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The Hired Gun

The Hired Gun

by Mike Gordon

There was a motorcycle gang in Anchorage named The Brothers in the early ‘70s.  Rumor had it that when one of them died the rest of them would cremate him, roll some of him into a marijuana joint and smoke him.  Now that’s taking brotherly love to an all new high.

In the early 1970’s someone in the gang got the bright idea of teaming up with the Hell’s Angels, which they did, so then we had The Brothers roaring around town in Hell’s Angels colors.  If they decided to visit your bar they would typically hang in a group and intimidate everyone else in the place, so at Chilkoot Charlie’s we banned the wearing of colors; in fact, in the end we banned all manner of motorcycle clothing, including Harley Davidson logos.  Ironically, during a period when a lot of people thought of Koot’s as a biker bar it was anything but.  The next bright idea the gang had was to sell “insurance” or “protection” to local bars and they began, logically enough with the topless clubs, where they also had plans to control the flow of female dancers into the state.  Jimmy Sumpter, an elderly gentleman who had already been to a rodeo or two, owned a couple of such clubs, one named the Sportsman Too in Muldoon and a larger operation a few miles out on the Old Seward Highway named the Kit Kat Club.

Jimmy Sumpter wasn’t in the market for “insurance” or “protection.”  He also didn’t harbor any desire for a gang of bikers to control the recruiting of his dancers.   I am unaware of anyone who actually paid the protection fee, and they never acquired control over the comings and goings of dancers, but there was no doubt that the gang took the whole proposition seriously.

Someone broke into Jimmy Sumpter’s house, reportedly stole $20,000 dollars and some jewelry, murdered his forty year old wife, Marguerite and his stepson, Richard Merck, and then set the house on fire. Richard’s sister, miraculously, was able to escape, returning after the attack to try to save her brother by climbing in a window, only to discover he had been shot to death.   I went to visit Jimmy at the Captain Cook Hotel, where he was living after the incident, and I can tell you first hand that the desire for revenge was palpable.  There wasn’t any doubt in Jimmy’s mind about who was responsible either.  Jimmy’s neighbor across the street had seen someone getting into his truck and careening away from the scene after the fire started and she had the presence of mind to write down the license plate number.  Police later matched it to that of Gary Zieger.

Gary Zieger was a pledge for the Hell’s Angels/Brothers motorcycle gang, but Gary was such a vicious and unpredictable murderer that even the motorcycle gang was probably never going to allow him full membership.  No one will ever know exactly why Gary broke into the Sumpter house and committed the murders and it will never be known whether he did it on his own to impress the rest of the gang, whether he did it simply for the money or whether he did it at the behest of the gang.  The talk around town, though, was that Richard Merck’s father was in town from Fairbanks and he and Jimmy were going to take care of the twenty year old Zieger once and for all.  Jimmy put a reward on the street of $10,000 cash for information about the murderer of his family, but rumor had it that it was for anyone killing a member of the gang, so it might be assumed that the gang got rid of Zieger themselves in order to pacify Jimmy Sumpter.  I am not certain of this, but my recollection is that Zieger was in jail for something else and, though he was not at all excited about being let out, Sumpter actually paid his bail to get him released.  Whatever the case, within a matter of hours Zieger was found along the Seward Highway near Potter Marsh with a shotgun blast to his chest.  Jimmy had a perfect alibi for his whereabouts at the time and the investigation was brief.  After all, why try to find out who had killed Zieger?   Nobody really cared who had killed him.  It needed to be done.  Zieger was responsible for perhaps a dozen murders, including the rape and murder of several young women, though he had avoided being convicted, mostly because of the rudimentary state of DNA testing at the time, and he was also intimately involved in the kidnapping and murder of Johnny Rich, about whom Johnny’s daughter, Kim, wrote in Johnny’s Girl.

