The amazing true story of the only white man to rise to the top of the Chinese mafia.
In August 2013, “Bac Guai” John Willis, also known as the “White Devil” because of his notorious ferocity, was sentenced to 20 years for drug trafficking and money laundering. Willis, according to prosecutors, was “the kingpin, organizer and leader of a vast conspiracy,” all within the legendarily insular and vicious Chinese mafia.
It started when John Willis was 16 years old . . . his life seemed hopeless. His father had abandoned his family years earlier, his older brother had just died of a heart attack, and his mother was dying. John was alone, sleeping on the floor of his deceased brother’s home. Desperate, John reached out to Woping, a young Chinese man Willis had rescued from a bar fight weeks before. Woping literally picks him up off the street, taking him home to live among his own brothers and sisters. Soon, Willis is accompanying Woping to meet his Chinese mobster friends, and starts working for them.
Journalist Bob Halloran tells the tale of John Willis, aka White Devil, the only white man to ever rise through the ranks in the Chinese mafia. Willis began as an enforcer, riding around with other gang members to “encourage” people to pay their debts. He soon graduated to even more dangerous work as a full-fledged gang member, barely escaping with his life on several occasions.
As a white man navigating an otherwise exclusively Asian world, Willis was at first an interesting anomaly, but his ruthless devotion to his adopted culture eventually led to him emerging as a leader. He organized his own gang of co-conspirators and began an extremely lucrative criminal venture selling tens of thousands of oxycodone pills. A year-long FBI investigation brought him down, and John pleaded guilty to save the love of his life from prosecution. He has no regrets.
White Devil explores the workings of the Chinese mafia, and he speaks frankly about his relationships with other gang members, the crimes he committed, and why he’ll never rat out any of his brothers to the cops.
Told to Halloran from Willis’s prison cell, White Devil is a shocking portrait of a man who was allowed access into a secret world, and who is paying the price for his hardened life.
|Publisher:||BenBella Books, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Bob Halloran is a news and sports anchor at WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Boston. His television career includes stops in Providence, Rhode Island, FOX-25 in Boston, and ESPN, where he also wrote for ESPN.com. He was awarded a New England Emmy Award for sportscasting, as well as two honors from the Associated Press.
Bob was born in Houston, TX, and grew up in Middletown, NJ. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA with a BA in Journalism. Bob is married with four children.
Read an Excerpt
The True Story Of The First White Asian Crime Boss
By Bob Halloran
BenBella Books, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Mom's Basement Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
IT WAS COLLECTION DAY, and all the aging Chinese men who ran the dozens of low-stakes gambling dens and popular restaurants in Boston's Chinatown were prepared to pay that month's extortion money. The envelopes full of cash were usually transferred with a broad smile that belied each victim's begrudging nature. They no longer felt the fear of what would happen if they didn't pay, because they always paid. So the fear was gone, long since replaced by something far worse — a weekly emasculation at the hands of an abnormally large white guy who had them by the balls.
"I was always polite," John Willis says reassuringly. "My boss, Bai Ming, would send me, and he always said when you go to collect money, make them respect you. Sometimes you'd have a problem. You'd have to, you know, do damage. Whether it's beating people up, or sometimes you might put their hand on the grill; do something to really get the point across."
John began collecting for Bai Ming as a teenager in the late 1980s. The first time he ran into a problem was at a gambling den on Harrison Avenue. He went in and introduced himself to the owner, and told him he was collecting for Ming. The owner was as surprised as he was offended that a round-eyed white kid would enter his place of business and demand money.
"Who does this white boy think he is?" the owner said to another man in Chinese. "He should just leave and go fuck his mother."
The two men continued speaking in Chinese, mocking John and laughing. John stood patiently for a moment before turning around and locking the door. He then proceeded to tear the place apart. He turned over tables, smashed chairs, and pulled the lights down from the ceiling. When he was done and the gambling den looked like a disaster area, John walked up to the owner and spoke softly but firmly to him in perfect Chinese.
"Next time just give me the money. Don't insult me. Don't disrespect me, and don't make me go through this again, or it won't be furniture I break. Understand?"
