HELL'S ANGELS -- A STRANGE AND TERRIBLE SAGA OF THE OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS
rapere: to seize, enjoy hastily ...
The Fresno Angels don't make news very often, but when they do, it is usually for something outlandish, some genuinely wretched affront to everything the squares hold dear. One of these was a brutal "rape" in a little town called Clovis, near Fresno, in the Central Valley. When the story hit the papers, the citizens were outraged for miles around.
A thirty-six-year-old widow and mother of five claimed she'd been yanked out of a bar where she was having a quiet beer with another woman, then carried to an abandoned shack behind the bar and raped repeatedly for two and a half hours by fifteen or twenty Hell's Angels and finally robbed of $150. That's how the story appeared in the San Francisco newspapers the next day, and it was kept alive for a few more days by the woman's claims that she was getting phone calls threatening her life if she testified against her assailants.
Then, four days after the crime, the victim was arrested on charges of "sexual perversion." The true story emerged, said the Clovis chief of police, when the woman was "confronted by witnesses. Our investigation shows she was not raped," said the chief. "She participated in lewd acts in the tavern with at least three Hell's Angels before the owners ordered them out. She encouraged their advances in the tavern, then led them to an abandoned house in the rear ... She was not robbed, but according to a woman who'd accompanied her, had left her house early in the evening with five dollars to go bar-hopping."
This incident did not appear in the Attorney General's report, but it is as valid as any that did and it is one of the classic Hell's Angels stories. The O. Henry gimp in the plotline gives it real style. Somebody should have done a public opinion survey in Fresno, getting one set of reactions after the first version of the "rape" appeared, and another when the worm did a full turn. Like the Monterey rape, the Clovis outrage was one of those cases where the prosecuting attorneys would have fared better if their witnesses had been intimidated into silence.
The Clovis story is amusing not because of what happened, but because of the thundering disparity between accusation and reality. Here was the rape mania, the old bugaboo, one of the big keys to the whole Hell's Angels phenomenon.
Nobody is objective about rape. It is a horror and a titillation and a mystery all at once. Women are terrified of being raped, but somewhere in the back of every womb there is one rebellious nerve end that tingles with curiosity whenever the word is mentioned. This is even more terrifying, for it hints at basic depravity and secret lusts too dangerous to even think about. Men speak of rapists with loathing, and talk about their victims as if they carried some tragic brand. They are sympathetic, but always aware. Raped women have been divorced by their husbands, who couldn't bear to live with the awful knowledge, the visions, the possibility that it wasn't really rape. There is the bone of it, the unspeakable mystery. Everybody has heard the joke about the lawyer who used a quill and an ink bottle to get his client acquitted on a rape charge. He told the jury there was no such thing as rape, and proved it by having a witness try to put the quill in the bottle -- which he manipulated so deftly that the witness finally gave up.
That sounds like one of Cotton Mather's jokes, or the wisdom of somebody very much like him -- somebody who never had his arm bent up between his shoulder blades. Any lawyer who says there's no such thing as rape should be hauled out to a public place by three large perverts and buggered at high noon, with all his clients watching.
California averages more than 3,000 reported cases of forcible rape every year -- or almost three a day. This would be a menacing statistic if it were not meaningless. In 1963, an average year, 3,058 forcible rapes were reported. But only 231 of these cases were brought to trial, and only 157 rapists were actually convicted. There is no way of knowing how many rapes were actually committed. Many went unreported or were hushed up by victims who feared the publicity and possible humiliation of a public trial. Rape victims concerned for their reputations often refuse to press charges, and few prosecutors will compel them to testify. A rapist who confines his lust to middle and upper-class ladies is on pretty safe ground. But he is taking his life in his hands when he preys on women to whom the rape stigma has little meaning. Given a victim willing to testify in open court, an articulate prosecutor can re-create the "attack" in such vivid, carnal detail that even the meekest defendant will appear to the jury as a depraved Hun. The small percentage of rape cases that come to trial would indicate that the state only tries those it feels sure of. Despite this, only seven out of ten California rape trials end in conviction, while the figure for all other felony trials is eight out of ten.
The rape mania is such a complex phenomenon that it will eventually have to be dealt with by Presidential fiat. A blue-ribbon commission will have to probe it, along with logrolling and the fatback syndrome. Meanwhile, the Hell's Angels will continue to be arrested for rape with monotonous regularity. It has come to be known as one of their specialties -- particularly gang rape, the most painful and degrading kind of sex assault. Although most of the membership has been arrested for rape at one time or another, in fifteen years less than half a dozen have been convicted. The outlaws insist they don't rape, but police say they do it continually. Convictions are hard to get, the cops say, because most women are reluctant to testify, and those few who are willing usually change their minds after the Angels -- or some of the mamas -- threaten to cut them up or "turn them out" for the whole club.
