Roughly halfway through my conversation with author Peter Edwards, he remarks how our meeting spot -- the Prohibition Gastrohouse at Queen and Broadview -- no doubt served members of the very biker gang whose story he has told in The Bandido Massacre. Like many parts of Toronto, the area has been somewhat transformed for your average citizen, and in the four years since eight Bandido bikers were murdered on a rural farm in Sheddon, Ontario, the fringes of that gang culture are gone.
The idea of a middle ground -- with the Hells Angels above and the wannabe, poser tough guys below -- died that day. But it wasn’t the Angels who got rid of the relatively minor competition the Bandidos posed. It was, contrary to the perception of casual observers, an inter-gang hit, largely the responsibility of two men: the wildly unpredictable, probably sociopathic Bandido Wayne Kellestine, and a former Winnipeg police officer-turned chapter leader, Michael Sandham. With at least four other direct accomplices, they killed eight men, stuffed the bodies inside SUVs, and left them sitting mere kilometers from Kellestine’s farmhouse.
One of the victims was John “Boxer” Muscedere, a respected member of the gang who in a tragic turn of events had helped keep the circle of bikers coming back to Kellestine’s farm, even though most considered Kellestine a personal and professional annoyance, to say the least. But when Boxer and others made clear their intentions to split, the paranoid, deluded Kellestine arranged their execution with stunning swiftness, only to leave the SUVs sitting in a field, with no gas in the tanks.
TORO sat down with Edwards, a longtime crime reporter, to talk about his new book, The Bandido Massacre, and his perceptions of biker culture.
Q: This is a book that really tries to humanize the victims of the crime, in a way that the mainstream Canadian media has perhaps ignored. Was this your intention from the beginning?
A: I didn’t want to write a book that played to the ego of a sociopath like Wayne Kellestine.
Q: When did you decide to organize your investigation into a single book?
A: When I decided to do a book was when I started to make contact with former members, through related trials and preliminaries, and then you would hear about the victims as actual people. What struck me as bizarre was that most of the people who were murdered actually wanted out of the club, like these were murders for nothing. They couldn’t bring themselves to quit, too afraid to quit. Such a bizarre contradiction, between what some may think is a power struggle when in fact (the victims) wanted out.
Q: Were the victims mistakingly believed to be dangerous people?
A: There were differences individually. But they were all drawn to a symbol, and a pretty absurd symbol -- (the Bandido was) a cartoon character stolen from a potato chip company. Like, you have a murder over that symbol? It’s just bizarre. Nothing more to it, no money changed hands in the murders, nobody made a penny. To have that level of violence fought for absolutely nothing, except being in the pecking order of people who wear a cartoon character on their back. Just bizarre.
You start wondering if it’s self-loathing. What leads you to that -- to abandon what could have been really good lives to get into this sort of thing? Their families were generally very nice people when I met them. And you expect (the victims) to come from these broken homes, but not at all. I think it was more curiosity, boredom, fear of being insignificant. It wasn’t abject poverty, most of them were lower-middle-class kids.
There was nothing about Boxer that was actually cruel. He could lose his temper, and he did things he shouldn’t have done, but there’s nothing he did that was cruel for the sake of cruel. Kellestine had a real level of cruelty. When I called him (the day after the murders), it’s almost like I was interrupting a party.
Q: Did you feel any personal trepidation covering this kind of gang-related crime?
A: I’ve done a couple books on organized crime. It’s weird, when you’re actually writing the book you worry more about typos, and whether the chapters hold together, than anything else. Then when it’s out, you worry about whether it gets placed cover-out or spine-out in the stores, and so it’s only when you get a little reflective that you think about that other stuff.
This was an odd one, because a lot of people in the biker community were disgusted by these killings as well. The people who led the killings were a sociopath and a former police officer, so it’s this big biker killing was perpetrated by people who the average biker wouldn’t identify with at all.
Right after the killings, I phoned a Hells Angel member and said “Don’t you guys have anything to do with this?” and he said “What could we take from them? They don’t have two nickels to rub together.” And it turned out that was true; they really didn’t have anything to steal, and so there was no point to that. I talked to another Hells Angel and he said “It’s a great day when you wake up and your enemies have killed each other.”
Q: How did Kellestine manage to remain in the circle of Bandidos, even if he was not well-liked, or trusted? Furthermore, why was there this migration to meet on his farm?
