Imagine an outlaw motorcycle club whose members can barely afford to pay their cellphone bills.
The Toronto president is a Jenny Craig client and an elder member is a terminally-ill cancer patient looking for companionship while he waits to die. Another guy is too fat to ride a conventional motorcycle.
Other clubs turn down the chance to join this crew and several members take it upon themselves to quit. Existing members squabble to the point where they can’t agree on how they should design their club Christmas card. The group is so inept, that it is on the edge of being kicked out of its parent organization — one of the biggest biker clubs in the world.
These are descriptions of the same Bandidos chapter which saw eight of its members slaughtered at an Ontario farmhouse nearly four years ago, in the worst mass-killing in provincial history.
The story of how they came to die is detailed in “The Bandido Massacre,” a newly released book by Peter Edwards, a Toronto Star reporter who covered the story since it hit the front page in April 2006.
Their quest to wear what Edwards describes as “leather sandwich boards” with Bandidos logos, is a story that is both sad and compelling for readers trying to understand how they became involved in such a dangerous situation.
In a recent interview, Edwards told CTV.ca that it’s a story of a group of grown men “who should have stepped away and didn’t.”
Four years ago, the rollcall of the doomed Bandidos members sounded like the line-up card of a beer league softball team: Bam Bam, Big Paulie, Boxer, Crash, Chopper, Goldberg, Little Mikey and Pony.
Most of these guys were relatively new to the biker scene and they didn’t have much luck drumming up respect, despite the Bandido logo they wore on their backs.
Some of them were catching the wrong type of attention, with police frequently watching the crew for their suspected involvement in the murder of a Keswick, Ont., drug dealer.
They were on the verge of being kicked out of the worldwide biker club and were the target of frequent email rebukes from upper-level Bandidos in the southern U.S.
Several of the eventual victims had grumbled about getting out of the rag-tag biker crew, the types of guys Edwards said had the potential “to grow out of” the biker lifestyle.
But they didn’t.
“These guys totally brought it on themselves,” said Edwards, noting that it was not the police, nor the Hells Angels, who brought them down. Instead, it was members of their own club, who were supposed to be their friends.
The demise of these eight men took place at a farm property in Iona Station, a small Ontario hamlet located more than 200 kilometers southwest of Toronto.
The property was owned by Wayne “Weiner” Kellestine, a long-time biker and fellow Bandido who was well-known to police by the time the eight murders took place in his barn.
Bodies had twice turned up near his property over the years and Kellestine had served time in prison. He’d also survived an assassination attempt.
In his personal life, Kellestine once shot his ex-wife with an air gun “for a joke”, Edwards reports in his book. On another occasion, Kellestine threatened to shoot a DJ in the foot for playing rap music instead of Lynyrd Skynyrd at a Toronto club.
His home had a similarly creepy vibe, according to Edwards’ description.
Inside the main floor of his farmhouse in Iona Station, Kellestine decorated a room with Confederate and Nazi flags and other racist memorabilia, a collection Edwards describes as “a shrine of sorts to violent losers.” It was also filled with weapons, which Kellestine was banned from possessing.
It was in his junk-filled barn where his eight brother Bandidos would be ambushed and marched to their deaths.
But overall, Kellestine’s farm was a place where his biker friends had travelled many times before, where they felt safe, and where they would let down their guard.
A day of death
The Bandidos converged on the Iona Station property on the night of April 7, 2006.
The bikers travelled to the farm to attend what they called a church session — a mandatory meeting for club members, where they hashed out club business.
But they didn’t know that other Canadian Bandidos had made their way to the farm from Winnipeg. They were hiding at various points around the property, waiting for their Ontario brothers to arrive.
An ambush ensued, the eight Toronto Bandidos were caught off guard and within hours, they were marched, one-by-one, to their deaths in the cars parked outside the barn.
By the end of the night, Jamie Flanz, 37; the terminally-ill George Jessome, 52 ; the recently-married George Kriarakis, 28; Luis Raposo, 41; Frank Salerno, 43; young father Paul Sinopoli, 30; recent recruit Michael Trotta, 31; and their leader, factory worker John Muscedere, 48, lay dead.
Their killers drove down the road and parked the cars carrying the victim’s bodies in a farmer’s field about 14 kilometres away from Kellestine’s farm. They didn’t drive very far because one of their makeshift hearses — a vehicle that victim Flanz drove to the farm while being trailed by police — ran out of gas and it was already past dawn by the time they went to cover their tracks.
The bodies were found by mid-morning and police began an intensive investigation that eventually saw six suspects convicted of 44 counts of first-degree murder.
With so much wasted life and wanton violence in the Bandido massacre story, it’s a tale of an unfortunate brotherhood with violent members.
“I didn’t set out to write a cautionary tale,” said Edwards. “In the end, that’s where I ended up.”
The bottom line is that for the eight slain Bandidos, they joined a club they thought would bring them brotherhood.
Instead, the slain bikers’ membership brought them less freedom, unnecessary stresses and tickets to an early grave.
The people who killed them wanted to gain control of a dysfunctional club, in what was described in court as an internal cleansing. But it’s still hard to understand how eight people could be wiped out in a single night by people they thought were their friends.
“This one, here, you have to get to the core of madness to understand what happened,” said Edwards, summing up a mass murder that served little benefit to the biker world.
For now, the six men convicted of killing eight of their so-called brothers wait to return to court. Each one — Marcelo Aravena, Brett Gardiner, Frank Mather, Dwight Mushey, as well as Sandham and Kellestine — has appealed their convictions on eight counts of first-degree murder.
A seventh member of the killing party became a Crown witness and now lives under a new name. He was identified only as M.H. at trial.
Kellestine based his appeal in part on the judge’s decision to allow Crown prosecutors to show jurors a picture “the German swastika flag” hanging at his house.
Edwards said he considers Kellestine “a joke” whose image he did not want to build up when writing his book.
“I wanted people to laugh at Kellestine, not fear Kellestine,” he said.