The next indication of the seriousness with which the gang took their offer was when they tried to blow up PJ’s, a strip club on Spenard Road.  At that time, PJ’s had not occupied the entire building in which it was located and the northern half was a garage.  Hallie McGinnis, the owner, was working the bar one night when he smelled gasoline so he started looking around.  When he looked outside he saw a couple of guys ducking behind his dumpster and also glimpsed a plunger, and wires leading into the garage beside the bar.  He ran back inside and got his pistol but by the time he returned, two members of the gang, Indian and Gypsy, were jumping into a fleeing car on Spenard Road.  Hallie popped off a couple of shots at the car as it sped away and called the cops.

One of the Hell’s Angels that had come to Alaska from California and become a member of the newly-minted gang had done a tour of duty in Vietnam and had experience with explosives, and the fashion in which the explosion of PJ’s had been arranged was obviously prepared by someone who knew what they were doing.  The plunger that Hallie found behind his dumpster was hooked up to some explosives—dynamite, I believe– stacked up against the storage shed side of the wall on the other side of which was a room full of late-night partiers.  Along with the explosives were two or three Jerry cans of gasoline.  If their activities had not been interrupted by Hallie and the plunger had been successfully attached and depressed the resultant explosion would have blown through the concrete wall, created a vacuum inside the crowded club into which the blazing gas would have been sucked, making a torch out of everything and everyone in there.  Indian and Gypsy were arrested at the Canadian border.

Chilkoot Charlie’s was a much smaller but very successful operation, so I wasn’t surprised when I received a delegation from the motorcycle gang.  I sat across from the South Long Bar at a table while gang member Bobby Baer tried to tempt me with their offer by suggesting that I was “very close to the other side.”  I knew that if I backed up one inch I was in deep do-do, so I looked Bobby in the eye and said if he was threatening me I had enough money set aside to bury every one of them.  I sent Tiffany, my wife at the time, to Seattle and stationed a guy on my rooftop with a sawed-off shotgun.  I didn’t go anywhere without my .38 revolver.  The intimidation having not worked, the gang decided to leave me alone though we had issues with the wearing of colors at the club and some minor skirmishes for a while.  One night when I had been pushed too far I stood out front of the bar waving my .38 around menacingly with the hammer back and one gang member, Happy Jack, shouted out that I was “fucking crazy,” so they left in a hurry.   I also had some friends on their side of the street, which I found to be a necessary strategy in those days.  All outlaws are not bad guys and some of them can come in pretty handy when the chips are down since the cops would, more times than not, show up to establish a crime scene rather than intervene in a timely fashion.

The east end of the South Long Bar used to be in those days referred to as “Loser’s Corner.”  The patrons inhabiting that corner knew about the guy on the roof with the sawed-off shotgun and, to make his lonely vigil less of an ordeal, started sending shots of tequila up to him.  As a result he got so drunk he walked off the east end of the building and fell into the dumpster, sawed-off shotgun and all.  Good help was hard to find.

It was in 1973 that Johnny Rich was murdered over a disagreement about the ownership of a massage parlor named Cindy’s.  Kim Rich writes sympathetically of her father in Johnny’s Girl.  The book is well written and a good read and the movie starring Treat Williams is worth seeing, but I knew Johnny and I can tell you he was nothing but a two-bit punk with an over-sized opinion of himself and fast-tracked ambitions that had him stepping over an honest dollar every day in favor of a dishonest dime.  My manager at Chilkoot Charlie’s, Dale Vaughn, and I were in PJ’s the night Johnny was celebrating his new ownership of Cindy’s, buying drinks and playing the big shot.  In the midst of the celebration I turned to Dale and said, “Somebody’s going to kill that stupid mutherfucker.”  Within a few days he had disappeared.  His body was eventually recovered from coal mine tailings north of Palmer.

Before the murders and fire at Jimmy Sumpter’s house, when my now ex-manager, Dale Vaughn, was working at the Kit Kat Club as Jimmy’s manager I got word that Jimmy had imported a hired gun from the east coast to intervene on his behalf with the motorcycle gang.  One evening I called the Kit Kat Club, got Dale on the phone, and was informed the guy was out there holding court in the bar with the gang.  This, I wanted to see.  Dale said, “Bring your friend,” referring to my pistol, to which I replied, “No problem.”  At the time there were several 20 gauge shotguns at intervals behind the Kit Kat Club bar.

