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 Velvet Sweetshop Gang
Boss: Paul Crawley
Base: The Velvet Sweetshop, North Szechuan Road (Sichuan Bei Lu)
Among the annals of Shanghai’s foreign gangsters there were few with a nastier reputation than Paul Crawley. Nobody liked Crawley, not even those who agreed to work with him.
He had made money screening bootleg reels of Hollywood silent movies in Japan, double-crossed his partner (who was stabbed in a Tokyo hotel room). He then got into gunrunning to warlords in Northern China, based out of Harbin’s Hotel Moderne. Making enemies there too, he came to Shanghai to start over.
Crawley got into the opium smuggling business with a Chinese confectioner called Ah Lee, the proprietor of the seemingly innocent Velvet Sweetshop. But Ah Lee mixed bon-bons and Turkish delights by day, and turned opium into acetylated heroin by night. Crawley shipped it out of Shanghai in tins of candy to his California mob contacts.
But he had a nasty streak, one that wasn’t helped by the fact that he started sampling too much of his own product. A hopeless opium addict, he beat up his Russian wife up in public and waved his gun around in nightclubs scaring the civilians. Eventually the gangs of Shanghai got together, decided Crawley was attracting too much attention and bad for everyone’s business, and put him on a boat to America, where he was promptly arrested and jailed.
[Images courtesy of Paul French]