Details Emerge Of Divided Warlocks And Year-ago Killing Two Bikers Are Charged. One Was Known For Violence, The Other For Trying To Change The Club's Image.

Posted: May 06, 1996

Charles ``Shovel'' Staples wasn't sure how to greet the ex-con when he walked out of Graterford Prison last year. The two men came from different worlds, different times.

Robert ``Mudman'' Simon had served 20 years for murder and armed robbery and was a feared member of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club, known for his violence.

Staples saw himself as the new breed of Warlock who avoided brushes with the law, held down a regular job and tried to improve the club's image.

How should he greet the legendary Mudman, he wondered, in a limo or his work van? More important, how could he help Simon adjust to freedom?

Staples picked up the 43-year-old Simon in the van, befriended him, and set him up in a house trailer in Williamstown.

But 11 weeks later, Mudman was desperate for cash. He left prison, Staples said, with $132 to his name and was cut from the welfare rolls after receiving two checks.

He sought money from two lawyers he knew, storming out in anger when one of them refused him.

One year after Mudman and Shovel were arrested in the fatal shooting of Franklin Township Sgt. Ippolito ``Lee'' Gonzalez, a clearer picture of two clashing Warlock worlds and that night of violence is emerging.

Simon apparently was broke and losing control that May 6 when, police said, Gonzalez was shot during a roadside confrontation.

Now, Staples, the self-styled new-breed biker, is fighting for his life - from a cell at the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly.

Speaking from jail, the 38-year-old plumber and construction worker who lived in Pine Hill said he was simply trying to help Simon reenter society.

Though he declined to talk about the shooting, he blamed the federal government and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey parole systems for being negligent in releasing and supervising Simon.

The two Warlocks are to appear Thursday in Gloucester County Superior Court in Woodbury, where a judge is to decide whether to move their trial to another jurisdiction. They are scheduled to go to trial Sept. 9.

Staples has been offered a deal by the prosecutor: Plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter and serve a 30-year sentence, at least 10 years without parole. He has turned down the offer and maintains that he is innocent.

``I was raised to be polite, courteous, honest and helpful, and I was helping a man that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania said was ready to be released and needed help establishing a residency,'' wrote Staples in a letter to Judge John P. Lavelle, president judge of Carbon County, Pa., who had presided over the trial in which Simon was convicted.

``Now, I am facing the death penalty . . .''

Staples asked the judge if he knew more about the circumstances in which Simon was paroled. Reached last week, Lavelle said he did not respond to Staples' letter because he had no information to give.

* The Warlocks that Staples knew were far different from the bikers who thundered across Pennsylvania in the 1970s, assaulting, raping and killing for sport.

The new club still clung to an outlaw reputation of violence and drugs when he joined in 1988. But the image was softening as the membership changed.

The new Warlocks held down regular jobs, they worried about their club's image and occasionally staged events to raise money for charity.

What's more, they sometimes attracted professionals, including a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, who didn't join the club but went on their motorcycle runs.

``Everybody talks about how bad we are,'' said Staples, who rode a blood-red Harley-Davidson, the Warlock bike of choice. ``You can find some bad in anything.

``But the members of the club are just ordinary people. Nobody talks about the good they do for the community.''

The Warlocks tried to project a relatively wholesome image by choosing leaders who avoided run-ins with the authorities - leaders such as Charles Staples, who became vice president of the South Jersey club.

Staples was an honorably discharged Air Force veteran and had just one blot on his record: a 1977 arrest for marijuana possession that was resolved without a trial.

``Chuck was trying to break the stereotype,'' said his older sister, Joyce Palmer, 46, who lives in Franklin Township and runs a plumbing business with her husband.

Staples grew up in Clayton, where his mother still lives.

He was a deep-sea diver, working on underwater construction jobs - until he was nearly killed on Dec. 28, 1987, while cutting concrete under the harbor off Staten Island, N.Y. Shifting concrete pinned his bell-like diver's helmet for three hours, until rescue crews got him out. The drama has been recreated on two network television shows, Rescue 911 and Top Cops.

After that, Staples stayed home to work and installed gas lines for his sister's firm. ``We really need somebody to do gas lines now,'' his sister said. ``It's hard to find someone who knows what they're doing.''

His family's neighbors in Clayton said the biker was a quiet, friendly, hard-working man.

His nickname came from an incident in which he was the victim, his family said.

Staples was at a Gloucester County tavern just before Thanksgiving 1987, the family said, where he met a woman who had grown up in his neighborhood. When her estranged husband walked in, the woman and Staples left; the husband followed, ran the biker's truck off the road and then attacked him with a shovel, leaving him seriously injured.

``After that, they called him Shovel,'' his sister said.

With his penchant for helping people, Staples apparently was seen by the Philadelphia and South Jersey chapters of the Warlocks as the logical choice to help ``Mudman'' ease back into freedom.

* The aging biker walked out of Graterford Prison on parole in February 1995 and climbed into Charles Staples' van - saying little after two decades behind bars.

