Bike Gangs Still Active, Law Enforcers Say

Posted: April 26, 1987

They were known by such menacing names as "Warlocks," "Pagans" and ''Hell's Angels," and they once roamed the eastern seaboard in rumbling packs, their chopped Harley-Davidson motorcycles a source of crude fascination to many they encountered.

But then the fascination ended.

Stripped of their mystery by a series of coordinated federal, state and local investigations in the early 1980s, several "outlaw motorcycle gangs" were revealed to be that and more.

From their ragtag beginnings, they had become highly organized criminal conspiracies whose primary stock in trade was illegal drugs and whose calling cards were violence and intimidation.

Many of their leaders were jailed; others were forced into hiding. Their ranks thinned as law enforcement agencies, in an unprecedented cooperative effort, tightened the screws from Canada to the Florida Keys. The bikers could find few havens and soon disappeared from many of their former strongholds.

One such stronghold was Delaware County, home of the Pagans' "Mother Club," or governing body, and site of one of the most heated battles between the bikers and the law. Today, about five years after the Pagans were purged

from Marcus Hook, their former national headquarters, there is little sign that they were ever there.

But law enforcement officials say appearances are deceiving.

"You won't see them wearing their colors or riding motorcycles anymore. Now, they're wearing suits and driving cars. And they're not meeting in gangs; they're meeting in small groups in people's houses," said William Davis, a State Trooper and member of the Delaware County Major Crimes Task Force.

That message was a central theme last week when about 300 federal, state and local law enforcement officials from 15 states and Canada converged on the King of Prussia Hilton for a four-day conference on the changing methods of motorcycle gangs.

Hosted by the Delaware County District Attorney's office, which founded the annual meeting in 1981, the Eastern Motorcycle Gang Investigation Conference and Training Seminar was held under tight security in a corner ballroom of the hotel.

The audience was a mixture of blue-suited prosecuters, federal agents, local police and undercover officers in full biker regalia. Two State Troopers stood guard at each of three entrances into the room, and no one was permitted to enter without first going through a security checkpoint in an outside foyer.

Davis said the security precautions were necessary to protect undercover officers who attended the conference and because the primary purpose of the meeting was to exchange "sensitive information" on the whereabouts, activities and movements of the gangs.

Reporters were permitted, however, to attend the opening of the Tuesday session to sample the tone of the meeting.

Kevin Bonner, an FBI agent from Baltimore and former criminal defense lawyer, received an award from the group for three years of undercover work with the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. Dubbed "Operation Rough Rider," the effort took him through eight states and 14 chapters of the gang and culminated in the arrest of 120 of its members and associates from 1984 to 1986.

Bonner was scheduled to give an in-depth presentation on the investigation the following day but declined to discuss it with reporters because several of the Rough Rider cases are pending, Bonner said.

U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Delaware County), who built his political career on his reputation as the no-nonsense mayor of Marcus Hook during the Pagan showdown, thanked the officers for their combined efforts to overcome the gang and vowed to fight Reagan administration cutbacks in law enforcement funding.

And at least one officer, U.S. Marshal Thomas Rapone, attended the meeting seeking assistance in tracking down a fugitive biker, Robert Nauss, the former vice president of the Warlocks gang who escaped from Graterford Prison in 1984.

Rapone, armed with a bust and several artists' renderings of Nauss, expressed confidence that he eventually would get his man, who had been serving a sentence for a 1976 murder conviction.

"Nauss will be caught," he said. "The law enforcement community is better organized than ever before, we know it takes a joint effort on all our parts to stop the gangs, and this conference is part of that."

comments powered by Disqus