Then there was the time I sat across from Wolfie.
Sounds like a cartoon character, doesn’t it? But Wolfie was anything but a funny cartoon character. Wolfie was a chapter president for the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang, and one afternoon I sat in his house with three other full-patched club members, all of whom were looking at me like I was Bambi who had just bounced into a den of hungry wolves.
Outside, the house was surrounded by an eight-foot high chain link fence topped with strips of razor wire, with a half dozen pitbulls nervously pacing in the fenced area. Inside, were four guys in dirty blue jeans, steel-toed boots, full scruffy beards, and leather vests, called patches or colors, with the Bandidos logo stitched on the back.
And there was clean shaven, smiley-faced me in a freshly washed pair of jeans and a bright yellow Izod golf shirt. All it would take was a word or a glance from Wolfie and, no questions asked, the three club members would happily and enthusiastically use those steel-toed boots to stomp me into a puddle of mush.
Which was very possible since I had just pissed Wolfie off.
The Bandidos are part of what law enforcement calls the Big Four, the four largest and most dangerous outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs, in the world, the other three clubs being the Hell’s Angels, the Outlaws, and the Pagans. There are dozens of other outlaw motorcycle gangs worldwide, like the Mongols, the Warlocks, the Vagos, the Sons of Silence, the Gypsy Jokers and the Devil’s Disciples. Gotta love those names.
The Bandidos Motorcycle Club, also known as the Bandido Nation, was started in San Antonio, Texas in 1966 by Don Chambers, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran. Their motto is, “We are the people our parents warned us about,” and the club’s colors feature a fat, colorful Mexican bandit wielding a machete and a gun. Today they have more than 2,500 full-patched members in over 300 chapters in 22 countries. The Bandidos, like other OMGs, say they are merely a social club for guys who like to hang out together and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the weekends. The cops say bullshit on that, and claim that certain factions of the Bandidos are involved in drugs, prostitution, extortion, arson, car bombings and contract murders. Whether or not they are a social club or a criminal enterprise, one thing both sides agree on is that nobody messes with the Bandidos. They are badass and damn proud of it.
Consider the Shedden Massacre which is the worst mass murder in the history of Ontario, Canada. Eight members of the Toronto chapter of the Bandidos were shot to death and their bodies dumped on a rural farm. Who were their killers? Cops and prosecutors claim that national Bandidos officers were displeased with how the Toronto chapter was running their business and decided it was time for some “internal cleansing.”
No boring pink slips for these guys.
I didn’t know all of these little details back when I was a young newspaper police reporter and a detective told me our city was headquarters to one of the most active chapters of the Bandidos.
“What’s a Bandido?” I asked.
“Are you kidding me?” he said. “They’re as big as the Hell’s Angels.”
“Really! I’d like to do an article on them. How do I reach them?”
“Are you serious? You don’t just call them up out of the blue.”
“Because they are vicious and they don’t like the press.”
“Oh, they can’t be all that bad.”
The detective smiled, flipped through his Rolodex (this was back in the early 1980s) and gave me a phone number.
“Who do I ask for?”
“Ask for Wolfie. He’s the President.”
Back in the newsroom, I called the number and spoke briefly to Wolfie, who said to come by his house that afternoon. I poked my head into the photo darkroom and saw Wayne, one of our staff photographers. He was a really old guy who mostly did photos for the society and lifestyles section.
“Yo Wayne, can you come shoot some photos for an article?”
“Sure,” he said, and together we walked out of the news building to the parking lot to get our cars.
“What’s your article about?” asked Wayne.
“What’s a Bandido?”
I told him it was about some friendly guys who liked to ride motorcycles on the weekend.
“Sounds like fun,” said Wayne.
Thirty minutes later Wayne was saying in a very shaky voice, “Okay, I’m good. I got all the shots I need. Thank you all very much. I’ll see you back at the newsroom.” And then he pretty much ran out of Wolfie’s house to his car, giving me a concerned look on the way out, the kind of look you give someone who you aren’t sure you are ever going to see again. He had shot three rolls of film and he was outta there.