His record did all the talking.

Robert ``Mudman'' Simon reeked of Warlock history.

He was as old as the club and as dangerous as anyone who ever wore the trademark Warlock Harpy (a winged monster from Greek mythology) on the back of his denim jacket, and the spider-web tattoo on his elbow to show that he had killed someone.

Actually, Simon had killed two people. And maybe more, authorities suspected.

The 43-year-old biker had been in and out prison since he was a teenager. He was a member of the Upper Darby teen gang called the Warlords that merged with a group from Darby to create the Warlocks.

The original leaders, now all dead or in prison, used him to instill fear among their enemies.

Simon, a Warlock enforcer, could turn deadly in a flash.

``If he likes you, he drinks with you,'' said someone who has known him for 25 years. ``If he doesn't like you, he shoots you.''

Simon has never been convicted of a federal crime, but has been held in at least two federal prisons.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said Simon was put in Lewisburg federal prison on Dec. 15, 1989, and kept there until May 15, 1991. Riots at Camp Hill in November 1989 had forced them to place their most dangerous inmates in federal lockups, corrections officials said.

Police investigators have spent careers trying to keep him behind bars.

``Nobody fools with Bobby Simon,'' said Cpl. George Ellis of the Pennsylvania State Police, who battled biker gangs for years. ``Bobby Simon is crazy.''

Until 1992.

That's when he became a model prisoner and earned his parole in three years.

He was moved to Graterford on Feb. 26, 1992, and was made a trustee in 1993. The Warlock was allowed to live in a trailer outside the walls of the maximum-security facility and work as a plumber in the prison's sewage treatment plant. Living outside is a privilege granted to only about 100 of the 4,100 inmates.

If he was a changed man, however, he did not show it with his choice of prison associates.

Simon lived in his trailer with another charter Warlock, Steven DeMarco, who had come into the prison in January 1991 after a conviction for robbery.

He befriended inmate Clark Turner, son of former Pagans Motorcycle Club president Glen Turner, and they continued to correspond after Turner left.

Simon also socialized often with inmate Roy Stocker, who had been identified by investigators as a drug lord for Mafia leader Nicky Scarfo. Stocker was in Graterford for running a $50 million methamphetamine ring.

Curiously, when he was paroled, his request to live with his mother was denied.

And while he was under orders not to associate with Warlocks, a plan to relocate to South Jersey - with the help of Staples - was approved.

On the day of Simon's release, Staples was 10 minutes late picking up Mudman and found him standing on the prison parking lot with a small television and a locker containing his belongings.

Later, Simon had to be shown how to use a pay phone.

But there was a more basic problem. Simon handed Staples parole papers that prohibited the Mudman from associating with Warlocks.

``What was I going to do?'' Staples said last week. ``He didn't have any other transportation.''

* The call crackled over the radio in Sgt. Ippolito Gonzalez's squad car shortly before 10:30 p.m. A car - possibly used in a burglary - had been reported near a heating and air conditioning business in Franklinville.

With his shift nearly over, Gonzalez waved off another unit and took the assignment, only 150 feet from the township police station. ``I'm on top of it,'' he said, according to one investigator. ``I'll take it. I'm coming in.''

Minutes later, the 40-year-old sergeant spotted a burgundy 1981 Pontiac Bonneville heading down Delsea Drive. He turned on the cruiser's flashing lights, pulled the car over and called for backup.

Gonzalez walked over to the driver's side of the Bonneville and asked for licenses and identifications from two men in the front seat.

Law enforcement sources said Gonzalez then walked to the passenger's side of the Bonneville and was holding Staples' driver's license and Simon's Social Security card when gunfire broke out.

One of the men exited the car and opened fire with a .45-caliber handgun - at point-blank range.

A bullet pierced the driver's license in the sergeant's hand, then struck him in the neck, said a source close to the investigation. Another smashed into his head.

Gonzalez crumpled to the pavement as Staples and Simon allegedly sped away and police backup units arrived.

One of the squad cars took off after the Bonneville, which crashed into an embankment a quarter-mile away. Simon quickly got out and ``positioned himself'' in front of the car, pointing a handgun at Officer Kenneth Crescitelli, police said.

The officer shot him in the leg and disarmed him. Staples immediately surrendered.

About four hours later, Gonzalez, a veteran officer known for being street-smart, died at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden.

``I felt bad for the officer,'' said Ron Smith, 53, owner of Environmental Heating and Cooling, who lived in the apartment with his son and was out during the evening of the burglary.

Smith said two shotguns and a hunting rifle were taken, along with two diamond rings and a coin collection. ``It's kind of a scary situation. It could have been myself or my son.''

Just two days before the shooting, federal, state and local police on a motorcycle-gang task force were passing around an old photo of Simon at their monthly meeting.

They wanted to warn police departments across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware that Simon was out of prison and could be dangerous.

Word had not yet trickled down to Sgt. Gonzalez.

comments powered by Disqus