John “Jack” Fong
40-year-old Laundry Owner
Cause of Death: Stabbed
Motive: Chinese Tong Vendetta
Murder Scene and Date
Kee Quong Laundry
214 Fourth Street
Sioux City, Iowa
December 2, 1924
By Nancy Bowers
In 1924, John “Jack” Fong operated the Kee Quong Laundry at 214 Fourth Street in Sioux City and lived in an apartment at the back with a small boy.
Written August 2011
When the boy left for school about 8:55 a.m. on Tuesday, December 2, 1924, 40-year-old Fong was busy sorting laundry.
About 20 minutes later, Willis Bartlett, who worked at a garage nearby, stopped to pick up his washing. The laundry machinery was spinning and turning, but Jack Fong was nowhere to be seen.Bartlett stepped into the rear living quarters. There, Fong lay on his back staring blankly at the ceiling; the blood pooling around him was still warm.
Sioux City Police quickly arrived at the scene with Coroner Jesse H. Robbins.
Fong’s badly cut shirt was soaked with blood from 22 stab wounds to the torso. Driven through his temples was a distinctive 8-inch Chinese dagger. Another dagger had been loosely placed in his hand.
There were no signs of a struggle and it was likely the killer or killers — watching and waiting for Fong to be alone in the business — entered through the front door and took him by surprise, their movements inaudible over the laundry equipment. Fong had no chance to retrieve the guns he kept for protection beneath the bed.
Robbery was not a motive, as money was found under his pillow, in the cash drawer, and in his pockets totaling $1,000.
☛ Ritualistic Pattern ☚
The dagger thrust through Fong’s temples had notches carved into the handle: two groups of three each on the lower end and two sets of two on the upper end.
The dagger found cradled in Fong’s hand bore two sets of six and five notches each in corresponding positions to those on the other dagger.
Sioux City Police believed the configuration of knife wounds on Fong’s body matched the slashes on the daggers in a ritualistic pattern.
☛ Tong Related? ☚
Sioux City law enforcement immediately suspected the Jack Fong murder was tong-related, as the Chinese gangs were a nationwide problem in America at the time.
The groups evolved from benevolent associations in China which used “tong” — the Chinese word for home or gathering place — as their name.
When imported to the United States, however, many tongs morphed into secret criminal societies. They imported Chinese women as mail-order brides and prostitutes, ran gambling dens, and trafficked in opium.
They also branched out into protection, extortion, and murder much like their Italian counterparts, the Black Hand. The influence of both groups peaked in the 1920s.
Chinese immigrants who came to California during the Gold Rush and the expansion of the railroads were driven eastward by racial prejudice and by fear of tongs.
Chinese populations increased in large cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York, as well as in smaller ones in less populated states like Iowa and Nebraska.
The Jack Fong murder bore the tell-tale signs of an ordered tong killing by what was known as boo how doy or “hatchet men.” These hired assassins stealthily moved in and out of cities to do their brutal work.
☛ The Tong in Sioux City ☚Rumors had swirled in the Sioux City Chinese community for weeks that Tong violence would occur there.
Several Chinese men who gathered at the scene of the murder confided in a Sioux City Journal reporter that they received tong letters marking them for death; a restaurant owner even appealed to City Councilman Charles E. Wilcox for protection.
Chief of Detectives Gus Danielson announced that Omaha taxi driver Howard Smith told police he was hired to bring “two strange Chinese” to Sioux City the day before the Fong murder. The day after, he received a long-distance call — verified by phone records — to return to Sioux City and drive the men back to Omaha. He received $50 for each trip.
After the murder, police searched homes and businesses belonging to Chinese residents on the possibility the hatchet man was being sheltered. Chief of Police Joe Young ordered that all Sioux City Chinese residents be disarmed.
The local Chinese closed ranks and were of little help in the murder investigation.
The Sioux City Journal described what they termed “the immobility of the Chinese face,” quoting one police officer:
“Chinese certainly are born with poker faces. If members of the Sioux City colony are perturbed — and they certainly are perturbed — their feelings are not reflected in their countenances. Their facial expressions indicate a calmness that might be expected at a late hour on a quiet Sunday afternoon, when business in restaurants is at its lowest ebb. And when it came to discussing the murder they [were] the proverbial clam making a speech.”
☛ Tong Hatchet Men Arrested in Chicago ☚
In February 1925, 23-year-old John V. Clark of Pittsburgh was arrested in Chicago and confessed to being the paymaster and chauffeur for a group of hatchet men associated with the Hip Sing Tong. Clark, a Caucasian, received money from tong leaders and paid his Chinese henchmen for trouble-making and killing in Chicago and elsewhere.
Clark claimed hatchet men received $1,000 for each murder, but only $250 if the intended victim was merely wounded. For shooting up a rival business, the price was $50.
Acting on Clark’s information, Chicago Police raided the Hip Sing Tong headquarters at 503 South Clark Street and arrested 20 Chinese men, including their leader Willie Wong.
Sioux City authorities hoped for a prosecution if the Jack Fong murder could be tied to this tong and their traveling hatchet men.
However, no one was charged or convicted in the Jack Fong murder.
☛ Aftermath ☚
Courtesy photo Prairiemoon, findagrave.com Jack Fong is buried in Sioux City’s Graceland Cemetery.
Jack Fong’s body was taken to Peterson Brothers Undertaking Parlors. His family in San Francisco was located; when they arrived in Sioux City, they arranged for his burial in Graceland Cemetery.
Authorities were not certain how long Fong lived in Sioux City but knew he resided in San Francisco for over 20 years before coming to Iowa.
John Fong’s cousin, San Francisco merchant George Fong, moved to Sioux City in mid-December of 1924 to take over the Kee Quong laundry operation.
Police speculated that Jack Fong belonged to a San Francisco tong and had tried to lose himself in Sioux City.
George Fong insisted, however, that his cousin Jack had no enemies and was not a tong member.
Please note: Use of information in this article — written in August 2011 — should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ “Chicago Police Think They Have 7 Tong Killers,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 1925.
- ☛ “Chinatown Tong Wars of the 1920s,” Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.
- ☛ “Chinese Tong Suspect Proves to Be Hawaiian,” Sioux City Journal, August 28, 1925.
- ☛ “Cousin Will Re-Open Slain Man’s Laundry,” Sioux City Journal, December 19, 1924.
- ☛ “Cops Baffled By Tong War,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 3, 1924.
- ☛ “Davenport Not To Have A Tong War,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, December 3, 1924.
- ☛ “Fail To Find Clews In S.C. Tong Murder,” Sioux City Journal, December 3, 1924.
- ☛ “Killing Of Jack Fong,” Sioux City Journal, December 14, 1924.
- ☛ “May Have S.C. Tong Slayer,” Sioux City Journal, February 13, 1925.
- ☛ “Ran Dagger Thru [sic] Temple,” Davenport Democrat and Leader,” December 2, 1924.
- ☛ “To Investigate Killing Clew,” Sioux City Journal, December 15, 1924.
- ☛ “Tongs Battle At Sioux City,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 2, 1924.