“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Part Two – The Gold Bar Murder Case – Shanghai 1947 – “Drag him out the car”

Posted: November 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

(see Part One –  “It was a foreigner who shot me”)

On Tuesday September 2nd a United States Army general court martial convened in Shanghai to try Corporal Thomas Malloy for the murder of Yu Shen-pao on August 1st 1947. Malloy was a member of the Shanghai Detachment Hospital of the US Army Advisory Group in Shanghai at the time of the alleged murder. This, it seems, was the confused and contradictory sequence of events that led to the killing of Yu:

On August 1st (a Friday) Malloy went to a cafe in Shanghai to meet Charles (Charlie) Anderson, a Hong Kong-born Briton, to discuss the plan that he would meet Yu to talk about the opportunity of purchasing the five ten-ounce gold bars in the Chinese man’s possession. Charlie Archer asserted that Malloy was broke and had no money at all and so Charlie went to see if he could set up a prospective sale. Charlie said that Malloy would buy the bars from Yu for US$585 each and they arranged to all meet at 5pm that evening to do the “deal”. Yu then went to get the bars, Malloy to change into civilian clothing and Charlie to rent a car.After that the only people left alive who knew what really happened were Malloy and Archer….

Malloy then told the following story….

At 5pm he and Anderson arrived at Yu’s house in a rented car; Archer introduced Yu to him and Yu and himself sat in the rear seat of the car while Charlie Archer drove.

Charlie drove out along the Great Western Road (now Yan’an Road) towards the Columbia Country Club on Columbia Road (now Panyu Road). Malloy then claimed that just after the Country Club Charlie stopped the car, turned in his seat, pointed a gun at Yu and demanded the gold bars. Yu refused and so Charlie Archer shot him and then clubbed him on the head with the gun butt before driving on, further out of the city. He stopped in a remote and quiet area, told Malloy to get Yu out of the car. Malloy, claiming to be shocked and scared of Archer, complied and dragged Yu out of the back seat of the car by his feet and dumped him by the side of the road leaving him to die. The two men then drove back to Shanghai to Archer’s residence, washed their clothes of blood and separated.

Malloy then told the court martial that Archer attempted to sell the gold bars in Shanghai. The next day Malloy saw Archer who gave him US$150 – not as part of the proceeds of the sale of the gold but as recompense for a former debt. Malloy claimed that only Archer had had a gun and that he was afraid of the Englishman. He had asked Archer for the gun and Archer had given it to him, now without any bullets, to be disposed off. Malloy had hidden it behind some books on a bookcase in the army hospital where he worked.

But Archer had a different version of events….

Charlie said he decided to go for a drive on the outskirts of Shanghai that evening of August 1st and was cruising along when he heard a shot and stopped the car to see what was happening. He said that Malloy appeared, waving a gun at him so he stopped. Then he heard the sound of “blows” and Malloy putting Yu into Archer’s car. Malloy ordered him to drive on, then to stop and drag Yu’s body from the car. That Malloy then ordered him at gunpoint to drive back to Malloy’s car and then both went, in their separate cars, to Archer’s house so he could clean up.

Which version was correct? Both had flaws…what were the chances of Archer coming across the man he knew as Malloy at just that place at just that time; what was the chance that Archer would hand the gun to Malloy so readily? Why would Archer set up a meeting for Malloy to buy the gold bars when he knew Malloy was stone cold broke? Did Malloy have a car that night as well as Archer?

Either way Yu was found by some Chinese farmers who claimed that he told them he had been attacked by a “foreigner” and an American and that the “foreigner” was called Charlie.

The court adjourned…needing more evidence….


The Columbia Country Club on Columbia Road in 1939


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Part One – The Gold Bar Murder Case – Shanghai 1947 – “It was a foreigner who shot me”

Posted: November 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

The war was over, Shanghai liberated, around the city the Chinese civil war was raging and the Nationalists losing ground to the Communists. The city was full of American army personnel and the remnants of the ne’erdowells and gangsters that had infested the city before the war. It was 1947 but the Badlands of Shanghai still had a few more years to run. What became known in 1947 as “The Gold Bar Murder Case” was indicative of the times….

