A Tucson Police Department incident report obtained by PHOENIX magazine lays out the scene. On June 24, 2017, about a dozen members of the Black Kingz motorcycle club (MC) – an affiliate of The Outlaws, a major “one-percenter” MC based mainly in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast, with no documented presence in Tucson – were enjoying a group outing at Venom show club on Tucson’s east side. Shortly after midnight, two Black Kingz members, 33-year-old Davaress Bolden and 23-year-old Frederic Bayles, went inside the club’s bathroom, followed a few seconds later by a 64-year-old strip-club gadfly named Tommy Hook, who was not known to have any ties to the bikers. However, he did have a reputation for “[offending] people with his comments,” according to an employee of the club. Another witness was less subtle: The one-time federal auditor was “a piece of shit” who got into a lot of fights.
What exactly transpired between the three men after entering the bathroom is uncertain, but Hook stormed out about 30 seconds later and summoned an acquaintance sitting at the bar. Hook re-entered the bathroom with his friend in tow. According to a statement later obtained from Hook’s friend, the two bikers – Bolden and Bayles – and Hook exchanged angry words, and the bikers beat him “with their hands.”
Sadly, Hook’s propensity for getting into scrapes with fellow strip-club habitués would be his final undoing on this particular evening. Summoned by his friend, a pair of doormen found Hook on the bathroom floor in a pool of his own blood, with a fatal blunt-force head wound. Along with their Black Kingz confréres, Bolden and Bayles escaped into the night.
After a brief manhunt, both suspects were apprehended. Bayles, facing second-degree murder and aggravated assault charges, credibly claimed self-defense and ultimately plead down to class 4 negligent homicide with no incarceration. Bolden, who described himself as the biker gang’s “ring leader,” according to a witness, scored a similar deal.
These are the broad strokes of the case, but the devil – or the Angels, if you will – is in the details. According to witness statements in the TPD incident report, the Black Kingz were not in town merely for lap dances and bottle service. Likened by one witness to an outlaw-biker “farm team” or second-tier club, the Kingz were “in Tucson… to recruit new members and open up a branch.” Given their close ties to the bigger, better-known and more-feared Outlaws, it’s not a tremendous cognitive leap to assume they were laying the groundwork for an Outlaws chapter, as well. Although he was living in Phoenix at the time, and was arrested there, Bolden told a witness he hailed from Memphis – a city known to be Outlaws-dominant.
Insiders say such blatant MC prospecting would not have happened on Arizona soil 20, 10 or even five years ago. According to law enforcement officials, journalists and members of the MC community itself, Arizona is known unofficially as Hells Angels territory – and has been for decades.
But that could be changing. Along with the Tucson beating incident, several violent clashes in the Valley suggest alien MCs are getting more aggressive in Arizona, leading some observers within the outlaw-biker community to wonder if the Hells Angels – the world’s biggest, most illustrious motorcycle club, and one that’s still considered an organized crime syndicate by the U.S. Justice Department – are losing their exclusive grip on the Grand Canyon State.
“There’s an idea out there that Arizona is becoming an ‘open state,’” says one source with multiple ties to the local biker community, and who wished to remain anonymous. “What that means is, if you were an MC, and you wanted to ride through the state showing your logos and so forth, you had to get the HA’s permission. If you wanted to set up a chapter somewhere, you had to go to them, swear fealty to them, and get their permission. But that’s not the case anymore. It’s open.”
True or not, the perception of Arizona’s “openness” has likely drawn more MCs into the Valley – and some members of the state’s oldest and most entrenched bike club don’t appear to be ready to turn the other cheek.
On a typically hot, dry Arizona afternoon in October 2016, Hells Angels legend Sonny Barger quietly bid adieu to Cave Creek. It marked the end of a two-decade Arizona residency for the seminal outlaw biker, who punched his way into the popular consciousness in the pages of Hunter S. Thompson’s best-selling 1967 memoir Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs while serving as the president and co-founder of the club’s influential Oakland charter.
Rolling Stone later called him “the baddest man on two wheels.” In the insular and doggedly secretive world of MCs, he’s the closest thing to a celebrity.
It would be disingenuous to call Barger “media-shy” – he holds court over 401,315 followers on Facebook, and maintains his own website – but he rarely engages the news media, particularly after undergoing a laryngectomy in the early 1980s while battling throat cancer. True to form, his lone public pronouncement on the topic of his departure from Arizona was elegant simplicity itself: “I want to announce that I have officially rejoined the Oakland Charter,” a Facebook post from August 22, 2016, reads. “Heading Home!”
The question is: Was Barger’s departure from Arizona an invitation for other MCs to move in?
Most friends and affiliates of the club – don’t call it a gang, lest you get on their bad side – disavow such thinking. Now 79 years old, Barger is no longer a street enforcer and hasn’t been for some time, they point out. Moreover, the Hells Angels themselves contend they’re a decentralized organization – a confederacy, more or less – with independent charters that govern themselves and set their own agendas.
