Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, Page 2Hunter S. Thompson
If the gathering at Tommy’s was a little disorganized, it was because Sonny was serving time in the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, for possession of marijuana. With Sonny in jail, the others were keeping the action to a minimum—even though Tommy, in his quiet, disaffiliated sort of way, was running the show pretty well. At twenty-six he was a year younger than Barger: blond, clean-shaven, with a wife and two children, making $180 a week as a construction worker. He knew he was only filling in for the Prez, but he also knew that the Oakland Angels had to make a tough, full-strength appearance at the Labor Day Run. Anything less would forfeit the spiritual leadership back to southern California, to the San Bernardino (or Berdoo) chapter—the founding fathers, as it were—who started the whole thing in 1950 and issued all new charters for nearly fifteen years. But mounting police pressure in the south was causing many Angels to seek refuge in the Bay Area. By 1965, Oakland was on its way to becoming the capital of the Hell’s Angels’ world.
Prior to their ear-splitting departure, there was a lot of talk about the Diablos and what manner of lunacy or strange drug had caused them to commit such a sure-fatal error as an attack on a lone Angel. Yet this was a routine beef, postponed‡ and forgotten as they moved onto the freeway for an easy two-hour run to Monterey. By noon it was so hot that many of the riders had taken off their shirts and opened their black vests, so the colors flapped out behind them like capes and the on-coming traffic could view their naked chests, for good or ill. The southbound lanes were crowded with taxpayers heading out for a Labor Day weekend that suddenly seemed tinged with horror as the Angel band swept past … this animal crowd on big wheels, going somewhere public, all noise and hair and bust-out raping instincts … the temptation for many a motorist was to swing hard left, with no warning, and crush these arrogant scorpions.
At San Jose, an hour south of Oakland, the formation was stopped by two state Highway Patrolmen, causing a traffic jam for forty-five minutes at the junction of 17 and 101. Some people stopped their cars entirely, just to watch. Others slowed to ten or fifteen miles an hour. As traffic piled up, there were vapor locks, boil-overs and minor collisions.
“They wrote tickets for everybody they could,” said Terry. “Things like seats too low, bars too high, no mirror, no hand hold for the passenger—and like always they checked us for old warrants, citations we never paid and every other goddamn thing they could think of. But the traffic was really piling up, with people staring at us and all, and finally, by God, a Highway Patrol captain showed up and chewed those bastards good for ‘creating a hazard’ or whatever he called it. We had a big laugh, then we took off again.”
We get treated good here [in Monterey]. Most other places we get thrown out of town.
—Frenchy from Berdoo talking to a reporter not many hours before the Angels were thrown out of town
Between San Jose and the turnoff to Monterey, 101 rolls gracefully through the rich farming foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Hell’s Angels, riding two abreast in each lane, seemed out of place in little towns like Coyote and Gilroy. People ran out of taverns and dry-goods stores to stare at these fabled big-city Huns. Local cops waited nervously at intersections, hoping the Angels would pass quietly and not cause trouble. It was almost as if some far-ranging band of Viet Cong guerrillas had appeared, trotting fast in a tight formation down the middle of Main Street, bound for some bloody rendezvous that nobody in town even cared to know about as long as the dirty buggers kept moving.
The Angels try to avoid trouble on the road. Even a minor arrest in a country town at the start of the holiday weekend can mean three days in jail, missing the party, and a maximum fine when they finally come to court. They know, too, that in addition to the original charge—usually a traffic violation or disorderly conduct—they will probably be accused of resisting arrest, which can mean thirty days, a jail haircut and another fine of $150 or so. Now, after many a painful lesson, they approach small towns the same way a traveling salesman from Chicago approaches a known speed trap in Alabama. The idea, after all, is to reach the destination—not to lock horns with hayseed cops along the way.
The destination this time was a big tavern called Nick’s, a noisy place on a main drag called Del Monte, near Cannery Row in downtown Monterey. “We went right through the middle of town,” recalls Terry, “through the traffic and everything. Most of the guys knew Nick’s, but not me because I was in jail the other time. We didn’t make it till about three because we had to wait in a gas station on 101 for some of the guys running late. By the time we got there I guess we had about forty or fifty bikes. Berdoo was already in with about seventy-five, and people kept coming all night. By the next morning there were about three hundred from all over.”