At some point Chicagoan Thomas A. Malloy, known as “Whitey”, an American T/5 (Technician Fifth Grade) in the US Army Medical Corps found out that Yu Shen-pao (also known as Yue Zung Ziao) had a bunch of gold bars. Maybe Malloy had changed up some money illegally with Yu, who was thought to be a black market currency dealer, probably her heard about the gold from an acquaintance of his called Charlie Archer. On a hot August 1st Friday night in 1947 Yu left his house and got in a car with two foreigners and five ten-ounce gold bars. Driving out towards the countryside he was shot, the five ten-ounce gold bars stolen and he was thrown from the car and left to die by the highway. Yu told the farmers who found him shortly before he expired, “It was a foreigner who shot me – Charlie!” He then died by the side of the road. The Chinese Police quickly arrested a Hong Kong-born British national called Charles (“Charlie”) P. Archer.

But was Yu accusing Charlie of having shot him, or was he shouting Charlie’s name for help? Yu was dead and his body moved to the Shanghai morgue. Archer, under questioning by the Chinese Police, soon gave up Whitey Malloy. The American Military Police, co-operating with the Chinese police in Shanghai, headed over to Malloy’s barracks where they found blood soaked trousers, socks and shoes. Malloy denied the crime and claimed he had been dead drunk for several days.

The conventions of the law in post-war Shanghai remained almost as complicated as before when Shanghai was still a treaty port. Archer was held by the Chinese Shanghai Police and Malloy, as a US serviceman, by the MPs. It was determined that Malloy would be brought before a Court Martial tribunal appointed by the Commanding General, US Army Advisory Group, Shanghai, China to be heard September 2nd, 1947….

1947 June 18, on the street from the central business district to the Bund public markets, a flock of sheep crossing the street causes road congestion in the morning, Shanghai

Shanghai 1947


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Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes, and Survival Tactics in Wartime Beijing, 1937-1949

Posted: November 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Zhao Ma’s Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes and Survival Tactics in Wartime Beijing looks to be a fascinating read…


indexFrom 1937 to 1949, Beijing was in a state of crisis. The combined forces of Japanese occupation, civil war, runaway inflation, and reformist campaigns and revolutionary efforts wreaked havoc on the city’s economy, upset the political order, and threatened the social and moral fabric as well. Women, especially lower-class women living in Beijing’s tenement neighborhoods, were among those most affected by these upheavals. Delving into testimonies from criminal case files, Zhao Ma explores intimate accounts of lower-class women’s struggles with poverty, deprivation, and marital strife. By uncovering the set of everyday tactics that women devised and utilized in their personal efforts to cope with predatory policies and crushing poverty, this book reveals an urban underworld that was built on an informal economy and conducted primarily through neighborhood networks. Where necessary, women relied on customary practices, hierarchical patterns of household authority, illegitimate relationships, and criminal entrepreneurship to get by. Women’s survival tactics, embedded in and reproduced by their everyday experience, opened possibilities for them to modify the male-dominated city and, more importantly, allowed women to subtly deflect, subvert, and “escape without leaving” powerful forces such as the surveillance state, reformist discourse, and revolutionary politics during and beyond wartime Beijing.

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Rudolf Hamburger – SMC Architect and Soviet Spy – But What did he Build in Shanghai?

Posted: November 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

Here’s a question from some recent reading that I thought someone out there may be able to add some information to….

Rudolf Hamburger (1903-1980) was a German architect who had studied in Berlin. In 1929 he married Ursula Kuczynski, also from Germany. Ursula had joined the German Communist Party (KPD) in 1926 at just 19. She went on to work in a library and then a publishing house in Berlin before losing her job for political activities in 1928. She briefly went to New York t work in a book store and then returned to Berlin in 1929 and married Hamburger.

