Flames rip through Wah Mee building in Seattle

by: Casey McNerthney and KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:


Flames were shooting through the roof of a historic building in Seattle’s International District, and firefighters were defensively fighting the two-alarm fire.

The building was the site of the Wah Mee massacre, where 13 people were shot to death in February 1983. The building, which was abandoned, was constructed in 1909, records show.

The call was dispatched shortly before 4 p.m. at 669 S. King St in Seattle. Firefighters had to use multiple hose lines, including two aerials. Flames were shooting through the roof of the building.

Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean said fire investigators were at the scene, but it was not immediately clear how or where the fire started. He described the floors and roof as "spongy," meaning that there was a risk of people falling through. There was a concern of the fire spreading to other buildings, but it was contained as of 6 p.m.

No injuries were reported, but there were businesses affected by the water used to extinguish the fire.

Further details on the Wah Mee Massacre are found in this HistoryLink.org essay by Todd Matthews:

On February 18, 1983, three armed, young Chinese American men enter the historic Wah Mee gambling club in Seattle's Chinatown. They walk away with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, leaving 14 people for dead. One of the victims survives and testifies during what were arguably the three highest-profile trials Seattle has ever seen.

The Wah Mee was a historic speakeasy and gambling club that dated back to the early 1920s. The club, a romantic, classy enclave patronized mainly by semi-affluent restaurant owners and business people in the Chinese community, hosted some of the highest-stakes gambling that could be found in Seattle and, for that matter, in the entire Pacific Northwest.

Winners went home with tens of thousands of dollars after a single night of gambling. Beat cops supplemented their income by tolerating (for a price) illegal gambling in Chinatown. Police allowed the exclusive, Chinese-only members of the Wah Mee Club to preserve an integral part of their history -- gambling -- while also profiting police officers.

In early 1983, a young, 22-year-old Chinese American immigrant named Willie Mak racked up a several thousand-dollar gambling debt with one of the gambling clubs where he worked. In an effort to clear his debts, Mak singled out the wealthy Wah Mee as the target for a heist-and-killing like no other in Seattle.

Mak enlisted the help of his old high school classmate, Benjamin Ng. Ng's extensive criminal record dated back to his years as a juvenile. Mak also enlisted the help of Tony Ng (no relation to Benjamin Ng) -- a shy, quiet, reserved 24-year-old Chinese American immigrant who worked at his parents' restaurant in North Seattle.

Shortly before midnight on February 18, 1983, the three young men entered the Wah Mee Club. They hog-tied and robbed 14 victims before opening fire.

Wai Chiu “Tony” Ng was released from prison in October and transferred to federal custody. He is expected to be deported to China.

Ng was not convicted of robbery and assault, not the Wah Mee murders. The King County Prosecutor’s Office was among several people who objected to Ng’s release.

Want to talk about the news of the day? Watch free streaming video on the KIRO 7 mobile app and iPad app, and join us here on Facebook.