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Feisty, derisive, he who left no stones unturned, Triet Le was a columnist for the biweekly magazine publisher Văn Nghệ Tiền Phong (VNTP). His political stance and critical writings often involving prominent members in the Vietnamese community had made him many enemies. People knew him as an anti-communist whistle blower who was fearless in publicizing what he thought was the truth.

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Early Life

Based on Propublica's report, Le Triet's hatred toward communism and tyranny ran deep. His father and brother were killed by the Viet Cong. At an early age, he went through the horror of re-education camps. He was involved in the resistance against the French, according to Lan Phuong, the assistant director at VNTP. In 1954, Le immigrated from North Vietnam to the South. During the Vietnam war, he served as a lieutenant in the ARVN army and had worked with the US government to write propaganda against the communist regime. After the communist took over, he fled to the US in 1975 and took a day job as a furnace operator for a government owned water pollution control company. He continued his crusade against Hanoi through writing for VNTP. His aggressive political voice was loud and clear to Vietnamese of Arlington, Virginia. They either love to read his writing or hate his guts for exploiting many of the dirty secrets of Vietnamese locals. During his 13 years as a journalist in the USA, he had received multiple death threats. They were either from individuals seeking vendetta or extremist radical groups trying to shut him up. The adamant journalist was unshaken at the protest of his detractors. As a matter of fact, the more objections he received, the more determined he was to continue his work.

Saving Face

According to a personal account of a former employee named Sơn Tùng at VNTP, Le got tangled into a conflict with The Front (an Anti-Communist Resistance Group) inadvertently. At the time, he didn't come to work at the office but only submitted writings to be published. His column "Ngay Lai Ngay" was extremely caustic but very intelligent at focusing on controversies and attacking those he thought were communist sympathizers. VNTP director Nguyen Thanh Hoang welcomed his sensationalized writings to attract more readers. There were three known libel lawsuits caused by Le's acerbic newspaper column. One was from Le Thi Anh, another was from Vi Khue. Both plaintiffs lost. The third one was from an Immigration office from Texas who VNTP accused of extorting money from a client trying to sponsor relatives from Vietnam. The accused brought Le and VNTP to court for a defamation lawsuit. The prolonged back and forth legal battle which involved unscrupulous practices of lawyers on both sides had cost the newspaper a lot of money. Hoang was cautious of more litigation in the future and wanted to tone down the newspaper. Soon, VNTP business suffered because of its conservative direction. Desperate to bounce back, Hoang began to look for a story that would shake the community to its core. Upon receiving an article exposing the death of Hoang Co Minh (Leader of The Front) from an author named Nguyen An from Chicago, Hoang (VNTP's director) asked Le for advice of whether to publish it or not. Surprisingly, Le advised NOT to publish it due to some inconsistencies. Particularly, Le said that since THE FRONT publicly claimed their leader was still alive fighting in southeast Asia and Nguyen An was saying otherwise. Le even said out of respect for Hoang Co Minh (whom he had always considered a brave officer) they should not publish the article.

The death of Hoang Co Minh had been controversial till this day. Some said he's alive living in Hawaii, and others claimed he was killed later sometimes in 2004 in Laos. Rumors stated that he committed suicide after failed attempts to cross into Vietnam. Regardless, he was a man in the field, not a pen pusher sitting in the office. He was brave and willing to take action at any costs. Photo Credits: Unknown

However, due to the sensational nature of Nguyen An's article and to attract readers, Hoang decided to print the story anyway The article resulted in scathing reactions by The Front. Many retail outlets were pressured by the resistance group into not selling VNTP newspapers. The Front published their own newspaper called Resistance, attacking VNTP and specifically aimed it's crosshair at Le Triet (Tu Rua) citing he was the sole responsibility for the slander given his history of authoring many fictitious stories. Offended at the accusation and welcoming the hostility, Le responded swiftly by berating the top three officials of The Front accusing them of extortion, fraud, blasphemy, and even murder. It's a sad series of events that spiraled out of control and ultimately into a violent end. Before all of this happened, Le Triet was supportive of the Front. But at that point, his articles outright undermined, questioned, accused, and ridiculed the Front's missions to overthrow the communist regime in Vietnam. According to the former employee at VNTP, The Front basically declared war on the newspaper publisher because of Le Triet. After Đỗ Trọng Nhân, another employee at VNTP, was shot dead, authority suggested that assassination was possibly a warning.