The stated purpose of the gathering was the collection of funds to send the body of a former Angel back to his mother in North Carolina. Kenneth “Country” Beamer, vice-president of the San Bernardino chapter, had been snuffed by a truck a few days earlier in a desert hamlet called Jacumba, near San Diego. Country had died in the best outlaw tradition: homeless, stone broke, and owning nothing in this world but the clothes on his back and a big bright Harley. As the others saw it, the least they could do was send his remains back to the Carolinas, to whatever family or memory of a home might be there. “It was the thing to do,” Terry said.
The recent demise of a buddy lent the ’64 affair a tone of solemnity that not even the police could scoff at. It was the sort of gesture that cops find irresistible: final honors for a fallen comrade, with a collection for the mother and a bit of the uniformed pageantry to make the show real. In deference to all this, the Monterey police had let it be known that they would receive the Angels in a spirit of armed truce.
It was the first time in years that the outlaws had been faced with even a semblance of civic hospitality—and it turned out to be the last, for when the sun came up on that bright Pacific Saturday the infamous Monterey rape was less than twenty-four hours away from making nationwide headlines. The Hell’s Angels would soon be known and feared throughout the land. Their blood, booze and semen-flecked image would be familiar to readers of The New York Times, Newsweek, The Nation, Time, True, Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. Within six months small towns from coast to coast would be arming themselves at the slightest rumor of a Hell’s Angels “invasion.” All three major television networks would be seeking them out with cameras and they would be denounced in the U.S. Senate by George Murphy, the former tap dancer. Weird as it seems, as this gang of costumed hoodlums converged on Monterey that morning they were on the verge of “making it big,” as the showbiz people say, and they would owe most of their success to a curious rape mania that rides on the shoulder of American journalism like some jeering, masturbating raven. Nothing grabs an editor’s eye like a good rape. “We really blew their minds this time,” as one of the Angels explained it. According to the newspapers, at least twenty of these dirty hopheads snatched two teen-age girls, aged fourteen and fifteen, away from their terrified dates, and carried them off to the sand dunes to be “repeatedly assaulted.”
REPEATEDLY … ASSAULTED
AGED 14 AND 15 …
STINKING, HAIRY THUGS
A deputy sheriff summoned by one of the erstwhile dates said he “arrived at the beach and saw a huge bonfire surrounded by cyclists of both sexes. Then the two sobbing, near-hysterical girls staggered out of the darkness, begging for help. One was completely nude and the other had on only a torn sweater.”
Here, sweet Jesus, was an image flat guaranteed to boil the public blood and foam the brain of every man with female flesh for kin. Two innocent young girls, American citizens, carried off to the dunes and ravaged like Arab whores. One of the dates told police they tried to rescue the girls but couldn’t reach them in the mobscene that erupted once the victims were stripped of their clothing. Out there in the sand, in the blue moonlight, in a circle of leering hoodlums … they were penetrated, again and again.
The next morn
ing Terry the Tramp was one of four Angels arrested for forcible rape, which carries a penalty of one to fifty years in the penitentiary. He denied all knowledge of the crime, as did Mother Miles, Mouldy Marvin and Crazy Cross—but several hours later, with bond set at a lowly $1,100 each, they were lodged in the Monterey County Jail in Salinas … out there in Steinbeck country, the hot lettuce valley, owned in the main by smart second-generation hillbillies who got out of Appalachia while the getting was good, and who now pay other, less-smart hillbillies to supervise the work of Mexican braceros, whose natural fitness for stoop labor has been explained by the ubiquitous Senator Murphy: “They’re built low to the ground,” he said, “so it’s easier for them to stoop.”
