The vicious killing of a Chinese “slave girl” named Bow Kum shocked New York City in 1909 and sparked a year-long Tong war and hard-won truce that required intervention from the Chinese government.
Born in China in 1888, Bow Kum was sold for a few dollars by her father and brought to San Francisco, where she was sold again for $3,000 to Low Hee Tong, a leader of the Hip Sing and Four Brothers Tongs.
When Low Hee Tong was arrested four years later, Kum was taken in by Christian missionaries who helped Chinese girls escape the brutal life of gangs.
A man named Tchin Len promised to make her his wife, so the missionaries handed her over, and Len brought Kum to New York City. Len was a member of On Leong Tong, a bitter rival of Hip Sing and Four Brothers.
They settled at 17 Mott Street. By this time, Low Hee Tong was out of jail. He tracked Kum down and demanded that Len repay him $3,000. Len refused; the Hip Sing and Four Brothers tongs got involved and told Len to pay up. He didn’t.
On August 15, Kum was found on the floor of her Mott Street room, stabbed multiple times in the heart with some fingers cut off. Two Tong henchmen were tried for her murder, but they were acquitted.
The top photo shows Mott Street around 1910; the bottom photo is Pell Street at the turn of the last century.