Sons of Silence
|Founded at||Niwot, Colorado, United States|
|Type||Outlaw motorcycle club|
|Mountain states, midwestern and southern United States; southern Germany|
The Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club was founded in Niwot, Colorado in 1966 by Bruce Gale "The Dude" Richardson (August 22, 1939 – March 26, 2013) who was living in Longmont, Colorado after serving in the U.S. Navy from July 1958 to February 1960. The Sons of Silence's national headquarters were later moved to Colorado Springs. Another influential figure in the club's history is Leonard Lloyd "JR" Reed, Jr. (September 12, 1947 – June 20, 2003). Also a navy veteran who served from 1965 until 1969, Reed succeeded Richardson as the Sons of Silence's national president in 1977 and held the position for twenty-two years. In the 1990s, Reed and Richard Lester, an attorney and motorcyclist, formed the Colorado Confederation of Clubs, which improved communication between motorcycle clubs and provided a means to avoid conflict.
The first chapter outside Colorado was the Iowa chapter which was founded in 1968, and an alliance with the Hells Angels enabled the Sons of Silence to further expand. There are now American chapters in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The first international chapter was founded in Munich, Germany in 1998. In 2001, more German chapters were founded in Freising, Gangkofen and Nurnberg. Branches in Viernheim, Erding and Pfarrkirchen were established in 2007, 2010 and 2016, respectively.
The Sons of Silence's logo – an American eagle superimposed over the letter "A" – is similar to, and taken from, the Anheuser-Busch logo. The club's motto is "donec mors non separat ", Latin for "until death separates us". The logo is a patch that is sewn on the back of each full member's vests (known as colors), along with assorted other badges.
Sons of Silence members must be at least twenty-one years old and own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Members pledge oaths of loyalty and secrecy. Membership of the club has been estimated at between 250 and 500.
Criminal allegations and incidents
|Founding location||Niwot, Colorado, United States|
|Territory||30 chapters in 12 U.S. states, and 5 chapters in Germany|
|Activities||Drug trafficking, witness intimidation, extortion, prostitution, money laundering, weapons trafficking, motor vehicle theft, murder, assault|
|Allies||Hells Angels |
The Sons of Silence are designated an outlaw motorcycle gang by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and at one point were considered one of the "big five" motorcycle gangs along with the Bandidos, Hells Angels, Outlaws and Pagans. Members have been implicated in numerous criminal activities, including murder, assault, drug trafficking, intimidation, extortion, prostitution operations, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and motorcycle and motorcycle parts theft. The Sons of Silence are allied with the Hells Angels and Iron Horsemen, and are rivals of the Outlaws.
Six members – Scott Bennigsdorf, John Barnard, Bobby Mann, Art Miller, Mark Wagar, and national president Bruce Richardson – were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and jailed for their involvement in a bar brawl in Colorado Springs on March 5, 1972. The brawl involved a total of twenty-two participants and was the result of a power struggle between the Sons of Silence and two other motorcycle clubs, the Dead Men and a group known as Philtown. Some of the Sons of Silence members arrested were involved in an alleged conspiracy to kill police and kidnap the children of police officers earlier that year.
Sons of Silence member Brian Karl Young was convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of a sixteen-year-old girl who was killed when Young accidentally discharged a .22 caliber Ruger rifle that he had been making alterations to at the Sons of Silence clubhouse in Commerce City on October 3, 1982.
Six members of the Sons of Silence – Jack E. Houser, Jr., James Dean "Jimmy" Jahnke, Jerald W. Richardson, Larry Lee Richardson, Dennis Raymond Swingler and Ralph W. Vicory – were convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine after Houser, Jahnke, Swingler and Vicory were arrested on I-80 in Wyoming while transporting thirty-six pounds of the drug as well as a mobile drug lab obtained from Cecelia Martinez – wife of the imprisoned Barhoppers Motorcycle Club president Glen Gary – in Modesto, California on January 23, 1983 to Denver. The convictions followed an FBI investigation into the Colorado Sons of Silence which commenced in September 1981 and was aided by FBI informant Beth Fisher, the divorced wife of club member Robert Fisher.