"Oh, you speak Chinesey," the owner said, managing a smile.
"No, I don't speak Chinesey," John corrected him. "I speak Chinese. Now, go fuck your mother."
* * *
John Willis smiled at the memory and inhaled deeply. Willis is a large, muscular man of English, Portuguese, and Cherokee Indian descent, made even larger by persistent steroid use. He keeps his hair cropped short in a neat and stylish crew cut. His eyes are blue. His face is round and handsome. He is much too serious to allow for a broad, carefree smile. Laughter is a luxury. He is all business all the time.
His moment of fond reminiscing ended abruptly when he heard the distinctive echo that can only be made when metal doors are slammed shut. He listened to the muffled whimpers of strong men crying into their pillows. Moments later the lights were turned out, and he felt the loneliness that darkness brings. He sensed fear all around him, and as he felt it growing inside of himself, he jumped down to the cold cement floor and he prayed.
John forced his large, muscular body into a modified lotus position, closed his eyes, and listened to his own heartbeat. He concentrated solely on its rhythm until the space between beats grew remarkably wide, and his breathing was shallow enough to be imperceptible. He pushed out thoughts of anger and self-pity, and wrestled with the self-awareness that caused him to both love and loathe himself. Finally reaching a more peaceful state, John thought about all the people he loved in his life. There were exactly two — his wife and his daughter. Prior to meeting his wife, Anh Nguyen, he had no familiarity with either love or fear, and the sudden appearance of both disrupted his core beliefs. Love and fear threatened his way of life. They made him vulnerable in ways that could get him killed, and he felt love, in particular, weakening him every day. It must be love, he thought, "because it brings a lot of pain." His mind didn't land on the notion that love brings a lot of happiness. There's far too much conflict and guilt and rising thoughts of violence associated with love for it to ever offer John the false hope of pure joy. Love was far more likely to fuel his rage.
"Somebody hit my wife one time in a nightclub," John recalled. "I was in New York, and somebody called me and told me. They've never seen that guy again. And nobody ever will. He shouldn't have put his hands on her. The fact of the matter is the guy will never, ever do that again. Whoever knew about it, or was involved in it, they were getting whatever he was getting. When it comes to my wife, I'm not arguing. I don't have a problem with taking out five or six guys just to get to the right one. Then it's over. And I sleep a little better."
The memory of having done the right thing helped John relax. He continued rubbing his thumb and forefinger gently, smoothly, and continuously for nearly an hour, and he thought only about his wife and daughter.
"May they be well, happy, and peaceful," he said over and over.
John was so entranced by his meditative state, so singularly focused on his purpose, that he was able to achieve a serenity that stood in stark contrast to his surroundings. John Willis was quietly celebrating his forty-second birthday in jail. He would certainly celebrate his forty-third, and there could be as many as eighteen birthdays after that spent behind bars.
Before rising from the floor, John took a moment to recognize the circuitous nature of his life's journey. Sitting on the cold jail floor, alone and praying, was notably similar to when John was fifteen years old and convinced he would die on his kitchen floor. He was cold, hungry, and alone then, too.
"I wasn't looking to do anything other than survive as a kid," John says. "I went from surviving to basically taking everything I wanted. The way I look at it, there's a lot taken for granted in this country. You go home, you shut your door, you're inside, you have heat, you eat food, and you live there. But what happens when I'm a kid and my mom dies? There's no more food, there's no more heat. Now there's a need to survive. I wanted to actually make something of my life. In the beginning, I was angry at the world, very angry that my mother had passed away and I was in a situation with no money. No nothing. I didn't have family, because my sisters were caught up in drugs. I was basically taken in by a family who was Chinese. I grew up just a whole different species than what was around me. I found myself in a society that didn't trust anybody, never mind somebody white, somebody American. And then to be given duty, honor, and respect — to me that was something I cherished, and to this day I do."
What John offers there is a stripped-down summary of his life that attempts to explain why he chose an amoral, greedy, and violent path, but never broaches why he rejected an infinite number of alternate routes. His circumstances, dire as they were, taught him lessons that some would affirm and others would renounce. But from the time he was a boy, John Willis was convinced he knew what it meant to be a man. He was taught that a man is a soldier. And nothing more.
