Pat Matter's story could be considered that of a hometown boy who made good - by being very bad.
Matter, who dropped out of Fort Dodge public schools in the eighth grade, went on to build a multimillion dollar empire. He manufactured his own line of V-twin motorcycles, was a nationally ranked pro-stock motorcycle racer and a top-fuel racer.
Matter was also the founder and 21-year president of the Minnesota Hells Angels. His biggest source of income? Dealing drugs.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Pat Matter kneels at Rick Wingerson’s grave in North Lawn Cemetery as Chris Omodt looks on. Matter was with Wingerson when he was killed in a downtown Fort Dodge shootout in 1974. At the time, Matter was a member of the Grim Reapers motorcycle club. He went on to found and become president of the Hells Angels in Minnesota. He and Omodt have written a book about Matter’s life and Omodt’s involvement in sending him to federal prison.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Pat Matter, standing on the sidewalk across from the Law Enforcement Center in downtown Fort Dodge, points out where some of the old bars once stood. His friend, Rick Wingerson, was shot to death in 1974 close to where Matter is standing.
His expansion of the Hells Angels into Illinois escalated the decades-old war with the Outlaws, who once retaliated by planting C4 explosives under his truck.
The no-holds-barred story of Matter's life is chronicled in a new book, released on Friday, and co-authored by a retired captain from the Hennepin County Sheriff's office in Minneapolis who helped send Matter to federal prison.
"I don't embellish. I lived the life. I don't need to add any extra to it. It is what it is," said Matter. "You'd had to have been there to believe it, and that's where Chris comes in."
Pat Matter's account of the FD?shooting between Rick Wingerson and the Chadas
In November of 1974, Don got into a fight with two brothers. The fight turned into a feud of sorts.
One night Rick and I were out and somewhere around midnight, we walked into a bar we frequented called the Blue Bomber. The bartender told us that a couple guys had come in earlier looking for Don. It was the brothers.
The Chadas. I knew them. And the Chada brothers knew me, knew I sometimes carried a gun, though I wasn't carrying one on that particular night. The bartender said the brothers had armed themselves. Rick thought it would be a good idea if we did the same. "We'll go back to my place," he said, "then we'll find Don. Warn him."
Fifteen minutes later, we were walking through the cool night air toward Crinnigan's, a bar where we figured Don might be having a drink.
We were across the street from it, cutting across a bank parking lot when we spotted the Chadas coming out of the Silver Spur, a bar next to Crinnigan's. And they saw us.
Without saying a word, one of them pulled a .357 magnum and started shooting at us. Rick pulled his .22 and fired back, hitting one of them. The other started firing as Rick took a few steps toward him.
Three times, Rick was hit. I came up behind him as he fell backwards, and as I put my hand on his back, I could feel the warm blood soaking through his jacket.
I heard a single gasp, and he was quiet. Rick Wingerson was dead in my arms.
The paper the next day called it an old west shootout. It even made national news on Paul Harvey's radio news segment.
At least 16 shots had been fired, and bullet holes could be seen on several of the surrounding buildings.
One Chada went to the hospital to have a bullet removed from his spine; both brothers would eventually plead guilty to manslaughter and be sentenced to eight years in the state penitentiary.
Rick's death wasn't easy to take. It was all a part of it, of course, a part of the biker lifestyle. There was risk. There was danger. And, yet, that was also part of the allure. And there was the camaraderie - being around guys who would fight for you, even die for you. It was a special bond that I don't imagine very many people understand, let alone experience. It made me all the more determined to stick with it. Being a Grim Reaper was just the beginning.
-Excerpted from "Breaking the Code" with permission of the authors
The book, "Breaking the Code: A True Story by a Hells Angel President and the Cop Who Pursued Him," describes the careers of both Matter, whose biker history dates back to the Grim Reapers in Fort Dodge, and Chris Omodt, whose family had a multigenerational history of law enforcement.
"Breaking the Code" is told from both men's points of view in alternating chapters, detailing how law enforcement builds criminal cases, how criminals work to elude and evade their investigators, and how Matter's and Omodt's lives intersected.
Longtime Fort Dodge residents may not immediately remember Pat Matter's name. But the story of his best friend, who was killed in a shootout in downtown Fort Dodge is practically a local legend.
Matter and Rick Wingerson were members of the Grim Reapers motorcycle club. As biker clubs went, the Grim Reapers weren't a bad club, Matter said.
