Biker Gangs In The Motor City: A History of Riding Rough

Detroit biker gangs

The City of Detroit has a rich and storied tradition of renegade biker gangs. Nationally-feared clubs like “The Outlaws”, “The Highwaymen”, “The Devil’s Diciples”, and “The Avengers” have each called the motor city home to their respective national headquarters, thus making the area in and around Southeast Michigan a simmering hub of Midwest biker culture.

“They’re certainly a different breed of criminal,” said former FBI agent Bill Randall. “These are the type of people that live on the fringes of society and hold grave contempt for anyone but themselves. Even within the criminal sect, they’re viewed as kind of out there doing their own thing, renegades in the truest sense I suppose you could say.”

Newspaper accounts as far back as 1913 document recreational motorcycle activity in Metro Detroit. The criminal element in the local and national landscape didn’t really start to appear at a large-sized scale until the 1960s and 70s – due to in large part according to sociologists because of the return home of tens of thousands of disillusioned Vietnam War vets – ,when biker gangs around the country were morphing into the fully-functional crime conglomerates. The then Illinois-based Outlaws hosted the nation’s first post-World War II road rally, events that would go on to become the cornerstone of any U.S. biker club’s social calendar, at Soldier’s Field in 1946.

The Detroit-area became home to a number of gangs with fearsome reputations spearheaded by men who were one of a kind leaders prone to streaks of unparalleled criminal innovation. Ward “The Anvil” Wright, president of the Avengers Michigan chapter based out of Pontiac, was arrested for stealing a half-dozen U.S. Forestry Service planes and using them to ferry drugs between Detroit and Medillen, Colombia.

When Wright fled town after committing a murder in Ohio, eventually caught and shipped off to prison in 1997, Thomas “Big Foot Tommy” Khalil, became not just boss of the gang in Detroit, but the club’s national president. During his reign, he oversaw a brutal street war between the Avengers, made up of chapters across the Midwest in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia, and rival gangs the Iron Coffins and the Forbidden Wheels.

According to court documents, Khalil instructed those in the club to go out and kill as many members of the Iron Coffins as possible and then take the patch off their “cuts” – sleeveless denim or leather jackets which display their gang’s colors and emblems in a sewn-on patch. In a tongue lashing he gave his lieutenants in November1998 that the government happened to get on tape due to a hidden recording device, Big Foot Tommy was heard saying, “I’m surprised that somebody hasn’t gotten their first fucking Coffin’s patch. I guess I’ll have to go out there and get one myself.”

Paul “Rocky” Dye, president of the Detroit chapter of the Forbidden Wheels, was convicted in 1983 of the murder of Glenda Collins and Donna Bartels, two female associates of the gang and sentenced to life in prison. As recently as 2007, tensions between the Forbidden Wheels and the Avengers reached a fevered pitch and boiled over into a violent public fracas in the parking lot of the Red Dog Saloon in downtown Milford.

While Khalil and Wright’s Avengers, Dye’s Forbidden Wheels and Billy Wadd’s Devil’s Diciples could more than hold their own in the Motor City biker world, the Outlaws and the Highwaymen are the two most prominent gangs in Metropolitan Detroit and they share a bitter rivalry. The Highwaymen, which were founded in Detroit in 1954 by the city’s original biker Godfather, Elburn “Big Max” Barnes and to this day is the state’s biggest motorcycle club, view the Outlaws as interlopers, encroaching on their rightful home territory. Formed in Chicago in 1935, the Outlaws made their major inroads into the Motor City in the 1970s and 80s as a result of the rise to power of Harry “Taco” Bowman, a menacing Michigan-raised hellion who developed a cult-like following and legacy that grew larger than any American biker boss of the last 30 years.

These two clubs rule the biker world in Detroit with brute force and find themselves at constant odds over turf, respect and a cornucopia of rackets. Both clubs are deadly and engage in every seedy and illegal business venture you could think of. The Outlaws have also always been at constant war with the West Coast-based Hell Angels, a situation that has led both the Highwaymen and the Devils Diciples to make alliances with them in local affairs, relationships bound only by their mutual hatred for the Outlaws and a desire to undermine the club’s every move. According to club lore, the animosity between the Outlaws and the Hells Angels, the country’s two most high-profile outlaw biker clubs started in the late-1940s when the Hells Angels rejected a request from the Outlaws for permission to set up a charter in California.

