Wonton Butchery: A Triple Murder Unsolved

Posted: October 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Immigrants, we get the job done.” —- Hamilton, an American Musical

Sun Ye “Sunny” Kennedy was an unlikely Chinese restaurant owner. First of all, she was not Chinese but Korean, born and bred.
Secondly, she did not know how to cook and had no interest in learning. No matter.
Sunny’s eatery, the China Town Restaurant in Bradenton Florida, was a success, known locally for its generous lunch buffet.

Married in 1974, Sunny had immigrated to America four years later as the wife of an American serviceman, Stephen Kennedy.
The couple had one child, a son named David.
After waiting tables for a few years Sunny opened the China Town Restaurant but her twelve-hour, seven-days-a-week schedule put a strain on the Kennedys’ marriage;
in 1988 the couple divorced and Stephen Kennedy moved to New York.
The split was amicable and the couple shared joint custody of David, although Sunny retained physical custody.

“She didn’t want anything from her husband. No child support. Nothing. Her dream was to make her own good living and raise her son.” Chikugo Kirby, China Town cashier, Tampa Bay Times, January 30th, 1990

Dating as an American divorcee had its share of minefields; one of Sunny’s first relationships fell apart due to cultural differences—her American boyfriend was uncomfortable with her steadfast refusal to look him in the eye, and could not abide her tendency to walk behind him.
It looked like her luck was turning around, though;
in August of 1989 Sunny met auto mechanic William Earl Plumb at The Lounge, a bar abutting the China Town Restaurant—they hit it off and moved in together immediately.
For the next six months the couple were reportedly quite happy together.

A Side Order of Death, No Substitution

Like yin and yang, beef and broccoli, Chinese restaurants and unsolved homicide go together.

The roots of this phenomenon are presumably threefold: many Chinese restaurants are cash only, open late-night, and most are staffed with immigrants leery of law enforcement. This creates a fertile environment for murder, including these still-unsolved slayings with Chinese-restaurant ties:

January 18th, 1971: Shum and Toki Sang, owners of The House of Sang in Parsippany, New Jersey, were murdered in their car outside their home.

October 10th, 1983: owner Chun Hok Wong and his sons Si Chun Wong and Xue Yin Huang were murdered inside the Szechuan Star Restaurant in Mount Kisco, New York (a suspect, Leung Hung Yu, fled to China).

January 19th, 1985: the bodies of Jimmy and Lilly (sometimes spelled Lily) Ming were found dismembered and bagged on the Squamish Highway; Jimmy managed the Yangtze Kitchen Restaurant in Vancouver, Canada.

April 23rd, 2001: Shaoxiong and May He were stabbed in their Asian Garden Restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

October 5th, 2011: Chen Rong and Mei Gong Li, owners of Chinese Happiness Restaurant in D’Iberville Mississippi, were stabbed to death at their home along with Li’s sister Mei Jing Li.

October 8th, 2014: Jin Chen, Hai Yan Li, and their sons Anthony and Eddy were stabbed and bludgeoned in their home; Jimmy was a waiter at King Wok Restaurant in Guilderland, New York.

What the Fortune Cookie Failed to Tell Us:

At 11pm on January 27th, 1990 forty-two-year old Sunny; her son, fifteen-year old David; and thirty-six-year old William Plumb left the restaurant in Sunny’s red van.
The next day, Super Bowl XXIV, the restaurant staff found the eatery’s door unlocked but Sunny failed to appear, an unthinkable occurrence.

At 2pm officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the Kennedy residence at 1552 Highcrest Circle in Valrico.
They discovered the front door unlocked and inside found the bloodied bodies of Sunny, David and William.
All had been shot once in the head with semi-wadcutter bullets,
a type of ammunition popular at shooting ranges (the shells’ round noses are designed to pierce paper targets without ripping).

The murders did not comprise a single crime scene; Sunny was found in her bedroom closet, William splayed on the floor just outside,
and David lay in bed on the other side of the one-story residence.
Sunny distrusted night-deposit boxes and was known to retain large amounts of cash,
sometimes as much as 15K, packed into shoe boxes.
An unidentified amount of cash was found at the scene, leading Hillsborough detectives to declare,
without elaboration, robbery was not believed to be the motive for the crime.

Confirmed to be present in New York, Stephen Kennedy was dismissed from suspicion in the slayings,
as was a then-teenager named Park,
a recent Korean immigrant who worked as a dishwasher at the China Town Restaurant and occasionally stayed at the Kennedy residence.

Despite the dismissal of these suspects, most who knew Sunny Kennedy are certain she knew her killer—she was known to be exceedingly security conscious,
and had installed bars and extra locks on the home before she moved in.
She would never under any circumstances, her friends and employees agree, open her door to a stranger.

Although known to avoid conflict, there were two recent events in Sunny’s life which may have foreshadowed the crime.
Shortly before her death her friend Gene Montagna heard her have a tense phone conversation in Korean.
After she hung up she asked him to lend her 15K;
he lacked the funds and she never spoke of the matter again.
Four days before her death Sunny had a loud argument with a blond Caucasian man—bespectacled, thirty-five to forty, of average height and build—in the restaurant;
they spoke in her native Korean.
Hillsborough Sheriff’s deputies circulated a composite of the person of interest but the Identikit image was never published in the Tampa Bay Times.

I cast no aspersions on law enforcement, but I am baffled by the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office’s failure to identify the Caucasian man who argued with Sunny at the restaurant.
In mid-century America Korean wasn’t taught as a high school elective; he almost certainly had missionary or military ties.
I’d be shocked if he didn’t also have a Korean wife.
Why wasn’t his composite more widely publicized?

Several elements of the Kennedy-Plumb murders gnaw at me. David Kennedy, fifteen years old,
loved martial arts, Dungeons and Dragons, and dreamed of going to art school.
A prototypical geek: one of us, one of us.
William Plumb: law-abiding, genial, dead because he fell in love with the wrong woman at a strip mall watering hole.

Above all, in these decidedly anti-immigrant times I think about Sunny Kennedy—coming all the way from Korea to make a new life, working so hard, being so careful.
Always peering out her window when her doorbell rang to make sure she knew the identity of her visitor; this was a woman who understood the value of caution.
Installing burglar bars, changing the locks whenever she moved into a new residence.
None of it saved her.
Someone she knew wanted not only her but also her loved ones eternally and irrevocably dead.

The call is always coming from inside the house.

Murder scene, present day

  1. […] “Immigrants, we get the job done.” —- Hamilton, an American Musical Sun Ye “Sunny” Kennedy was an unlikely Chinese restaurant owner. First of all, she was not Chinese but Korean, born and bred. Secondly, she did not know how to cook and had no interest in learning. No matter. Sunny’s eatery, the China Town Restaurant Read More […]