Proud of their new infamy, the outlaw bikers started adding "one-percenter" patches to their jackets.
A man called Tiny wore the diamond-shaped piece of cloth on the back of his denim jacket when he arrived in the sleepy town of Sioux City, Iowa, in 1962. A gift from his brothers in California, the Satan's Slaves patch was a license to assemble his own fellowship of degenerates, a secret society that would have all of middle America in which to toss around its muscle.
Tiny would give the Midwest the mark of El Forasteros, an outlaw motorcycle club that started its engines in Kansas City 40 years ago this summer.
About a dozen true one-percenter clubs remain, including the Hell's Angels, the Bandidos, the Outlaws and, in Kansas City, El Forasteros and the Galloping Gooses.
In the early days, the Kansas City club members would party for three solid days in the "caves" under an Interstate 435 overpass, recalls Jim "Moose" Foley, a 61-year-old original member of the Des Moines, Iowa, chapter who frequently rides through Kansas City.
"They were all good times, just getting crazy and drinking and having fun with each other.... If somebody fell asleep, you messed with them -- anything from pissing on them to lighting them on fire."
Long ago, the leader of the Kansas City El Forasteros chapter, John Sheaffer -- everyone calls him Shifty -- earned his reputation as one of the most feared and respected men among the country's one-percenter clubs. Shifty has worn the patch since 1967, when he was 20.
He bears other marks of the Forastero life as well: a partly chewed-off ear and the layer of skin shaved off his upper chest to repair it. He was in Minneapolis visiting the Forasteros in 1968 when a member of a street gang bumped into him at a bar. The men in this gang were known for filing their teeth into points. Shifty's Forasteros drinking companion threatened to beat the man when he didn't apologize. "The guy said, 'Oh, yeah?' Then he bent over and bit my ear off," Shifty recalls.
Shifty's girlfriend ran to the car and grabbed a .22-caliber handgun. "We fought for a long time, and I finally ended up shooting him four times," Shifty says. The man caught slugs in one hip, one shoulder and his throat. "I didn't have much choice. He said he was going to kill me, and he'd already bit my ear off. The cops said it was my lucky day, because he didn't press charges."
Later, though, Shifty would spend seven and a half years in prison for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. ("Actually, I was transporting it," he says.)
A sharp tooth earring dangles from Shifty's good ear when he arrives at Antoinette's Restaurant & Lounge on a quiet stretch of residential homes off North Brighton Avenue one cloudy evening in early May.
Drinking Budweisers at a table, El Forasteros member John Monk and Galloping Goose John Angell stand to greet him.
Shifty, who is now 58, dismounts and hobbles bowlegged, his weight swaying from foot to foot as he walks through the front door into the bar.
He embraces Monk and Angell. Shifty sits in a chair at the head of the table and orders a Diet Coke. Because most of the club members are slowing down with age, Shifty is looking for the right kind of future leaders. He says 40 years of partying, brawling and riding choppers will all have been for nothing if he can't teach the next generation of El Forasteros how to carry on the brotherhood of the patch.
"If I don't keep the club going, then my life has been a failure. That's how I look at it," he says. "This is the only thing I've ever done, and I've spent my life doing it. So I've got to make it work."
At 31, John Monk is in his prime, with a blond beard and a braided ponytail. His thick arms are covered in tattoos depicting death, monsters and his allegiance to the one-percenters. He shares the brotherhood with Shifty and the city's 12 other El Forasteros and 14 Galloping Gooses. (The Forasteros gave the Gooses the one-percenter patch, making them brother clubs.) The two clubs share territory and a clubhouse on Guinotte Avenue, surrounded by smokestacks and rail yards in the East Bottoms. The clubhouse walls are covered with photographs, insignia and memorabilia.
There's a photograph of Shifty in his mid-20s, with long brown hair, standing beside a couple of dozen other young Forasteros and Gooses. Now Shifty is a diabetic and has to keep his insulin refrigerated when he gets on his bike for a run.
Shifty says his only regret is that being with El Forasteros caused him to neglect his family -- being a husband and father came second to riding. Now he is looking for men who can balance a family and a job with the tradition of going on runs to loud and secluded parties.
"We allow you to miss a few things for work, but if your work takes up more than half of your time, there's no reason for you really to be in the club," Shifty says.
