The Pesce Family Murders – Billy Wadd’s Awakening


Opening the Copa Lounge in the mid-1990s, Billy Wadd’s new business venture quickly became a trendy spot for many of the area’s biker elite to socialize. Members of all of the city’s major motorcycle clubs were known to party and hang out there and it became known across the city as a sort of de-facto “No man’s land” or violence-free zone, a location where rival factions could both be at during the same time and not have mayhem break loose between them. As a result, the Copa also gained the reputation as one of the best locations to be used for “sit-downs”, a type of formal underworld meeting held to resolve gangland disputes.

Just because the area bikers viewed the bar as a temporary reprieve from the heated chaos of the streets, didn’t mean they didn’t use their time there to plan, brag or discuss any and every criminal scheme under the sun. And right there to hear and see it all transpire in front of his very own eyes was the place’s owner, Billy Wadd Smith. It was a perfect situation for the government to exploit to its advantage in its war on organized crime and the criminal biker element in Detroit.

The feds would never even had the chance to get Billy to even think of cooperating with them if it wasn’t for his nephew, John Wolfenbarger and his coldblooded antics. Wolfenbarger’s senseless mass execution of the Pesche family set in motion a series of events that spurred Billy to turn his back on his brethren in the local outlaw biker hierarchy.

Always a trouble maker growing up before finally being locked up for close to a decade when he was just 18, Wolfenbarger got out of prison in early 2002 and had nowhere else to turn but to his uncle for a job. Using his friendship with a fellow powerful biker, Billy got Wolfenbarger employment at a downriver collection agency. It didn’t take long for the habitual felon to lose interest in living his life on the straight and narrow.

“He came out of prison talking that ‘I want clean up my life’ business, but come on, who are you kidding, game recognize game,” Smith reflects back almost a decade later. “The kid had been stealing since the time he was five, ten years old. He’s been locked up since before he was 21 and become totally institutionalized. Life on the outside is hard for a convict. He didn’t want to put in a day’s work, he couldn’t cope, so he went back doing what he knew how to do breaking into peoples’ houses and stealing. It never surprised me that he went back and turned crooked again. But I never saw him going off and starting to murder old ladies and kids.”

Just returning to his house and heading to bed with his wife after his club’s annual Christmas party, there came a frantic knock at the door. Billy’s son opened the front door to find a crazed and manic John Wolfenbarger, carrying multiple bags of jewelry and cash and screaming that he wanted to see his uncle immediately.

“I walked down the stairs and saw jewelry and bags spread all over my living floor,” he recalled. “My nephew just says ‘five dead’ and smiles. I thought he was bullshitting me. Then, a few hours later I see it on the news.”

Though he never hesitated deciding to turn his nephew in for what he did, Billy Wadd’s decision to help the government build cases against his fellow bikers, was not an easy one, nor one he thought he would ever make. That was until he found out the fact that his own gang and some people in other gangs were plotting to kill him for his helping the cops break the Pesche case. After barely averting death in a daring freeway drive-by that almost killed him and some of his family, Billy finally saw the life he was leading for what it really was.

“Those guys smelled blood and saw the whole situation as an excuse to move on me,” said Smith. “They wanted to knock me off my pedestal because they were jealous. I had money and businesses on the street they wanted for themselves. It was that simple. Brotherhood meant nothing to them. I wasn’t telling on them, I was helping solve the murders of three little kids and a man and an elderly woman who never had any reason to have their lives taken from them whatsoever. But when you start shooting at me and my family, then it’s on and I don’t care what I have to do to set things straight.”

Thanks to Billy Wadd’s cooperation, the FBI, DEA and ATF opened up shop on a trio of top priority investigations on the Outlaws, Highwaymen and Smith’s own gang, the Devil’s Diciples. With Smith’s permission, the Copa Lounge is outfitted with a bevy of top of the line government-issued surveillance equipment. The tables and bathrooms were bugged, the bar was bugged and there were secretly stashed video cameras everywhere. Being a primary hang out spot for virtually the entire Motor City biker world, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. The evidence that was collected was copious and lethal. It was a federal agent’s wet dream.

Starting in 2006, after four years of building what would turn out to be an impressive collection of air-tight cases, the arrests began to pile up.”

Billy Wadd Smith took his family and went underground as soon as he heard there was a contract on his life for cluing the police in on his nephew’s role in the Pesce murders. He briefly popped his head back out in Detroit in May of 2003 to testify at John Wolfenbarger’s trial, at which he was convicted and sent back to prison for life. Today, Smith is out of the underworld and living in an undisclosed location.

John Wolfenbarger, for his part, has his own website, proclaiming his innocence.

John Wolfenbarger Detroit murderer married
John Wolfenbarger was married in prison


“I’m not hiding from anyone and I’m not afraid, I’m just trying to live my new life in peace and quiet and keep making changes for the better,” Smith said. “I can’t change the past and I don’t live with regrets. I did things on my own terms and when I made the decision to leave the life, I left it for good and have never looked back.


  1. Billy, that took great courage to turn your cousin in. You did the right thing. Your past is your past. Thanks for doing the right thing for this family.

  2. I agree , it did take great courage. What is so disgusting is only one man had that courage. In those circles its obviously okay to murder little kids.

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