The first time the Outlaws really made a name for itself in the Detroit press was in 1967 when Joe (Squirrel) Sorsby, John (Crazy Johnny) Wables and Don (Mangy) Graves, two Detroit-area Outlaws were arrested in Florida for nailing a young woman to a tree down for stealing money from an Outlaw clubhouse in Palm Beach. It wasn’t more than a decade later that the Highwaymen burst on the local media scene in the same violent manner when the homegrown club had several of its members arrested and convicted for bombing, robbing and ransacking a number of homes and businesses owned by Outlaws. Jason Gray, a Highwaymen Detroit chapter president in the 1980s actually attacked the agent in charge of the DEA investigation into the club’s activities with gunfire as he drove to work. Although the attack failed to seriously injure the agent, the brazen assault on authority did wonders for the gang’s reputation.

The area’s power officially shifted in the Outlaws’ direction in 1984 when the club’s International President Harold “Stairway Harry” Henderson, a beloved and dynamic head-of-state that was the first club president to expand chartership outside of U.S. boundaries, was forced to step down due to legal issues and his vice-president and protégé, Harry “Taco” Bowman was named his successor. Bowman, who got his nickname due to his dark complexion and resemblance to being of Latino heritage, followed in Stairway Harry’s footsteps and built up and strong and loyal support network made up of juiced-in advocates – coming from inside the club and out – and menacing enforcers and assassins. An underworld rarity, he was both loved and feared. Behind his hypnotic leadership ability, the Outlaws swelled to record numbers with a national roster of more than 1500 full-patch members and over 200 total chapters worldwide.

The chameleon-like Bowman has been credited by law enforcement as being the first “businessman biker boss,” a trendsetter in pioneering the Outlaws into more diverse rackets and more sophisticated business ventures than just owning bars, strip clubs and tattoo parlors. He expanded his powerbase by forging sturdy ties with other like-minded crime syndicates, like the Italian mafia, and high-standing members of legitimate society, like wealthy philanthropists, politicians and policemen. His zen-like leadership would send his underlings into states of mass hysteria, chanting and screaming at his every gesture and command. Fascinated by Adolph Hitler, he would wear a full-length black cape embroidered with a swatstika when he held chapter meetings or held court in his well-stocked clubhouse library.

Known to dress and act for whatever company he was in the presence off, Bowman could be seen in his club colors and cut, rousing it up with the boys in a dust-stained bar one hour and the next be clean shaven, neatly-coiffed and decked out in a $5,000 suit, looking like he was ready to attend a board of directors meeting. Upon gaining boss-status, he bought a quaint house in an upscale suburban neighborhood of Grosse Pointe Farms and enrolled his children in a leafy private school nearby. He could be often seen around town being driven to appointments in a custom made bullet-proofed Cadillac, always accompanied by one or two bodyguards. Unlike most of his breed, he did not have long hair, a beard nor bared a body filled with tattoos. Your typical biker, he wasn’t.

“Taco was interesting because he kind of went against the grain and kept one foot in the straight world and the other in the biker world, while most of those guys want to stay as far away from the two-car garage and picket fence thing as possible” said Randall I mean Taco used to drive his kids to school and was active in neighborhood type stuff. He might have wanted to blend in more than usual, but he was a pretty ruthless individual who definitely raised a lot of hell in his time.”

Immediately stamping his personal imprint on the organization, Bowman moved the club’s international headquarters from Chicago to his own hometown of Detroit. Then he is alleged to have ordered the execution of a Chicago-based Outlaw member in the days following the move as a means of sending a message that his regime would be a hellish and bloody one. And boy was it.

Using a fortified clubhouse on Warren Ave, a high mile east of the Southfield Freeway, as his command center, Bowman, made a big splash right off the bat conquering the hearts and minds of his minions with his garish and gung-ho leadership style. In his next major decision, he tapped Wayne “Joe Black” Hicks, a Toledo-based Outlaw and a man with a vicious reputation as a psychopathic killer, to be president of the club’s integral Ft. Lauderdale chapter. Having a stronghold in Florida is imperative for any biker club’s success on a nationwide-level, since the state acts as a hub for biker culture in the south and portions of the east coast in general.

