The Chinese Tong Murder

Located on Third Street across from Wayne Avenue sat a small laundromat run by Foeng Yuen. The laundry was a quiet, unnoticed spot until the afternoon of October 11, 1924, when a shot rang out, breaking the silence. A young man delivering for Western Union heard the gunshot then saw a man running out of the laundromat toward downtown. Hearing a gunshot then seeing a man fleeing, he realized what must have happened and gave chase. He followed the running man on his bike into downtown and eventually pointed him out to a policeman, who promptly arrested him. The man, named Gin Hung Lim, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

The trial was a circus of cultural fascination. As many in Dayton knew nothing of the Chinese culture, they were fascinated by the coverage of the trial over the following three weeks. Each day, the trial uncovered more fascinating tidbits of a culture they never knew before. To add to the allure, both the victim and the suspect were presumed to be part of rival Chinese gangs, also known as Tongs. Gin Hung Lim was from a majority Tong, shooting minority Tong member Foeng Yuen over territory disputes, as the rumor went.

The outcome of the trial seemed obvious from the start. In addition to the Western Union delivery boy, prosecuting attorneys Charles Brennan and Albert H. Scharrer called an additional witness who could testify to seeing Gin Hung Lim running from the laundromat at the time of the murder. As Gin Hung Lim was chased then arrested downtown immediately after the shooting, mistaken identity was an unlikely possibility.

Defense attorney and Judge U. S. Martin, working along with co-counsel H. P. Williamson and C. L. Tinnerman, was confident that he could shake the certainty of the witnesses who identified the defendant. In the front row of the spectator’s section, situated behind Gin Hung Lim, Judge Martin seated Chinese men who resembled the defendant, immediately behind him. The visual effect created the desired outcome, as the men not only looked like Gin Hung Lim, but they were dressed like him too, creating an optical illusion. The wall of men with similar features and clothing were all seated in the same section of the courtroom, and upon seeing the men seated behind the defendant, the witnesses were less confident, often faltering in their answers. Ultimately, they were unable to correctly identify Gin Hung Lim among the crowd during cross examination.

There was also a massive language barrier impeding the trial. Although the court was able to find an interpreter who spoke one Chinese language, the interpreter did not speak all the dialects necessary to easily communicate with everyone involved in the trial. Foeng Yuen was suspected to be from a minority Tong, which spoke a different dialect from the majority Tong, of which Gin Hung Lim was suspected to be a member. The Chinese witnesses called to the stand to testify also experienced communication issues, as their dialects and accents were difficult for the interpreter to understand.

As the trial came to an end on Good Friday, Martin used the holiday in an attempt to appeal to the Christian nature of the jurors by bringing in a bit of religion in his closing argument. He said, in part:

This is the most holy season of Christiandom. As the world gazes down upon us and this spectacle, never let it be said that an American court did not extend to a lowly heathen Chinaman during this holy week, both a reasonable doubt and a Christian understanding.

The jury took very little time to deliberate, coming back with a verdict after only three hours and thirty minutes. Gin Hung Lim was found not guilty of murder. Later, Judge Martin, Gun Hung Lim, Williamson, and Tinnerman gathered with a large group to celebrate their court victory with lots of alcohol.

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