Few in number, Washington Hells Angels ‘trying to survive’

Sep 16, 2014, 12:10 PM | Updated: Sep 17, 2014, 8:47 am
Members of the Washington chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club gathered at the 2-Bit Saloon ...
Members of the Washington chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club gathered at the 2-Bit Saloon in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood Tuesday. The club has recently started a support chapter to help fend off rival gangs, according to police. (KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)
(KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)

Members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club rallied at a Seattle bar late into the night Tuesday, a gathering that was closely monitored by Seattle police detectives who are working to determine the organization’s current membership.

Once a notorious biker gang, the Washington chapter of the Hells Angels is believed to be few in number and has worked in recent weeks to attract new blood.

“The group has basically been trying to survive,” according to a Seattle police detective who specializes in gang intelligence.

“Every week, the membership of the Hells Angels changes,” he said. “People come and go.”

With just eight known members and 10 to 12 prospective members statewide, the Washington Hells Angels have turned to a support club known as the Sons of Hell to help protect them from rival gangs.

The Sons of Hell is designed as a breeding ground of sorts, from which the Hells Angels can recruit future members, said the detective, who asked to have his name withheld due to his work undercover.

“The Washington Hells Angels leadership has always viewed support clubs as a weak link, which makes their sanctioning of a current Hells Angels support club in Washington all that much more telling,” he said.

Over the last four to six weeks, the Washington Hells Angels have recruited at least five to six Sons of Hell members. It could be construed by rival motorcycle gangs as an act of desperation.

Detectives believe the Washington Hells Angels are concerned the Mongols and the Vagos, two well-established gangs that have been at odds with the Angels for years, are spreading to the Northwest from California. The Mongols, in particular, are believed to be establishing chapters in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

“We know, from what we hear from people on the street, that our local Hells Angels have some concerns that they’re being overwhelmed,” the detective said. “One person in particular won’t go anywhere without a bodyguard because he’s afraid that he’s going to be attacked by members of the Mongols.”

Police were concerned that either gang would send members to conduct counter-surveillance at the 2-Bit Saloon in Ballard Tuesday night, where the Hells Angels hosted a party with the Sons of Hell.

Hells Angels are known to frequent the bar, which is closing its doors at the end of the month.

The gathering began early in the evening Tuesday and featured live music and oil wrestling. Members of the Hells Angels sold burgers to collect money for a battered women’s shelter, the club president told KIRO Radio at the event.

The Seattle Police Department’s gang unit put out a confidential police bulletin in advance of the gathering. According to a law enforcement source, the bulletin advised officers of the potential for violence.

“We’re definitely going to have eyes in and around the area, making sure that everything is safe and that things stay peaceful,” said the detective.

Several marked patrol cars and a mobile command unit were parked about a block from the bar to monitor the night’s festivities.

It was not immediately known Wednesday whether rival gangs had shown up, although members of the Bandido Motorcycle Club were seen outside the bar, shaking hands and exchanging hugs with Hells Angels.

A source with documented ties to the gang told KIRO Radio before the event that it was unlikely to get out of hand. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said the club isn’t what it once was and members use their patches to pick up women, not to break the law.

But history has shown what those who wear the club’s insignia are capable of.

“There’s a power, there’s a mystique with those vests,” the gang detective said.

“It’s amazing what such a small number of people can do in a state like Washington, because people see (the patches) and they immediately go back in their heads to all the history they’ve heard about that gang. They remember the murders. They remember the rapes. They remember the robberies, and they think every single member of that group is capable of that kind of crime.”

The detective fought back tears as he recalled a crime committed by a Hells Angels associate more than 30 years ago.

On Aug. 7, 1977, 24-year-old Margo Compton was shot to death alongside her twin, 6-year-old daughters and a family friend in the town of Gaston, Oregon.

Detective moved to tears speaking about heinous crime from 1977

“For any group that is capable of doing that type of behavior, that’s why we watch them. That’s why we try to protect the public from them. That’s why I do what I do.”

Listen: The story of Margo Compton

Compton had worked as a prostitute for a member of the Hells Angels in California and a contract was taken out on her life after she testified against the gang in court.

“They made Margo Compton watch as they made her twin, 6-year-old daughters, Sandra and Sylvia, lay face down on a bed with their teddy bears in their arms, put a gun to their heads and killed them in front of their mother,” the detective recalled of the case.

Robert C. McClure, who was known to hang around the Hells Angels, was convicted of the murders and sentenced to four consecutive life terms.

The detective said the case is an example of what the club is capable of at its worst.

“When I think of the Hells Angels, I think of those kids,” he said.

And there has been plenty of violence since then.

The detective said Washington Hells Angels members have been involved in a variety of criminal activity, including drug trafficking, rape, robbery, motorcycle theft, and extortion.

The last major criminal case involving Hells Angels in Washington state resulted in the local president of the club being sent to federal prison.

In 2007, three current or former members of the outlaw motorcycle gang were found guilty of federal racketeering charges, with underlying crimes that included murder, extortion, and robbery.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Spokane chapter president Richard “Smilin’ Rick” Fabel directed other members to commit a variety of crimes, including the 2001 murder of a man who pretended to be a Hells Angel.

His conviction was a major blow to the organization, which has failed to fully recover.

Ron “Ronnie Cash” Arnone, a Puyallup tattoo artist who police say is the current president of the Washington chapter of the Hells Angels, declined to be interviewed for this story when contacted at his home in Tacoma and again at the 2-Bit Saloon Tuesday night.

“KIRO Radio On Assignment” features in-depth, investigative reports on a variety of topics including government accountability, consumer advocacy and the criminal justice system. To send a KIRO Radio reporter “On Assignment,” email onassignment@kiroradio.com or use our online form.

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Few in number, Washington Hells Angels ‘trying to survive’