So far, Monk is successfully balancing the demands of home life and biker life. As he tries to finalize a divorce, Monk has full custody of his 11-year-old daughter, Madison. He's been a tattoo artist since he was 18 and now owns and works at Kingpin Tattooing on Noland Road.
Monk has had trouble with the law his whole life. Born in Seattle and raised in Kansas City, he spent most of his adolescent years north of the river and graduated from Winnetonka High School. After police investigated Kingpin Tattooing in 2001, Monk pleaded guilty to "maintaining a place to distribute marijuana," according to court records, and was sentenced to four years' probation. He says he pleaded guilty to avoid a conspiracy charge.
A couple of years later, police raided his home and found a .45-caliber pistol under his roommate's pillow; Monk had sold his roommate the gun after his own felony conviction. Police didn't charge Monk with being a felon in possession of a firearm, but they arrested him for the various types of ammunition they found in his home. Monk says police confiscated his El Forasteros memorabilia. He was ordered to spend last summer in a halfway house, where he was forbidden from associating with any of the Forasteros.
A few months after his probation ended, Monk drew a disorderly conduct charge. He says he was in the Beaumont Club a couple of months ago to hear Gwar when a man bumped hard into the woman he was with. "I asked him to apologize, and he said, 'Fuck you,'" Monk says. "He tried to hit me, and I busted his ass. I put a Forastero stamp on his head."
Monk says he missed a recent court appearance because he had to take care of his daughter. He knows that will likely result in the issue of a warrant for his arrest. Monk says he isn't worried, because he'll see to it that the man who stood up to him doesn't press charges.
Besides Madison, Monk's chopper is the most precious thing to him. The bike has 3-foot handlebars and a long, purple body painted with gold flames. Ornaments and insignia mark Monk a Forastero and a one-percenter for life.
Monk says he is ready to take the reins of leadership if he is called on when the older members step down. But, he says, he has to learn to hold his temper.
"I'll fucking fly off the motherfucking handle in a heartbeat," Monk says. "I've got to mellow out on that shit a little bit."
Monk has been hotheaded since he first started hanging around the clubhouse. The older guys didn't warm up to him right away.
"We were all tattooed up, wearing baggy pants, fucking big fucking earrings and just wild," he says. "They didn't understand. They keep to themselves. And it's like, what do I have in common with a 50-year-old motherfucker so that I could just go up and talk to him? Once a year or two passed, after we started breaking the ice and you start to get to know somebody, they realized, hey, these motherfuckers are just like we were when we were their age."
Monk remembers a gift he got from Tom Fugle, who co-founded El Forasteros in the Midwest (after Tiny brought the patch from the Satan's Slaves), at El Forasteros' recent annual meeting in Sioux City. He smiles as he digs into his cut-off pocket.
"Fucking Tom goes, 'Here, John, don't say I never gave you the finger.'"
From his pocket, Monk produces a rotting piece of human bone. "It's a fucking middle-finger bone."
Two minutes later, there's a jingle down the street. The tune grows louder, and Madison, who came home from swim practice an hour or so earlier, steps out to ask her father if he'll buy her a popsicle from the ice cream man.
Monk hands her a few bills, and Madison runs up to the truck. Monk calls out, telling Madison to get him a chocolate crunch.
Monk got his patch on December 31, 2000, making him the first El Forasteros prospect to be voted into the club since 1980. Five other Forasteros have been admitted into the club since Monk, most of them over the age of 40.
"The man makes the patch. The patch don't make the man," Monk says. "If you're a bitch and you put a fucking patch on, you're still a bitch. If you're a man, whether you've got the patch, you're still the man. There are people who would make a Forastero, and then there are people who wouldn't make an ingrown hair on a Forastero's ball sac. You know what I'm saying? That's just the quality of people."
Monk and Shifty are hopeful about Eric Burkitt, a 20-year-old Harrisonville kid and the youngest prospect in any of El Forasteros' chapters, which include clubhouses in St. Louis, Springfield, Wichita, Sioux City, Okoboji, Des Moines, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Billings.
Since Burkitt became interested in motorcycles about 14 months ago, he has practiced his passion for tearing apart bikes to rebuild them taller, sleeker and faster.