Hicks, a gruffer, more physically-imposing version of Bowman, became Bowman’s most-trusted lieutenant and quickly gained the reputation as the overlord of biker activity in Florida. With the aid of the state’s regional president, William “Wild Bill” Pilgrim and his own personal bodyguard and top lieutenant Stephen “DK” Lemunyon, Hicks ruled the Sunshine State with a heavy hand.

The rest of the decade was relatively tame compared to what was on the horizon for the future. Taco Bowman’s diabolical reign hit its stride in the 1990s, when the strapping and handsome biker czar upped the ante in his battle with enemies both foreign and domestic. Taco was on the warpath and his bloodlust had few limits.

During the early part of 1991, Bowman orders the murder of Raymond “Bear” Chaffin, a former Outlaw member in Florida who had left the gang and re-affiliated with The Warlocks, a rival biker club backed by the Hell’s Angels. He gives the contract to Hicks, who in turn has club enforcers Houston “Part-Time Tex” Murphy and Alex “Dirt” Ankerich shoot Chafin to death on February 21.

A little over a year later in March of 1992, Bowman oversees and directs the physical beating of an Outlaw probate member, Irwin “Hitler” Nissen down at Biker Week in Daytona Beach – an event that acts as the World Series, the 4th of July and the Super Bowl all rolled up into one giant annual weeklong extravaganza for the entire American biker world to congregate at. Nissen was being punished for getting into a physical altercation with Atlanta Outlaw chapter president, James “Moose” McClean the previous afternoon at a wet t-shirt contest held at an Outlaw-owned bar. Brought to Bowman’s hotel room, Nissen is beaten, threatened with a knife, and then thrown over the balcony by Bowman and fellow Outlaw members, Part Time Tex Murphy, Dennis “Dog” Hall, Christopher “Slasher” Maiele.

Around this time, Bowman’s relationship with the local mafia began to go sour. The bond that Bowman himself had constructed between the Outlaws and the mob close to decades previous was coming apart at the seams due to a his own greed.

Not satisfied with the percentage of the joint gambling operations he shared with the Italians, Bowman ordered his men to muscle in on several traditionally mafia-backed floating dice games that he knew he had no reasonable claim to. The games belonged to Jack “Jackie the Kid” Giacalone, a fast-rising soldier in the local mob and someone who had been viewed from an early age as a future leader of the crime family. Deeply disturbed by the biker boss’ move on its territory, Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone, the Detroit mafia’s longtime Street Boss and Jackie’s uncle, sent Frank “Frankie the Bomb” Bommarito, the longtime liason between the two crime factions, to tell Taco to back off. Bommarito’s message didn’t properly resonate with Bowman and the Outlaws continued to infringe on the Italians’ gambling interests.

At that point, it’s alleged by the government that Tony Giacalone, issued a murder contract on Taco Bowman and gave Nove Tocco and Paul “Big Paulie” Corrado, a tandem of thuggish street soldiers that were in the process of making a name for themselves by rampaging through town, shaking down every two-bit criminal in site, the responsibility of carrying it out. Tocco and Corrado, who unbeknownst to them were driving around and discussing sensitive mob business in a bugged car, spent several months trying to carry out the contract to no avail. Informed by the FBI of the mafia’s intention of killing him, the sly-mannered Bowman was too smart for Tocco and Corrado to take down.

In the midst of trying to plan another attack on their target, Tocco and Corrado started to question the merit of their assigned duty. They felt it was possible that Jackie Giacalone was using them as pawns to settle his own personal vendetta against Bowman. It was all caught on tape by the FBI.

Nove Tocco -Something’s going on here that’s not right. I don’t know exactly what it is right now, but things ain’t sitting right with me. Uncle Tony warned me yesterday about Taco.

Big Paulie Corrado – What did he say?

Tocco – He says something’s not right. He says this story’s not right. Something is wrong with the whole thing

Corrado – In what way?

Tocco – He says he don’t whether its Jackie for sure, but something’s not right about this fucking story. He thinks Jackie might be playing us into Taco for his own reasons.

Joe Tocco (nove’s brother) – ‘Cause Jackie feels Taco is threat to Jackie.

