Death Riders: The Grim Reapers of Laval
By Wiseguy Wally
On April 17, 2000, Normand "Biff" Hamel drove his wife and son to a pediatrician's office on St. Martin Boulevard in the Montreal suburb of Laval. As he left the building, two armed men chased him through the parking lot and shot him in the head and left arm. At the age of 44, Hamel had been an influential member of the Hells Angels Quebec Nomad chapter and right hand man of the gang's leader Maurice "Mom" Boucher.
He was also godfather to the Laval based Death Riders Motorcycle Club.
The Death Riders have been active in Laval since the early 1980's. Like most criminal organizations, the group started off as a small street gang. They hung out in Laval bars and most of their earnings derived from robberies and drugs. The group slowly expanded and took over a chunk of Laval's lucrative drug market.
The organization`s success caught the eye of the World's largest motorcycle gang - the Hells Angels. The gang was courted, as Yves Lavigne, in his national best-seller Hells Angels at War, explains:
The trials and imprisonment of their [the Hells Angels] members after the North chapter slaughter did not slow them down, although their high public profile prevented them from opening a new chapter in Laval to replace the one they had liquidated. They resorted to the time-honored tactic of installing a puppet gang in that part of Quebec to do their dirty work and sell their drugs, then torched the old Laval North chapter clubhouse on November 29, 1988. The Death Riders, formed in the early 1980's, succumbed to the Hells Angels' advances. They would not be hounded as much by the police, and could establish and maintain drug and prostitution networks in the area. (Page 10)
The take over became absolute on May 4, 1987 when the President of the Death Riders, Martin Huneault, was shot to death in a Laval bar. No one was ever arrested for the murder, but just hours after Huneault's funeral, Death Riders Mario Martin and André Richard were seen meeting with Hells Angels Maurice "Mom" Boucher and Normand "Biff" Hamel. Boucher and Hamel received their colours after the incident and Huneault's murder allowed the Hells to completely take over drug trafficking in Laval and the lower Laurentians area. Hells Angels member Michael "L'Animal" Lajoie-Smith was assigned by the organization to watch over the Death Riders and make sure business was conducted correctly.
On the morning of September 20, 1994, thirty police officers raided the Death Riders' clubhouse, on Boulevard Desjardins, in Sainte-Thérese. Police seized five Harley Davidson motorcycles, a sawed off shotgun, three hunting rifles with telescopes, an automobile, machetes, a pair of brass knuckles, and 24 grams of marijuana.
Club member Sylvain "The Mexican" St-Pierre and his girlfriend tied the knot in a Laval church on September 23, 1995. But their fantasy honeymoon in Hawaii was spoiled by the 42 Laval and Sureté du Quebec cops that inspected all arriving guests. First arrested was Dominic "Stag" DiSalvo, a Death Riders enforcer, because of an outstanding arrest warrant.
Later that night, police discovered that the groom was awaiting trial for assaulting a cop and was not to consort with those having criminal records. They waited until the celebration had ended - around 3:30 a.m. - and nabbed St-Pierre. "The Mexican" spent his wedding night behind bars and the newly weds had to reschedule their honeymoon.
The Death Riders were hit hard on October 13, 1995, when Laval police and the Sureté du Quebec ended a seven-month investigation and raided five homes and a Laval bar run by the gang. Police arrested six men and three women, and seized 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, 28 kilograms of hashish, one kilogram of marijuana, two firearms, and $20,000 in cash.
The gang's godfather, Michael Lajoie-Smith, pleaded guilty on August 30, 1996 to plotting to bomb the Le Gascon stripclub in Lachenaie. Martin "Satan" Lacroix testified that Lajoie-Smith had given him $400 to plant a bomb in the establishment. On December 5, Lajoie-Smith admitted his guilt in the brutal beating of Alain Cadieux in the Le Marsolais Bar in Cartierville, dooming the man to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Lajoie-Smith was sentenced to six years in prison and Hells Angel Scott Steinert replaced him as the new Death Riders godfather.
On May 8th, 1997, Mario Martin, at the age of 32, was found dead in his Laval home. Police concluded that he had committed suicide. Martin, who had been one of the two Death Riders that met with "Mom" Boucher and "Biff" Hamel after Huneault's death, had quit the gang and entered a detoxification centre to fight his drug problem. At the time of his death, Martin had worked his way back into the organization and was in his striking period.
Nearly one month later, Richard Pilote, a Death Riders associate, was arrested while driving a friend's car. Inside the vehicle, police found 13 kilos of hashish, worth $335 000, as well as 435 small bottles of liquid hash. Pilote was also carrying $3200 in his pocket. Armed with a search warrant, police proceeded to search the suspect's Sainte-Thérese home. Within the walls, police found nine more kilos of hashish, worth $232 000, and 418 grams of cocaine, valued at $41 800.
On October 1, 1997, the body of Bernard Guindon, another of the gang's associates, was found in his car shortly after midnight by a motorist. Guindon, described in the Montreal Gazette as "a petty criminal with a long history of minor drug charges", had been shot at least once in the head. Police found the victim's vehicle still running, and his foot still on the brake pedal. The murder was linked to the bloody turf war between the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine.
Scott Steinert didn't remain godfather for long, as he and his bodyguard Donald Magnusen were brutally murdered on November 4, 1997. Lavigne details the loathsome act in his book:
The Hells Angels beat both men to death that night with hammers, wrapped their bodies in plastic and duct tape and dumped them into the St. Lawrence Seaway at Beaufort near Quebec City." (Page 126)
Magnusen's body rose to the surface on May 23, 1998, and Steinert's body finally floated up on April 15, 1999. The motive behind the killings has never been unravelled and no one has ever been charged with the crime. Normand "Biff" Hamel, right hand man to "Mom" Boucher, would become the Death Riders last godfather.
On May 20, 1998, The Sureté du Quebec dismantled a Hells Angels connected drug ring headed by Death Rider Alain Jannard and Hells Angels associate Pierre Rossignol. 26 individuals were arrested and police seized nearly 15 million dollars in drugs and property.
On March 16, 1999, Death Riders sympathizer Stéphane Catellier was discovered murdered in his Sainte-Sophie home. Catellier frequented the gang's Sainte-Thérese clubhouse and was often seen with member Robert Diotte. No signs of a forced entry were found, leading police to believe that the victim may have known his killer.
One week later, another man linked to the gang, 52 year old Francois Latour, was gunned down. Latour arrived at his business, accompanied by his wife and two employees, and was ambushed by two armed assailants. The perpetrators ordered the passengers out of the vehicle, blinded them with pepper spray, and fired a machine gun in Latour's direction. He was hit several and died in front of his wife.
Two members of the gang, Mario Laurin and Luc Émond, were arrested on May 21, 1999, at the annual Hells Angels gathering in Lennoxville, Quebec, for carrying illegal firearms. The two Death Riders were among the hundreds of bikers celebrating the 11th anniversary of the Hells Angels Quebec Chapter. They were charged the paltry sums of $5,000 and $2,500 for the offence.
Upon Normand Hamel's murder on April 17, 2000, the Death Riders became the North chapter of the Hells Angels main puppet club, The Rockers. Although the transition went along rather smoothly, gang members Francis Carriere, 31, and Yanick Girard, 26, were assassinated in the following months. The motives behind the murders remain unclear, but perhaps the victims were weeded out by the new management.
The gang, now known as The Rockers North, recently moved into a new clubhouse in Blainville, valued at $155 000, and while the name has changed, the game has remained the same. The organization continues, on behest of the Hells Angels, to control drug trafficking in Laval and the lower Laurentians.
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