Posts Tagged ‘murder in Chinatown’

The unsolved Chinatown trunk murder of 1909

October 10, 2011

In June 1909, 19-year-old Elsie Sigel’s well-to-do Bronx family thought she had gone to visit her grandmother in Washington DC.

Instead, she had been murdered—her decaying body stuffed in a trunk with a rope around her neck in an apartment at 782 Eighth Avenue.

Police at the scene quickly figured out Elsie’s identity based on the 35 or so desperate love letters strewn across the apartment floor.

They were addressed to the man who lived there, Chinese immigrant Leon Ling, who had apparently fled New York days earlier.

Investigators quickly pieced the story together: Sigel (granddaughter of Civil War hero Gen. Franz Sigel) did mission work in Chinatown, part of an effort to convert immigrants to Christianity.

There she met Ling, a dapper ladies’ man, as well as another Chinese immigrant. She became involved romantically with both of them.

When Ling found out about the other man, police theorized he killed Sigel in a rage.

The murder of a young white woman by a Chinese man made huge headlines in all the New York papers—especially since the supposed murderer had vanished.

Theories were proposed: Ling fled back to China. The couple ran off together and put another girl’s body in the trunk to throw off cops. Sigel killed herself, and Ling was smuggled out of the city by other Chinese.

Whatever the real story, the case remains officially unsolved 102 years later.

[Top right illustration from the New York Daily News; bottom left, the Mott Street mission where Sigel met her supposed killer]

A comedian caught in Chinatown’s Tong wars

September 8, 2009

In 1909, Chinese-American comedian Ah Hoon was a well-known actor, performing regularly at the Chinese Theater. Located at 5-7 Doyers Street (pictured below in 1909), the theater was a popular venue for Chinese- and English-speaking audiences, who enjoyed the trip to exotic Chinatown. 

Ah Hoon belonged to the On Leong Tong, and he had a habit of making jabs at rival Tongs the Four Brothers and the Hip Sings while on stage.


Bad timing. A Tong war had just broken out, and rival Tong leaders didn’t like the jabs. So they decided Ah Hoon had to be killed. They warned him of his fate and even told him which day would be his last—December 30.

Ah Hoon took them seriously. He had a police presence on stage with him at the Chinese Theater that night, and he escaped to his nearby boardinghouse through a tunnel. On Leong members guarded the boardinghouse entrance.

Still, he was found shot in the heart the next day in his room. How did the rival Tongs get in? Apparently they lowered a gang member on a boatswain’s chair off the roof and into a window in Ah Hoon’s room. He murdered the comedian using a silencer.