Corrado – Right. Fucking exactly

N. Tocco – Yesterday when I went to pick up some vinegar from my father (mafia soldier Paul Tocco) he says ‘I’m glad you’re here, I want to talk to you alone’. Now he starts telling me that this whole thing feels wrong to him too. He wants to corner Tony Giacalone and make him get to the bottom of it. From what he can tell, they backed off because they wanna know how much Jackie knows about all this. He says, Jackie gave up a craps game and Taco and his boys took it. I said, I thought it was two separate games. He says, ‘How the fuck does Jackie let Taco take his game?”. And then he says,’From what I here, Tony Jack is pissed about it. He tells me he thinks fucking Jackie is pushing you and me at Taco. This came out of his mouth, okay?

Corrado – Yeah

J. Tocco – I told you I believed that from the start

The contract on Taco Bowman’s life is eventually lifted when a sit- down is brokered by Frankie Bommarito between Bowman and the Giacalones and the two parties settled their differences. According to law enforcement reports, Bowman agreed to stop squeezing the mob’s dice games and the Italians gave up a slightly bigger piece of some joint narcotic and juice-loan rackets being run out of a series of biker bars in the Detroit area.

Continuing his ruthless ways following his conflict with the mob was resolved, in the late-Spring of 1993, Bowman ordered the kidnapping, beating and torturing of Florida Outlaw member, Kevin “Turbo” Talley, who had signed a document with Canadian officials in Ontario admitting the Outlaws were a criminal enterprise. The betrayal led Bowman to make an example out of him for everybody in the club to learn from and Talley was ordered to report to Detroit immediately upon his release from custody in Toronto. He was picked-up at Metro Airport by two Bowman lieutenants and taken to an isolated room in the Outlaws Detroit clubhouse on Warren where he was kept detained for five days, beaten, humiliated and sodomized. After being set free, Bowman and Hicks personally took Talley to the airport and told him bluntly he was lucky they hadn’t killed him for the gross indiscretion and that he was being stripped of his colors, banished forever from Outlaw property.

A decade into his reign of terror, Taco Bowman was as secure as ever in his post. He inspired a devout loyalty with his overly-aggressive antics and an intense charm and genuine affection for his troops. As a result, law enforcement had an incredibly difficult time finding a way to crack the shell of his operations and develop informants from anywhere in the proximity of his inner-circle.

Being at the peak of his power after a decade in the post, Bowman had the ability to take the club in any direction he desired. Perfectly in sync with his brash persona, he chose to raise the stakes. On New Years’ Eve 1993, Bowman held a meeting of top Outlaw brass in a Florida hotel suite and declared his intent to escalate the club’s war against the ever-hated Hells Angels. The decision is overwhelmingly well received and becomes an immediate priority.

On a visit to Chicago in early-1994, Bowman orders Chicago Outlaws president, Peter “Greased Lighting Pete” Rogers, to begin plotting an attack on the Hell’s Henchmen, a Hell’s Angels backed biker gang based in Illinois. Upset with the untimely nature of his request, in September of that year, Bowman meets with Indiana Outlaw member, Randall “Mad Dog Randy” Yager and Chicago Outlaw member, Carl “Jamming Jay” Warneke at his suburban Detroit residence and instructs them to bomb the Hell’s Henchmen’s clubhouse as soon as possible. By the conclusion of November, following two attacks on the clubhouse, the property is burned to the ground and condemned by the city. Before the year is out, Bowman orders the fire bombing attacks against of two more Hells Angels clubhouses and two clubhouses belonging to the Warlocks in the state of Florida.

Not a man of an even temper, the smallest slight or sign of disrespect sent Bowman into hysterics. During the fall of 1994 he became enraged we he sees a newspaper photograph taken at the funeral of Hell’s Angel member, Michael “Mad Mike” Quale, killed in a gun battle with Outlaw member Walter “Buffalo Wally” Posnjak, who was also slain in the altercation. In the photo, Bowman saw a member of the Fifth Chapter motorcycle gang, an affiliate of the Outlaws, hugging a mourning Hell’s Angel member. Extremely close friends with Posnjak, Bowman is incensed with the act of compassion that he interprets as outright treason.

