The White Devil
John Willis was in a parking lot next to a man whose number was up. The guy had a hit out on him, unbeknownst to John, and a gunman walked right up to the man and blew his brains out. As he fell to the ground dead, John looked at the big hole in his head, blood flowing out onto the pavement. The assassin went to shoot John next, but the gun jammed, leaving him staring at John, neither sure of their next move. Then it started to rain heavily and the hitman just walked away leaving John to live. Lucky to be alive, but more ready then ever to plunge back into the Chinese criminal underworld that he somehow managed to submerge himself in, John was all in.
“At seventeen, eighteen, there’s nothing anyone could tell me.” Willis tells Gorilla Convict. “I was angry at the world. I was gonna do what I was gonna do and that’s it. My mother died when I was a kid, my father left when I was three. The people who raised me were from another world. This was about the struggle of not having parents, the struggle of having to prove yourself on a daily basis, to learn a new culture.”
His adopted culture called the big, crazy, white Irish kid, Bac Guai, which translated to White Devil. From a homeless kid from Boston’s white ghettos to second-in-command of a Chinese gang, Willis made himself a player worked in the ranks of Ping On. Founded by Stephen “Sky Dragon” Tse, a 14k Chinese Triad member who ran his illicit gangland empire from the Kung Fu restaurant on Tyler Street, the gang was one of the most violent crews in Boston’s Chinatown in the 80s and 90s.
“It was a very violent Chinatown,” Willis says. “There were a lot of murders, a lot of stabbings, a lot of gunfights. You had to be aware of your surroundings, because if you weren’t, then you’d end up dead. I think Boston’s Chinatown is a small Chinatown, but I think it’s a close knit community.There would be different factions of people that we might have problems with, but it’s not like you’re a Blood or a Crip, it’s an organization.”
Recruited as a teenager into the gang, Willis for all effects and purposes, became Chinese. He learned and spoke the language, dated Asian women, and followed the customs and protocols of the gang. He gained a fearsome reputation in the Chinese community and was known as a trusted and loyal henchmen to his Chinese bosses. Watching their backs and taking care of their illicit business ventures.
“The first time he collected money, he bashed up a restaurant because the guy didn’t think John spoke Chinese and slandered him.” Bob Halloran, the author of White Devil: The True Story of the First White Asian Crime Boss, tells OZY. “Then after John tore the restaurant apart he told the guy not to say anything bad about him again in Chinese. Another time when he was first training to rob Italian Mafia checking shops in NYC a guy came out of the shop with a briefcase full of money handcuffed to his arm. One of John’s associates just walked up and hacked off the guys arm with a machete and they ran off with the briefcase of cash.”
Crazy stuff for the kid who grew up hard in Dorchester. After paying his dues by going to prison for the gang Willis reinvented himself as an Oxycontin kingpin. Capitalizing on the opioid craze that swept the nation in Y2K. Generating millions of dollars for himself in the late aughts before getting busted by the feds in 2011. US Attorney Timothy Moran called John Willis “the kingpin, organizer and leader of a vast conspiracy.” The feds said Bac Guai parlayed his Asian mob contacts into a position as an oxycontin kingpin and sold over 260,000 pills in two years, generating over $4 million dollars in profits trafficking pills from Florida to the Northeast.
“The money was really good and I was young. I started selling drugs when I was 22-years-old.” Willis says. “Twenty-two years old buying houses, cars and boats. The money influenced my decisions. I never did it in Chinatown. Never did it around any of my people. You invest money, you do different things. Do you want to get involved with importing thousands of pounds from Canada? Or do you wanna get in hundreds of pounds from California? Or do you wanna do pills? Is it drugs or prostitution? I had different investments.”
FBI agent Scott O’Donnell said he’d “never seen” a white guy in the Chinese Mafia before Willis. The federal investigation into Willis’ drug dealing affairs resulted in the seizure of a 38-foot speed boat, 13 firearms, over $480,000 in cash, approximately 12,000 oxycodone pills, and numerous luxury vehicles. Willis was also into illegal gambling and prostitution operations, as well loan sharking and extortion activities. The feds were doing stings on Asian whorehouses in Boston when Willis showed up on surveillance. The feds abandoned their stings and Willis became their focus.
In 2013 Willis was convicted on federal drug and money laundering charges. He pleaded guilty out of love and loyalty to his girlfriend so that the feds wouldn’t make her life any harder. He also agreed to forfeit two million dollars and several vehicles, boats and pieces of real estate as part of his plea deal. He was sentenced to 20 years and is now serving his time at Federal Correctional Institution Danbury, a low security prison in Connecticut.