Book Review: You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club in and Around Wisconsin

You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club in and Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan is more than your typical book about motorcycle gangsters. It offers the reader a valuable introduction to the world of the one percent of all motorcycle riders who give the innocent, law-abiding majority a bad name. Among other things, it has a long list of motorcycle criminal slang words and their definitions. This is a book that’s thoroughly researched and well written. The sources of information used by the author included interviews with law enforcement detectives who devoted their lives to fighting these egregious criminals. This book chronicles the organized criminal activities of The Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) starting in the Milwaukee area and then spreading statewide. At first, the OMC was a small-time bunch of hoods engaging in petty crime. However, it eventually went into more and more areas or organized mayhem and even terrorism including bombings. The OMC came to be mixed up in drug trafficking, vehicle theft murders and the deaths of innocent people including women and children. As time went on and the OMC became emboldened, the response of law enforcement evolved from prosecutors and judges who hampered the efforts of the police to curb the excesses of the OMC to finally taking the OMC threat seriously.

The advent of the OMC in Wisconsin was 1964 when a few of their members moved to Milwaukee. Up until then, Wisconsin had been largely spared the kind of murder and mayhem that motorcycle gangsters perpetrated elsewhere in the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. One of the best aspects of this book is how it explains the allure of these gangs and how they entice others to join them and engage in barbarism on the highways. The author, Michael Grogan, also showed how there are far more of these gangs than most people realize. One reason for the growth of these gangs is that returning war veterans found in them the same kind of camaraderie that they experienced during wartime. Also, the biggest growth of these gangs came right after the release of the 1953 Marlon Brando movie The Wild One. The sudden popularity of these gangs among motorcyclists after this movie’s release was a classic example of life imitating art.

In time, the Milwaukee chapter of the OMC became known as “The Wrecking Crew,” not least because of its propensity to steal cars and motorcycles and their operation of “chop shops” where the stolen vehicles were taken apart and their parts either used or sold. For all of its efforts to suppress the OMC, the attitude of soft on crime judges and prosecutors served to undo the efforts of the Milwaukee Police Department and its longtime chief. Harold Brier. The best part fo this book was its discussion of the department’s strategy to “suppress” the Outlaws.

Perhaps the single best aspect of this book is its coverage of the bombing death of Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper delivery boy Larry Anstett. Anstett was doing his rounds when he came across a car parked at one of the houses that he delivered newspapers to. There was a box wrapped up as a gift that was on top fo the car. Anstett thought that it was meant for him and so he picked it up and opened it. Unfortunately for him, the package was really a bomb that was meant for the car’s owner, Michael Vermilyea, the president of the biker gang Heaven’s Devils that were the hated rivals of the OMC. The bomb itself consisted of a box filled with spent welding rods and TNT. By the time both police and paramedics arrived, the boy was dead, his face was still smoldering and he suffered 200 wounds. This bombing set off a wave of murders as the OMC leadership sought to eliminated all potential witnesses to the crime. For this book author Michael Grogan unearthed some documents that showed, for the first time publicly, the existence of a still-living co-conspirator. Prior to the publication of this book, it had been thought that the co-conspirators, were all dead with the exception of the still alive prime suspect John W. Bushman.

Another still unsolved crime perpetrated by the OMC was a 1994 car bombing in Chicago. This was the third most powerful car bombing in U.S. history.

You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club in and Around Wisconsin is a book that is filled with invaluable insights into the world of outlaw biker gangs. It shows that they are violent criminal organizations that give legitimate motorcycle buffs a bad name. it gives valuable insights into the machinations of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club in the Upper Midwest. It showed how during the 1960’s and 1970’s, Wisconsin law enforcement, particularly the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office failed to take motorcycle gangsters seriously resulting in ridiculously lax prosecutions and weak sentences handed down by soft on crime judges. The hard work and dedication of the Milwaukee Police Department led by the legendary Chief of Police Harold Brier was oftentimes wasted by lackadaisical prosecutors and judges. There are sections of the book that serve as an indictment of the criminal justice system. The first two chapters, in particular, are helpful for those who know little or nothing about the outlaw biker subculture. The “norms and mores” of these groups are nothing short of scary.

This is a fantastic well detailed and researched book about the motorcycle gang subculture so much so that it is an education in itself.