“I’m doing fine,” Ronald Ebens told me on Wednesday, a day after the June 23
anniversary of Vincent Chin’s brutal murder, when I asked how he was doing.
He was quick to add, “I had a good Father’s Day with my kids.”
And when I asked if he did anything special on Tuesday, the actual day Chin’s
life ended, Ebens answered back with a question. “Like what?”
Ebens said. He quickly added, “I never forget it.”
“Of course not.”
But then he said, “I’m 75 years old, and I’m just tired of all that after 33
I finally got through to Vincent Chin’s killer to ask him about new information
in the public records. I had contacted him several times requesting to talk. No
answer. Finally, I made one more call in the hopes to catch him. He answered and
Then he hung up.
I immediately called back. It was an informal and quick conversation, but he
answered my questions about his potential financial windfall.
The documents revealed Ebens was the beneficiary of a friend’s estate that
received a portion of a $4 million dollar personal injury settlement in 2013.
Did Ebens get any money?
“Nope,” said Ebens. He acknowledged his friend’s wife had received the huge
settlement, in which the friend’s estate got 3 percent. But any significant
money to Ebens himself?
“Not really,” he said. “But whose business is this?”
The estate of Vincent Chin, of course.
In 1987, a civil suit for the unlawful death of Chin was settled and Ebens was
ordered to pay $1.5 million, representing Chin’s projected lost income as an
engineer. Even conservatively estimating an income of $50,000 for 30 years,
Chin’s life was woefully undervalued at $1.5 million.
But Ebens has dodged payment by moving to Nevada, where he says he lives off his
Social Security. Meanwhile, what’s owed to the Chin estate reached $8 million in
2012 and continues to grow with interest.
According to sources close to the estate, Ebens actually did receive a token sum
as a beneficiary, substitute plaintiff, and executor. The amount was as little
as $10,000 for his involvement, which hardly makes a dent in what he owes the
But at this stage more than three decades after Chin’s death, some still feel
every penny should have gone to the Chin estate.
Ebens has never held much regard for his financial obligation.
“It was ridiculous then, it’s ridiculous now,” Ebens said in my 2012 interview with him on the matter.
Ebens’ words drew the ire of author and activist Helen Zia, executor of the Chin
estate. “It shows little or no caring, and a lack of remorse,” said Zia on
Writer and activist Helen Zia speaks at New York City Chinatown event for the
10th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death in 1992. (photo by Corky Lee)
But the writer activist didn’t stop there in my conversation with her. Zia
thinks even the Boston Bomber has made a better apology than Ebens.
“Ebens has seen Vincent Chin’s mother [Lily, who died in 2002] in total grief
many times,” Zia said. “Never was there a flicker of ‘I’m sorry, I killed your
son, and the grandchildren you hoped for.‘”
For Zia, it’s a matter of Ebens saying exactly what he is sorry for.
“He’s only said he’s sorry for what happened to his own life, as he said to you
him in 2012,” Zia told me. “He has never taken responsibility for the killing
and continues to deny any racial motivation.”
Indeed, the racial component was a key part of the case. Did what happen in the
parking lot of the McDonald’s in suburban Detroit–when Ebens struck Chin twice
to the head with a baseball bat–amount to a hate crime?
Ebens was allowed to plea bargain from 2nd degree murder to manslaughter in
order to escape prison time.
The public reaction led to a federal prosecution of Ebens, who was found guilty
of violating Chin’s civil rights. But that judgment was
on appeal, and Ebens was cleared of those charges in a subsequent trial.
Ebens never served time in prison.
And as far as the wrongful death settlement, in which dollars might bring a
financial sense of justice, Ebens has managed to elude even that.
“The estate is not actually expecting to see any real recovery,” Zia said when
we wrapped up our recent conversation. “But we are committed to seeing that
Vincent Chin’s killer never have a day without a reminder of the life he took
and the impact that had.”
Maybe Ebens is being straight with me when he says he never forgets Vincent
But the public seems to forget even faster as the Chin story appears to fade
Even Zia admits, as a new generation passes, that what Ebens did to Chin seems
to many like ancient history.
But the iconic example of anti-Asian American violence happened in 1982. And
given the Charleston shooting and xenophobic fears in a white minority America,
it could certainly happen again.
Thirty-three years and counting, as another anniversary passes, the search for
Asian Americans can ill afford to forget either the brutal death of Vincent Chin
or the moral and financial debt still owed by Ronald Ebens.