What it’s like to be undercover with the Hells Angels
With heavily tattooed arms, a motorcycle vest, red bandana, and long goatee, Jay Dobyns fit the stereotype for the kind of person who would hang around the street-hardened bikers of the Hells Angels Skull Valley Charter. He would peddle T-shirts for the one-percenter motorcycle club, run errands at ungodly hours, and eventually break bread with individuals who wouldn't think twice about taking a baseball bat to someone's head.
Two years in, and the Hells Angels had no idea that Dobyns, who was close to getting his patch, was an undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The patch is sacrosanct to the Hells Angels. After a shootout between the Hells Angels and the Mongols, a rival biker gang, "We found Mongols cuts in vents, stuffed in trash cans, and some were floating down the Colorado River," Dobyns said. "As far as the Hells Angels and their patches, we didn't find a single one. The Hells Angels don't take off their patches for anyone."
Becoming a patched member of the gang is no easy task — and Dobyns had already done a lot more than simply run errands for them in his attempt to be welcomed into the gang.
Dobyns undercover with the Hells Angels.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Dobyns)
At times, he even had to participate in assaults, getting a taste of the vicious world in which the Hells Angels reside.
"My reaction was to fight my way to the victim and take control of the victim, throw my punches, both maintain my cover and protect my persona, and protect the victim from any life-threatening battle damage," Dobyns said. "It's one of the elements of tradecraft."
For the Hells Angels, it was hardly enough.
In 2002, the rift between the Hells Angels and their legendary rivals, the Mongols, hit a boiling point. The two gangs were involved in a big-time gunfight at the Harrah Casino Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada. It was the event that led to Dobyns going undercover.
Dobyns wanted to get a good idea of where the Hells Angels stood against the Mongols, especially with what had happened in Laughlin. "I asked the president of the Skull Valley Charter what I should do if I come across a Mongol," Dobyns said. "And he said to me, 'It's your job to kill him.'"
As time passed, Dobyns sat on the incriminating information from the charter president, continuing to gain more trust with the gang members, all while a series of homicides happened in his wake. One of the murders was particularly brutal. The Hells Angels beat a woman to death in their clubhouse, wrapped her body in a piece of carpet, and cut her head off in the desert.
It was a pivotal moment in the investigation. Dobyns decided it was time for the Hells Angels to see how far he was willing to go to show his devotion and loyalty. If it worked, he was in. If it didn't, he was dead.
"We took a living, breathing member of our task force, got a Mongols cut, dressed him up in the vest, and brought in a homicide detective to create a crime scene," Dobyns said. "We used makeup, animal parts, animal blood, and dug a shallow grave. Then we duct taped his hands and feet and threw him in the grave."
The elaborate ruse needed to be properly documented in order to convince the Hells Angels leadership that it was real.
The fake homicide Dobyns used to get patched into the Hells Angels.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Dobyns)
"I asked the homicide detective to make it look like the victim had been beaten with a baseball bat and shot in the head," Dobyns said. "Almost Hollywood-style. We photographed it. We took pictures of the crime scene, and we took the bloody mongol vest back to the Hells Angels leadership."
Dobyns showed the vest to the charter president, the vice president, the sergeant-at-arms and one another member of the gang. "They were either going to believe me, or I was going to get a baseball bat to the back of the head or razor wire to the throat," he said.
Fortunately, the president didn't have any plans to dispose of Dobyns. In fact, quite the opposite: They hugged him, kissed him, and welcomed him into the gang.
Convinced that Dobyns had just savagely murdered a Mongol, the gang wanted to immediately get rid of the fabricated proof. "We went out to the desert and burned all the evidence along with the Mongol cut. They helped destroy the evidence of the murder we exposed them to in order to cover up the crime."
Dobyns now had his patch, but his time in the Hells Angels was coming to an end.
The investigation, code named "Operation Black Biscuit," concluded with ATF executives citing that it was too dangerous to continue — even though Dobyns argued that they should let him stay and work the case. Regardless, he remains the first law enforcement officer to successfully infiltrate the cold and callous world of the Hells Angels.