It was the worst kept secret in Chinatown.
The Wah Mee Club started as an elegant speakeasy in the basement of an upscale hotel, serving alcohol to those willing to skirt the liquor laws during prohibition. When the alcohol restrictions were lifted, the Wah Mee shifted to another black market pastime: gambling. And they catered to some of the highest of the high rollers on the West coast.
Situated in the basement of a four story brick building, the only entrance was down a dark alley through two sets of steel doors. With a vigilant watchman always on duty, only those known to the owners would be allowed inside.
The club was also a popular after hours spot for restaurant owners, bar managers and others in the Asian community who didn’t have typical nine to five hours. It was where they would have a late dinner, grab a drink and gamble on Mahjong, Pai Gow and other Chinese games of chance.
It wasn’t unusual to find a few Seattle cops at the bar as well, chatting with the locals and turning a blind eye to the illegal gambling happening just a few feet away.
“You can’t get rid of gambling. You’re just not going to be able to suppress it,” explained Seattle Detective Dan Melton. “So if you, you get real active, it’s just going to move someplace else.”
The neighborhood known as Chinatown was home to thousands of recent immigrants and their children fleeing difficult and sometimes violent situations back home. They tended to keep to themselves and were highly skeptical of police.
That would all change in February of 1983 when three young men walked into the club looking for an easy score and left with the blood of 13 people on their hands.
Homicide Sergeant Joe Stanford was the first to arrive at the Scene of the Crime.
“That floor was literally covered in blood. Like somebody that’s dumped a 30 or 40 gallon barrel of blood on the floor. It seems strange, but I just felt I could smell death.”
To find out more about our special tour guide Jake or to book an excursion of your own, check out Private Eye on Seattle Ghost and True Crime Tours.