Missouri - Outlaw motorcycle gangs now consider Missouri as "open territory."
Missouri has traditionally been the territory of the Galloping Goose motorcycle club and their brother group, El Forastero. They confronted any other gang who entered their territory, according to the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force's Mike Alford. But their grip on the territory is no longer as strong as it once was, and groups like the Outlaws motorcycle gang, the Bandidos and the Vagos have started chapters in Missouri.
"It's definitely opened up more, where there's more outlaw motorcycle gangs," Alford said. "It's an uneasy relationship. They get along, but there's always some tension."
Alford said if there is an incident between, for example, members of the Galloping Goose and the Outlaws in another state, it can carry over to Missouri. When two rival gangs go to war, the national leadership will instruct members to carry out certain measures against rivals. If a member doesn't follow orders, "then their head's on the chopping block," Alford said.
Alford says law enforcement does not know why Missouri is now an open state.
Not every member of an outlaw motorcycle gang is involved in illegal activities, but some are associated with narcotics, firearms and prostitution. They have a structured hierarchical system that includes bylaws and elected offices like president, vice president and treasurer. Each member has the same power to vote.
Prospective members must go through a long period of time before earning their "patch" and becoming full-fledged members.
"It's not just sitting around knitting something for another member," Alford said. "You're basically doing whatever those members want you to do, and you're proving yourself to them that you are a 'good brother.' That you're going to stand up for the club no matter what, that you're going to stand up for your brother no matter what."
There's a saying among outlaw motorcycle clubs: "He may not be right, but he's my brother." Alford said that basically means that even though a fellow member is wrong, his brothers will stand up for him.
That tight camaraderie poses a problem for law enforcement officers like Alford. "They do not like to talk to law enforcement about any illegal activities about the club, and if they do, there's repercussions," Alford said.
Several members of the Missouri-based Saddle Tramp Motorcycle Club were arrested last week in St. Louis and St. Francois County on federal drug and weapons charges, including the club's president. Among those facing federal charges are Melvin Scherrer and Brent Bouren, who are also accused of murdering Cape Girardeau tattoo artist Samuel Francis.
Rich Callahan, U.S Attorney for Eastern Missouri, said the arrests were the culmination of two investigations that began in 2010 - one involving a cocaine distribution network and the other focusing on meth cooking and distribution.
"These were middlemen and retailers, but the drug distribution network was really the St. Louis metropolitan area and because of the motorcycle gang's clubhouse in St. Francois County, there was some in St. Francois County," Callahan said.
The Galloping Goose have a clubhouse in Cape Girardeau, which Alford describes as "pretty quiet." The Outlaws have a clubhouse in southeast Missouri, as well as the Midwest Drifters, who are a support group for the Galloping Goose. A Hell's Angels member lives in southeast Missouri, but he works with clubs in Illinois and Kentucky.
Alford keeps track of who belongs to each motorcycle club in the region. "I do that pretty much in the open," Alford said. "I'm not trying to hide from them. I'll talk to them whenever they will talk to me." He does that, he says, just in case there's a shooting between rival gangs like the one in 2011 in Nevada.