“It doesn’t matter where Sonny lives… the club is what it is,” Cave Creek resident Candy Chand says. Friendly with Barger and his wife, Zorana, Chand is an Oakland transplant who moved to Arizona around the same time as Barger and occasionally posts paean-like news columns to the now-defunct HuffPost contributor platform about the club. She also writes faith-based inspirational fiction – “Sonny calls them my ‘Jesus books,’” she says with a chuckle.
Though Chand doesn’t attend “supporter parties” or other club events, she has met many Arizona Hells Angels off-hours, and says Barger’s decamp for California did not cause much hand-wringing among them. “It doesn’t diminish them. [The Hells Angels] have charters all over the world.”
Indeed, the Hells Angels’ dominion over Arizona predates Barger. In a sense, it predates the Angels themselves.
A quick bit of Arizona biker history: For several decades, dating back to the late ’60s, the dominant MC in Arizona was a band of Harley-riding, hirsute reprobates called The Dirty Dozen. Named after the eponymous criminal soldiers in the Lee Marvin/Jim Brown action movie, the Dozen brawled mercilessly with rival clubs and became a main preoccupation of Arizona law enforcement during the 1970s and 1980s until “patching over” – e.g. merging – with the Hells Angels in 1997.
In an interview with PHOENIX in 2011, one of the architects of that merger – late Hells Angels street enforcer Robert “Chico” Mora – described how Dirty Dozen bikers sanitized Arizona of rivals before trading in their iconic double-six dice emblem for the Hells Angels Death Head patch.
“Oh, we were obnoxious assholes,” Mora cheerfully confided, describing the earlier club’s modus operandi. “We did terrible, depraved stuff all the time. Don’t get me wrong: The Hells Angels are every bit as tough. But it was a different culture back then. Much wilder.”
Part of that culture was engaging motorcycle-mounted rivals whenever and wherever they found them. In the early 1980s, Mora served three years in Florence State Prison for the shooting deaths of two members of Bad Company – an outlaw bike gang based in New Mexico that was attempting to set up a chapter in the old mining town of Globe.
Mora recalled that he summoned the two bikers to a popular roadhouse in Globe, where he laid out his ultimatum. “I told them to behave themselves,” Mora said. “And respect my authority. Then one of them pulled a gun on me. So I defended myself.”
Later, in the early 1990s, the Dozen waged warfare on another out-of-state club, called the Vagos, who were attempting to plant a flag on Arizona soil. Led by a biker named Don “Arizona Don” Halterman, the Vagos even managed to start a Phoenix chapter in the heart of Dirty Dozen territory.
The honeymoon period was brief, as described by former Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer Steve Trethewy. “There was some shooting and pipe-bombs. Somebody put a pipe-bomb on Arizona Don’s front door. That was it. There was too much heat on them. The Vagos left Phoenix.”
Such exploits did not go unnoticed by Barger as he served out a four-year conspiracy conviction in a medium-security federal prison near Black Canyon City from 1988 to 1992. In fact, his admiration for the Dirty Dozen may have facilitated his decision to leave Oakland for the Valley and its warmer, more salubrious climate. Faced with a friendly takeover offer from the one-and-only Hells Angels – essentially the Google of outlaw MCs – the Dozen had little choice. In 1997, members of the two clubs convened in the HA clubhouse in Oakland – a converted Arthur Murray dance studio, ironically – and the patch-over was consecrated.
By most accounts, Barger served in an emeritus or advisory capacity as a member of the Hells Angels Cave Creek charter – he didn’t hold an officer position, and was rarely seen at rallies and public events – supporting the contention that his departure carries mostly symbolic, rather than tactical, weight for the Arizona biker community.
But it’s also true that Barger’s vanishing act coincided with a general hemorrhaging of “old-guard [Arizona] guys who weren’t afraid to mix it up [with other MCs],” in the words of the anonymous source. In 2013, Mora – who held the title of “street warlord” during his Dirty Dozen days – died of natural causes. Soon after, Mike Koepke, a member of the club’s feared “Nomads” charter – and a principle figure in the much-publicized HA shootout with the Vagos in Prescott Valley in 2010 – retired from the club to start a career as a Prescott fireman (see PHOENIX August 2016).
Now firmly on the straight-and-narrow, Koepke says he no longer has regular contact with the Hells Angels and can’t comment on the club’s politics or motivations. But asked if he could recall an instance of seeing – or hearing about – a phalanx of enemy bikers riding unmolested on a major Arizona highway without the HA’s blessing, to a strip club or otherwise, he says, “No, I can’t recall that.”
Valley cocktail maestro Brandon Casey had barely taken possession of his new bar, The Woodshed, on Baseline Road in Tempe when the deadly biker melee erupted across the street.
The date was August 17, 2016 – about a week, coincidentally, before Barger’s Facebook announcement. According to Tempe Police Department spokesman Sgt. Ronald Elcock, four members of the Mongols MC – like the Hells Angels, a “one-percenter” club with roots in Southern California, but predominantly Latino – approached a single Hells Angel biker at the Final Round Sports Bar & Grill at Baseline and Mill Avenue. “The Hells Angel was by himself, and the [Mongol bikers] started a fight,” Elcock says, citing the official incident report.
