On a cold, overcast Tuesday morning in February 1981, something caught the eye of a museum technician as he walked through the “We the People” exhibit on the second floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History: The silver pen of President McKinley’s Secretary of State John Hay was missing. The 7 ¼-inch Parker Jointless pen had been used to sign the 1898 Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War.
But now, to the technician’s horror, its case was empty -- and there were more alarming discoveries to come.
In 1976 D.C. police dressed as cartoon Mafiosos and bought millions in stolen goods from local thieves. They called it "Operation Sting," and soon police across the country were launching "sting operations" of their own. But not everyone was so enamored with the tactic, especially the communities it was being used to target.
While sifting through the virtual archives of some local publications, I came across an incident from 1947 that stood apart. Unlike most news, the event read like a Film Noir. This real-life tale was juicy enough to make headlines for days, suspenseful enough to make me wonder about motives, and hard-boiled enough to speak volumes to the disenchantment of the people involved. So, this article will look a little different from what we usually do at Boundary Stones. Rather than presenting the facts in a linear, scholarly manner, we have decided that this story shines best as a piece of narrative nonfiction. While every sentence is grounded in research, we held off on footnotes to let the story breathe, and took a few creative liberties to bring the characters to life. For variety, my dear reader, is the spice of life…
Washington has seen its fair share of crimes: mafia operations, drug networks, triple murder… But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the city’s most pervasive crimes was one we today might find difficult to imagine: chicken thievery. In today’s urban landscape, the phenomenon may seem difficult to imagine; but 150 years ago chicken robbery was widespread -- and serious business. The practice was dangerous and, at times, even fatal.
As far as Chinese immigrants go, Dr. Theodore Ting Wong, Chang Hsi Hsie, and Ben Sen Wu were doing alright for themselves. All three were well educated, hailed from affluent Chinese families, spoke nearly fluent English, and served as diplomats for the Chinese Legation. Ushering in the Chinese New Year on the evening of January 29, 1919, the three men had much to celebrate and even more work to get to the next day. But by morning, the mission house was eerily quiet. The postman rang the doorbell in vain; the milk delivery was left sweating on the stoop; the laundry package sat unattended by the door. Concerned, a neighbor entered the house through an open window. What he found sparked a case that would headline papers for years, reach the Supreme Court, and even pave the way for our “right to remain silent.” It was January 31, 1919, and the three residents of the mission had been dead two days.
A little before 2pm on November 1, 1950, President Truman laid down for a quick nap at Blair House, the temporary residence of the first family while the White House was undergoing renovations. Across town, taxi driver John Gavounas had just picked up two men at North Capitol St. and Massachusetts Ave. The men instructed him to take them to 17th and Pennsylvania Ave. and then spent the ride talking to each other in Spanish. The only word that Gavounas recognized was “Truman.” Moments later, the sidewalk erupted in gunfire.
April 15, 1989 – almost “go time.” A joint force of DEA, FBI and D.C. Police officials had spent nearly two years building their case against the District's largest drug network, and a series of coordinated raids had been carefully planned for the next day.
But then rumors began to circulate that word of the impending raids had leaked out onto the streets. Worried that their opportunity would be lost, authorities hurriedly put their plan into action, early.
At 5:30pm, officers arrested Tony Lewis at his home in Arlington. A few hours later, they nabbed the big prize – alleged ring leader Rayful Edmond III – at his girlfriend's house in the 900 block of Jefferson St., NW. With the two biggest targets in custody, officials launched searches at more than a dozen other addresses in the District and Maryland, including Edmond's grandmother's rowhouse at 407 M Street, NE, which was thought to be the headquarters of the operation.