We Killed You Because You Won't Shut Up!

Ten months after the death of Do Trong Nhan, Le Triet and his wife were shot dead. His neighbor said he had been obsessive with his security, knowing that enemies would come to get him. He would rarely venture out at night and were trying to install security cameras at his home. However, it was strange that at that particular night, someone knew ahead of time he was going out for a barbecue dinner to celebrate his marriage anniversary. The perpetrator (s) probably staked outside his driveway and shot him and his wife when they pulled up. They knew the time Le and his wife would be back. After the murders of Le Triet and his wife, a former member of The Front named Cao Thế Dung (author of Mặt Trận Những Sự Thật Chưa Hề được Kể) using three different pen names Lê Kính Dân, Lê Bằng Phong, and Chu Tri Lục, collaborated with VNTP to publish three consecutive articles on who they thought were possible for the murders. The targeted three top tier officials from The Front were Hoàng Cơ Định, Trần Xuân Ninh, and Nguyễn Xuân Nghĩa. The three FRONT leaders filed libel lawsuits against VNTP but lack proof and the case was thrown out by the judge.

Based on Propublica's report, FBI investigation showed evidence that before Le was killed, the top officials from The Front sat down with Le and tried to convince him to stop criticizing them in his writing. Le was unyielding and stuck to his freedom of speech and refused to be silenced. In another investigation, Le appeared on the hit list of VOERCN, another anti communist group who had publicly claimed responsibility for other Vietnamese journalists' murders. There had been no evidence that VOERCN and The Front were the same entity.

Interestingly, according to an article by Tom Tiede at Newspaper Enterprise Association, many employees from VNTP believed Le might have been eliminated by Communist spies that Hanoi had embedded into boat people after the fall of Saigon. However, interviews with a person from The State Department refuted the claim as diplomatically unsound since it was unlikely that Hanoi wanted their spies to take the type of action that could draw attentions to themselves. The anti communist fervor and borderline paranoia of many Vietnamese American at that time was understandable as many had gone through unimaginable suffering under Communist rule. That might be why they were blaming Hanoi for the murders to tarnish the relation between the socialist regime and Washington.

VNTP' put up a reward for who can provide information leading to arrest of Let Triet murderer. Credits: Văn nghệ Tiền Phong/Đỗ Đức Thống
VNTP' put up a reward for who can provide information leading to arrest of Let Triet murderer.
Photo Credits: Văn nghệ Tiền Phong/Đỗ Đức Thống
Reward for leading to arrest of Le Triet and wife murderer. Credits: Propublica
Photo Credits: Propublica

Basic Information

  • Name: Le Triet (LÊ TRIẾT)
  • Age: 61
  • Pen Name: Tu Rua (Tú Rua)
  • Publisher: Van Nghe Tien Phong, Văn Nghệ Tiền Phong (VNTP)
  • Publisher Column: Ngày Lại Ngày
  • Cause of Death: Gunshot wounds inside car. Wife, Đặng Trần Thị Tuyết, 52, also killed.
  • Date of Death: 11:20am, 09/22/1990
  • Location: Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia. Danny's Lane in Sunset Manor neighborhood. Outside of apartment.
  • Kin: 2 Children
  • Top Suspects: VOECRN, The FRONT (Mặt Trận) through their kill squad called Khu 9, or Communist Spies

***If you know of any information that can help bring justice to the families, you can take action. Your identity will be kept private.

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