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Prior to his first capture and arrest when Năm Cam was 15 years old for stabbing a man to death in a fight; he was infamous around the local area for his brutal machete fights and even more known for his slick ways of avoiding police. He subsequently spent two years in jail. Upon his release, he joined the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in 1966, to fight against communist North Vietnam. Năm Cam was a devout anti-communist, and he remained in Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon, to help the defeated government of South Vietnam fight North Vietnamese army and their Viet Cong agents.
Life as a criminal
He involved himself in criminal activity, amassing substantial wealth for himself. In 1994, he was arrested and convicted for his criminal dealings, but was released early in May 1995 after an intervention by Tran Mai Hanh, director of Radio the Voice of Vietnam.  Charges laid against him included murder, assault, gambling, organising gambling, organising bribery, abetting criminals, and organising illegal emigration.
Assassination of Dung Ha
The conviction that led, perhaps indirectly, to his execution was due to his role in the assassination of underworld rival Dung Ha. Dung Ha, a reputed female gangster from Haiphong in northern Vietnam, moved south to Ho Chi Minh City, to join forces with Năm Cam, who hoped to get her to serve as his emissary in expanding his casinos in the north. However, Dung Ha had other plans to create her own gang, which angered Năm Cam. Dung Ha wanted to embarrass Năm Cam and arranged for a gift box containing rats to be delivered to one of Năm Cam's restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. Humiliated and enraged, Năm Cam ordered a hit on Dung Ha, which was carried out on October 2, 2000. Two men, traveling on motorbike, came up and parked near where she was sitting. One of them got off the bike, walked up to her, pulled out a 9mm revolver and shot her in the head at point-blank range. The assassins escaped.
On June 4, 2003, Năm Cam was convicted for ordering the assassination of Dung Ha, and bribing state officials to protect his criminal network.
Fallout from his conviction
Subsequently, former Ho Chi Minh City police chief (1996–2001), Bui Quoc Huy, was found guilty of negligence for allowing Năm Cam's illegal gambling business to flourish. Tran Mai Hanh, the former head of state radio, was found guilty of receiving bribes of $6,000, plus an Omega watch valued at $2,500. Pham Sy Chien, a former deputy national chief prosecutor, was found guilty of receiving a stereo worth $1,800 for arranging Năm Cam's early release in the 1990s from a labor camp (where he was serving time on earlier charges).
The communist government touted the case as proof that they were determined to stamp out organised crime and corruption, a major source of discontent among Vietnamese. On May 7, 2004, President Trần Đức Lương of Vietnam, rejected Năm Cam's appeal of execution. On June 3, 2004, Năm Cam was executed by firing squad at the district 9 rifle range in Ho Chi Minh city, along with his four gang members Pham Van Minh, Nguyen Huu Thinh, Chau Phat Lai Em and Nguyen Viet Hung, the last being the one who shot Dung Ha.