Willis didn't fight on a traditional battlefield. He fought in the streets, and the enemy was constantly changing. Willis' enemies were from rival gangs or the local police. Both were out to get him. There were the businessmen he robbed, and the victims he bludgeoned. All sought vengeance. There were prostitutes and gamblers, drug dealers and drug users, and countless others who would have loved to see John Willis taken down or taken out. But Willis survived it all. And what's the point of surviving, if you're not going to live a little? That's why, despite his own best advice and against his own self-interest, he bought a Porsche, a Bentley, and a multimillion-dollar home. Those purchases were self-destructive, but they made him feel good. He knew the police took notice of a gangster flashing lots of cash, but like an addict, Willis needed to feel good, if only temporarily. Those purchases were not only his drug; they were evidence of his righteous pursuits. He was winning the war, so God must be on his side.
"I believe that God loves me," Willis says with conviction, but anticipates his faith may be met with doubt, and adds, "You might say, 'How could God love me?' Well, if he doesn't love me, he doesn't give me anything. Some people he puts to the test. I'm all about the test. I really do think God loves me, and I love people. I'm not a monster. I love people, and I have a value for each and every person. But I also believe if you're a person deserving of what you get, that's what you get. That's how it goes."
And in John Willis' world, he decides what a person deserves. For instance, the man in the Chinese restaurant who once brazenly told John to "shut the fuck up" deserved to be struck with an open hand and hit over the head with a Glock pistol. So, John did those things.
"And then I stuck the gun in his eye," John continues. "He's bleeding. People are looking at me and they're scared. They took the guy into the bathroom and cleaned him up. For me it was nothing. He was no one. I turned, and had a drink with everybody. I thank God the man left, because I might have gone back in the alley and shot him. When I go back to the bar, I'm not shaking. I'm thinking — where do I want this to go? Did I go too far, or did I not go far enough?"
Such is the mentality of a street soldier. John is convinced now more than ever that a man fights every day for his own survival. A man is a self-centered creature who recognizes that contentment, like true happiness, is not only unattainable; it is the foolish pursuit of the embattled and desperate losers of the war. John Willis is a man. He lives these principles unwaveringly. He is a soldier who believes he is fighting the good fight, and that he is winning the war. Shedding his white skin, adopting a culture he was not born into, and surviving into his forties is proof of that, and surviving remains the greatest accomplishment of the man his enemies call the White Devil.
* * *
John Willis was born May 11, 1971, at Boston City Hospital. He was brought home to a three-family house at 37 South Munroe Terrace in Dorchester. His father, an ex-con who worked as a carpenter, was a large, angry man who drank too much and beat his wife, Francine. When he ultimately ran afoul of the Irish Mob, he escaped to an Indian reservation in the mountains of South Carolina. It was better for everyone that he left, but John, who was only three years old at the time, grew to hate a father he never really knew.
So, John was raised by his mother, Francine, and her three much older children from a previous marriage. John's brother, Richie, who owned the home and lived on the second floor with his wife and three daughters, took on paternal responsibilities. He helped with the bills and administered strict discipline. Richie was a hardworking man who built a successful carpet business. He had two passions: fishing on his large boat, and drugs. John says Richie did a line of cocaine every night when he came home from work.
John's last memory of his brother is when Richie forcefully threw him down the stairs.
"I wish you were dead!" John cried out.
Two days later, Richie died of a heart attack brought on by his cocaine addiction. He was thirty-four years old.
"That really messed me up," John recalls now.
Richie's death caused Francine to go into a yearlong depression. She continued to do the best she could to make John happy. In fact, she spoiled John. Making good money as an executive at the Stride Rite shoe factory in nearby Roxbury, Francine lavished John with the best of everything. He had the finest shoes and clothes, the latest toys, and his hockey equipment was the envy of his blue-collar neighborhood friends. Suddenly, it all went away.