In July 1966 four Angels went on trial in Sonoma County for the forcible rape -- at an Angel party -- of a nineteen-year-old San Francisco model. Nineteen Angels were charged, but the county attorney narrowed it down to four -- Terry, Tiny, Mouldy Marvin and Magoo II --  and went into court with no doubt in his mind that he would get four convictions. Two weeks later, after three Angel defense attorneys had cross-examined the victim, a jury of eleven women and one man voted for acquittal. They needed less than two hours to reach a unanimous verdict.
There is a certain amount of truth in the intimidation charges, but not nearly enough to explain why the Angels are so often charged and seldom convicted. The biggest part of the truth lies in the problem of defining an act of rape in terms of what actually happened. Obviously, if a woman is jerked off the street and forced to commit fornication against her will, that is rape. Yet the Angels say this never happens.
"Why take a chance on a fifty-year rape rap?" said one. "Hell, rape's no fun anyway -- not if it's real-- and we get all the action we can handle just by standing around. Christ, I've had women proposition me at stoplights, I've had em open my fly in bars without even saying hello, and if nothing happens by accident I just call around and find out who's horny."
"Sure, we'll take whatever we can get," said another. "But I've never yet heard a girl yell rape until it was all over and she got to thinking about it. Let's face it, a lot of women can't make it with just one guy at a time, they can't get their jollies. But the trouble is that sometimes a girl wants to stop before we do, or maybe while she's taking on fifteen guys in the back of a pickup truck somebody heists a few bucks from her purse -- so she flips her lid and brings the heat down on us. Or maybe we get rousted and there she is all naked in the middle of a bunch of Hell's Angels, so suddenly she's been raped. What can we say? It's an automatic bust. But all we have to do is get a lawyer in her ear, tell her all the stuff that'll come out in court, and she decides to drop charges. Most of our rape raps never even get to court."
"There are stories even in police records of girls who freely admitted to making it with two or three Angels and then trying to call a halt. What does a jury make of testimony to the effect that the first hump was for love, the next two for kicks and all the others were rape? An alleged rape victim in Oakland came to a bar one evening with an Angel she had met the night before and proceeded to do him on a pool table in a back room. One of the others looked in, saw what was happening, and naturally stood by for seconds. The girl protested, but when her true lover threatened to punch her she saw the light. After the third go she realized what she was in for and became hysterical, causing the bartender to summon the law.
Another girl rode a motorcycle up from Los Angeles and insisted on joining the club. The Angels told her she could, but only after she showed some class. "Man, what a nutty broad," said one. "She came to the party the next night with a big St. Bernard dog, and what an act she put on! I tell you it damn near blew my mind." He smiled wistfully. "After that, she took on everybody. Christ, what a bitch she was! She went right out of her gourd when she realized we weren't gonna let her join the club. She called us all kinds of shit, then she went out to a phone booth and rang for the cops. We all got busted for rape, but we never heard nothin more about it, because the broad split the next day. Nobody's seen her since."
Whenever the word "rape" comes up, Terry the Tramp tells the story about the "off-the-wall broad who rolled up to the El Adobe one night in a taxicab -- a really fine-lookin chick. She paid the cabbie and just stood there for a minute, lookin at us ... and then, man, she walked across the parking lot like she owned the place and asked us what the hell we were starin at. Then she started laughin. 'All right' she yelled. 'I fuck, I suck and I smoke a lot of dope, so let's get started!' Wow! We couldn't believe it. But by God, she wasn't lyin. We put her in the back of that old panel truck we had then, and damn if she wasn't still yellin for more when the bar closed. We had to take her out to the country."
The Angels are full of stories about girls who seek them out. They tend to embellish both the action and the girls, but few of the stories are made up out of thin air. After dozens of long nights with the outlaws, I don't recall many when there wasn't at least one girl going down for the crowd, or whoever felt the sap rising. Usually they were mamas, but now and then what the Angels call "a strange broad" or "new pussy" would show up. Most of these seemed to be under the impression that they were "with" one of the Angels, and sometimes it worked out that way. The new pussy would dance a bit, drink a few beers, then roar off into the night with her Shane. Other girls, however, were taken into the panel truck and not seen again for many hours. With a few rare exceptions, the fact of some gang action in a nearby truck or back seat does not cause much of a stir. Of the thirty or so outlaws at the El Adobe on a weekend night, less than half would take the trouble to walk across the parking lot for a go at whatever ginch is available. A girl might be kept humping for hours, but only because a group of ten or so will take several turns each. Any outlaw whose old lady is around will gallantly ignore the sex action. The wives and steady girl friends won't stand for it. They don't actively resent the mamas, but they observe a rigid social barrier. One of the Oakland old ladies, a pretty, dark-haired girl named Jean, thinks mamas are pretty sad people, born losers. "I just feel sorry for girls like Mama Beverly," she says. "They think they have to put out and do anything at all just so they can be around guys like the Angels. But there are a lot of girls like that. One time at a party in Richmond a girl nobody had ever seen came in and started showing around a nude picture of herself. Then she went in the back room with half a dozen guys. Man, you ought to see the girls who flock around when the Angels are on a run, and just because they're Angels. If any girl claims she was raped by the Angels, it was most likely because she came up and asked for it."