A: I guess it’s that old saying, “my brother may not be perfect but he’s still my brother.” I think Boxer took loyalties and family ties very seriously. For him to call someone “brother” was absolutely huge, so his demise came as a result of sticking up for someone who he tried to be a brother to. If it wasn’t for Boxer, they wouldn’t have gone to the farm that night, so it’s pretty bizarre that he’s the first one that Kellestine shoots, and he laughed before it happened. They did toxicology tests, and there wasn’t anything in his system. He wasn’t stoned. I think that was the key point of the story: in the end, he laughed, like he was laughing at himself, and Kellestine, and the whole situation, and in a weird way that took away Kellestine’s power, because now he’s the guy that people laugh at. If you can’t be taken seriously when you’re murdering someone, when can you be taken seriously?
It’s also that thing, of someone acting crazy but not really being crazy. Like you’re at a football game, and he’s screaming “kill 'em!” but the last thing you’d want is for him to actually kill someone. When they act really tribal, but don’t mean it.
Q: Lots of people want to have that “crazy guy” at their parties.
A: And it breaks the boredom. It’s almost like boredom is the biggest sin. With Kellestine, it could look like he was acting, but he really wasn’t.
Q: Was he insane?
A: I don’t know where you’d draw the line. He knew what he was doing, he just didn’t care. Someone close to him said that he had no soul. You’d look into his eyes and see nothing. How can you kill your friend whose only mistake was trusting you?
A lot of (criminals) will commit these violent acts, but not really enjoy it. I remember reading once about a boxer who would hit people hard because he didn’t want to hit them a lot. With Kellestine, I never found anyone talk about actual remorse from him. With Boxer, he would do things he shouldn’t have done, but he would make it up down the line. He had a drug problem, but he did move past that.
I talked with a sociopath once, and he told me when he met someone, he would try to find out what mattered most to that person, and he would play on that. Whatever he figured was your weakness, he would work in on that; if you had money problems, he would give you a loan, if you had women problems, he would set you up, just something to have a bit of leverage. I think Kellestine had that. The part that gets me isn’t that he was bent, just that people who weren’t so bent were drawn to him.
Q: What initial assumptions did you have when the case broke?
A: Well, you had to find out what the Hells Angels were up to. The part that threw me off was that the bodies were found 14 kilometres from Kellestine’s house, and you couldn’t help but wonder why. I phoned Kellestine the Sunday before he was arrested. My general feeling was that if he didn’t do the killing he would have been one of the killed, because how many Bandidos are there within those 14 kilometres?
You start wondering how he could be so stupid, and if he wanted to be caught. Or is he just that dumb?
Q: Do you think it was stupidity?
A: I think it was general carelessness. Kellestine didn’t like to be challenged, he couldn’t handle being under people, and I think he turned on Boxer when Boxer was elevated above him, even though it didn’t mean all that much. There was no difference in money, it’s just on a chart in their heads. The people he’d keep around him were ones who would play up to him. A really strong leader needs to be challenged, needs to rethink.
Q: Was his increasing paranoia bound to destroy him eventually?
A: That would be my feeling. I did a book a long time ago with an informer who had a contract on him, and he talked about fears of being sold out, especially in the States, where everybody can sell everybody else out to the IRS. You have people who know your finances and you can never get rid of them. So there’s always a fear, and you’re always reading too much into what someone else does. His joke was, “Help, I’m being chased by paranoids!” Because when you get paranoid, you start to act threatening to other people, all jumpy and edgy. You’re worried I might do something, so you do something to me first. Kellestine [below image, at right] had that life of paranoia, and the drugs and drinking would only fuel that.
Q: But he did seem to have a friend in Boxer [image, left], at least for a while.
A: Boxer’s fatal flaw was that he didn’t discriminate between false and real brotherhood. If someone played the brotherhood card, he was vulnerable. Pretty good way to manipulate him; some things were sacred, and brotherhood was.
It’s funny, some of these guys do have moral codes. Maybe not like ours. But to (Boxer), brotherhood and family trump everything.
Q: So how do you think Kellestine ultimately exerted so much influence, to allow it to reach the point that it did?
A: It wasn’t like he had a huge, huge hold over people, but he was willing to manipulate.
I don’t think Kellestine would’ve been that dangerous that night if it wasn’t for Sandham,
the cop. They needed Sandham’s ambition, and Kellestine’s craziness.
Q: Have you found that a lot in your investigations -- crimes that required many heads influencing each other?
A: I think that some of the perpetrators, one on one, were not very frightening people, but put them together and give them guns, put an Alpha Dog in front, and you’ve got a real problem. That whole banality of evil thing.