As a prospect, Burkitt is allowed to wear only a "Mo." patch on his cut-off. And he's not allowed inside the clubhouse during the Tuesday-night meetings, when the older members talk business around the large wood table behind a heavy metal door. He waits outside at the picnic table.
"Every meeting, every fuckin' ride, every fuckin' run. Every fucking club function, he's there," Monk says.
Shifty agrees that Burkitt will make a good leader one day. "He listens, he doesn't go off half-cocked, and he uses his head."
Monk says the soft-spoken Burkitt is respectful but still learning how to walk and talk like a Forastero, especially when they go on rides through town.
"We're like, 'Man, quit being so fucking quiet. You want to know why you never get laid, motherfucker? Because you act too goddamned nice to these girls. You can't act like that, man. You've got to be a fucking dickhead. If you want to get some pussy, you can't act like some shy boy. Nice guys finish last. You've got to tell them how much of a slut they are and how fucking much of a pimp you are. And then they'll fucking want to fuck you.' He's starting to catch on."
In May, the Forasteros planned to surprise Burkitt by giving the prospect his patch during their annual Memorial Day weekend run at a campground just west of St. Joseph.
Unaware that he was to receive his patch the following weekend, Burkitt tells the Pitch he wasn't drawn to the club to meet women. He asked to join because of his love for choppers.
Burkitt was drawn to motorcycle riding because of an old friend of his father's named Jerry Fletcher, who frequented a bar Burkitt's father owned called the Rathole Tavern. Fletcher's Forasteros brothers called him "Dresser," and Dresser and Shifty once owned a motorcycle-parts shop where Burkitt hung out.
At 74, Dresser is the oldest Forasteros member in Kansas City. Yet he's also one of the newest, having been approved by the other members in 2004 after spending most of his adult years in the Arlay's, a club for owners of "dressers" -- decked-out Harleys.
Burkitt says he used to see Josh Monk (John's younger brother and an El Forasteros member since 2003) riding his chopper past Dresser's shop every morning, looking out from behind the tall gas tank and handlebars. Burkitt started saving money from his job at the railroad. He bought his first motorcycle in April 2004.
"I didn't even know how to ride a motorcycle," he says.
A friend had to ride the Harley home for him. "I started going down the road a little bit, trying to get the hang of it. I think by the next week, I had the tank off of it and the thing completely torn apart."
He got new handlebars and pipes, took off the lights and turn signals, and lowered the seat down to the bump stops. "I took off all the reflectors, all that sissy stuff. For a while, I rode with no seat because it sits you down lower and looks cooler."
Burkitt idolizes Moose, the old-timer now in the Forasteros Sioux City chapter, who is one of the country's legendary chopper builders. Moose began his life's work in the mid-1960s, taking apart and rebuilding motorcycles to make them look like they were in motion when they were parked. He scoured the Midwest looking for parts. Moose says his first bike, a '47 Knucklehead, cost him $35. Now bikes come standard at $8,000-$9,000.
"You've got to have a job now," Moose says.
He says he's probably helped build 1,000 choppers, about 500 or so from scratch. In August, the Discovery Channel will air footage of his work in a segment about the history of the chopper.
"Very few people are able to live out their fantasy," Moose says. "What do you want to be when you grow up, sonny? Fireman or cowboy? I've been able to have that dream and live it ... to wander, go from here to there, raise hell and meet people, drink and do whatever. You could say at some point in time, maybe a knight in shining armor."
The intention of starting charters in the Midwest, Moose says, was to build motorcycles, ride, and protect their territory as a one-percenter club. All of El Forasteros' chapters have a 100-mile radius rule -- no other one-percenter club can establish a clubhouse within 100 miles of any Forasteros charter.
The Forasteros have only about 100 members, compared with the Bandidos and the Hell's Angels, which have thousands.
"All we're wanting to do is keep our territory for riding," Shifty says. "Because if we've got all of them in our town, then the heat is down on all the clubs and we're not able to do what we like to do. We're not able to enjoy our freedom to keep riding. Missouri is probably one of the few states left that doesn't have a bunch of major clubs here. We're trying to hang on to it. It's ours."