Sons of Silence member Paul Robert "P.K." Klein was shot and killed by Eugene Herbert Baylis at Jim and I's Star Bar in Colorado Springs, where Klein was the bar manager, on April 17, 1993. Bar patron Steven Fairfax was also killed and five others were wounded. Baylis, who was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and four hand grenades, only stopped his shooting spree after he was shot and wounded by a police officer. Baylis claimed that Klein had shot him with a pellet gun earlier that day and that he had gone to the bar to detain him until police had arrived. He was acquitted of murder and other charges in 1995 after his attorneys argued that he fired in self-defense. Baylis would later be sentenced to three years in prison on federal weapons charges, and was killed in a shootout with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officers in May 2018. The shootout at Jim and I's was the subject of "The Outlaw", episode 10 of season 6 of the Investigation Discovery documentary series Homicide Hunter.
Sons of Silence president Leonard Ray Shipley was arrested by Colorado Springs police following an undercover operation in August 1993. Shipley was convicted in April 1995 of distribution and possession of methamphetamine, possession of a grenade simulator and being a special offender for having both a deadly weapon and illegal drugs, and he was later sentenced to twenty-four years in prison.
On October 9, 1999, thirty-seven Sons of Silence members were arrested on drug trafficking and illegal weapons charges after one of Colorado's largest federal undercover operations. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raided a number of homes and properties in Colorado Springs, Commerce City and Fort Collins, and seized twenty pounds of methamphetamine, thirty-five guns, four hand grenades, two suppressors, cash and motorcycles. The investigation began in 1997 and involved two undercover agents infiltrating the club. Among those arrested were the club's national president Leonard Reed and vice-president Steven Kressin. The club was featured in a 2009 episode of Gangland, which included interviews with one of the undercover agents who infiltrated the club.
Two men – Stanley B. Glade and Justin W. Jeske – were arrested after assaulting and robbing a Sons of Silence member at his home in Longmont on April 17, 2012. Glade and Jeske are allegedly former club members who were expelled.
The Sons of Silence's push into Indianapolis in the 1970s was spearheaded by Michael "Righteous Mike" Ramsey, a former Outlaws member who went on to serve as the Sons of Silence's national president. The club's presence in Indianapolis prompted friction with the Outlaws and, after a period of infrequent fighting in which members of the rival clubs would try to physically take the colors from opposing bikers, a war erupted following the July 1978 near-fatal stabbing of Outlaws member Dale "Dummy" Larque during a bar fight. The conflict lasted until the early 1980s and resulted in a number of murders, including those of two girlfriends of Sons of Silence members. Outlaws national vice-president Thomas Walter "Satan" Reeves was shot dead with an automatic rifle at the club's Indianapolis chapter headquarters on March 5, 1980. Authorities suspect Sons of Silence Indianapolis vice-president Steven Wayne "Crescent Wrench" Kressin of the murder. Lisa J. Reimer, the girlfriend of a Sons of Silence member, was shot in the back of the head and killed during a shootout on an entry ramp to the I-465 while riding as a passenger on a motorcycle on October 4, 1980. The murder remains unsolved, although police theorized that the shooting was caused by an Outlaws ambush and that the intended target was Daryl W. "Wino" Sturges, president of the Indianapolis Sons of Silence chapter from June 1978 to October 1980. Sturges' girlfriend, Lynda C. Massingale Rice, was stabbed to death on December 31, 1980. On November 15, 1981, Outlaws member John "Big Jack" Slater was left paralyzed after being shot with a .38 caliber pistol by Sons of Silence member Eric "Doc" Lewandowski outside the Sons' clubhouse. Slater was then bundled into a van and killed with a 12-gauge shotgun by another Sons of Silence member, Hendrick "Savage" Jansen. Lewandowski was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, while Jansen was acquitted as he testified that he believed Slater was already dead when he shot him. Bruce Birk Eastman was killed with a shotgun as he answered the door of the Sons of Silence Indianapolis clubhouse on 30 May 1984.
