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Death of a Wireman

Among the practitioners of his craft, Frank Chin, 48, was a pro. He had been one of the most sought-after "wiremen," or electronic eavesdroppers, in the East, supplying bugging and recording devices to clients on both sides of the law. But on January 20 Chin's tape ran out. He was found crumpled in a hallway near his West Side Manhattan workshop with six bullet holes in his head.

The murder has stirred hoods and lawmen. Who killed Frank Chin? Any number of people might have wanted to see him dead. Chin's most popular device, selling for $300 and up, was a Sony AM/FM cassette recorder adapted to receive sounds transmitted by "bugs" small enough to be hidden behind an electric wall socket. Chin's wares were bought by such varied customers as police in Connecticut and New Jersey (some with known Mafia connections), the Communist and Nationalist Chinese, United Nations officials, assorted foreign agents, the CIA and, some say, the White House plumbers of the Nixon years.

Time Feb. 21, 1977

Bugs installed by Chin in the East Side digs of Prostitute Xaviera Hollander yielded the raw material for her 1972 book, The Happy Hooker. But along with a lot of business, Chin picked up a bad habit; he liked to testify in court cases in which his equipment had been used. Says his blonde wife, Leonore, with understatement: "He made about two enemies a year over a period of ten years."


Frank Chin

Rub Out. Last fall, Chin testified in a case involving a Stratford, Conn., policeman named Joseph Berke, who was convicted of having bugged the town hall, ostensibly to aid himself in the state examination for promotion. The bugs were discovered by electricians, and at the trial Chin testified that he had sold the cop a listening device-key testimony that helped convict Berke. Investigators theorize that Chin may have been rubbed out by someone else who had been using his equipment illegally and, hearing about the Berke case, decided that the bug maker had become too talkative for comfort. Then again, almost anyone involved in criminal activity that Chin knew about could have been the murderer. Chin apparently knew he was in danger. At least three days before his murder, he had packed his car with the intention of fleeing to Montreal, thence to Hong Kong or China.


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