Date: 1990-09-24

Washington Post
Author: Brooke A. Masters; Washington Post Staff Writer

A political columnist for a Vietnamese magazine and his wife were gunned down in their car outside their home in Baileys Crossroads late Saturday, 10 months after another employee of the same anti-communist monthly was shot to death in similar circumstances, Fairfax County police said

Police said they found Triet Le, 61, and Tuyet Thi Dangtran, 52, with multiple bullet wounds in their driveway off Danny's Lane in the Sunset Manor neighborhood shortly after 11:30 p.m. Joe Lucia, who lives across the street, said he heard shots and opened the side door of his house in time to see a car back quickly down the couple's driveway and speed away.

Le wrote feisty political columns under the pen name Tu Rua for Tien Phong, an Arlington-based magazine, said Len Phuong, who also works for the magazine. He said the publication has an international circulation of 15,000.

Last November, Nhan Trong Do, who was a page designer for the magazine, was found shot to death outside his home on Apex Circle near Seven Corners. Police have made no arrest in that slaying. Magazine staff members speculated at the time that Do's slaying might be related to Tien Phong's staunchly anti-communist stance.

Now members of the Washington area's large Vietnamese immigrant community say they think two slayings among a staff of less than 10 are too many to be coincidental. News of the deaths of Le and his wife swept through the closely knit society. By noon yesterday, it dominated discussions at picnics, community meetings and Asian grocery stores, people in the community said.

The magazine was founded in Saigon in 1955 and moved here in 1975. It has become controversial among its readers because of its strident criticism of prominent community leaders and of actions by specific North and South Vietnamese officials during the Vietnam War.

Readers liked -- or hated -- Le's conservative columns because he wrote about personal foibles of named officials.

"Some of his {Le's} criticisms were really down on people," said Bach Hac Nguyen, who recently began publishing a Vietnamese-language newspaper called Capital Voices.

"He embarrassed a lot of people. But I'm shocked {by the killings}. A lot of people liked the way he wrote," said one community member who asked not to be identified.

But My Linh Soland, a lawyer who had been the subject of a Le column, said, "He abused the privilege of the media. He had more enemies than friends."

However, she said Le's wife was known as "a very kind, gentle, sweet woman."

Police spokesman Warren Carmichael said authorities are investigating all possible motives for the slayings, and "logic dictates that {the magazine} would be one of them."

For several years, the Northern Virginia Vietnamese community has been terrorized by what police say are several loosely organized gangs of robbers who force their way into the homes of Asian families, tie up family members and either threaten or beat them until they produce valuables.

Some prominent members of the Vietnamese community have recently switched to unlisted phone numbers to protect themselves, community members said.

Although Le's reputation in the Vietnamese community stemmed from his writing, he also worked for nearly 15 years as a furnace operator in Arlington County's water pollution control division, said his crew supervisor, George Whitt.

"He retired about a month ago," Whitt said. "He planned to visit France and Vietnam. I thought he had already left."

Neighbors said one body was lying in a pool of blood just outside the passenger door, and the driver was shot while still at the wheel. Neighbors said they could not see who had been in the driver's seat. Members of the Vietnamese community said the couple were returning from a barbecue when they were killed.

By Sunday morning, the police had towed the couple's car away, but a large bloodstain remained on the passenger's side of the carport, and there was a pile of glass, evidently from the driver's car window. Orange police chalk marked four places where spent cartridges had been found.

Residents of Sunset Manor, a quiet, 1950s-era subdivision of single-family homes, said Le had been obsessed with security from the moment he and Dangtran moved into the neighborhood about 10 years ago.

Their red brick rambler was equipped with a security camera to monitor the door and carport and had exterior lights that turned on whenever sensors detected movement. A "Beware of Dog" sign warned passersby of the couple's large guard dog.

"They were scared {because} he wrote for this paper . . . . He even asked if he could put barbed wire up," said the couple's next-door neighbor, who asked to be identified only as Dorothy because she fears reprisals. Le purchased a roll of barbed wire but never put it up, she said.

Such concern was unusual for the middle-class neighborhood, residents said, although they said another immigrant Vietnamese family nearby had recently been robbed twice, including once when the robbers had tied up family members.

Le's concern predated the robberies, neighbors said. "He was worried from the beginning," said Maude Moore, who lives down the street.

The couple kept mostly to themselves, neighbors and members of the local Vietnamese community said, except when they went to church with Le's grown daughter and her two children. The daughter could not be reached for comment.

"The only time I saw them was when he was out working on his roses," said Dolorita Gere, who lives down the street.

Janine Coakley, a neighbor who occasionally spoke French with Le, said he was clearly well educated and came from a well-to-do family.

He had worked in the resistance against the French before leaving Vietnam in 1954, and then worked with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War, members of the Vietnamese community said. Like many Vietnamese who came to the United States, Le had been in the South Vietnamese army, holding the rank of first lieutenant, Phuong said


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