In 1929 Hamburger heard about a possible vacant post in China from a friend and applied for a job in Shanghai. He got it and was appointed as an architect with the Shanghai Municipal Council. While in Shanghai Ursula (later codenamed “Sonya”) was recruited to Soviet Intelligence – probably by Agnes Smedley (who also probably recruited the former Mi5 boss Roger Hollis around the same time in Shanghai) at the infamously left wing Zeitgeist Bookstore (about which I’ve blogged before). The rest is espionage history and at some point Hamburger was roped in too.


Rudolf Hamburger remained in Shanghai until 1937 – i.e. through one of the city’s most voracious construction booms. His career as a spy is fairly well documented, but what did he build in Shanghai??

The only building I can firmly attribute to Hamburger is the Victoria Nurses Home (below), completed around 1933. It was an excellent Bauhaus-inspired building with some splendid iron work adorning the interior staircases. The building was on Great Western Road (Yanan Road now) adjacent to the Country Hospital (now the Huadong Hospital). The building remains though in a much modified form that, true to modern Shanghai, does little to reveal its original architectural features, many of which I believe (at least in terms of the interior) have long been stripped out.

102I believe Hamburger was also involved in the design of a new Middle School for Chinese girls in 1935 – but I’m not sure which school this was/is I’m afraid. He was also involved in designing an extension to the Ward Road Jail (Tilanqiao prison as was until a few years ago – now slated to be an “arts hub” or some such) – a new juvenile block I believe, but may be wrong about that. Certainly the prison, the world’s largest at the time, did undergo pretty much constant renovations and additions from the late 1920s up till 1937 and the Japanese attack on the city.

If anyone knows any other buildings he was involved in I’d like to hear?

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Andre Zucca’s China, 1937

Posted: November 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

I was recently looking at the amazing photographs of Nazi-occupied Paris by Andre Zucca (below) – Les Parisiens sous l’Occupation. They are interesting and have attracted a lot of attention in recent years due to their largely showing a seemingly carefree city despite the occupation. However, I did not know that Zucca had visited China and Hong before the war and taken pictures there too. Zucca was French, began his photographic career in the 1920s and lived in Paris. In 1937, he left on a six month trip on a Messageries Maritimes ship from Le Havre to Japan via the Suez Canal. En route he visited India, Hong Kong and China. His photographs were published in Paris-Soir, Match, Life and Picture Post, among others.


His photographs of China and Hong Kong are far harder to find than his now famous images of wartime Paris (which are in colour which adds to their startling nature) but worth seeking out…





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Shanghai Old Town: Topography of a Phantom City.

Posted: November 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

Anyone who has an interest in old Shanghai will have undoubtedly come across Katya Knyazeva’s work and writings on the Old Town. She’s an old school researcher who digs incredibly deeply into what has been fast disappearing. So it’s good news that the fruits of that research are now appearing in book form – Shanghai Old Town: Topography of a Phantom City. I think this is the first of two volumes (of rather lavishly produced work); this one focusing on the old docks area. You can see a bunch of the lovely pages here. Surely a must for anyone’s Old Shanghai shelf….

Now I’m not sure where exactly you can buy this book – certainly on Taobao and at Garden Books in Shanghai


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Suicide at the Washington Apartments – A “Tragedy of Homesickness” in 1934 Shanghai

Posted: November 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Writing and blogging about old China and Shanghai often means discovering and telling sad stories and I know I usually err on the dark side of life…Still, Shanghai between the wars was a place where often people reached the end of the road, where their dreams died and things just got too much, the poverty too grinding, the hopelessness of being a refugee, a stateless person or deserted just overwhelmed them. It was a violent city too and people died in gun fights, bar brawls and murders; they overdosed, drank themselves to death or, often, just seem to slip away and fade out becoming lost to history. But the story of Mrs Bill Grooch and her two sons William and Thomas is perhaps the saddest I’ve come across yet….

The Washington Apartments were (and still are) one of the art-deco gems of Shanghai. The apartments were among the smartest and most “fashionable” blocks to live in in the mid-1930s in the French Concession, built in 1928 by the White Russian architect Alexander Yaron and situated at the junction of Avenue Pétain (Hengshan Road) and Route Cohen (Gao’an Road).


