Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hells Angels, vengeance dominate

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WINNIPEG has the reputation of being the second-most-deadly city in Canada for outlaw motorcycle gang violence after Montreal.

Violence between warring gangs, under different names and allegiances, goes back to the early 1970s and until this month saw its peak in the mid-1980s.

During the past 40 years, one theme has been a constant -- the influence and the role of the Hells Angels.

Much of what's happened over the past four decades hasn't been so much over turf -- there's more than enough money to be made by everyone selling drugs and performing criminal favours in Manitoba -- than it is personal grudges.

Here's a snapshot of what's happened since Winnipeg's outlaw bikers first took to the streets:

 

-- Winnipeg's first biker gangs were the Spartans and the Los Brovos, which both started in the late 1960s.

-- Both gangs coexisted peacefully for about a decade -- both had their own clubhouses in St. Vital -- under the watchful eye of city police. In October 1973, police shot and wounded a Los Brovos biker in a gunfight that started when police raided the gang's clubhouse.

-- In June 1975, three Spartans gang members -- including its co-founder, Graham Sylvester -- were charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl. They were later convicted.

-- Seven years later, the Los Brovos and the Spartans merged -- the Spartans were led by Darwin Sylvester, Graham's younger brother.

The reason for merger was to present a united gang the Hells Angels could take over. With the merger, the Spartans ceased to exist.

-- The merger unravelled in late 1983 when two Los Brovos were arrested for the rape of 27-year-old woman. The crime made headlines after a deputy police chief was brought in to mediate between the bikers and the victim's angry brothers and father. A van the rape victim's sister owned was found rigged with dynamite.

-- Sylvester and his fellow former Spartans wanted the accused kicked out of the merged gang, feeling they were bad for publicity and brought too much heat. The Los Brovos refused. Sylvester left the gang.

-- In July 1984, former Los Brovos member Ron Gagnon was slain in his Alexander Avenue yard by a shotgun blast. He was wearing a Silent Riders T-shirt. Later, police learned Gagnon was one of the founding members of the new gang, along with Darwin Sylvester. Gagnon's death remains unsolved.

-- In September 1984, the Silent Riders' Washington Avenue clubhouse was damaged in an early-morning dynamite attack. No arrests.

-- In November 1984, four bombs exploded at property connected to the Los Brovos. Damaged are the Los Brovos' city clubhouse and a cottage outside Winnipeg, a company owned by a member's father and a member's home. No arrests.

-- In May 1985, Los Brovos member Stanley Potter was shot and wounded. Police affidavits showed they suspected

the Silent Riders.

-- In August 1985, a North Winnipeg home and garage connected to two Los Brovos members were torched. No arrests.

-- In September 1985, David Gagnon, brother of Ron Gagnon, was stabbed to death in a fight with a Los Brovos member. The slaying was later determined to be one of self-defence.

-- The gang war continued with police raids, dozens of arrests and bikers from both sides being sent to jail -- including Darwin Sylvester.

-- In 1986, the gang war officially ended in the back lot of a West End autobody shop when the remaining Silent Riders burned their gang colours in front of the Los Brovos.

-- In 1990, Darwin Sylvester was released from jail and returned to gang life, renewing connections with the Hells Angels in Eastern Canada, specifically gang kingpin Walter Stadnik, in a bid to woo the gang to Winnipeg.

-- On New Year's Eve 1991 at the Continental Motor Inn on McPhillips Street, Sylvester and a bunch of other ex-cons, independent bikers and longtime local hangers-on resurrected the Spartans.

-- Less than two months later, Darwin's younger brother, Kevin, a fellow Spartan, got into a gunfight with a Los Brovos striker at a McPhillips Street nightclub. Both Kevin Sylvester and Darren Hunter were hit -- Hunter once, Sylvester seven times. Two other people were shot. Hunter later received a 12-year prison sentence despite testifying the shooting was in self-defence. Charges against Sylvester were dropped.

-- The incident kicked off another round of drive-by shootings, including the targeting of Hells Angels associate Donny Magnussen, Stadnik's bodyguard, outside a Winnipeg hotel, the shooting up of the Spartans' clubhouse and the gunshot wounding of a Los Brovos member in River Heights.

-- In late 1994, Stadnik flew to Winnipeg and demanded a truce between the two gangs. He set up a third motorcycle gang, the Red Liners, of independent bikers and known drug dealers. The thinking was that by throwing a third gang into the mix, the pot would really start to boil. Whoever rose to the top would become a Hells Angel.

-- In May 1996, longtime Los Brovos member David Boyko was murdered in Halifax while attending a Hells Angels event. It's believed Magnussen shot Boyko to death to move up the Hells Angels' ranks.

-- In May 1998, Magnussen's bound, decomposed body was pulled out of the St. Lawrence Seaway. He had been beaten to death, wrapped in plastic and dumped in the seaway.

-- By 1998, it was clear Stadnik and the Hells Angels were going to put down roots in Winnipeg. Those plans did not include Darwin Sylvester. Ever the plotter, Sylvester started talking to Hells Angels rival Rock Machine in Quebec about a possible alliance.

-- In late May, Sylvester left a Regina halfway house after serving a year-long jail sentence for extortion and returned to Winnipeg, expecting to head up the Spartans once again. On May 29, a week after leaving Regina, he vanished, shortly after leaving the Spartans clubhouse to go to a meeting. It's rumoured his body was chopped up for animal feed. One of the men who's thought to have participated in the killing, Robert Rosmus, was himself executed in January 1999, shot in the head and left face-up in the middle of an access road near a construction site east of the Perimeter Highway.

-- The Hells Angels established a Manitoba chapter in the summer of the next year, absorbing the Los Brovos. It's believed six of the original members were still in the gang, supported by the addition of new blood.

-- A year later, another gang war erupted when former Spartan Kevin Sylvester, Darwin's younger brother, shot Hells Angel Rod Sweeney several times as he sat in a tow truck near Grey Avenue and McCalman Street with his young son beside him.

-- That set off several retaliatory shootings, including the wounding of a former Spartan on Harbison Avenue and a July 31, 2001 drive-by shooting attempt on Portage Avenue, apparently targeting Kevin Sylvester. Rod Sweeney's brother Dale was later convicted.

-- Ten years later the violence has renewed, and at the centre of it is the Hells Angels, which despite three high-profile police stings that led to numerous arrests of members and associates, have yet to suffer a knockout blow.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2011 A11

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