During a raid in November 1996, a small army of police agencies executed a warrant on the clubhouse after receiving an anonymous tip that it was a drug house. They were looking for marijuana and paraphernalia used to manufacture and sell methamphetamine, but they found only guns and ammunition. So investigators began taking items that weren't listed on the warrant, says Jeffrey Lang, an attorney who has represented El Forasteros. Lang says the cops stripped the walls of photographs, posters and insignia, even a plaque commemorating Shifty's 25th anniversary in the club.
It took nearly two years to get the mementos back through court action. In the clubhouse, a wooden case displays various diamond-shaped patches that were confiscated in the raid. Shifty says he has always considered it his duty to confront any man wearing a one-percenter patch who isn't also wearing the mark of an outlaw club. Some of the patches in the wooden box had to be ripped off the men's jackets, Shifty says.
In March 2003, a member of the Wichita chapter of El Forasteros spotted a man wearing a cap that read: "Support your local Bandidos." According to The Wichita Eagle, Forastero John Dill, known as "Big John," confronted the man on two consecutive afternoons, telling him to take off the hat as a show of respect to El Forasteros territory.
On March 21, Dill and another Forastero, Bret Douglas, approached Devin Quattlebaum when they saw him wearing the cap again. Dill died of gunshot wounds to the chest and back. Douglas was also shot in the chest but survived.
A jury acquitted Quattlebaum of a murder charge, ruling that he had acted in self-defense, though Dill and Douglas had no weapons when Quattlebaum opened fire with a gun hidden under a seat in his truck.
Knowing that Burkitt and other young members will defend the brotherhood, which older members have fought for, Moose says he can die easy.
He has spent time with Burkitt on various trips through town in the past year. "He's impressed me quite a bit from what I've met of him and know of him," Moose says. "He wants to be part of the group, and he's not going to be deterred from it. And he's a person I wouldn't mind leaving in my will, you see."
If the young rider doesn't kill himself first.
On Thursday, May 19, a week before the Memorial Day run, Burkitt was visiting Dresser's home on East Seventh Street off Independence Avenue, where the old man lay dying of cancer. Burkitt says they spent most of the time watching television and talking about all the things Dresser had done in his life. Burkitt was proud to tell Dresser that he had just finished work on his chopper.
Afterward, Burkitt straddled his chopper and headed downtown. He wanted to make a quick stop at the clubhouse before heading home to his trailer park in Harrisonville.
Riding west on Ninth Street, Burkitt was passing under a green light at Van Brunt when he heard the sirens -- a firetruck flying toward him.
He locked up his brakes and slid into the rear of the fire engine.
"When I was sitting there on the concrete, after I stopped sliding, I tried to get up," Burkitt says. "My leg was flopping, and I could tell it was broken. So I went to grab my leg, and something hit me in the back of my head. I looked back, and my arm is just flopping back there." In addition to breaking his leg, he had dislocated his shoulder and elbow.
Rescue workers started yelling that he was dying. "They kept screaming that I didn't have a pulse. I kept telling them, 'I got a pulse. I'm all right,'" Burkitt says.
He spent five days recovering at Truman Medical Center, constantly surrounded by brothers.
Moose told the Pitch he was relieved that the young prospect wasn't hurt worse. Moose has buried friends over the years because of bike wrecks. Burkitt would have been a terrible loss, he said.
After he was discharged from Truman, Burkitt rested in a hospital bed set up in his living room. He told the Pitch that police still had his chopper because investigators needed it for their crash analysis. He also contended that rescue workers had somehow misplaced his cell phone and between $450 and $500 cash -- pay from work and the sale of two motorcycle tires to a friend.
Officers told him they would run toxicology tests to see whether he was riding while impaired that evening, and the bike had to remain impounded until then. Burkitt says he was dead sober -- he's not even old enough to drink yet, and he says he doesn't do drugs and has never even smoked a cigarette. "Why do they have to hold my bike?" he asks.
Burkitt's father says he saw the kid's chopper thrown on its side in the impound, its custom-made parts strewn about. The seat alone -- saddle-stitched with flames painted onto the fabric and "Fuck the World" stamped on its back -- cost $500. Burkitt had just bought a new set of pipes for more than $400. He's worried the parts might get lost or stolen.
Burkitt says he feels like he can ride, though his doctors told him it would be at least six weeks before he could start to put pressure on his leg.
