At the end of Hillsdale Court, an unassuming street just a mile and a half from Wesleyan’s campus, lies a gated compound that has the Middletown Police Department scratching its head.
Surrounded on all sides by covered chain-link fencing, it’s hard to say what lies inside without relying on guesswork and rumors. The casual snooper can discern two or three bright red buildings behind the fences. A Chevy Blazer with red sidings parks near the biggest of the buildings. One neighbor has reported seeing a black lawn jockey on the property.
The compound is the Connecticut headquarters of the notorious Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. Referred to as “secret” by some, the compound’s existence is certainly little known within the Middletown community. Even Wesleyan’s interim director of Public Safety, Dave Meyer, a 26-year veteran of the department, was unaware of its presence.
Famous for their tricked-out Harley-Davidsons, their penchant for violence, and their puzzling relationship with the 1960s California hippie scene, the Hells Angels have been immortalized and mythologized in every imaginable pop-cultural medium. In his book, “Hell’s Angels,” Hunter S. Thompson described the sight of an Angel on his motorcycle as being “like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter’s leg with no quarter asked and none given.”
On a recent winter night, Lieutenant Rick Siena of the Middletown Police Department sat in his idling SUV near the gates of the compound. “God knows what they got in there,” he sighed. Once, during a routine patrol, Siena drove right up to one of the compound’s gates and shone his headlights inside. Almost immediately, four men in full gang colors appeared just beyond the gates and asked if there was a problem.
Lt. Siena said that, since the compound was built six years ago, Hells Angels from the entire region have descended upon it about four or five times annually. The death’s head patches that they wear on the back of their black leather riding vests indicate which chapter they are members of, and Siena said that he has seen Angels visit the compound from as far away as Virginia.
One event promoter, who asked not be named, said that while he has met members of every motorcycle gang imaginable, from the Outlaws to the Bandidos to the Pagans, the Hell’s Angels are a class apart. “To get in, you have to have done some serious shit,” he said.
The promoter is involved in a family business that organizes motorcycle expos and swap meets. The expos draw two to three thousand bikers over the course of a weekend, and feature vendors selling new and used motorcycle parts and accessories. Musical acts such as Commander Cody and Foghat generally perform sets.
Hell’s Angels frequently show up at the expos. “Angels, when they come in, they aren’t paying,” the promoter said. “You try and charge them; most of them are gonna bust your balls.”
At the same time, the club is aware of its high profile, and is very conscientious about its public image. “They’ve got really good P.R. these days,” said the event promoter. “They show up and sell T-shirts. That’s their whole thing; they sell T-shirts. When we’ve had problems with individual Angels, we see the ‘big dog’ come out and reprimand them.”
This doesn’t mean that the club has converted itself into a quilting circle. “My brother totally witnessed the Angels bash somebody’s skull in with a ball peen hammer,” the promoter remembers.
“In New York one time, there was some evil shit going down,” he said. “They were shutting down a rival, battling over drug turf. The Hell’s Angels set up their own security at the gate of our event.” The club posted lookouts on every street corner, and communicated by walkie-talkie.
“It was basically a military set-up.”
“The Angels have a violent history,” said Middletown’s Lt. Siena. Still, he admits that their presence is not a major concern for the police department. “We’ve had very few problems with the Hell’s Angels in our city,” he said. “We stay alert. If we saw a trend, we would do something about it. But they don’t cause us trouble.”
The Hell’s Angels isn’t the only motorcycle gang in the area. In 1998, members of the Meriden chapter of the Diablos Motorcycle Club were jailed on various charges, ranging from murder for hire to heroin conspiracy. The James Gang, headquartered in Wallingford, is also highly active in Meriden.
Lieutenant Siena said that, after a spike in gang activity in the late 1980’s, biker gangs were less of a problem for a period. Now, younger members are getting involved, and activity is back up.
Still, Siena said that the public safety threat posed by motorcycle gangs has never been close to as deadly as what he said is the real danger posed by the biker culture – motorcycle accidents.