Decades of Crimes of Passion, Protests, Bank Robberies, and Other Mayhem in Sunnyside, Queens

Thursday, July 2, 2009

September 27, 1976 - Elderly Chinese Couple Dies in Cash-burning Fire

In September 1976, tragedy befell the Leo family of Sunnyside, an elderly Chinese-American couple and their daughter. Smoke from a bucket of $75,000 in burning cash (placed in a bucket in their apartment hallway at 43-09 39th Place) quickly overcame the trio. They began to panic and mistakenly used the wrong window to escape (their fire escape was outside another window). All three fell to the ground. Only the daughter, Fee Hong Leo, survived.

The Times speculated that the family had burned the money as part of an "Oriental custom when one was ill assure entry into heaven in case of death." Mr. Leo had been ill, and the family had recently sold their small hand laundry; after years of hard work, they had saved over $100,000, some of which made its way into the bucket. The neighbors rarely saw the Leos, who left early in the morning and returned late at night, and noted, "It's a tragic thing - a terrible way to leave this world. It's a shame they didn't live to enjoy their money."