Sure enough, upon arrival the guy from the east coast, big, younger than I had anticipated, wearing a plaid sports coat and playing it up as a tough guy, was sparring verbally with several members of the gang.  That night was my one and only face-to-face meeting with the hired gun.  It was brief, more like an introduction, and I don’t remember his name, but it might have been Tommy, which is close enough.

Six months to a year later my erstwhile acquaintance, Tommy, left a message on my phone for me to call him.  When I called he said, “I need a security job at Chilkoot Charlie’s.”  I replied that I had a full staff of security personnel already, to which Tommy replied, “I guess you didn’t hear me.  I said I need a fucking job.”  I hung up on him.  He called back and left me a nasty message adding that the next time he saw me I’d better be carrying.  I called Jimmy Sumpter, since he had already had dealings with Tommy, to ask if he had any suggestions on how I should handle him.  Jimmy thought for a moment and said, “I’d call Vern Rollins,” which is exactly what I did, Vern being one of the sort of outlaws mentioned earlier that it didn’t hurt to know, and in order to thoroughly cover my ass, I called Anchorage Chief of Police, Brian Porter, a personal acquaintance.  Of course, I had Tommy’s phone number for Rollins and Chief Porter, so he soon had received a phone call from both sides of the street.  One suggested that if anything happened to me, the police, who happened to like me, knew who he was, where he was and that he had threatened me.  The other suggested that if anything happened to me, something was going to happen to him.  I never saw nor heard from Tommy again.

2001 President Downtown Rotary - Framed RotarianI was born in Fort Pierce, Florida and moved to Alaska from Mississippi in 1953, when Alaska was still a territory.  I graduated from Anchorage High School and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy from the University of San Francisco.  I played alto saxophone in the Anchorage High School band, as well as ice hockey through high school and as a freshman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks before moving on to USF.  Incidentally, I completed the seventeen credits I needed to graduate from USF in the Spring of 2011, forty-eight years late, earning a 4.0 GPA for the semester!

I have been a member of the Anchorage City Council and Anchorage Borough Assembly before unification, twice a board member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, State of Alaska, and twice its Chairman.  I have been on many boards, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska, Anchorage Opera, Anchorage Repertory Theatre, Anchorage Mental Health Association and Boys Scouts of America, Western Alaska Council.  I am an active Rotarian and past president of Anchorage Downtown Rotary and an honorary member of the Homer/Kachemak Bay Rotary Club.

My interests are climbing, running, skiing, scuba diving, reading, writing, traveling, opera and spending summers with my wife, Shelli, in our beloved Halibut Cove home.  I have climbed six of the seven highest mountains on each of the continents and made three attempts on the seventh, Mt. Everest, reaching 27,500 feet at age fifty.  I have also run fifteen marathons, including the original run from Marathon to Athens.

I have a son, Michael, a daughter, Michele, and seven grandchildren by my first wife.  Shelli and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary in September 2013 and hope to spend many more years together in retirement (if the economy ever cooperates) enjoying life on both sides of Kachemak Bay.

20 comments

  1. I am blown away both by your life experiences, and by the fact that this all occurred in Anchorage. I’m from the East Coast, and Anchorage seems so tame to me. It doesn’t seem likely that stuff like this goes on here, but of course it does. Oh, and I absolutely love your snarky writing style. I can relate. 😉

  2. Wow! This story really showed the parts of Anchorage that are a little bit covered these days! Those experiences definitely gave me a lot more respect for Chilkoot Charlie’s! This part of the past is not something to be forgotten, thanks for sharing.

  3. I was really interested in this article. I am always interested in law and mysteries and why people do what they do. The fact that this was in Alaska was really cool and really intense. I love the way you write, it really keeps your readers interested and makes them want to keep reading!