On February 24, 1991, a large group of Outlaws were attacked by several members of the Sons of Silence at a motorcycle swap meet at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Shots were fired, three people were wounded, and two Sons of Silence members were arrested. Twelve guns and numerous knives were seized by police.
Members and associates of the Indianapolis and Terre Haute chapters of the Sons of Silence were indicted in October 2011 following an FBI investigation into the club's activities known as "Operation Saw Mill". Twelve people were convicted for participating in a methamphetamine ring that operated from approximately May 2010 until the arrests of most of the members of the organization on August 6, 2011. Phillip Mannebach, a member of the Terre Haute chapter, was also convicted of orchestrating the abduction of his stepson which was carried out with the help of club hangarounds. The victim of the abduction had stolen approximately $5,000 in currency from Mannebach, who was sentenced to life in prison on April 8, 2013.
Sons of Silence members had a conflict with members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club in a business parking lot in Crawfordsville on April 27, 2014. Firearms, knives and bats were used, and injuries were reported.
Sons of Silence enforcer Ronald Merrill "Bad Ron" Gruber was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for rape and assault in Black Hawk County in October 1977. While in Iowa State Penitentiary, he and another inmate were sued by two guards whom they assaulted. After being released, Gruber was one of a number of club members convicted on a 1994 federal racketeering charge. As a prisoner at FCI Greenville in Illinois in August 1996, Gruber was charged with the shotgun murder of Penny Jean Sternquist Weitzel, who was killed in Boone on November 30, 1984. In May 1997, Gruber pled guilty to second degree murder in her death and was sentenced to fifty years in prison. He was paroled in 2012.
Sons of Silence member Clark Joseph Cook was convicted of possession of methamphetamine after he was found to be carrying a bag of the drug during a traffic stop by the Iowa State Patrol on September 5, 1993.
Fourteen members or former members were indicted in Cedar Rapids in November 1994, charged with racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy and committing violence in aid of racketeering. Twelve were immediately arrested and eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted. Two others, Jeffrey Paul "No Mind" Gruber and Robert "Bronc" McAlister, remained fugitives until being apprehended in Washington state in July 1996. David Fairchild, who was one of the twelve convicted in 1995 and who received a twenty-five year prison sentence, began to cooperate with the government after his conviction and testified against Cedar Falls/Waterloo chapter de facto leader and national vice-president Gruber, who was sentenced to life in prison.
Six members of the Boone Sons of Silence chapter – Russell John Schoenauer, Robert Lee "Skunk" Norman, Gary Lee Walker, Daniel Lee Burns, Barry Craig Scarcello and Steven Lowell Henry – were arrested by the ATF on April 4, 2001 on the charges of trafficking cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, as well as firearms, throughout the state of Iowa. Two others, Pelayo Jose "Tattoo Joe" Cuervo and William John Furlong, were also later apprehended. Cuervo, Norman and Schoenauer – the Sons of Silence's national treasurer – were convicted of numerous narcotics and firearms offenses related to a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances that lasted from 1978 through 2001. Norman was sentenced to twenty-nine years' imprisonment, Cuervo was sentenced to twenty-two years' and Schoenauer was sentenced to seventeen years'.
Milton Charles "Barbwire" Wilson, the president of the Sons of Silence's Kansas City chapter, was charged in May 2014 with transporting a minor across state lines for prostitution, along with Kayla "Foxy" Pinkerton. Wilson transported Pinkerton and the victim to various locations in Missouri and Kansas in December 2013. Both plead guilty to the crime on April 1, 2015. In September 2015, Wilson was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment and Pinkerton was sentenced to sixteen months'.
In August 1984, Sons of Silence founder Bruce "The Dude" Richardson was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to hiring Robert Leslie Konitski to organize the May 1984 abduction of Dr. Michael Roark from a Buffalo hotel. It was claimed that Roark owed Richardson's wife, Patricia Stranahan, approximately $260,000 after a failed business venture and that the abduction was an attempt to retrieve some of this money after court proceedings to recover the funds had failed. As well as Stranahan, three others are sentenced in connection with the abduction, Michael Rattley, Robert Jordan and Ariel Falcon.
