Note: The following account of a grisly Fairfield mass murder is graphic and not for the squeamish.
The most vicious mass murder in California until that time occurred in Fairfield on Aug. 22, 1928. A 29-year-old Chinese cook and narcotics addict named Leung Ying killed 11 people in a horrific murderous rampage.
A Chinatown had bloomed in Rockville near Suisun Creek as descendants of the first Chinese immigrants, lured to California by the 1849 gold rush, settled there.
Leung Ying was high on narcotics when he took a rifle and shot Wong Yee, who was smoking an opium pipe before work in a secret underground room. Another worker was shot there as well.
Leung Ying killed four more people in the cutting shed and laundry. He then went to Wong Gee’s home. There, he shot Wong Gee’s 15-year-old daughter Nellie in the abdomen. She held on to life for five days after the initial killings, but became the final victim.
Wong Gee’s wife was carrying her 10-day-old baby, then nameless. Leung Ying shot the woman as she tried desperately in her last dying act to shield her child. Next, he shot 4-year-old Johnny Gee in his crib.
The attack, already senseless and horrific, then became barbaric.
Evidently Leung Ying ran out of ammunition and got a cleaver from the kitchen. After splitting the head of 3-year-old Willie Wong, he returned to Mrs. Wong Gee, moved her lifeless body and finished off the infant.
The only members of Wong Gee’s family left alive were 7-year-old Ruthie and 9-year-old Helen, who were upstairs.
Leung Ying then stole the Gee’s car and escaped to Grass Valley, where he was later arrested in a confrontation with police.
The story of the drug-fueled massacre was nationwide news. When caught, Ying said the reason for the murders were that others in the village were plotting to kill him by poisoning his food. “I no eat Chinese cake,” Ling was quoted as saying in a Grass Valley Newspaper. “I know who want kill me. I kill them first.”
A different reason and perhaps more plausible came from an interview with Evelyn Lockie in 1981 that was published in the December 1985 issue of Solano Historian. Lockie, who grew up in the area and knew Wong Gee, covered the story as a Fairfield correspondent for The Sacramento Bee.
“As far as we could find out, and according to his own version, he had been the subject of much teasing. He was an ugly little man, whose face was deeply pock-marked, probably from small pox, and he wasn’t too bright,” Lockie said. “The teasing irritated him. He found out that opium swept away his unhappiness and became addicted to it. As ‘hopheads’ were not encouraged on this ranch, he couldn’t get any opium, and this coupled with his being teased so much led his warped mind to the path of murder. He knew exactly who his targets would be and methodically went about disposing of them.”
Leung Ying was never remorseful and in fact asked to be released from his cell to kill a certain elderly Chinese woman, swearing he would return after her murder.
He tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with a blanket the night after his arrest, but was stopped by guards then spent the night banging his head against the floor and the walls while crying out for narcotics.
On Aug. 31, 1928, Leung Ying pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to death by hanging. The execution date was set for Nov. 9, but he hanged himself with a bath towel on Oct. 22 in his cell at San Quentin State Prison.
The Fairfield newspaper, the Solano Republican, reported the suicide with its style of mixing editorial comment in with news reports. It said that by taking his own life Ying “saved the state 15 feet of well-stretched hemp.” It ended by saying that “Chinese in Suisun Valley were satisfied with the results of the bath towel party.”
Tony Wade, Fairfield writer, wishes to thank Mary Lou Bowen for bringing this story to his attention. Reach Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.