A woman named Cynthia Garcia is stabbed to death and dumped in the Arizona desert after partying at a Hells Angels clubhouse in Arizona; three bullet-ridden bodies of bikers turn up in a river in Holland; a retired policeman is killed when his car is bombed in Australia. Meanwhile, the world’s most famous Hells Angel, Sonny Barger, is feted by the media on his global book tour. Angels of Death takes readers to Arizona, inside the biggest American police undercover operation to infiltrate the bikers; to British Columbia, Canada, where wealthy bikers dominate the organized crime pyramid; to Australia where the “bikies” shoot-it-out with police; to Curaçao where terrorist organizations funnel drugs to Dutch bikers; and to the streets of Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki where a murderous biker war saw rocket attacks and bombs turn Scandinavia into a war zone.
While the media has continued to toast the Hells Angel icon Sonny Barger as an American legend, the facts tell another story — they are America’s major crime export. With an estimated 2,500 full-patch members in 25 countries, the Hells Angels have inspired a global subculture of biker gangs that are among the most feared and violent underworld players.
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Julian Sher is the author of the Canadian bestseller UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD: STEVEN TRUSCOTT'S LONG RIDE INTO HISTORY (Knopf Canada), a finalist for the Writers' Trust of Canada Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and the winner of the Canadian Authors Association Biography of the Year. For 10 years he was an investigative reporter with CBC's "the fifth estate," where his work garnered a Gemini and the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service. His web page, JournalismNet, is ranked among the top five journalism sites in the world by Google.
William Marsden is the senior investigative reporter for the MONTREAL GAZETTE and also works for the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. His exposés on the Quebec justice system, smuggling and terrorism have won him two Newspaper Awards, three Judith Jasmin Awards, Quebec's highest award for journalism, and an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award in the U.S.
Julian Sher and William Marsden's THE ROAD TO HELL: HOW THE BIKER GANGS ARE CONQUERING CANADA (Knopf Canada, 2003), was a national bestseller in both the English and French languages. THE ROAD TO HELL won the 2004 Arthur Ellis Award for Best True Crime and was nominated for the Writer's Trust of Canada's Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
Hells Angels will continue to ride to the ends of the earth.
The sun never sets on a Hells Angel patch.
–Hells Angel Sonny Barger
They had not planned on beheading her.
But Cynthia Garcia needed to be taught a lesson. The forty-four-year-old single mother of six had committed a fatal error. Nobody disrespects the Hells Angels, especially in their own clubhouse. In their minds, “the stupid bitch” deserved to die.
It was a cool fall Thursday night in Mesa, Arizona, in October 2001. Ten bikers had just returned to the Hells Angels clubhouse after one of their favourite drinking holes shut down at 1:30 a.m. But the boys were still hungry for some action.
The clubhouse was in a rundown part of town just east of Phoenix, on a small street lined with busted-up pickups, faded brown palm trees and broken-down white fences. The Mesa headquarters was prettier than most biker hangouts, which often look more like bunkers than clubhouses. The local Angels had taken care to keep up appearances. The Spanish shingles on the slanted roof were not cracked; the white stucco wall was immaculate, except for a striking logo – two big yellow Death Heads bracketing the name “Mesa” in blood red. A Death Head also adorned the black mailbox on the sidewalk.
The winged Death Head is the Hells Angels’ proud emblem: an angry-looking skull with a helmet and feathers streaming behind him. It’s frightening – as it’s meant to be: don’t fuck with the Angels. We’ll eat you alive.
Inside the clubhouse, the Angels sent out one of their eager recruits to hunt down some women. He came back with Cynthia Garcia, five foot five and weighing 120 pounds – tiny compared to most of the beefy boozers in biker leather. She started drinking with the boys and having a good time, but then things turned nasty.
According to a gang officer who investigated her murder, “They brought her back for some recreation, and she didn’t want to recreate. So they beat her down. She still got mouthy with them. So they threw her in the trunk of a car and finished her off out in the desert.” She was barely alive, beaten and bloody, when the three bikers who’d taken it on themselves to deal with her dragged her out of the car and threw her on her back in the sand. They stabbed her repeatedly, according to a later confession from one of the killers.
“I want to cut the bitch’s head off,” the confessed killer claimed one of his bikers said. But his knife was too dull to finish the decapitation, according to the same testimony.
A bad knife was the least of the bikers’ problems. They could not know that for one of the killers, the slaying of an innocent woman had pushed him over the edge: he would turn traitor, rat on his biker brothers and start working undercover for the police. In the end, he would help bring down not only his two fellow killers but more than forty Hells Angels from five states on murder and drug charges in the biggest federal sweep against the bikers in American history.
Half a world away, Don Hancock, the retired chief of the Criminal Investigations Branch in Western Australia, drove through a quiet suburban neighbourhood in Perth with his friend Lou Lewis. The two men had passed the day at the racetrack, won a bit of money and were now enjoying the serene pleasure of time well spent. As they pulled into Hancock’s driveway, a powerful bomb positioned under his seat blew Hancock out of the car, shredding his body like a rag doll and killing him instantly. His friend died soon afterwards. A cellphone had triggered the bomb, and the outlaw biker who had dialled the number assured his mate that they wouldn’t be charged for the call.
A year earlier, outlaw bikers had literally blown to bits a small town in Australia’s outback where Hancock had retired. The former police officer had fled but was relentlessly tracked down.
Australians call outlaw bikers “bikies,” but there’s nothing friendly about the apparent diminutive. The murder of Hancock would launch a massive police investigation and inspire tighter laws designed to bring the bikies under control. But it was too late. Aussie bikies, bold imitators of their American brethren, had already become the country’s first nationwide crime syndicate, dominating Australia’s underbelly.
Three years later and another continent away, three bodies were discovered in a stream near the town of Eicht, in the southern Netherlands. This time, all three victims were elite bikers, members of the Dutch Hells Angels Nomads chapter, and one was the chapter president. Nomads are often the most powerful among fully patched bikers, not restricted to operations in a specific geographic turf. But not even Nomads are always immune to insider treachery.
It was late in February 2004. All had been shot several times point-blank, execution-style, their assassination sparked by the theft of 293 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $11 million. But this was much more than your usual burned drug deal. The murders revealed a hitherto undisclosed story in the outlaw biker chronicles: their international ties to Colombian drug dealers and narco-terrorists.
Police later arrested a member of the Hells Angels chapter in Curaçao, an island in the southern part of the Caribbean that is part of the Dutch Antilles. The biker flipped and informed on thirteen Hells Angels Nomads back in Holland, who were then arrested and charged with the murders of their leaders.
The cocaine was reportedly shipped to Amsterdam, via the Angels’ new chapter in Curaçao, from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an insurgency group labelled narco-terrorists by the U.S. State Department. Police frequently compare the bikers to terrorist organizations because of their explosive violence and cell-like structure, and the killings in the Netherlands revealed direct connections between the two.
For the first time, Dutch authorities, who had been notoriously reluctant to take on the country’s Hells Angels, the most powerful bikers in Europe, decided to act. Justice officials investigating the murders eventually charged almost the entire Nomads chapter, not just with murder and cocaine smuggling but also with being part of a criminal conspiracy. Their trial would send shock waves through the European biker underworld.
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