Q: Were they all criminal outcasts?
A: I think the one who was the most serious, intelligent, and had the most potential as a criminal was Dwight Mushey, and yet he was the most polite of the group. He bowed to the jury when they gave their verdict, waved off his lawyer when he tried to make an objection to a witness statement. He was the one I would be most afraid of getting mad, and yet he had the most etiquette. If he set his mind to something, he could actually do it. A lot of these guys, it’s like if you put something shiny in front of their faces and you distract them, they’ll head off in another direction.
I would never use the words “mastermind” and “Wayne Kellestine” together. And Sandham, he was more laughable than anything. In the trial, more than one person used the nickname “George Costanza” for him. If they made a movie of this, Jason Alexander would be the only choice to play Sandham. Total bungling idiot, but dangerous -- the level that he’ll scheme to.
Q: Some people only really excel in areas that allow them to lie or manipulate the situation in a scheming way...
A: And they really need to be famous, like if people stop staring there’s something missing. I think really secure people can be anonymous, and secure in what’s around them. Like why do you need a patch? Why do you need these symbols?
With Boxer, one image I had of him is that he was really happy just riding his motorcycle, in bad weather, just going off to see other bikers, connecting with people with adversity to hold them together. That’s when he was happiest.
I remember one story, don’t remember if it’s in the book, but he was riding alongside a car with an African-Canadian family in it, and a little kid was waving and he waved back. He thought that was so neat, and when he got back he told everyone how great it was, a little speech about how we shouldn’t judge other people. Almost a Sunday School speech.
Q: It seems that, as dangerous as being in a biker gang obviously could be, there’s a safety in it because you’re surrounded by people who take their connection to you very seriously.
A: That’s where you get the big contradiction: the people you’re letting into your club are the people you should be afraid of. You’re letting in a lot of antisocial people, who you should have you guard up about. A lot of times, real threats are from people you’re close to, not from strangers. Look at murder rates; 90 murders in Toronto, probably 50 to 60 will be domestic every year, people who loved and trusted each other. When you get close to people, you let down your guard.
Q: And in a social club that feeds this struggle for power...
A: Power, egos. And if this is your last chance to be a “somebody”, you don’t want people challenging your ideas. You go into it with all your little ideas of what it should be, and you can’t stand people challenging that.
Some of (the victims) were pretty nice guys, and my feeling is that if they hadn’t gone to the farm that night, within five years they would have just wandered out of it again. I think most of the victims weren’t real bikers, and would have gone on to regular lives.
Q: How has biker culture changed in Canada, in the four or so years since this happened?
A: The middle has fallen out. Now you have regional clubs, but you don’t have that intermediate club, which is coast to coast, but not as big as the Hells Angels. It just isn’t around anymore. There are some that are just flat-out recreational, just trying to look tough, and impress girls. It’s like there’s an A and a C, but no B now.
Q: In what position were the Bandidos in, monetarily?
A: Two of the victims lived with their parents. You know that chapter in Freakenomics, “Why Do Most Drug Dealers Live With Their Parents?” It is true; we hear about the ones that do make money and the ones that don’t, don’t want to admit it. These guys did not have money, or if they did have money it was from ordinary jobs. It was from doing actual work.
Q: Then the appeal must not come from any expectation of gain, but in being an outsider.
A: I think some of (the Winnipeg chapter of Bandidos) thought that if they could just get things set up in the club then they would become a big deal, then they would have real money and clout. The ones from Toronto were more “good ol’ boys, and didn’t have any big demands. Boxer had one Harley forever, and that was it.
Given a few more years, Boxer would have been floated out. One big irony is that a lot of them in the club were afraid of violence from Wayne Kellestine, who didn’t want to be abandoned by them, so he killed them. You look for logic, and it’s just not there. People want to leave you, and you say “No you can’t so I’m going to kill you.” What’s the sense there?
Q: Why do you think the case caught the attention of Canadians?
A: Well, before this, Shedden was known for it’s Rhubarb Festival. It’s a really calm, sweet place. Their one big thing every year is that someone dresses up like a stick of rhubarb and dances around, and all of a sudden, they’re a biker dumping ground. The Bandidos were never really on the map in Toronto, and the first time you hear about them, they’re killing each other. There was a lack of build-up that the rest of us could’ve followed.
The Bandido Massacre: A True Story of Bikers, Brotherhood and Betrayal is available now from HarperCollins Canada.
More info: The Bandido Massacre website
Author Photo by Barbara Hanson