NATIONAL

Why bikers are so poor

CHARLIE GILLIS April 24 2006
NATIONAL

Why bikers are so poor

CHARLIE GILLIS April 24 2006

Why bikers are so poor

NATIONAL

They aren’t criminal kingpins. Most struggle, living hand to mouth.

CHARLIE GILLIS

Since the Hells Angels’ inception a half-century ago, the icon of the motorcycle gangster has been sustained by a series of myths. Founders successfully cast themselves as restless souls driven to soci-

ety’s margins, though they were more often just common thugs. Next came the biker-asanarchist rebel—a kind of bearded caballero using sex, booze and violence to express his disdain for the civilizing constraints of home and hearth. Then, as these men became associated with organized crime, the image turned again. In Canada, the word “biker” now conjures a drug-land kingpin, a man who has traded his mange for the designer specs and carefully mussed coif of Maurice (Mom) Boucher. And like the myths that came before it, this one is due for an update.

Last week’s murder of eight people linked to the Bandidos should start the process. Not only did it shock the country with its sheer barbarism, it exposed modern bikerdom as something far short of the golden highway. Images from the scene in Shedden, Ont., were particularly jarring. The farmyard belonging to Bandido Wayne Kellestine, where the five suspects were arrested, was strewn with debris and broken fencing, while Kellestine’s ramshackle house featured flags for curtains, curling shingles and a sheet of rusting metal bridging the roof to an awkward addition. The homicides, meanwhile, suggested killers as empty-headed as they were cruel: the victims had been shot and their bodies abandoned in vehicles just off Ontario’s busy Highway 401, scarcely five kilometres from the scene of the arrests. Tony Soprano these people were not.

Jim Quinn, a criminologist who has studied biker gangs in the U.S. and Canada, says the scene reflects gritty reality for all but a few well-placed bikers. “There are a few making a lot of money who get the publicity,” he says from the University of North Texas. “But the great majority are living hand to mouth, working as some kind of labourer, which is their primary source of income. Nobody notices them.” This is especially true of nonHells Angels, Quinn says; other groups lack the Angels’ almost corporate approach to money-making, and their members’ living

standards usually show it.

Take Kellestine. Dogged by a history of erratic and violent behaviour, the 56-year-old was known as a neo-Nazi gun nut who once waved a U.S. Confederate flag at a gay pride parade. He had twice led lower-rung biker clubs before joining the Bandidos, the world’s second-largest motorcycle gang. But joining a bigger club apparently failed to lift his prospects. Local merchants had been seeing less and less of him, while acquaintances

THE ACCUSED MURDERER HAD TROUBLE SCRAPING UP MONEY FOR LUNCH

described a man who sometimes had trouble mustering enough cash for lunch.

He wasn’t the only one paying dearly for his identity. Jamie Flanz, a so-called prospect for full membership in the club’s Toronto chapter, had reportedly changed his mind about being a biker, so difficult had his life become. A part-time bouncer who was trying his hand at software development, the 37-year-old had lost his wife and son and was

reduced to trolling for company on an online dating service. “He was selling his bike, cleaning up his house, and really trying to figure out his life,” according to a friend, but he never got the chance. Flanz was among the eight victims found on April 8.

To some extent, says Quinn, such circumtances demonstrate the squeeze the Hells Angels are exerting on competing organizations. But it also reflects the grinding frustrations of life in the underworld: isolation, penury, constant police surveillance. And while many bikers have been involved in the drug trade, convictions show that most toiled in the realm of street-level distribution, among the least profitable parts of the business.

These realities may have been lost in the clamour over biker activity, says Margaret Beare, head of the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime at York University. In their rush to convince the public that fighting outlaw bikers will require special legislative tools, police have effectively flattered all but a select few of the gangsters, she says. For most, life closely resembles the state of uncivilized man as famously described by Thomas Hobbes: nasty, brutish and—in the case of eight illfated men in southern Ontario—short. M