In the days following the funeral, Bowman orders the entire Fifth Chapter club, a small group of bikers based in the Southeast, to the Outlaws clubhouse in Tampa, at which time he leads a mass beating of the gang’s members with chains and bats. Literally throwing the near two dozen Fifth Chapter members out on the street outside the clubhouse, Bowman informed them that he was disbanding their club and they could never associate with any Outlaws ever again.

Before the end of the year, Bowman orders the murder of a Chicago-based Outlaw named Donald “Big Don” Fogg, a suspected informant that Wayne Hicks winds up killing on behalf of his boss and the gang and holds another New Year’s Eve meeting, this one being held in Detroit, where he declares his intention to “take the war to them out west” and start attacking the Hell’s Angels on their own turf in California. Early in 1995, he sends a group of lieutenants, headed by Hicks, out to Los Angeles to begin making arrangements for the assassination of Hells Angel leader and founder, Ralph “Sonny” Barger.

While in the midst of scheming to kill Barger, Bowmen’s men blow up a number of Hells Angels-backed businesses in Southern California and begin planning more attacks to take place in the coming year, including the murder of George Christy, one of Barger’s closest underlings. However, before the attempt on Barger’s or Christy’s life could be carried out, Bowman’s empire began to crack at its very foundation. His self-anointed “seargant of arms” Wayne Hicks turned government informant and with his aid, in early-1997 the government levied a volumuous, multi-tiered racketeering indictment against Bowman and several of his lackeys.

Knowing full well he wouldn’t be granted bail and having no desire to wait behind bars for his trial to start, Taco split town and disappeared off law enforcement’s radar. Said to have been hidden by his fellow Outlaws across the country and aided by his contacts in the mob on the home front in Michigan, the charismatic crime boss avoided the government’s effort to track him down and arrest him for over two years, reaching as high as No. 2 on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Time finally ran out Bowman in the summer of 1999 when he got caught trying to sneak back into town to visit his family. Acting on an informant’s tip, on June 7 the FBI converged on a house in Sterling Heights, on Griggs Drive near the intersection of 15 Mile Road and Ryan, and apprehended the high-profile fugitive without incident. Sporting a long beard and a tan, Bowman was found socializing amongst numerous fellow members of the Detroit Outlaw hierarchy.

Convicted in 2001 all charges, Bowman was sentenced to life imprisonment and replaced as the club’s International President by James “Big Frank” Wheeler, an Indianapolis Outlaw who moved the gang’s headquarters down to Tampa, Florida. Wheeler, a much more traditional biker type, with long hair, chin-length beard and arms littered with tattoos, was a considerably less-successful leader than Bowman, a one-confidant of his, and was jailed and convicted of similar charges in 2006. As of today, the Outlaw nation is rumored to be headed by Wisconsin-based biker boss, John “Milwaukee Jack” Roziga. Locally, the power vacuum left within the Outlaws leadership by Taco Bowman’s incarceration was filled by Leroy “Black Region Roy” Frasier, a former chapter president from Bay City.

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In February 2007, close to 40 Detroit-area Highwaymen were indicted on drugs and guns charges. Then, on August 15, 2007, over a dozen members of the Outlaws Detroit chapter were charged in a wide-spanning racketeering case filed in federal court. The 18-count indictment included charges of assault with a deadly weapon and large-scale narcotics trafficking. A number of the charges stemmed from an April 2006 attack on a group of rival Hells Angels in Indiana with hammers and steel motorcycle parts.

The take down of Outlaw dignitaries like Black Region Roy Frasier, the club’s Midwest regional president, Kenny “Moe” Galaviz, Frasier’s former vice-president while still operating out of Bay City, Ramon “The Razor” Rios, the Detroit West Side chapter president, William “Slick Billy” Guinn, the club’s Downriver president, and Norm “Storm’n Norman” Box and William “Tom the Bomb” McCowan, two of the club’s regional heads of enforcement, put a serious dent into the biker syndicate’s local activities, forcing the gang to reorganize.

The Devil’s Diciples, whose Detroit–area chapter serves as the club’s national headquarters, is currently in the midst of a widespread government siege seeking to decimate the club to the very core. Close to two dozen local gang members were federally indicted on racketeering and drug charges, most notably the Diciples national president, Jeff “Fat Dog” Smith – no relation to Billy Wadd –, Paul “Paulie D” Darrah, Smith’s vice-president and Glen “Gun Control” Vandiver, the gang’s reputed “war lord” and the gang’s clubhouses in both Clinton Township and in Port Huron were raided in April 2009.

