Born to Kill (gang)

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Born to Kill
Founded 1988
Founding location New York City, United States
Years active 1980s-present
Territory United States, Canada
Ethnicity Vietnamese
Membership 6,000
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, weapon trafficking, counterfeiting, contract killing, extortion, racketeering, money laundering, robbery, fraud and murder
Allies Flying Dragons
Rivals Ghost Shadows

Born to Kill, also abbreviated as BTK, was the name of a notorious New York City-based street gang composed of first-generation Vietnamese immigrants. Their rise to power was in the 1980s when they ran New York City's Chinatown with an iron fist and quickly rose to become the most notorious Asian gang the country of the United States has ever witnessed.[1] The early 1990s proved to be detrimental to the Vietnamese collective following the arrest and prosecution of most of their New York-based operatives by the fall of 1992.


The gang that would be known throughout Manhattan Chinatown as Born to Kill was founded by Tho Hoang "David" Thai (born January 30, 1956). After the Fall of Saigon, David Thai had left Vietnam as a refugee, where he then made his way to the U.S. In 1983, for a short period of time, David Thai was a member of the Flying Dragons, and as a gang member he occasionally committed robberies but was never caught. After a few years, Thai left the Flying Dragons and branched out on his own, establishing a budding multimillion-dollar counterfeit watch business. Using the profits from the watch business, David Thai began to orchestrate a gathering between him and several high-ranking members of a Vietnamese street gang then known as the "Canal Boys," but the gang's name would later be established as "Born to Kill" in 1988. The phrase Born to Kill was adopted from the slogan that U.S helicopters and American soldiers had on their helmets during the Vietnam War.

Most of the gang's members were young rootless Vietnamese youths who were sent out of their country as the Saigon regime was collapsing, in which afterwards they then spent months or years in refugee camps before being put into foster families. These youths then left their foster families and banded together, forming the nucleus of what would become the Born to Kill gang. For much of the gang's heyday during the late eighties and early nineties, the Pho Hanoi restaurant located in the gang's turf on Canal Street was used as an informal headquarters and meeting grounds for the gang. The gang's prowess is often attributed to the chaotic environment of guns and drugs in Vietnam.[1] Born to Kill is considered to be the most notorious and violent Asian gang known to date and were known to challenge the authority of established Chinatown gangs.[2] While identified by some as predominantly Vietnamese, Born to Kill consisted of New York native Vietnamese as well as immigrants new to the tri-state area. David Thai and his operations birthed the Canal Street counterfeit market and made it a worldwide tourist visit location for bootlegged items.[2][3]


Starting out as enforcers for Triads and established Chinese organized crime groups such as Flying Dragons, Born to Kill later organized and distanced itself from the Chinese groups. During the gang's peak from late eighties to the early nineties, the gang was well known to extort from the approximately seventy shops that were located in and around the gang's turf on Canal Street. The gang's leader, David Thai, was infamous for operating a multimillion-dollar counterfeit watch business, and he would later go on to claim to have made $13 million from selling counterfeit watches in 1988 alone.[1] Born to Kill had also built up a reputation for robberies, extortion, and murder throughout the city.[4] The gang was also once embroiled in a violent conflict with the Chinese Ghost Shadows over turf of the lucrative activities. To this date they are still regarded as one of the most violent Asian organized crime groups to have ever exist in New York City.[5]

Peak activity[edit]

Gang members were predominantly in their teens and 20s, although they ranged from fifteen to thirty-five,[6] and were known to target restaurant owners, storekeepers and merchants along Canal Street.[7][8] Some members were recruited from areas near the Bronx High School of Science.[9]

In July 1990 there were believed to be as many as 80 active members in New York City[3] and by October 1992, when their activities in Chinatown had diminished significantly, there were still factions of the gang remaining and operating in the State of Georgia and Canada. Peak numbers in New York may have ranged as high as 100, with chapters of the gang operating in New Jersey, California and Texas.[4] Gang members were tattooed with the initials B.T.K, a coffin and three candles, signifying no fear of dying.[10] Born to Kill members were also known to have fashioned themselves after gangster movies, wearing dark sunglasses and black suits along with having spiked hair.

Outside of New York[edit]

The gang's spread was most prevalent in areas with an established Vietnamese presence, including smaller cities such as Biloxi, Mississippi[11] and larger cities such as Dallas, Texas.[12] Once active in other cities and states, the gangs did not always maintain the same activities as they did in New York. In Sacramento, California, Born to Kill was active in less-visible areas such as computer-chip theft, as well as the sale of guns to young Vietnamese.[13]

One of the areas where the gang was most active was Atlanta[14] and Doraville, Georgia where it continued to operate as late as December 1996.[15]


On August 1991, the gang's founder and leader, David Thai, was arrested along with several other top-tier members of the Born to Kill gang at one of the gang's safe havens in Melville, Long Island. It was believed to have been David Thai's first arrest.[6] This event led to the conviction of seven gang members on federal racketeering charges in April 1992.[16] Most of the gang members were sentenced from between 13 to 60 years, while David Thai and two other members were sentenced to life.[1] After all of this, much of the remaining leadership of the Born to Kill gang that had avoided arrest were believed to have had relocated to the Little Vietnam neighborhood in New Orleans, Louisiana.[17]


While law enforcement have dealt a major blow to the gang, the gang is still alleged to be active albeit not as omnipresent as they used to be. Chapters of the gang still operate in New York City and Philadelphia and are still involved in organized criminal activities.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d English, T.J. (1995). Born to Kill: America's Most Notorious Vietnamese Gang, and the Changing Face of Organized Crime. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-12238-8. 
  2. ^ a b Donatella Lorch (1990-07-30). "Mourners Returned Fire, Police Say". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  3. ^ a b Constance L. Hays (1990-07-31). "Chinatown's Old Gangs Give Way to Violence and Fear". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  4. ^ a b Steven Lee Myers (1992-10-24). "Life Sentence for Scourge of Chinatown". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  5. ^ Schneider, Stephen (2009). "Ch. 11: It's Raining Corpses in Chinatown!". Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 477–. ISBN 9780470835005. 
  6. ^ a b Seth Faison Jr. (1991-08-13). "Raiders Seize 10 as Leaders of 'Kill' Gang". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  7. ^ Constance L. Hays (1991-09-29). "10 Members of Violent Vietnamese Gang Indicted". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  8. ^ John Kifner (1991-01-06). "Asian Gangs in New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  9. ^ Donatella Lorch (1991-01-06). "'Hong Kong Boy': A College Student, and a Ghost Shadow". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  10. ^ Donahue, Sean (2002). Gangs: Stories of Life and Death from the Streets. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 285. ISBN 1-56025-425-4. 
  11. ^ Brad Branan (1998-06-30). "Vietnamese Gangs on the Rise in Biloxi". The Sun Herald. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  12. ^ Dai Huyn (1993-07-19). "Horror Walks in the Door". Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  13. ^ Ken McLaughlin (1993-10-07). "Vietnamese Gangs Now Profit from Gun Sales, California Police Say". The Knight Ridder Tribune. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  14. ^ "10 in Notorious Asian Gang are Indicted". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 1991-09-27. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  15. ^ "Alleged Gang Members Indicted". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. 1996-12-13. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  16. ^ James Dao (1992-04-01). "Asian Street Gangs Emerging as New Underworld". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  17. ^ Mary Yu (2014-09-03). "Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  18. ^ Pirro, John (2010-01-12). "Police tie 2005 Bethel home invasion, rape to violent NYC gang". The News-Times (Danbury, CT).