Indeed. And since Senator Murphy has also called the Hell’s Angels “the lowest form of animals,” it presumably follows that they are better constructed for the mindless rape of any prostrate woman they might come across as they scurry about, from one place to another, with their dorks carried low like water wands. Which is not far from the truth, but for different reasons than California’s ex-lightfoot senator might have us believe.
Nobody knew, of course, as they gathered that Saturday at Nick’s, that the Angels were about to make a publicity breakthrough, by means of rape, on the scale of the Beatles or Bob Dylan. At dusk, with an orange sun falling fast into the ocean just a mile or so away, the main event of the evening was so wholly unplanned that the principal characters—or victims—attracted little attention in the noisy crowd that jammed Nick’s barroom and spilled out to the darkening street.
Terry says he noticed the girls and their “dates” only as part of the overall scene. “The main reason I remember them is I wondered what that white pregnant girl was doing with a bunch of suede dudes. But I figured it was her business, and I wasn’t hurtin for pussy anyway. I had my old lady with me—we’re separated now, but then we were doin okay and she wouldn’t have none of me hustlin anything else while she was around. Besides, hell, when you’re seein old friends you haven’t seen in a year or two, you don’t have time to pay much attention to strangers.”
The only thing Terry and all the other Angels agree on—in relation to the “victims’ ” first appearance—is that “they sure as hell didn’t look no fourteen and fifteen, man; those girls looked every bit of twenty.” (Police late confirmed the girls’ ages, but all other information about them—including their names—was withheld in accordance with California’s policy of denying press access to rape victims.)
“I can’t even say if those girls were pretty or not,” Terry went on. “I just don’t remember. All I can say for sure is that we didn’t have no trouble at Nick’s. The cops were there, but only to keep people away. It was the same old story as every place else we go: traffic piling up on the street outside, local bad-asses prowling around, young girls looking for kicks, and a bunch of Nick’s regular customers just digging the party. The cops did right by staying around. Everywhere we go there’s some local hoods who want to find out how tough we are. If the cops weren’t there we’d end up having to hurt somebody. Hell, nobody wants trouble on a run. All we want to do is to have some fun and relax.”
It is said, however, that the Hell’s Angels have some offbeat ideas about fun and relaxation. If they are, after all, “the lowest form of animals,” not even Senator Murphy could expect them to gather together in a drunken mass for any such elevated pastimes as ping pong, shuffleboard and whist. Their picnics have long been noted for certain beastly forms of entertainment, and any young girl who shows up at a Hell’s Angels bonfire camp at two o’clock in the morning is presumed, by the outlaws, to be in a condition of heat. So it was only natural that the two girls attracted more attention when they arrived at the beach than they had earlier in the convivial bedlam at Nick’s.
One aspect of the case overlooked in most newspaper accounts had to do with elementary logistics. How did these two young girls happen to be on a deserted midnight beach with several hundred drunken motorcycle thugs? Were they kidnapped from Nick’s? And if so, what were they doing there in the first place, aged fourteen and fifteen, circulating all evening in a bar jammed wall to wall with the state’s most notorious gang of outlaws? Or were they seized off the street somewhere—perhaps at a stoplight—to be slung over the gas tank of a bored-out Harley and carried off into the night, screaming hysterically, while bystanders gaped in horror?
Police strategists, thinking to isolate the Angels, had reserved them a campsite far out of town, on an empty stretch of dunes between Monterey Bay and Fort Ord, an Army basic-training center. The reasoning was sound; the beasts were put off in a place where they could whip themselves into any kind of orgiastic frenzy without becoming dangerous to the citizenry—and if things got out of hand, the recruits across the road could be bugled out of bed and issued bayonets. The police posted a guard on the highway, in case the Angels got restless and tried to get back to town, but there was no way to seal the camp off entirely, nor any provision for handling local innocents who might be drawn to the scene out of curiosity or other, darker reasons not mentioned in police training manuals.
The victims told police they had gone to the beach because they “wanted to look at the cyclists.” They were curious—even after several hours at Nick’s, which was so crowded that evening that most of the outlaws took to pissing in the parking lot rather than struggle inside to the bathroom.