  4. Im speechless. I lived in and around Anchorage during 1970-1976. I learned how to ride my first motorcycle there on the ice. I knew many of the “Brothers MC’ then. They were pretty much regular guys then. Things can change. I also frequented Chilkoot Charlie’s when I was old enough. And Kim Rich was and is a friend of mine. She moved to the south and resides in my home state. We got together a few years ago. She is certainly a far cry from her beginnings.
    Correct me if Im wrong please. The Brothers MC was established around the mid/late 60’s by two brothers who trapped in the winter…. Thanks Karen Martin Louisiana

  5. Jeanie Sumpter Larson

    Yes, that story about my uncle – Jimmy Sumpter is true. My dad (Bob Sumpter) told it to us many times… with a little more detail, of course. My dad went to Alaska as a young man and worked at Uncle Jim’s Kit Kat Clubs where he met my mother – a USO dancer who did a few gigs at the Kit Kat Clubs. My dad (Bob Sumpter) started his own guide service – where he took hunting parties into the wilderness in his Piper, and fished on Uncle Jim’s halibut boats during halibut season. He was one of the original bush pilots flying with people such as Don Sheldon (whom he mentioned frequently in his vivid stories about the Alaskan Bush). Uncle Jim was a tough nut, as Daddy would say, not someone to be reckoned with – smart as he could be mean. Our family left Alaska in early 1964 – just before the earthquake and I haven’t returned, though my dad returned a number of times to see his brother (Jimmy Sumpter) before he passed. My dad has since passed – but the stories live on. I wish I had video of my dad telling this story (though I have others) – but didn’t ever tape it for obvious reasons. Now where is that video of the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake – someone in the family has????

  6. This article is only right on two points THE BROTHERS , HELLS ANGELS
    THE REST OF THE SYORY IS JUST THAT ,
    I KNOW I WAS THERE , VERN ROLLINS WAS MY BEST FRIEND & BROTHER. MIKE IS A GOOD STORY TELLER AND THATS IT ,
    THANK YOU. TJ

    • Christiano Voltagio

      haha. Vern Rollins what a good man.

    • Mike Gordon brings a harsh but truthful story in the saga of Jimmy Sumpter. I know, he was my stepfather, married to my mother in January 1975 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Mom happened to be Marguerite’s best friend prior to all the chaos. When this happened in winter of 73, my Mom and Dad we’re close friends to Jimmy and Marguerite.Dad drove Jimmy to the funeral packing a .357. A less than a year later Mom divorced my father and married Jimmy. Oh, but who did the insurance repair and Jimmy burnt home, my father did. And I along with my brother and high school friends mucked out the house to refurbish it for sale. It was an ugly time for me, I was 15.

    • Anem to that brither. Only a few pepole alive tiday know what really happened.

    • You csn say that again..Hi Tom!!! Love ya!

    • Mike Gordon. You might not remember me but I remember you. That was a good story. You make yourself out as the tough guy? In those days you sure were not. This might jog your memory. I’m a Christian now and I’m sorry for what I did. I had good friends in the Hell’s Angels and before that the brothers. Too bad you gotta lie about some things. Think about this? Statue of limitations is long gone. Remember that guy that walked to your bar and told everybody to leave. Remember when your bouncers beat up a helpless insurance agent. The kid couldn’t fight and he was fat. He was my friend. I got back at you. Your customers left the bar. My friends and I blew the back door your bar down(steel door) remember with bear slugs. We blew your sign to Smithereens! Outside in the parking lot.The chilkoot Charlie’s sign. We also blew out the front window. Never had a problem in your bar again. Now do you remember me. Mike you were just a guy. Don’t make yourself sound tough. Just be glad you lived through it. Today I tell the truth. That is the truth. The presidents of both chapters of the Hells Angels we’re good friends of mine. They were not fools like you make out they werr. You would not have had the guts to stand up to them. You didn’t even stand up to me. So tell the truth Mike, you hid in your office and let others do the tough stuff. What a story you tell. Sorry I had to reveal the truth about myself. I’ve been a Christian since 1992 and I would no more hurt somebody or be stupid like I used to be. Just accept the fact of who you are Mike and don’t try to make everybody think that you were some tough guy in the Wild West.