According to an ABC15 report the evening of the shooting, the fight spilled out into the parking lot, where the shooter – whom PHOENIX independently verified through court documents as Wayne Whitt, a member of the Hells Angels’ Mesa charter – fired six shots before fleeing on his bike, killing one of his assailants. Though Tempe PD declined to name the deceased, a GoFundMe page launched in the wake of the shooting suggests it was Richard “AZ Slick” Garcia, a member of the Mongols’ Mesa chapter. Tempe PD ultimately declined to press charges against Whitt, deeming the shooting self-defense. (The three surviving Mongols – Efren Ontiveros, John Magana and Frank Gardea – were all arrested and are still awaiting “adjudication,” according to Elcock.)
Covered by all local TV news stations, the shooting was an eye-opener, because it demonstrated how MC violence can erupt in unexpected places. The Mill/Baseline neighborhood in Tempe is not regarded as a rough neighborhood – the street is lined with white-collar offices, mid-level restaurants and apartments. Kiwanis Park is a block south.
“I was super surprised it happened,” says Casey, former head mixologist at Citizen Public House, who was interviewed by local TV reporters outside his bar the day after the shooting. “I grew up in downtown Tempe… Biker gang violence wasn’t a thing. So I [found it] more confusing than anything.”
The incident also illustrated the increased diversity of the Valley’s MC culture and, arguably, the spasms of violence that can happen without a clearly defined alpha. The Mongols claimed one Arizona chapter – Mesa, which operates its own Facebook page – in 2011. Today, a Mongols-affiliated website lists four chapters in the Valley, though MC experts in law enforcement caution that clubs sometimes inflate their numbers. The Arizona Hells Angels are believed to have around 100 active members, but an information request to DPS’ Gang & Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), which oversees most MC-related investigations in Arizona, was not returned by the time this issue went to press.
If there is a larger battle brewing between the Hells Angels and Mongols, law enforcement isn’t saying. “We don’t have intelligence [to that effect],” Elcock says. “We haven’t heard about retaliation from that incident… and no rising tensions or any other shootings.”
A chat board on a website called AZ Independent Daily tells a slightly different story, with devotees of the two clubs trading racially tinged barbs and claims of dominance in the Valley. “Maybe if the Mongols didn’t fly their patch in AZ, where they are not endorsed by the CMC [Arizona Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs], they wouldn’t get into shootouts with the state’s dominant MC,” one user chides.
“Quit with your nonsense this was chicken head territory the Mongols are moving in like they took Cali away from the chicken heads,” a Mongol supporter responds, using a common epithet for the Hells Angels Death Head emblem.
Another poster makes reference to the unsolved murder of Hells Angels Cave Creek member Patrick Eberhardt, who was gunned down on his bike in North Phoenix in 2015. Sources close to the club have privately expressed surprise that the murder has not resulted in any public reprisals, especially given Eberhardt’s bloodlines – his father is Cave Creek charter president Robert “Spa Bob” Eberhardt. According to a Phoenix police report obtained by this magazine in 2015, one of the two unnamed suspects in the ongoing investigation into Eberhardt’s death is a Mongol member.
Then again, reprisals have a way of spinning out of hand for MCs, as the 170 indictments handed down in the wake of the well-publicized 2015 Hells Angels shootout in Waco, Texas, demonstrate. And online message boards rarely reflect diplomatic reality – fortunately.
Koepke, the retired Hells Angel – who escaped prosecution for the non-lethal Prescott Valley gun battle when it was revealed that one of the enemy combatants was a paid confidential informant – disavows the idea that the Arizona Hells Angels can or should go to war over territory.
“I don’t think it benefits anybody to have ongoing warfare and clashes [among MCs],” he says. “And [protecting territory] was certainly not something that was adopted or talked about when I was in the Hells Angels. If someone does something [threatening], you have a right to defend yourself… but anyone can start a club.”
One possible scenario: As Arizona grows in population and demographic complexity, the Hells Angels may have to accept a new reality – as they once did in California – where different clubs hold sway over different parts of the state.
If that is the case, bystanders like Casey just hope everyone in the Valley’s newly competitive MC community gets the memo. “We haven’t seen any bikers in the area since [the Tempe shooting],” he says. “But who knows? People are saying it’s a weird power-vacuum thing.”
MC Cheat Sheet
The term “one-percenter” was adopted by defiant outlaw bikers after organizers of the 1947 Hollister, Calif., biker rally insisted that troublemakers in the motorcycle world only constituted “one percent” of total membership. Know a few of them with this handy glossary.
Founded by disaffected WWII vets in 1948, the “Red & White” achieved primacy in the biker wold behind the emergence of its powerful Bay Area charters in the 1960s.
Also known as Green Nation, the MC was founded in Corona, Calif., in 1965. According to the DOJ, they boast around 600 members in the U.S., including some in Northern AZ.
Founded by Hispanic Vietnam War vets, the MC memorably brawled with HA in the deadly Laughlin riot of 2002. They’re believed to have a growing Valley presence.
America’s oldest MC (est. 1935) has no known AZ presence, but is a longtime HA rival; Barger’s 1988 federal conviction stemmed from an alleged plot to blow up an Outlaws clubhouse.