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Friday, March 23, 2001

Chinese community falls apart after mass murder

Nancy Dingler

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Evelyn Lockie felt shock and revulsion as she surveyed the grisly scene she had been summoned to as a reporter for the Sacramento Bee and Solano Republican in August of 1928.  “All hell had broken loose in Chinatown. There were deaths by shooting.”

Lockie had grown up in the area and was well acquainted with the Chinese community of several hundred people that hugged the shores of Suisun Creek near Rockville on the old Hatch Ranch.  The resulting mass murder led to the end of the community. Unable to forget the killings, family after family slowly drifted away, until the town remained alone and abandoned to crumble into dust as if it had never existed.

The Chinese originally came to California, as so many others did, during the Gold Rush of 1849. When the transcontinental railroad was being built from the California terminus, laborers were needed more than ever. Free fares from China were offered. Men and boys came, followed eventually by the women.

The Chinese established themselves throughout the California gold fields and farming communities in California, including Suisun.  The Chinese considered their “Chinatown” to be a work/labor camp on the Hatch ranch. However, the Suisun community contained homes, bunk houses for the single men, a Buddhist temple, a store, big stables for horses, wagon yards, and fruit sheds.

Gambling was and is an important social activity for the Chinese. Possibly there was a gambling hall, but more than likely, gambling could be found throughout the camp, along with the practice of smoking opium. Evelyn confided, “It was whispered about that there might be a hidden opium den among the buildings.”

It was also rumored that there was a tunnel leading away from the community, exiting under a bridge for the safe evacuation in the event of unfriendly intruders.

Lockie had heard all these rumors, yet she was still surprised when the sheriff’s deputy led her, the photographer from the Sacramento Bee, and the entourage of reporters from Oakland, San Francisco and Vallejo, to an office where he flipped over a rug and raised a trap door leading to a dusty room beneath.

The room was dimly lit by one electric light bulb, which revealed a short ladder and four bunks. “Here,” the deputy explained, “is where Wong Gee was lying, having a pipe of opium before he went to work.” Gee never finished his pipe, before Leung Ying appeared with a sawed-off shotgun, shooting Gee and another farm worker who just happened to arrive at that moment to get his work order for the day. The bodies had been removed, but not the copious amount of blood, testimony to the murder scene.

Next, Ying went to the laundry, where he killed another man, before moving on to the cutting shed, killing several more. Wong Gee’s home was another scene of carnage. Gee’s 15-year-old daughter, Nellie, was on her way to school when Ying burst into their home, shooting her in the abdomen. Though not killed outright, she lived for five days at the local hospital. Her mother, Mrs. Wong Gee, was killed as she arrived at her front door with her 10-day old baby. In her last dying act, she flung her body over the baby to protect it. Then Ying went to the crib, where 4-year-old Johnny was sleeping and killed him. By now, Ying had run out of shells for the gun. He grabbed a cleaver from the Gee’s kitchen to continue his murderous rampage.

He split 3-year-old Willie’s head before going back to Mrs. Gee’s lifeless body, where he moved her aside to finish off the baby. The only members of the Gee family to survive were 7-year old Ruthie and 9-year old Helen, who were both fast asleep upstairs.

All in all, during his murderous rampage, Leung Ying had killed eight people outright, and seriously wounded three others, who were not expected to live.

Ying stole the Gees’ car and was later apprehended near Grass Valley. He never was remorseful for the killings. Ying did not appear to be very bright. He justified his actions by claiming he had been teased beyond endurance. Lockie described him as an “ugly little man whose face was deeply pock-marked” and who had become addicted to opium, which might have led to his warped sense of “righteousness.”