December 16, 2020 – Esteemed Midwest biker boss James (Big Frank) Wheeler, The Outlaws Motorcycle Club’s International President in the late 1990s and early 2000s, died behind bars last week of natural causes at 78. Wheeler’s era atop the sprawling criminal organization was a time of transition, coming on the heels of the prosperous near two-decade reign of iconic Outlaws shot caller Harry (Taco) Bowman.

Big Frank Wheeler came from the club’s “Green Region” and Indianapolis chapter, but was indicted out of Tampa, Florida in the fall of 2002 for drugs, racketeering and murder. Convicted the following year in two separate cases (one out of Florida, the other out of Ohio), Big Frank was sentenced to life in prison.

Before he became king of The Outlaws in 1997, Wheeler was known as the club’s Poet Laureate and overlord of Outlaws activities in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Oklahoma, the so-called Green Region. When Taco Bowman was brought down by the feds in an August ’97 bust and went on the run as a fugitive of the law for the next two years, Wheeler assumed control of the club on an acting basis, helping hide him and being his conduit to the street.

In the weeks after Bowman was finally apprehended by U.S. Marshals in June 1999 hiding in a Southeast Michigan safehouse, Big Frank was officially voted in as president in a meeting of Outlaw administrators in a Florida hotel banquet room. Wheeler was equally beloved as Bowman was with the club’s rank and file, but less feared, according to people familiar with both men.

The enigmatic Bowman died of cancer at 69 last year serving his life sentence in a North Carolina prison hospital. Bowman was based out of Detroit and raised the club’s profile and image to a point where they rivaled the Hells Angels in notoriety. More than 2,500 peoples, including Outlaw luminaries and crime lords from across the country, attended his funeral held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Dayton.

Under Bowman’s leadership, The Outlaws upped the ante on its longstanding war against the Hells Angels. Wheeler participated in the infamous September 1994 brawl between The Outlaws and the Hells Angels at an upstate New York racetrack (Lancaster Speedway near Rochester) that ended in the deaths of members in both clubs.

Wheeler eloquently summarized his love for living the “Outlaws” lifestyle in one of his poems.

“Riders of the highways, brothers ’til the end, our way of life they’ll never comprehend,” he wrote.

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