  7. Gary Zieger was a punk and very scared during the final hours of his life. The way I heard it, someone from the Chicago area paid a visit to select members of the Brothers giving them the option of taking care of business or they would in an indiscriminate manner. Word was that Sumpter posted bail for Zieger; however, there was a warrant out of Fairbanks that was servable. Seems he didn’t want to tell the truth about Sumpter’s family which would have resulted in his incarceration in the Anchorage City jail.
    Indian and Gypsy were likely involved in the ultimate resolution. Rumor had it that “Jim” may have had a hand in the event as well. I’ve no idea if that part is credible. Much of Mike’s story I can attest to and have no doubt about the rest. Had he included snippets like the Albert Stucey (sp) event he could have turned it into a book. Often selective omission can be in ones interest.

  8. Hi,I read your new stuff named “The Hired Gun | Turnagain Currents” regularly.Your story-telling style is witty, keep up the good work! And you can look our website about powerful love spells.

  9. Lovely! I had a 25 year old friend die in a one car collision after leaving Koots drunk in about ’83. She left behind 3 elementary age children. I had some clients?in ’85 whose youngest Son had his head bashed in in the parking lot by bouncers after being ejected. His injuries required emergency brain surgery and the incident left him lacking the mental ability to care for himself. My oldest Son was drugged by a Man while celebrating after a Hockey Game in 2011, presumably a botched robbery. Luckily his friend realized something was wrong and took him home where he terrorized his Wife through the night until we arrived to take him to an ER. Alcohol has been a scourage of Alaska for many years. Chilcoots has always had the reputation of trouble waiting to happen. Glad you survived and benefitted the gains of running said operation. When you play in the mud, you’re bound to get dirty.

  10. Somehow Johnny Rich became friends with my Dad who used to be an Anchorage Police Officer. He used to come up to our cabin at Big Lake with daughter Kim and his “girlfriends”. My Mother needless to say was never pleased, she didn’t like those kind of women around her children. He was always nice to us kids though and I felt sorry for little Kim, she seems so out of place and lonely.

  11. in 1979 I worked as a bartender at Koots and these bikers were big teddy bears, the problem was the young punks who thought they would test their metal against them and would start shit, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Sometimes, we had a bad bunch or security and they WOULD BE THE PROBLEM. During this time we had a manager named Don Fritz, what an ass, he was there for years and I do not know why, I was 86 ed for life, no idea why but think it had something to do with Mr. Fritz.

  12. Mike you only hit half of it. Tha Alaska mining co. Jerry Pasley had the same problem with the btothers of Alaska. I knew and still know a lot of those guys I grew up with Monty and Eddie. I worked at the Mining co with Big Phil and Ron Moyer. And i knew Gary he was a looser. But I find your story very interesting and i think you are telling it how it was and is. Alaska was rough times back in the 70s.

  13. Great stories Mike! have been out of Alaska for almost twenty years but have not forgotten your kindness and support. Best wishes from an old friend, Michael Hood

  14. I really liked this piece. I knew a someone who had been an enforcer in The Brothers MC, I lived in Anchorage from 1974 to 1980. I remember the day my parents and I moved there, because I turned 6 years old that day. My folks were drug addicts and they weren’t picky about what drugs they would take. Methamphetamine was one of their mainstays, they called it “Crank” back then. They were befriended by their dealer, a lady named X and they would spend a lot of time with her, so I knew her pretty well. X’s boyfriend had been an enforcer in the Brothers, in the early ’70s, he was huge and looked intimidating, but was soft spoken and very kind to me. I have a wide assortment of unusual childhood memories, not all of which are pleasant, but I remember some of the things you wrote about, except from another viewpoint, I guess. Thank you for sharing this, it is very well written, in my opinion.

  15. I was A exotic dancer at the Kit Kat club during those years. I booked into the club through my agent in Vegas and boy was I shocked when I saw the club decor and stage not to mention they put the girls out back in old creepy trailers. One girl went on a date and never returned leaving her purse and all her clothes behind. Jimmy Sumpter didn’t talk to me so I never really knew him, but I did witness someone shot playing pool with me one night so the next day I called a cab and went back to Vegas. Alaska was not civilized in my view. LoL

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