Although the charges wound up being dropped in anticipation by the government for a larger, more-fruitful bust in the near-future, the DEA wound up seizing $12,000, 42 automatic firearms, 2,000 vicodin and oxycontin pills, 55 pounds of high-grade marijuana, one and half pounds of meth in the raid. “Fat Dog” Smith’s ties in the legitimate world are alleged by the government to go deep. Paul Cassidy, a boyhood pal of Smith’s, and a former district court judge in New Baltimore retired from the bench following an investigation into his affairs and possible preferential treatment being given to Diciples members on behalf of his childhood friend.

Interviewed by the Detroit Free Press in the days following his arrest, Smith denied the Diciples were criminals.

“We’re just a bunch of guys who like to barbecue and ride Harley Davidson motorcycles,” he said. “We’ve got the largest diabetes fund-raiser in the state. It’s a club, not a gang.”

The mother-load bust took place almost exactly six weeks after the futile Devil’s Diciples raid when in May of 2007 the FBI hit the Detroit Highwaymen chapter with the biggest assault on biker gang organized crime in history, an eventual 83-person, 35-count racketeering indictment, alleging attempted murder, assault, extortion, interstate theft and drug dealing, among other things. Of the close to 100 people brought up on charges, 20 of them were identified as “high ranking” members of the Highwaymen, including; Leonard “Big Daddy” Moore, the club’s overall “Godfather”, Joseph “Little Joe” Whiting, the club’s national president, Aref “Scarface Steve” Nagi, Whiting’s former vice-president and top enforcer, Tim Attalla, a well-known area attorney and consultant to the city’s Mayor, accused of acting as “general counsel” for the gang’s criminal activities, and Dave Tomlan and Randy Hutchinson, two former Metro Detroit cops. Moore, Whiting and Nagi were pegged by prosecutors as the “lead defendants” in the high-profile case.

Assigned to the government task force assembled to bring the Highwaymen down, Hutchinson is alleged to have passed sensitive information to the gang regarding the federal investigation into their affairs and the existence and whereabouts of audio surveillance equipment in their clubhouse. Tomlan, known in the gang as “Stifler”, was reputed to moonlight as a member of the Highwaymen while still being employed as a police officer with the Garden City Police Department.

“Scarface Steve” Nagi, 43, at the time of his arrest, was a new millennium version of Taco Bowman, someone equally comfortable navigating between the businessman world and the biker world. Like Bowman had in the past during his reign of power, Nagi invested his money wisely in legitimate endeavors, making himself close to a millionaire by legal means like ownership in a series of local bars and restaurants, as well as a janitorial services company. He was educated too, holding a bachelors degree from Wayne State.

But despite his refined appearance – again like Bowman before him Nagi fashioned a cleaner, more conservative image on the streets preferring business suits, a shorter haircut and flashy, mob-like jewelry ensembles to denim cuts, a long beard, and a body filled with tattoos – the Highwaymen’s one-time Warlord and Sargent of Arms, was a dangerous figure.

When a federal task force raided his Sterling Heights home, they found 30 firearms, including several of which were stolen. In the over 300 hundred hours of phone conversations intercepted by the federal government, Nagi can be heard bragging about stabbing and beating up one of his employees at a Mexican restaurant he owned in Dearborn and then throwing him in a dumpster. Because of a fear of flight and for the safety of future witnesses, Nagi and his former boss, Little Joe Whiting were both jailed without bail pending trial.

Unlike Nagi and Whiting, a majority of the defendants were granted bail and given their freedom in the time leading up to the courtroom battles of their lives. “Big Daddy” Moore and “Mad Anthony” Clark had faced similar charges two decades before, where both were taken down in a major federal bust of the gang in 1987, in which Moore had to do prison time.

When word leaked out in late-2009 that Gerald “Bird Dog” Peters, a former club national president and one of the defendants in the massive indictment, had started cooperating with federal authorities, he was visited by three of his co-defendants, Erik “Poke-a-dot” Manners, Michael “Coco” Cicchetti, and Robert “Bizzy” Whitehouse. Manners and Cicchetti, who had just recently been elected as the Highwaymen’s Detroit chapter president, told him in no uncertain terms to, “hide his family” if he had been considering turning his back on the gang.