When we had arrived at Wolfie’s house and I knocked on the front door, it was opened by a huge, 250-pound, mean-as-hell looking guy.
“No. Come in.”
Wayne and I stood in the middle of the living room. Another guy walked in from the kitchen. He was bigger and meaner-looking than the first guy.
“No. Sit down.”
We sat. Quickly.
The front door opened loudly behind us and Wayne and I jumped. A brute who could barely fit through the doorway walked in and slammed the door shut.
The brute didn’t even answer me. He just sat down with the first two guys. We all sat there looking at each other, no one saying a word for what seemed like a good five minutes. We heard a door close at the back of the house and a few seconds later a guy walked into the living room. He was tiny, about five-foot-six and no more than 140 pounds, with a long black ponytail.
“Wolfie?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.
“That’s me,” he said.
No way, I thought. How in the world could this little guy be the boss? How could he be in charge of the three monsters sitting in the room with us and the dozens of other bone-crushers in their chapter?
I stood up to shake Wolfie’s hand and as I started to let go, he gripped my hand even tighter and it felt like I was holding a twisted piece of steel cable. He pulled me a few inches closer to him, and he looked straight up into my eyes and I can tell you that to this day I have never seen eyes as dead cold as Wolfie’s. In Latin America they call it “ojos de diablo,” the eyes of the devil. And those eyes answered all my questions about why he was the boss.
“Let’s do this,” said Wolfie.
I pulled out my notepad and started firing off the interview questions. Wolfie had well rehearsed and polished answers for all of my questions, and for the next half hour he faithfully promoted the company line of the Bandidos simply being a social club of misunderstood motorcycle enthusiasts. The interview was winding down and I had just a few more questions.
And that’s when I pissed Wolfie off.
Because what I said was, “But isn’t it true that police consider the Bandidos a criminal group that is involved in everything from manufacturing and distributing crystal meth to murder for hire?”
Wolfie just stared at me and didn’t say a word.
For a very long time.
Oh hell no, I thought to myself, what have I done now? I had not told my city editors where I was going, I had not told the police where I was going, and I had not told my wife where I was going. The only person in the world who knew that I was sitting in a house with four members of one of the most ruthless outlaw motorcycle gangs in the world was Wayne, who was not only long gone, but for all I knew he had sped home and was hiding under his bed.
“Let me rephrase that,” I said.
Thankfully, Wolfie let me rephrase it, and I tossed him a nice slow underhand pitch of a question which he smacked into the bleachers. I closed my notepad, stood up and thanked Wolfie for the interview.
“I’ll walk you out,” said Wolfie.
The three bikers stood up and started to follow Wolfie.
“Did I tell you to get up,” Wolfie said in a low growl. They sat down.
Wolfie walked me to my car and watched as I got in and started it up. He kept standing next to my door, so I slowly rolled down the window. He leaned in, his tattooed arms on the door frame, his face just inches from mine, and he smiled for the first time.
“I’m going to be real interested to read your article,” Wolfie said. “I know you’re going to do the right thing.”
I smiled back, and then drove to the newsroom. They ran my article a few weeks later as the front cover story of the special pull-out magazine section of the Sunday paper, along with a huge spread of photos and text on the inside. The photos were very powerful, although my article, which I’m sure Wolfie liked very much, was a bit tame. In my defense, it was not supposed to be an expose on the Bandidos, but rather a human interest piece about me spending an afternoon with some very heavy duty badasses. I had to show a little backbone, though, so I ended the article telling the readers about how Wolfie had leaned in my car window and warned me to do the right thing. I’ll bet he liked that part too.
I never saw or talked to Wolfie again. About five years later, someone in a pickup truck blew his head off with a shotgun while he sat on his Harley at a stop light.
Made me sad to hear that.
He seemed like a nice guy.