That sounds a bit harsh. Invariably, the girls who pursue the Hell's Angels are in the grip of some carnal urgency, and some are deranged sluts, but few really look forward to being gang-raped. It is a very ugly experience -- a fact the Angels tacitly admit by classifying it as a form of punishment. A girl who squeals on one of the outlaws or who deserts him for somebody wrong can expect to be "turned out," as they say, to "pull the Angel train." Some of the boys will pick her up one night and take her to a house where the others are sitting around with not much else to do. It is a definite ceremony, like the purging of a witch: the girl is stripped, held down on the floor and mounted by whoever has seniority. The punishment is administered in a place where everyone can watch, including the mamas and old ladies, although most of the Angel women are careful to avoid these shows. Not all the outlaws go for them either. The purging is usually done by the wronged Angel and a handful of others with a taste for this kind of discipline. Every chapter has a few gang- bang aficionados; they are usually the meanest of the lot ... not the toughest, but the ones who are unpredictably hostile, day and night, in all kinds of situations.
At a party many months after I first met the Angels, when they were taking my presence for granted, I came on a scene that still hovers, in my mind, somewhere between a friendly sex orgy and an all-out gang rape. It was not an Angel party, but they had been invited, and twenty or so showed up for what turned into a two-day bash. Almost immediately several of the outlaws located a girl, the ex-wife of another guest, who agreed to make the beast with two backs in a small building set apart from the main house. Which she did, and happily so, with the chosen trio. But word quickly spread of the "new mama," and soon she was surrounded by a large group of onlookers ... drinking, laughing and taking a quick turn whenever some vacancy occurred.
I keep a crumpled yellow note from that night; not all of the writing is decipherable, but some of it reads like this: "Pretty girl about twenty-five lying on wooden floor, two or three on her all the time, one kneeling between her legs, one sitting on her face and somebody else holding her feet ... teeth and tongues and pubic hair, dim light in a wooden shack, sweat and semen gleaming on her thighs and stomach, red and white dress pushed up around her chest ... people standing around yelling, wearing no pants, waiting first, second or third turns ... girl jerking and moaning, not fighting, clinging, seems drunk, incoherent, not knowing, drowning ..."
It was not a particularly sexual scene. The impression I had at the time was one of vengeance. The atmosphere in the room was harsh and brittle, almost hysterical. Most people took a single turn, then either watched or wandered back to the party. But a hard core of eight or ten kept at her for several hours. In all, she was penetrated in various ways no less than fifty times, and probably more. At one point, when the action slowed down, some of the Angels went out and got the girl's ex-husband, who was stumbling drunk. They led him into the shack and insisted he take his own turn. The room got nervous, for only a few of the outlaws were anxious to carry things that far. But the sight of her former old man brought the girl out of her daze just enough to break the silent tension. She leaned forward, resting on her elbows, and asked him to kiss her. He did, and then groggily took his turn while the others cheered.
Afterward the girl rested for a while and then wandered around the party in a blank sort of way and danced with several people. Later she was taken back for another session. When she finally reappeared I saw her trying to dance with her ex-husband, but all she could do was hang on his neck and sway back and forth. She didn't even seem to hear the music -- a rock-'n'-roll band with a very swinging beat.
What would a jury make of that one -- presuming they could know all the facts, circumstances and ramifications? If the girl was raped why didn't she protest or ask somebody for help? The Angels were vastly outnumbered, and it was not the sort of party they would have wanted to break up for the sake of a would-be mama. There was plenty of action around, and if anybody had protested the gang-bang the outlaws would have called it off. But nobody seemed bothered, and one or two of the non-Angel guests finally joined in. The girl had several chances to leave the party and call the police, but that was out of the question. Girls who get turned out at Hell's Angels parties don't think of police in terms of protection.
But sex is only one aspect of rape's broader definition. The word derives from the Latin rapere, "to take by force"; and according to Webster, the contemporary translation ranges from (1) "the crime of having sexual intercourse with a woman or girl forcibly and without her consent" to (2) "the act of seizing and carrying away by force" or (3) "to plunder or destroy, as in warfare." So the Hell's Angels, by several definitions, including their own, are working rapists ... and in this downhill half of our twentieth century they are not so different from the rest of us as they sometimes seem. They are only more obvious.
1. Another Magoo -- not the one from Oakland.