Perhaps if Francine had complained sooner about the pain in her calves and thighs, things would have been different, but a year after Richie's death, Francine suffered complications from her diabetes.
"She went in for open heart surgery, and they took her legs," John's cousin Debbie recalls. "Gangrene had set in. She was a very, very pretty woman. A beautiful mix of Italian and Indian. She looked like Liz Taylor. But when they took her legs, that's when everything went downhill."
Francine's depression grew worse. Her self-image was shattered. She was given big, heavy prosthetic legs that she lacked the strength to maneuver. She was an invalid left in the care of a fourteen-year-old boy.
"I think it was at this point that my life and my view of it changed," John considers aloud. "I was mad at God and the whole world for bringing so much pain to my life."
John's sisters, Sandra and Linda, who were eighteen and sixteen years older than John, respectively, were busy with their own growing families. They thought Richie's widow, Sonny, who still lived upstairs, was helping to take care of things, and she thought the sisters were, but it all fell upon John's shoulders. He was left alone to cook, to clean, to shop, to give his mother her insulin shots, and to get her to the bathroom for showers and all other purposes. It was humiliating for both of them.
John loved his mother and did his best for her, but he was helpless when it came to her weakening heart and her overwhelming sorrow. Those things took her independence, her will, and ultimately her life. Francine Willis was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in Stoughton for additional care and rehab, but she died there. John was effectively an orphan at fifteen.
"He was extremely angry," Debbie recalls. "That's when the anger started. That's when he stopped being Johnny. He started being something else."
John never cried over his mother's death, and he didn't talk to anyone about it. He received no consolation from his sisters. In fact, the only conversation he had with Linda was at the wake when he scolded her and accused her of being stoned. He was only at the wake for ten minutes before he stormed out, and he didn't attend his mother's funeral.
That is the line of demarcation in John's life. There was the time before his mother's illness and death, and the time after. His life, his mood, and especially his path were forever altered. The spoiled, happy-go-lucky kid from the neighborhood had been transformed. The boy had prematurely become a man, and that meant fifteen-year-old John Willis was a soldier. From the day his mother died, he was ready for a fight. He'd fight any kid in the neighborhood and beat him senseless without fear of repercussion. He fought for survival. He fought back tears and sorrow, and even joy, and every emotion that began to scratch the surface. But his demons? Those he chose not to fight. His demons ran free.
Under normal circumstances, John would have been sent to live with either of his two sisters. He'd continue going to high school and upon graduation, he'd either find a job or go on to college. Other kids have endured greater hardships and gone on to live successful, respectable lives. But there was nothing normal about John's circumstances.
First, no one wanted John. There was no family member, no teacher, no hockey coach, no Department of Child Services that reached out to help. He lived for a while at Linda's apartment on Branch Street in Quincy with her husband, Vinny, and their children, but he was clearly not welcomed there. The apartment was too crowded, and the parties were wild. So John returned to live alone on the first floor of the house he'd shared with his mother.
Left to pay his own way, he dropped out of school and took a job with Vinny installing windows. He lived on a steady diet of Burger King hamburgers and fries, and steroids. He got the food from Debbie, who worked at Burger King, and he got the steroids from a couple of guys at the Universal Gym in North Quincy. He went from being a chubby kid to a ripped bodybuilder pretty quickly. Those who knew he was on steroids assumed the drugs were the cause of his abrupt and angry outbursts. They didn't understand his rage went much deeper than that.
John survived that way for a year until Brant Welty, a close friend, told him he could get work as a bouncer if he said he was seventeen. John referred to him as his brother. They had known each other since elementary school, but after John's mother passed, Brant's family had welcomed John into their home as often as they could. John would never forget that kindness.
Excerpted from White Devil by Bob Halloran. Copyright © 2016 Mom's Basement Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1, 7,
Chapter 2, 37,
Chapter 3, 49,
Chapter 4, 61,
Chapter 5, 81,
Chapter 6, 99,
Chapter 7, 123,
Chapter 8, 143,
Chapter 9, 161,
Chapter 10, 179,
Chapter 11, 205,
Chapter 12, 223,
Chapter 13, 241,
About the Author, 255,