Following on from New York Times bestseller Midnight in Peking, Paul French released City of Devils, a delve into the murky underworld of Old Shanghai. There were plenty of wrong'uns about, and a whole lot of bad blood between them. In this 'Gangs of Old Shanghai' series, French presents us with a who's who of old time organized crime, and quite the rogues gallery it is too.
The Hovans Gang
Boss: Eugene Pick (aka Hovans)
Base: The Taydong Boarding House, Tien Dong Road (Tiantong Lu)
Few gang bosses in Shanghai were more notorious, or attracted as much Special Branch attention, as Captain Eugene Pick, AKA Hovens or Dr. Clige. None of those were his real name – he was a Latvian who fought in the Great War for Russia. He had come to China as a Soviet commissar, and ran a ballet corps and an opera company.
He reportedly bled dry every intelligence service in Shanghai, selling them duff intel, and blackmailed a gay American judge who later committed suicide. His gang specialized in forgery and white slaving, and met regularly at boarding house in Hongkou.
It was run by Pick’s Georgian common-law wife, who ran the place as a staging post for trafficked women and brothel. Pick carried on blurring the lines between intelligence and crime, selling secrets to the Japanese and Russians, or whoever paid.
His crew included Nathan Rabin, a former Detroit mob hitman living in Shanghai. Most of his gang were White Russian and gave themselves grand titles – ‘Count’ or ‘Baron’. In terms of pure criminality Pick was remembered perhaps for one gift he gave Shanghai, a gift it would much rather have not had… Paul Lojnikoff.
[Images courtesy of Paul French]