"It was just the image we were trying to portray back then. There was no drug dealing going on in the Grim Reapers, or anything bad," he said.
Still, he said, "We used to get into a lot of fights with the local kids around here."
On Nov. 12, 1974, Matter and Wingerson were tipped off by a local bartender that brothers Ronald and Donald Chada were armed and looking for Matter's brother, Don. As Matter and Wingerson headed back to Wingerson's home to better arm themselves, they met the Chadas coming out of another bar. At least 16 shots were fired. Wingerson was hit and bled to death in Matter's arms.
The Chadas were charged with first-degree murder, but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and sentenced to serve no more than eight years.
Attorneys at the time pointed out that the plea deal saved taxpayers money.
Matter offered a different take: no witnesses willing to testify. That's the biker code.
Matter still describes Wingerson, who was the best man at Matter's first wedding, as being "like another big brother to me."
"He thought I was the wildest kid. Wherever we went, we were coming out together," Matter said.
Wingerson's death, Matter said, "made me tougher. So, I went on to become the president of the Grim Reapers in Minneapolis, and because I was that tough of a kid, the Hells Angels were interested in me."
They offered to move Matter to Omaha, where he could join an established chapter, but he said no.
"I wanted to put a chapter in Minneapolis. That's where I found my family, my camaraderie, with the Hells Angels especially. The Grim Reapers were more of a club that wasn't that serious. That's why they weren't a 1-percenter club.
"One-percenters," Matter explains in the book, "were what we motorcycle clubs called ourselves. It comes from the claim often used by motorcycle enthusiasts to defend their interest in bikes: Ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens. I imagine that's true, but the Hells Angels and clubs like them like to turn the claim on its head and take the 1 percent part as a kind of badge of honor."
"Breaking the Code" is filled with examples of how Matter built his reputation in the biker world.
"I was very confrontational," Matter said. "It was what you had to do in those situations. I was ready to back it up, and I usually had a handful of very serious people with me who could roll with it, whatever way it turned out."
At the 1980 annual Defeat of Jesse James Days in Northfield, Minn., during a skirmish between Grim Reapers and other motorcycle clubs, Matter pulled out a 9 mm Browning and shot a Timberwolf in the leg. He pistol whipped a couple of other bikers and, during the fight, some of the Grim Reapers took patches from some of the Sons of Silence, a major insult, made more so when they hung the Sons' patches upside down on the wall of the Grim Reapers' clubhouse.
"The shooting helped my reputation; I wasn't afraid to stand up to anybody and use whatever force was necessary," Matter wrote.
Later, at an anniversary party for the Hells Angels in Charlotte, North Carolina, Matter was wearing the Minneapolis red and white Grim Reaper patch - colors that belong to the Hells Angels. Two of the club members took exception.
Matter wrote that the Hells Angels said when they see red and white patches, "we take 'em, you know?"
"I wasn't feeling exactly welcomed. But, then I smiled and said, 'That's funny, because where I come from, we shoot people for trying to take our patches, you know?'''
No one caused Matter any trouble at the party.
Matter was introduced to crystal meth in 1977. While he was still working at a manufacturing plant, he started selling to guys he worked with and other Grim Reapers. By February 1978, he quit his job and started dealing full time.
"I didn't have much of an education, and I saw there was money to be made there," Matter said. "It was the lure of easy money."
Eventually, he said, "I had a multimillion dollar business."
He wasn't really thinking about who was using the drugs, Matter said, "because methamphetamine used to be the bikers' choice of drugs, that's who did it. All these other folks weren't into methamphetamine. It became a big thing later on, but bikers have always been doing it. That's who I dealt with, and you don't think it's going to trickle down to anybody else."
Selling drugs, Matter said, is "about making the money and being low profile. That's why the Hells Angels don't get that much heat. They live a pretty clean life, and you've got to catch them."
And that wasn't easy.
In fact, Matter insisted that all the members in his charter had to have legitimate jobs.
However, law enforcement, after years of trying, was finally able to tie Matter to 2 kilograms of cocaine he had hidden in a friend's garage. The drugs were was stolen by thieves who broke in to steal a half dozen Harley-Davidsons.
There's a saying in law enforcement, Omodt said, that you never catch the bright ones. That's why it took so long to bring down Matter.
The biggest risk to drug dealers, Omodt said, doesn't come from law enforcement. It comes from other dealers.