"I could ride with one arm. It's just this leg right now."
The Saturday of the Memorial Day run, Burkitt will defy doctors' orders. Burkitt's brother will carry him to the passenger seat of his car. They'll load his wheelchair into the trunk and drive him up to St. Joseph where, he has heard, the Forasteros and Galloping Gooses have something special planned for the weekend run.
At the party, he'll be surprised to see Dresser, whom nurses said would be lucky to live through the weekend.
Shifty will walk over and offer the prospect his patch.
Burkitt will remember it as one of the top moments in his life.
As is tradition, older members will quickly snatch away the clean, white cloth. Burkitt will reach out, one-armed, trying to recapture it. Forasteros will taunt him for a few minutes, then hand it over. Then someone will give Burkitt his cut-off, re-sewn after the wreck, blood staining the right shoulder.
Moose, Shifty and Tom Fugle, the three longest-running members in the club -- and, more important, Dresser -- will be there to see him become a member.
Everyone, young and old, will party together the rest of the weekend.
Burkitt says it feels great to be a full member. He just wishes he could ride to celebrate.
"You've dedicated your life to riding choppers and the brotherhood," Burkitt says. "It's not just for the next couple of years I'm going to do this, then I'm going to get into antique cars. We're not about fishing. We're not about hot-rod cars. We're not about antiquing. We're not about doing anything else but our main thing, which is riding choppers."
On June 12, bikers from around the Midwest congregate at the Sheil Funeral Home off Independence Avenue.
Playing softly on a radio is Foreigner's "Hot Blooded," followed by Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell." Men and women take turns stepping up to Dresser's open casket, where he lies with a pink rose in his hands. His face is gaunt. His stringy white beard reaches his chest. His cut-off, the patch facing up, covers his lower stomach. A folded American flag rests beside his head.
Near the casket, a photo collage shows Dresser in his younger years, smiling with friends and pretty women.
The Rev. Bill McCormack, of the Heart of God Fellowship Motorcycle Outreach, steps to the lectern.
"He said he had two more runs," McCormack says. "Memorial Day was one, and I believe this was his last one."
More than anything else in his life, Dresser enjoyed the time he spent riding and partying with his brothers, McCormack says. But the most important thing was that Dresser was right with God when he died.
"When Dresser gave his heart to the Lord, he was, right then, a new creation. When he received Dresser, he didn't have him bring a résumé. He accepted him as he was."
Afterward, Burkitt wheels himself up to the casket. He puts his weight on his strong leg and reaches out to touch the old man before turning away with red eyes.
In the parking lot outside, Shifty inches his bike to the head of more than 100 riders who are mounting their choppers -- men with gray beards, wearing bandanas and dark sunglasses, rev their engines as their brother is carried to the hearse. When the escort police arrive on their own motorcycles, the Forasteros and Gooses crank back their throttles, growling as the cops circle in front of them on Independence Avenue.
A biker with a patch over his eye waits toward the front. Beside him, Galloping Goose John Angell wears a skeleton mask. Shifty's in the lead.
The procession roars forward in a snake formation, pairs of riders side-by-side behind the hearse. They ride 30 miles south to Harrisonville, down Highway 71 to Orient Cemetery, where eight Forasteros and Gooses are buried.
Beside Dresser's grave site, men and women pop beers and smoke, crushing their butts on the grass surrounding Dresser's plot.
Shifty scoops the first shovelful of dirt and tosses it in. Men around him take their turns, silently passing their shovels to brothers lined up behind them. After the grave is half full and Monk has taken his turn at the shovel, the sun begins shining for the first time all day.
Monk steps out from under the tent and leads Shifty a few yards away from the grave.
They stand together talking quietly, Monk leaning in close, whispering in Shifty's deformed ear. While El Forasteros and Gooses are piling flower bouquets on Dresser's grave, Shifty stares out over the other tombstones.
The crowd disbands, headed for a gathering at Sheriff's Sports Bar and Grill. After a quick drink with his friends, Monk says he has to go home to take care of Madison.
He looks worried. He says he just heard that the cops pulled over a Forastero down the road -- proof they were out watching.
"There's a warrant out for my arrest," Monk remembers, squinting up at the sky and wondering which back roads he should take home.