Monday, August 8, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Renewed Hell's Angels Interest In Oregon Feared -- Bikers Linked To Drug Trafficking


PORTLAND - The Hell's Angels may be returning to Oregon following a murder trial that put the outlaw biker gang back in state headlines for the first time since the 1960s.

A handful of Hell's Angels visited suburban Hillsboro in June and July for the trial of Robert G. McClure, who was sentenced July 29 to life in prison for murdering a woman who once testified against the gang.

McClure also was sentenced to consecutive life terms for killing the woman's twin 6-year-old daughters and a 19-year-old family friend by shooting them in the back of the head at a rural home in August 1977.

Known as "Bugeye Bob," McClure was not a Hell's Angel. But he was accused of acting on the orders of a former leader of the Oakland, Calif., chapter of the motorcycle gang, Odis "Buck" Garrett, who is serving a life sentence in a California prison for a drug conviction.

Police say the Hell's Angels had avoided Oregon since 1967, when the state was "ceded" to the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle club to quell a San Francisco-area drug war between the rival gangs.

Allegedly a key link in drug distribution, the Gypsy Jokers are the largest biker gang in the Northwest, with 65 members and five clubhouses in Portland, Coos Bay, Seattle and Spokane.

But they are overshadowed by the Hell's Angels, the world's biggest biker gang with 74 chapters and 2,600 members around the world.

The Hell's Angels are the biggest of the "Big Four" in the United States. The others are The Outlaws, with 1,300 members and 41 chapters; the Pagans, 1,100 members and 35 chapters, and the Bandidos, 900 members in 33 chapters.

Police say outlaw bikers may appear to be relics of the 1960s, but they still play a major role in crime.

"They're not a dying breed," said one undercover Portland policeman. "They've become sophisticated now with international connections. Their turf isn't a block, it's a state or a county."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that outlaw bikers - dominated by the Hell's Angels - represent the largest identifiable group involved in U.S. methamphetamine trafficking.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimates the Angels' 1992 worldwide income from drugs, prostitution, gambling, theft, sale of illegal weapons and murder-for-hire in the $2.3 billion range.

"They're a nontraditional organized-crime group," said Detective Sgt. Terry Katz, who tracks outlaw bikers for the Maryland State Police. "They are as sophisticated and sometimes more sophisticated than anyone, including the Mafia."

Federal and local law-enforcement officials predict it may not be long before the Hell's Angels have a chapter in Oregon.

"I think there will be open warfare," said Oregon State Police Detective Pat Gallagher, who has covered outlaw bikers since the early 1970s. "You'll have mysterious bombings, bodies will be found. These people are very professional."

One of the founders of the gang, Ralph "Sonny" Barger, denies the club is part of an international crime cartel.

"The Hell's Angels are a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who like to ride a motorcycle and be with their friends," said Barger, who was in Hillsboro to testify at the McClure trial.

Barger joined the Angels in 1957 at age 18, when the bikers were a loose group of ex-World War II aviators who liked to ride motorcycles.

Police say he turned the Angels into a gang that came to dominate the production and distribution of methamphetamine throughout much of the United States.

Besides California, the Hell's Angels have five chapters in British Columbia and one in Alaska. Last year, they gained their first foothold in Washington when a Spokane gang "patched over" - trading insignia for insignia to become a full-fledged Angels chapter.

"Through negotiations and takeovers of other outlaw clubs, the Hell's Angels have expanded their power base and outflanked the Gypsy Jokers," Gallagher said. "It's only a matter of time before they're here."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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