The Sons of Silence are alleged to have ordered the murder of Williston rancher Jack Sjol who went missing in April 2013 and whose body was found in rural Williams County the following month. Ryan Lee Stensaker was convicted of Sjol's murder on December 17, 2014 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Billy Joe Herman, an enforcer for the Sons of Silence but not a member of the club, pleaded guilty in April 2019 to the October 12, 2015 murder of Amanda Stach Engst, who was killed on the Spirit Lake reservation. Herman strangled Engst and put her in the trunk of her car with the help of Crystal Johnson, his then wife. After beating Engst with a shovel, he dumped her tarp-wrapped body, which was tied to cinder blocks, into the Sheyenne River. Her body was found on February 4, 2016. Herman was sentenced to life in prison for Engst's murder, and Johnson was sentenced to twenty years in prison for her part as an accomplice.
While travelling to an annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota on August 5, 1997, seven Sons of Silence and Iron Horsemen members were stopped by South Dakota Highway Patrol troopers as they travelled north on I-29 after police received reports of a group of motorcyclists running a car off the road. A subsequent search of the bikers and their motorcycles uncovered cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and loaded pistols. Ralph W. Durke and Heather Cook, a passenger on Durke's motorcycle, were charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, and concealment of a weapon with intent to commit a felony, while Steven Taylor was charged with possession of methamphetamine.
Sons of Silence members Cory Rutherford, Matthew James Wedgewood and Nicholas B. Hanson pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an incident at a bar in Rock Springs in which they beat and robbed Bradley Chrisman, a member of the rival Bad 7 motorcycle club, of his colors on April 10, 2017. The trio received suspended prison sentences in October 2017.
- Webmaster Sons of Silence MC Germany. "Sons of Silence Germany website". Sonsofsilence.de. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
- "Sons Of Silence Mc". Sonsofsilence.com. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
- Bruce Gale Richardson obituary The Lusk Herald (April 3, 2013)
- Longmont-area motorcycle clubs see benefit and benefits when taking to the open road Brett Callwood, Longmont Times-Call (June 5, 2016)
- Biker Gangs and Organized Crime Thomas Barker (2014)
- Leonard Lloyd Reed, Jr Find a Grave
- Funeral of Leonard Lloyd Reed Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post (June 26, 2003)
- The Sons Of Silence: Everything You Need To Know Chris Flynn, HotCars.com (May 6, 2020)
- Outlaw motorcycle gangs – USA overview National Institute of Justice (1991)
- "Sons of Silence web site". Sonsofsilence.com. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
- "Sons of Silence Germany history". Sonsofsilence.de. Retrieved 2020-05-10.
- The One Percenter Encyclopedia: The World of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs from Abyss Ghosts to Zombies Elite Bill Hayes (2011)
- World of Silence The Indianapolis Star (September 26, 1982)
- United States of America v. Timothy R. Fairchild, Jeffrey Paul Gruber Justia (January 12, 1999)
- U.S. Dept. of Justice, Motorcycle Gangs, archived from the original on 10 February 2010, retrieved 27 October 2009
- Les gangs de bikers les plus dangereux des États-Unis Noomen Ben Mustapha, Vanity Fair (21 June 2016)
- The Outlaw Biker Legacy of Violence Thomas Barker (2018)
- Gangs and Organized Crime George W. Knox, Gregg Etter, Carter F. Smith (2019)
- Gang fight involved local Sons The Gazette (March 10, 1972)
- The People of the State of Colorado v. Brian Karl Young Justia (June 13, 1985)
- United States of America v. Dennis Swingler, Jack E. Houser, Jr., Ralph W. Vicory, James D. Jahnke, Jerald W. Richardson, Larry Lee Richardson Justia (March 20, 1985)