“Hell, those broads didn’t come out there for any singsong,” said Terry. “They were loaded and they wanted to get off some leg, but it just got to be too many guys. To start with, it was groovy for em. Then more and more guys came piling over the dunes … ‘yea, pussy,’ you know, that kinda thing … and the broads didn’t want it. The suede dudes just split; we never saw em again. I don’t know for sure how it ended. All I knew then was that they had some mamas out there in the dunes, but me and my old lady went and crashed pretty early. I was so wasted I couldn’t even make it with her.”
No family newspaper saw fit to quote the Angel version, but six months later, playing pool in a San Francisco bar, Frenchy remembered it this way: “One girl was white and pregnant, the other was colored, and they were with five colored studs. They hung around Nick’s about three hours on Saturday night, drinking and talking with our riders, then they came out to the beach with us—them and their five boy friends. Everybody was standing around the fire, drinking wine, and some of the guys were talking to them—hustling em, naturally—and pretty soon somebody asked the two chicks if they wanted to be turned on—you know, did they want to smoke some pot? They said yeah, and then they walked off with some of the guys to the dunes. The spade went with a few guys, and then she wanted to quit, but the pregnant one was really hot to trot; the first four or five guys she was really draggin into her arms, but after that she cooled off too. By this time, though, one of their boy friends had got scared and gone for the cops—and that’s all it was.”
“The next morning,” said Terry, “I rode in with somebody—I forget who—to some drive-in on the highway, where we got some breakfast. When we got back to the beach they had a roadblock set up with those two broads sittin there in the cop car, lookin at everybody. I didn’t know what was goin on, but then a cop said, ‘You’re one,’ and they slapped the cuffs on me. Those goddamn girls were gigglin, righteously laughin … you know, ‘Ha ha, that’s one of em.’ So off I went to the bucket, for rape.
“When we got to the jail I said, ‘Hey, I want to be checked. Let’s see a doctor. I ain’t had no intercourse in two days.’ But they wouldn’t go for it. Marvin and Miles and Crazy Cross were already there and we figured we were deep in the shit until they told us bail was only eleven hundred dollars. Then we knew they didn’t have much of a case.”
Meanwhile, out on Marina Beach, the rest of the Angels were being rounded up and driven north along Highway 156 toward the county line. Laggards were thumped on the shoulders with billy clubs and told to get moving. Side roads were blocked by state troopers while doz
ens of helmeted deputies—many from neighboring counties—ran the outlaws through the gauntlet. Traffic was disrupted for miles as the ragged horde moved slowly along the road, gunning their engines and raining curses on everything in sight. The noise was deafening and it is hard to imagine what effect the spectacle must have had on the dozens of out-of-state late-summer tourists who pulled over to let the procession come through. Because of the proximity of an Army base, they undoubtedly thought they were making way for a caravan of tanks, or at least something impressive and military—and then to see an army of hoodlums being driven along the road like a herd of diseased sheep—ah, what a nightmare for the California Chamber of Commerce.
At the county line on U.S. 101 a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle talked with Tommy, and with another Angel, named Tiny, a six-foot-six, 240-pound outlaw with a shoulder-length pigtail who later gained nationwide fame for his attack on a Get Out of Vietnam demonstration in Berkeley.
“We’re ordinary guys,” said Tommy. “Most of us work. About half are married, I guess, and a few own their homes. Just because we like to ride motorcycles, the cops give us trouble everywhere we go. That rape charge is phony and it won’t stick. The whole thing was voluntary.”
“Shit, our bondsman will have those guys out in two hours,” said Tiny. “Why can’t people let us alone, anyway? All we want to do is get together now and then and have some fun—just like the Masons, or any other group.”
But the presses were already rolling and the eight-column headline said: HELL’S ANGELS GANG RAPE. The Masons haven’t had that kind of publicity since the eighteenth century, when Casanova was climbing through windows and giving the brotherhood a bad name. Perhaps the Angels will one day follow the Freemasons into bourgeois senility, but by then some other group will be making outrage headlines: a Hovercraft gang, or maybe some once-bland fraternal group tooling up even now for whatever the future might force on them.