It was soon discovered that both Peters and fellow co-defendant turned informant Robert “Bad News Bobby” Burton had their names on a list of FBI snitches that somehow got into the hands of the clubs leadership in addition to Peters’ estranged wife had been tipping them off as to her husband’s discussions with the feds. Manners, Cicchetti and Whitehouse all had their bond revoked and were jailed alongside Whiting and Nagi, who were both already in custody for over two years awaiting the start of their trial, denied bail due to the concern of public safety. Peters and Burton were each immediately placed into witness protection as a result of the club reputedly putting bounties on their heads and waited patiently for their time to testify.

Federal U.S. Judge Nancy Edmunds also ordered Moore and his son and co-defendant, Leonard “Bo” Moore, Jr. to be tethered and placed on home-confinement for Moore, Jr.’s attempt to persuade a fellow defendant on to plead and “Big Daddy” Moore’s continued involvement in gang leadership after being forbidden to have contact with the organization as a condition of his parole. In early-2010, just a few months before the gargantuan case made it into the courtroom, Edmunds ordered Whiting released on bond – despite evidence presented by the prosecution that he had been involved in planning the murder of a potential witness – , ruling, just as she did weeks earlier with Nagi, that both were locked up too long pending trial.

Although it would prove unrelated to the case, less than two weeks before opening arguments in the much-anticipated courtroom drama were slated to start one of the defendants, Dennis “Denny Gone” Vanhulle was shot in his house on the Northwest side of Detroit. Vanhulle, who was 43 years old and also sometimes went by the nickname “Knothead,” was shot in the throat on March 26, 2010 as he answered the front door of his residence at 8 Mile and Danbury by rival biker Ronald “The Tank” Thompson, of the Liberty Riders over a dispute regarding a woman. After 19 days in intensive care, Vanhulle died on April 13, but not before he identified his killer for authorities by scribbling the word “Tank” on a piece of paper.

Starting in early-April and lasting for over two months, the well-publicized Highwaymen trial was filled with excitement and intrigued as would be expected for a group of men with criminal rap sheets the size of phonebooks. Things started off with an impassioned opening argument from Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline, highlighted by him telling the jury that the gang was “just what they say they are – the meanest mothefuckers on the open road.”

It only got seedier and more lurid. Halfway through the proceedings “Coco” Cicchetti suffered a massive heart attack that required emergency open heart surgery, taking him away from the proceedings all together. Besides Peters and Burton, two other former Highwaymen higher-ups, Daniel “Danny Rocket” Sanchez, a one-time vice-president and Phillip “Jocko” McDonald, the one-time president of the club’s Downriver chapter, testified at the trial, transfixing the jury with tales of life inside a renegade biker gang.

Sanchez’s testimony provided real life drama worthy of a sudsy Lifetime Channel TV movie when a woman stood up in the middle of his time on the stand, pointed her finger directly at him and screamed, “He murdered my son,” referring to an unsolved 1999 homicide that she was told Sanchez took part in. Explaining a conversation he once had with Big Daddy Moore about why Moore didn’t want the club’s national presidency, Sanchez recounted that the imposing biker don telling him, “The title wasn’t important because I have all the control” and “I don’t need the feds coming at me, I don’t need no RICO.”

Deliberating for 25 hours, on June 3, 2010, the jury came back with guilty verdicts for many of the gang’s kingfish: Big Daddy Moore, Whiting, Nagi, Cicchetti, former national president “Mad Anthony” Clark and Gary “Junior” Ball, the club’s reputed contact with the local mafia, were all convicted.

 

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2 comments

  1. Laurie Grady

    It was my sister who had the out burst in the court room for the Highwaymen. They trick my nephew into their clubhouse and killed him. Then they burnt it down because they was so much blood. That`s the only justice she got.

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  2. John J.

    I agree 100% with the argument outlaw bikers or one Percenter’s have “we just want to ride our bikes and be left alone”. What criminals don’t want law enforcement to leave them alone so they Rob, Rape and Murder ?

    -1