"They control their turf, so to speak; they have their competition," he said. "Back when I was working narcotics, it wasn't unusual for somebody getting busted to roll over on their competition. You were killing two birds with one stone."
On Valentine's Day 2002 - one day before the five-year statute of limitations ran out - Matter was indicted over the cocaine.
That's really where "Breaking the Code" begins, as Omodt uses the introduction to tell his side of the story of his first official meeting with Matter, whom he had been investigating for years.
Later, after the book was published, Matter admitted to Omodt that they had met years before. In the book, Omodt describes being determined to show no fear during a traffic stop he made in Minneapolis years earlier where he cited a motorcyclist, then realized a pack of bikers was coming up behind them. The cited biker, Matter said, was him, returning with a group from the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.
While Matter freely admits to dealing drugs, shooting and beating people, he still had a moral code.
"I hate liars and people who embellish the truth. There are a lot of things I don't like," he said. "There's just certain things that Hells Angels in particular don't like to put up with. There is a moral code, and a lot of folks don't believe that."
To this day, Matter insists he has never killed anyone.
He wrote about grabbing his .380 and heading to a bar in Omaha with another club member to put down a skirmish there. Matter wrote that he fired a round into the ceiling and grabbed an Outcast member.
"It was another episode that helped build my reputation," Matter wrote. "Thankfully, it never got to the point where I'd have to follow through, where I'd actually have to pull the trigger on someone. Unless it was self-defense, I knew I really didn't have it in me. But, of course, no one else knew that, and that's the way I wanted to keep it."
When Omodt met Matter at the Anoka County Jail to escort him to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office and U.S. Marshals office for booking, he wrote that he felt some level of respect for Matter.
"I walked in there," Omodt said, "and I was expecting to get a lot of lip service. But, I always carry myself professionally. I always try to shake hands. My dad (who had been a sheriff for 28 years) always told me to look them straight in the eye. So, that's what I did, and he was an absolute gentleman.
"I'd heard the stories," Omodt said. "I had researched Pat extensively. I just considered him to be such a violent person. You meet him, and he comes across as a professional. Here's a guy with a lot of charisma. You just wonder where the violent side of this guy is, because I have never seen it firsthand. I've always seen the other side of him.
Matter, on the other hand, was less immediately impressed with Omodt.
"I didn't trust law enforcement," said Matter. "In the situation I was in, I figured they would lie to me about pretty much anything. The reason I did start respecting Chris was that I thought he was a pretty straight shooter."
If Matter didn't cooperate with authorities and testify in other drug cases, he quickly found he could be facing a prison sentence that could keep him away from his family until his young son was grown.
"I had to evaluate at the time, and it was the hardest thing I ever had to do because the code was embedded deep in me," but he ultimately decided to work with law enforcement. "It was a hard thing to do, but my family was more important to me."
Matter said he had seen Omodt conduct himself professionally and not take it personally, even when other club members were giving him a hard time.
"He's always held his composure. Here's a guy who can be about law enforcement and do the right thing," Matter said.
When Matter was sent to prison, he said he asked Omodt to check in on his wife and son "to make sure they are OK. And, he said, 'I'll do it.'"
And, he did.
The two former adversaries are close friends today, with Omodt standing by Matter's family through recent health crises.
In fact, it was Matter's devotion to family that convinced Omodt the man once known as the "godfather of the Hells Angels" in Minneapolis would be redeemed.
"I'm very much a family person," Omodt said. "If you want to say what the real common denominator is between Pat and me, what made me believe that this guy was really going to turn his life around, it's that I saw what family meant to him. I saw his wife stand beside him for more than nine years, waiting for him to get out of prison; they have a child together. That's very much unheard of.
"I saw that and said, 'This guy us really going to do it. He's got the support system. He loves both of them very much, and vice versa. I saw that and I just said, 'Wow. He does have something deep in him.'"
Today, Matter spends his time focused on his family.
"My life's pretty slow compared to what it used to be, and I'm pretty happy about that," he said.
"I didn't do this story to bash the Hells Angels, like I said in the book, or law enforcement," Matter said. "This was to tell the story of my life, this is what I lived, and I left out a lot of wild things."
"We had to cut this book down substantially," Omodt said. "There's almost too much information. We're confident that if this one takes off, we have enough to do two or three more books."
As of Saturday, "Breaking the Code" was Amazon's No. 1 best-selling law enforcement biography.