- Feds 'dismantle' motorcycle gang Mike McPhee and Erin Emery, The Denver Post (October 9, 1999)
- Man kills 2, wounds 5 in bar shooting spree United Press International (April 18, 1993)
- Man killed in Colorado shootout acquitted in 1993 shootings The Denver Post (May 30, 2018)
- Grand Junction man killed in shootout with BLM had opened fire in Colorado Springs bar in 1993 Ellie Mulder, The Gazette (May 29, 2018)
- Former Sons of Silence leader found guilty of drug possession Kathryn Sosbe, The Gazette (April 20, 1995)
- 37 arrested in raids on Sons of Silence/ Undercover investigation leads to drug trafficking and weapons charges Danielle Nieves, The Gazette (October 9, 1999)
- Sons of Silence boss denied bail/ ATF agents `joined' gang Debra Franco, The Gazette (October 15, 1999)
- 2 Arrested After Violent Attack On Man In Longmont CBS Denver (April 18, 2012)
- ‘Righteous Mike’ Ramsey Brought Sons Of Silence MC To Midwest In 1970s, Challenged The Outlaws For Power In Indy Scott Burnstein, GangsterReport.com (September 19, 2017)
- Gangs The Indianapolis Star (December 6, 1981)
- Indiana State Police cold case investigations: Lisa Reimer in.gov
- Girls The Indianapolis Star (February 2, 1981)
- Murder at cycle club Pharos-Tribune (May 30, 1984)
- Iowan slain at bike club The Gazette (May 31, 1984)
- Hogsett Announces Indictment of Four Terre Haute Defendants in “Sons of Silence” Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation (October 25, 2011)
- Sons of Silence Member Receives Life Sentence for Role in Terre Haute Meth Organization Federal Bureau of Investigation (April 8, 2013)
- Mongols MC Publicly Accuses Iron Order Of Murder In Denver Biker Brawl Michael Roberts, Westword (February 5, 2016)
- State of Iowa v. Ronald Merrill Gruber Justia (July 25, 1979)
- Inmate is charged in 1984 slaying The Des Moines Register (August 3, 1996)
- Man pleads guilty years after murder Ottumwa Courier (May 8, 1997)
- Ron Gruber, Sons of Grace spokesman Rotary International (March 2, 2015)
- State of Iowa v. Clark Joseph Cook FindLaw (April 26, 1995)
- Outlaw Bikers Arrested On Federal Charges Bill Morlin, The Spokesman-Review (July 11, 1996)
- United States of America v. Timothy R. Fairchild FindLaw (September 7, 1999)
- ATF silences motorcycle gang’s drug activity Radio Iowa (April 4, 2001)
- Drug agents arrest 6 linked to cycle gang Staci Hupp, The Des Moines Register (April 5, 2001)
- Opening arguments expected in gang trial The Des Moines Register (January 15, 2002)
- United States of America v. Pelayo Jose Cuervo, Robert Lee Norman, Russell J. Schoenauer Justia (October 23, 2003)
- KC-area pair accused of using a minor for prostitution Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star (May 6, 2014)
- KC Man Sentenced for Transporting an Individual for Prostitution United States Department of Justice (September 8, 2015)
- A federal judge has ordered six-year prison terms for... United Press International (August 29, 1984)
- Evidence shows death of rancher was allegedly a hit ordered by motorcycle gang Jamestown Sun (August 7, 2013)
- Five-year mark of conviction in killing of Jack Sjol Joe Skurzewski, KFYR-TV (December 17, 2019)
- North Dakota murder prompts life sentence; victim's sister says 'that'll never be enough' Raju Chaduvula, Grand Forks Herald (October 21, 2019)
- ND murder suspect was 'enforcer' for Sons of Silence motorcycle gang, FBI says April Baumgarten, Grand Forks Herald (October 18, 2019)
- Law enforcement confirms fire is tied to biker gang Kortney Lockey, Valley News Live (November 1, 2019)
- Biker Gang Violence Reappears at Rally Carson Walker, Fox News (August 11, 2006)
- State of South Dakota v. Ralph W. Durke Justia (January 12, 1999)
- Three arrested for Rock Springs biker assault Doug Randall, KGAB (April 13, 2017)
- Wedgewood Sentenced In Motorcycle Gang Robbery Wyo4news.com (October 19, 2017)