An early view of
San Francisco's Chinatown
Background: The California Gold Rush that kicked off in 1849 brought a flood of fortune seekers to the state, including many from faraway China. Lured by unscrupulous speculators, the Chinese made the long journey to California only to discover that the hills of gold they had been promised were tapped out. By 1876, over 100,000 Chinese had emigrated to the Golden State, with most settling in San Francisco. Absent any gold to hang their hopes on, the Chinese found work in the railroad and garment industries. Their resourcefulness made them the target of resentment from unemployed locals. Embattled, subject to unfair taxes and inequitable laws, the Chinese did what so many other immigrant groups had done before them: they turned inward. San Francisco's Chinatown became an insular community with its own language and customs and a deep suspicion of outsiders.
Incident: On December 15, 1879, a policeman happened upon a vampire feeding on a prostitute along San Francisco's waterfront. The cop chased the vampire off, but it was too late for the woman. Before expiring, she told the cop that her attacker was Chinese. In the next two months, attacks occurred in several neighborhoods bordering Chinatown, including Jackson Square, Fisherman's Wharf and Nob Hill. Each time, witnesses reported that the vampires appeared to be Chinese. Word of the attacks spread and fueled an already strong anti-Chinese sentiment in the city. Among the outrageous rumors circulating was a story that the Chinese were harboring vampires in Chinatown as part of a plot to destroy the white population. On February 20, an angry, torch-wielding mob marched on Chinatown. Only quick action by the San Francisco police prevented a catastrophe.
Investigation: The hysteria put tremendous pressure on Jim Belmore, head of the FVZA's San Francisco office. Belmore, a Civil War veteran, had moved west to open the San Francisco office only two years earlier, and now found himself caught in between an angry public and an impenetrable society. Belmore suspected that the origin of the plague rested somewhere in one of Chinatown's many opium dens. Opium dens were secret establishments where men would gather to smoke black opium paste and fall into a blissful stupor. Belmore's attempts to conduct sweeps and stakeouts of the dens were hampered by Chinese organized crime gangs known as Tongs. The Tongs operated the opium dens, along with brothels and gambling parlors, and they didn't want any law enforcement snooping around their domain. Belmore needed someone who could help him gain access to the Byzantine world of Chinatown. He needed someone on the inside.
Up to that point, San Francisco city leadership had been hesitant to hire Chinese for federal jobs. But when Belmore threatened to quit, the mayor allocated money for him to hire one new agent, and Jin Don Song became the first Asian-American member of the FVZA. Jin Don was an ambitious young man who had made Belmore's acquaintance while serving as a runner/errand boy at the FVZA office. He grew up in Chinatown and knew its geography and people. After an abbreviated training program, Jin Don was inducted into the agency, and he quickly was able to discern that the vampire plague was probably originating from the vast network of underground opium dens off of Stout's Alley near Washington Street.
A Chinese vampire prepares
to prey on two opium smokers
Several nights of stakeouts confirmed Jin Don's theory, and on the morning of March 16, an FVZA battalion headed by Belmore and Jin Don walked down a flight of stairs hidden behind a laundromat and entered the underground opium den complex. There, they found a baffling maze of dimly lit passageways and small rooms. In one of those rooms, the FVZA team came upon what appeared to be three opium addicts in a state of sedation. But when the team moved closer, the opium smokers began hissing and flashing their fangs. The team destroyed the vampires with surprising ease. And so it was, in room after room: drug-addled vampires serving as easy pickings for the FVZA team. But the clamor and noise gave the less narcotized vampires fair warning, and they were able to ambush the team inside one of the larger rooms. Jin Don Song was bitten but still managed to lead his comrades to one of the street exits. As there was not yet a vaccine, he had to be euthanized.
Although Agent Belmore was devastated by the loss of his friend, he didn't let his emotions cause him to make hasty decisions. Over the course of the afternoon, Belmore had the underground complex sealed off and the surrounding neighborhood evacuated. With the help of the fire and police departments, his team pumped smoke into the complex. Within minutes, scores of vampires staggered out into Stout's Alley and were destroyed. Once the smoke had cleared, Belmore led his team on another underground sweep. In all, almost 100 vampires were wiped out. The team stayed in the area for another week, during which they destroyed another 50 vampires. By the time they left, Chinatown was secure and the grateful residents presented Belmore with a valuable jade scepter.
Post Mortems: On April 3, 1880, Jin Don Song was given a burial with full military honors. Although discrimination and persecution against the Chinese continued in San Francisco, Jin Don Song's heroism went a long way to improving relations and making whites recognize the Chinese as part of the community. Jim Belmore went on to serve as San Francisco director until his retirement in 1900. By then, there were 25 Chinese-American agents in the San Francisco office.
Comments from Dr. Pecos: In the opium dens of Chinatown, vampires found an almost ideal situation. They were out of the sunlight, had a steady supply of fresh blood and plenty of places to hide. However, the opium-laced blood they were drinking caused them to become lethargic and dulled their sharp senses. Normal vampires would never allow agents to enter their lair with such ease.
This early case had a number of unusual aspects, not the least of which was the discovery that vampires, like humans, can develop a taste for drugs. Modern vampire hunters witnessed this phenomenon many times; urban vampires often displayed a preference for the blood of alcoholics or drug addicts. This case is also a good example of how the fight against vampirism often led to social reform. Here, the plague resulted in a crackdown on opium dens. Finally, the case of the opium vampires should be remembered for the courage of Jin Don Song and the principled stand taken by Jim Belmore.