How a White Kid From Boston Became an Asian Gangster
'Rolling Stone' speaks to the 'White Devil'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 19, 2015 12:38 PM CST
Writes Kushner of Willis' entrance to NYC: "Refusing to address him in English, the other guys laughed as he struggled to use chopsticks; he might as well have been eating with hockey sticks."   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(Newser) – In a roughly 6,000-word profile, "Bac Guai John" tells his story to Rolling Stone, "publicly," and "for the first time," writes David Kushner. It's a fascinating look at the "White Devil," a Boston kid named John Willis who grew up essentially fatherless in the same neighborhood as the Wahlbergs, and who found himself alone and struggling to survive at 14 when his mom died. He turned to weightlifting and steroids as a way to ward off anyone who might mess with him, which led to a job as an underage bouncer at a club that had an Asian night. He came to the aid of a Chinese gangster who was attacked, a move that landed him in the gang's good graces. The gang, Ping On, essentially adopted Willis, a "vulnerable young orphan twice their size who could provide muscle and loyalty," writes Kushner.

At their behest he moved to Chinatown in NYC, where he was given his nickname. "In the beginning, nobody really spoke to me too much," the 39-year-old tells Kushner from the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, explaining he didn't speak the language and couldn't even use chopsticks. That soon changed: He studied Chinese obsessively and learned the finer points of the culture's etiquette—while going on gang-ordered heists. He returned to Boston's Chinatown two years later, in effect an Asian gangster. What came next: steroids, assassination attempts, love with a Vietnamese-born woman 13 years his junior, and more gang rumblings. But then he struck out on his own: trafficking oxycodone from Florida to Cape Cod in vitamin bottles. He came to the FBI's attention when he crossed into an investigation they were doing on an Asian brothel owner. They arrested him in March 2011, claiming he had moved a quarter of a million pills in less than two years; in August he was handed a 20-year sentence. Read the fascinating profile here.