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The "Phantom of Playland"



On February 19, 1955, a 33-year-old man named Kit Hing Hui was arrested for burglary after being found prowling around the Golden Gate View restaurant on Point Lobos Avenue with burglary tools in hand. The police dubbed him the "Phantom of Playland" after he confessed to committing approximately 50 burglaries in the area around the Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park. But Kit never stole any money from the businesses he broke into. Instead, he helped himself to food, cigarettes and soft drinks.


Kit immigrated to the United States with his father in 1936. He went on to serve as a Technical Seargent for the US Armed Forces in the China Burma India Theater. When he returned to San Francisco after the war ended, he learned that his father had died, and his mother, who had remained in China, had been detained by Communists. Kit became lonely and depressed, and twice attempted to end his life- once on the Golden Gate Bridge and once in the rough waters below the Cliff House. On his second attempt, he panicked and took refuge in a cave below Sutro Baths. There he remained for five years, living in solitude, sleeping during the day and searching for food at night. When he was finally arrested, he was pleased, telling the police "my strange existence is over."


On March 4, 1955, Kit appeared in court. He told reporters that he had gotten a job in a garment factory on Washington Street and stated "It feels good to be back in civilization. There were many times when I lived in the cave when I wanted to come back to the world- but I'd look at my clothes and just couldn't face people." He continued, "I hope when my case is decided, I'll get a chance to rehabilitate myself. I really want to live as a useful citizen."


I don't know what became of Kit Hing Hui as I wasn't able to find any information about his life after his court appearance. But aside from his joyful return to civilization, there was another silver lining to his arrest. Alongside him in court was his long lost brother, Sui K. Hui, a Korean War veteran. The brothers had been separated for 18 years, and were happily reunited after Sui had read about Kit's arrest in the newspaper.


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