Gangs of Old Shanghai: The 'Friends' of Riley

By Paul French, October 11, 2019

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Following on from New York Times bestseller Midnight in PekingPaul 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 'Friends' of Riley

Boss: Edward Thomas ‘Jack’ Riley
Base: The Manhattan Bar, Blood Alley, Rue Chu Pao San (Xikou Lu)

If there was ever a mobster who managed to charm all of Shanghai despite his sinful ways, then it was Jack Riley. One of the most wanted criminals in the US, he had fled to China and changed his identity, having burnt his fingerprints off with acid.

In Shanghai he became a King… the ‘Slots King.’ Jack Riley it was who introduced Shanghai – a city that loved to gamble anyway, anyhow, anytime – to the slot machine. And he made millions, a Tulsa orphan riding high on the Huangpu.

He set up a bar on the infamous Blood Alley called the Manhattan, and the Fourth Marines stationed in the city worshipped him. He formed a baseball team of nightlife hoods and criminals to play the Marines team. His crew – an assortment of wanted men, AWOL Marines and jumped ship sailors – called themselves the ‘Friends of Riley.’

He opened more bars for the Marine Corps, he bought into the more high end DDs chain of swank joints. He did it all on those millions of pennies going into the slot – the handle pulled, the fruit spins round, nothing comes out… and then they did it again, and again, and again. Jack Riley got richer and richer.

So rich he wanted a Badlands casino – but ‘Lucky Jack,’ as the papers dubbed him, didn’t have any class. Joe Farren did, so they teamed up – it was a dream team of Shanghai gangsterism that was to become its biggest nightmare...

To read about more Gangs of Old Shanghai, click hereFor more history stories, click here.

[Images courtesy of Paul French]

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