indeterminate Sentence Review Board is
considering granting Ng parole, which would allow him to begin serving
time for the final count. He could then be eligible for release from
prison in 2010.
The other two assailants, Kwan Fai "Willie" Mak and
Benjamin Ng (no relation to Tony Ng), were convicted of multiple counts
of murder and are serving life sentences without possibility of parole.
Learning Tony Ng was up for parole was like opening
an old wound, relatives of his victims said Wednesday. Scarred by the
shock of the crime, media attention and years of trials, appeals and
endless intrusions into their personal grief, many have been reluctant
to speak about the massacre.
Even among friends and families, the topic is often
taboo, witnesses said.
"We want to forget," said Linda Mar, daughter of
victims Jean and Moo Min Mar. "We do not want to keep reliving this
They also spoke of the larger impact of a crime they
say still haunts their community.
Wah Mee was an exclusive gambling and social club
with an alleyway entrance and high security. But after Feb. 18, 1983,
when three men entered the club, hogtied the 14 occupants — one of whom
survived — robbed them and shot each in the head, Wah Mee was often
miscast as a seedy gambling den, perpetuating stereotypes that burdened
Chinatown residents years after the massacre.
"The perception of Chinatown remains colored," Jeff
Lew, son of victim Wing Wong, wrote in a letter to the board.
But it was the telling of their most personal sorrows
that brought tears to the faces of those who testified, men and women
who trudged into the Seattle courthouse with new gray hairs and old
photos of loved ones lost 23 years ago. "I will never be able to consult
them on our family history, or benefit from their wisdom, or share the
camaraderie of being middle-aged," lamented Tony Chinn, who lost his
sister and brother-in-law.
Larry Chin described a father who came to America at
16, worked his way from dishwasher to cook, all the while dreaming of
owning his own restaurant — a dream never realized. Instead, Chong Chin
found the smallest pleasures where he could, such as in the gambling
club where his life ended so violently, his son said.
"That was his chance of achieving material things,
his piece of the American pie. His chance to relax after a day at the
hot stove," said Larry Chin, who testified via a conference call from
As he talked about his own three children, and the
missed opportunity to know their grandfather, Chin began to sob. "I
often fantasize on holidays, special events," he confessed, "what it
would be like if he was with us."
Chin is so haunted by the memories of the massacre
that he has only visited Seattle and the Chinatown International
District where he grew up three times in the past 20 years.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng and former Seattle
Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons both urged the board not to grant parole,
saying the crime was one of the worst they'd ever seen. "It's almost
surreal that we're talking about the possibility that sometime soon" Ng
could walk free, Maleng said.
Under modern sentencing laws, Ng would serve about 80
years for the same crimes, and the board should aim for a similar
sentence, Maleng advised.
More than a dozen family members attended the hearing
Wednesday. Some declined to speak publicly, choosing instead to talk
privately to the board. Others sent letters.
Many expressed anger that they weren't informed when
Ng had been paroled, though not released, after completing earlier
sentences. They told the board that they were never contacted each time
Ng completed serving time for one count and began serving time on the
next, effectively coming closer to possible release.
"I find it appalling," wrote Lew. "Recall the gravity
and heinous nature of what occurred."
The board, composed of one member appointed 12 years
ago and two appointed in the past two years, apologized to the families
for their pain but said it couldn't discuss past parole decisions.
The board will meet with Ng on Sept. 13 and release
its decision in four to six weeks, Board Chair Jeralita Costa said.
In requesting a parole denial for Ng, witnesses asked
the board members to put themselves in the family members' shoes.
Imagine, they said, that a horrific act of violence tore apart their
neighborhood, their families, their sense of security.
Then, they urged, picture the perpetrator suddenly
walking down the street once again, near your business, your home, your
"Everyone is given the opportunity to make choices,
and Tony Ng made the wrong choice," said Hazel Chin, daughter of Chong
Chin. "I will never be at peace knowing Tony Ng is back on the streets.
I ask you to grant us the justice we deserve."