In 1934 William (“Bill”) Steven Grooch and his family lived in the apartment building (which was, as above, originally painted yellow I believe but is now a sort of slightly sickly green for some reason). Grooch was an ex-US Navy flyer working in Shanghai as the Operations Manager for Pacific-American Airways. The airline was a subsidiary of Pan-Am airlines and flew the route between Hong Kong and Shanghai, Canton and Shanghai (with a stopover in Hankow) and over to the Philippines. It was hoped that eventually a Hong Kong to America Trans-Ocean Clipper service could be started with stops at Canton, Shanghai and Manila. Grooch had previously worked for the New York, Rio, and Buenos Aires Airline (NYRBA) and had moved to Shanghai from Rio de Janeiro with his wife and two children, William (6) and Thomas (7). Bill Grooch was from Beaumont, Texas and his wife was reportedly from El Paso. Setting up the Trans-Ocean Clipper service was fraught with difficulties…

…And things must have been hard on Mrs Grooch too (I should note that in none of the articles about the case is her forename ever mentioned sadly). She had received news from America that her father was desperately sick and likely to die. She had booked passage on the SS President Wilson back to the States. The newspapers at the time speculated that Mrs Grooch was depressed, upset about her father and fed up with the poverty she saw in Shanghai and the cold, cold January weather. Whatever the reasons, on Friday January 19th 1934, the day before she was due to sail for America, Mrs Grooch jumped from the balcony of their eighth floor apartment in the Washington Apartments with her two children – “one under each arm”. All three were killed instantly on the pavement of Avenue Pétain. On being told the news Bill Grooch reportedly collapsed unconscious on the spot. Bill himself later claimed that he was unable to explain why she had done it. A tragedy in Shanghai…but one that led to arguments and then resonated far away in America too weeks later….


It seems nobody else really understood either. After the police reported that Mrs Grooch had committed suicide and taken her children with her, some of her friends disputed this. Why would she? She was living a good life, in a nice building with two young sons and a husband in a good paying job? They speculated that a terrible accident had occurred and the children fallen over the balcony. In her grief at seeing her two children dead on the street below, Mrs Grooch had jumped, distraught. Or perhaps somehow all three had fallen accidentally. It was the case that there were no witnesses to the fall. The French Concession police stated that they believed it was a suicide and that she had taken the children with her over the balcony in a case of extreme and desperate homesickness.


And then…nearly a month later, on February 13th 1934, a report appeared in the newspapers of a double suicide on New York City’s East Side. Emil Phillipson, an elderly retired decorator had taken a revolver and fired a bullet into the left temple of his wife, Marie, killing her instantly. He had then put the revolver in his own mouth, pulled the trigger and blown his brains out. When police arrived at the apartment in New York they found a note – “I can stand the pain no longer.” The police investigated and found that Mrs William Grooch of Shanghai was their daughter; her maiden name was Phillipson. Unable to bear the pain of the news from Shanghai of the death of their daughter and two grandsons her parents too had decided to commit suicide.


Bill Grooch went back to working on the airlines in China before moving to South America to work for something called Mining Airlines. He wrote three books – Skyway to Asia in 1936 about the Trans-Ocean project, Winged Highway (1938), which is I think a novel about an early aviator, and From Crate to Clipper (1939). I believe he did remarry, to a woman called Irene, and died in a fatal plane crash in Mexico in 1939. His wife Irene was also killed in the crash.

grooch02Bill Grooch – once of Shanghai



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Hong Kong at the British Empire Exhibition 1924

Posted: November 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

The British Empire Exhibition was held at Wembley in 1924 and ran for ten months. At the time it cost the phenomenal sum of £12 million and was the largest exhibition ever staged anywhere in the world – it attracted 27 million visitors.

220px-BritishEmpireExhibitionHong Kong was a major attraction at the Exhibition and built a whole Chinese street (which probably inspired other Asian countries at other national exhibitions – see my recent post on the Portugal World Fair in 1941 and its Macau Road). Traders sold silk, toys, ivory carvings and other goods. Also included was a Hong Kong tea house where pet birds had their own menu and places. And here the entrance to the Hong Kong pavilion…..


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