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 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.


Born to Kill was founded by David Thai (born January 30, 1956). During the Fall of Saigon, Thai's father was arrested by communist forces but was still able to secure Thai's passage out of Vietnam, in which David Thai eventually left Vietnam in May of 1975. Some time later, David Thai ended up in Indiana but eventually made his way to New York City. In 1983, for a short period of time, David Thai was in the Flying Dragons, and occasionally committed robberies but was never caught. Eventually, Thai left the Flying Dragons and branched out on his own, where he orchestrated a gathering of young Vietnamese gangsters who then called themselves the Canal Boys, but the gang's name would later be established as "Born to Kill" in 1988, which his gang adopted its name from the phrase American soldiers had on their helmets during the Vietnam War. The gang's prowess is often attributed to the chaotic environment of guns and drugs in Vietnam.[1] They are 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]

Peak activity[edit]

Gang members were predominantly in their teens and 20s, although they ranged from fifteen to thirty-five,[4] and were known to target restaurant owners and storekeepers along Canal Street.[5][6] Some members were recruited from areas near the Bronx High School of Science.[7]

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 factions of the gang 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.[8] Gang members were tattooed with the initials B.T.K, a coffin and three candles, signifying no fear of dying.[9]

Outside of New York[edit]

The gang's spread was more prevalent in areas with an established Vietnamese presence, including smaller cities such as Biloxi, Mississippi[10] and larger cities such as Dallas, Texas.[11] 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.[12]

One of the areas where the gang was most active was Atlanta[13] and Doraville, Georgia where it continued to operate as late as December 1996.[14]


Starting as enforcers for Triads and established Chinese organized crime groups such as Flying Dragons, the gang later on organized and distanced itself from the Chinese groups. They were and still are involved in the trafficking of heroin, prostitution, contract killing and extortion. They were 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 ever active in New York City.[15]


Gang founder Thai was arrested along with other top-tier members of Born to Kill in August 1991 at one of the gang's safe havens in Melville, Long Island. It was believed to be his first arrest.[4] This led to the arrest and conviction of seven members on federal racketeering charges in April 1992.[16] Most were sentenced to 40 years and Thai was sentenced to 10 extra years. Other members may reside in New Orleans, Louisiana.


While law enforcement 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.[17]


  1. ^ a b 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 Seth Faison Jr. (1991-08-13). "Raiders Seize 10 as Leaders of 'Kill' Gang". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  5. ^ Constance L. Hays (1991-09-29). "10 Members of Violent Vietnamese Gang Indicted". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  6. ^ John Kifner (1991-01-06). "Asian Gangs in New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  7. ^ Donatella Lorch (1991-01-06). "'Hong Kong Boy': A College Student, and a Ghost Shadow". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  8. ^ Steven Lee Myers (1992-10-24). "Life Sentence for Scourge of Chinatown". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  9. ^ Donahue, Sean (2002). Gangs: Stories of Life and Death from the Streets. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 285. ISBN 1-56025-425-4. 
  10. ^ Brad Branan (1998-06-30). "Vietnamese Gangs on the Rise in Biloxi". The Sun Herald. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  11. ^ Dai Huyn (1993-07-19). "Horror Walks in the Door". Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  12. ^ Ken McLaughlin (1993-10-07). "Vietnamese Gangs Now Profit from Gun Sales, California Police Say". The Knight Ridder Tribune. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  13. ^ "10 in Notorious Asian Gang are Indicted". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 1991-09-27. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  14. ^ "Alleged Gang Members Indicted". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. 1996-12-13. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ James Dao (1992-04-01). "Asian Street Gangs Emerging as New Underworld". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  17. ^ Pirro, John (2010-01-12). "Police tie 2005 Bethel home invasion, rape to violent NYC gang". The News-Times (Danbury, CT).