In its heyday the Wah Mee Club was a place to go after hours for a drink.
"In those days, it was a respectable place," said Tomio Moriguchi, owner of one of the largest department stores in Chinatown. "It was like a B-grade cocktail lounge. It had a bar and places to sit and a balcony where the gambling took place. Dominoes, blackjack."
Now it is like a grade-B murder scene, except that the killings are real--12 men and a woman, hogtied, robbed and shot to death.
The Wah Mee, which means "beautiful China," is in the heart of Chinatown. Its streets support busy Chinese groceries, restaurants, bakeries and clothing shops.
The grocery stores sell 100-pound bags of rice, bags of dried mushrooms and Chinese newspapers. The shops sell pearls, silk shirts from China and the large dominoes with red and white spots used in "pai ku," the game supposedly being played the night of the Wah Mee murders.
The Chinese were brought to the Northwest by railroad builders in the 1870s to lay track and chisel notches through the granite mountains east of here.
When the last of the track was laid, the workers poured into the city. They lived in a 30-block area south of downtown, near the railroad station. That became Chinatown. The 10,000 Chinese in Seattle are among 40,000 Asians here, including Filipinos Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians.
Gambling has flourished in Chinatown since the turn of the century. Chinese lotteries were popular in the 1890s; the Chinese characters on the lottery sheets were elaborate and said to have been derived from a poem of a thousand characters, each different, written by Chinese emperor Hun Sun.
"The Chinese community here has no other recreation," King County Councilwoman Ruby Chow said. "They have no movies and they can't understand the television. A lot of them can't afford to go fishing and hunting."
So gambling has been a way of life, whether it is a friendly game of mah-jongg for nickles or dimes, or for thousands of dollars, such as it was at the Wah Mee.
The gambling societies have been shrouded in secrecy and police say it is almost impossible to obtain information about them and their connections with the various family and fraternal associations.
Because of the secrecy, Mayor Charles Royer and police chief Patrick Fitzsimons went to Chinatown Sunday to ask the Chinese for help. "We can't bring justice in the city if we are not allowed to understand," Royer said.
The police chief said he had two squads working "day and night" on the case. He asked anyone with information to call him personally.
Their remarks were translated in Chinese to the 150 Asians who attended the meeting. Only one Chinese man spoke up. He said the people in Chinatown are "scared stiff." But that was all he said. After a half hour, the meeting broke up and the Asians filed silently into the street.
Two young men were arrested within hours of the murders, but a third suspect still is at large. The two in custory, Benjamin Ng, 20, and Kwan (Willie) Mak, 22, were known on sight by many in Chinatown. They both attended a local high school in the late 1970s and Ng had been in trouble the week before.
District Court Judge Betty Taylor Howard today ordered the two held without bail on suspicion of murder until a formal bail hearing can be held on Thursday.
The King County prosecutor's office had said it would ask that each be held on $1 million bail.
Wai Chin, 62, a dealer at the club and the lone survivor of the massacre, remained in serious condition. It was Chin who provided police with information that led to the suspects.
After its heyday, the Wah Mee Club had fallen on hard times and closed. It reopened about two months ago.