by Tim Gilmore, 1/1/2020
1. Tiffany Avenue, Ground Zero
In slight rain that early Sunday afternoon, the winter temperature dipped toward 70 degrees. George and Winnie Sharrow slipped into their small car on Tiffany Avenue, oblivious and distracted and young, and the car bomb blew them to pieces. Winnie’s daughter Mary was with the babysitter.
The blast rocked the Southside Estates neighborhood of small concrete-block ranch-style houses, halfway down Tiffany between Eve Drive West and Eve Drive East. The bomb ripped the car in two, shattered the windows of nearby houses, dismembered the Sharrows and flung pieces of them to both sides of Eve and over to Buncome Road. With her babysitter, Winnie’s daughter Mary stayed in one piece.
Neighbors who came outside after the explosion found George Sharrow still alive, pure terror in his eyes, chest heaving with his final attempts at life. Everything from his waist down was missing, completely gone. Winnie blew through utility wires overhead where scorched pieces of her clothing hung draped in the drizzle. Children playing on nearby streets watched fiery blobs of metal and flesh rain down through the trees. The bomb burnt a hole in Tiffany Avenue nine inches deep and two feet across.
Then came the police and the fire department and the United States Navy. Firefighters walked the roofs of neighbors’ houses, recovering body parts. Investigators studied the site and searched the area for six hours, while police removed neighbors from their homes and cordoned them out.
Authorities refused to release the victims’ names, pending notification of family, but said the male victim was a member of the “Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.” Bomb experts from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Navy said the explosive device packed the power of six sticks of dynamite.
A neighbor named Ross Edenfield told reporters, “I was pulling into my driveway down the street when I heard the explosion. At first I thought it was a transformer, but then I saw the bodies and the car.”
The front page of the February 23rd morning edition of The Florida Times-Union announced, “Powerful Bomb Rips Car on Southside; Two Killed.” The top of the page showed the devastated remains of one half of the car, photo captioned, “Bodies Blown 40 Feet From Wreckage of Car. Explosive Device Was Set on Ground Underneath Auto’s Front Seat.” A laughing Richard Nixon appeared jarringly above an adjacent story.
The T-U quoted an unnamed homicide detective who said he’d arrested a member of the Outlaws at this same address a year earlier for second-degree murder in a South Florida case, at which time police had seized the components of explosives from the house.
That Monday, the T-U and various newswires reported the victims as George and Willon Kriley, both 28. Some stories said, “Kailey.” They said George was “president of the local Outlaw Motorcycle Club.”
The name by itself, “the Outlaws,” raised fear, as it was meant to do. The Outlaws, formed in 1935, were the original outlaw “motorcycle club.” Though they didn’t like being called a “gang,” they referred to themselves as “one percenters,” supposedly a response to an unauthenticated 1947 American Motorcyclist Association statement that 99 percent of motorcycle riders were “law-abiding citizens.”
On Thursday, a small T-U story buried in Metro bore the headline, “Bomb Victims Incorrectly Identified.” Police had associated the couple with “the maiden name of the woman,” but Willon “Winnie” Ellison Kriley, 28, had taken the surname of her husband George Sharrow, not 28 but 31. They’d mistakenly given their address as 9823, instead of 9825. Now police identified Sharrow as “former president,” and noted “the current president of the Outlaws reported “there was no internal problem in the club and no rival clubs operate in Jacksonville.” And that was that.
2. The Outlaws’ War on Women
Others believed otherwise. By the end of the month, headlines asserted, “Police Confiscate Weapons, Fear Gang War.” On Friday, February 27th, Dan Hatfield of The Fort Lauderdale News wrote, “Recent attacks in the state on Outlaws motorcycle gang members and yesterday’s confiscation here of an unusually powerful weapon from an Outlaw member have police speculating a gangland war might be brewing between the Outlaws and Hell’s Angels.”
That “unusually powerful weapon,” in the days before civilian ownership of assault weapons was common, was “a .45 caliber semi-automatic rifle—which [police] claim can easily be converted to a machine gun.”
Talk of violence between the Outlaws and Hell’s Angels had sparked fear across Florida since the Outlaws had beaten the more notorious gang to claiming this fertile ground a decade previous. The Outlaws landed in Florida with shock and awe. Most of their theater of terror, however, they waged not against trolls in motorcycle jackets, but against women.
In late November 1967, Florida Governor Claude Kirk had “officially” declared war on “motorcycle bums.” Newsweek magazine told of Christine Deese, 18 years old, long strawberry blond hair, wide open brown eyes, face full of freckles, who told West Palm Beach police she’d fallen on a board and been punctured by nails. She claimed those nails had pierced both hands perfectly in the centers of her palms.
“It was twilight,” began Charles Reid’s July 22, 1968 story in Florida Today. “A beautiful time of the day when the wind slows to a whisper and all creatures seem to hush and watch the fading brilliance of the sunset.” Just past a fish camp in the Palm Beach County pines, five Outlaws formed a circle around Christine and the tree against which they’d backed her. Her toes barely touched the ground as the “motorcyclists” hammered four-inch nails through the palms of both her hands.
In that Florida Today story, Reid was reporting on “the Crucifixion Trial” of four Outlaw members in Titusville, two hours south of Jacksonville. Christine Deese had turned 19 on Christmas Day. In the last few years, she’d dropped out of high school and worked as a waitress, a prostitute and a nursing home aide. When Christine ended up with a biker named Spider, James Owings, her “old man,” he pimped her out. Early November, he told her to get him “$10 before sundown” by going to see a “disabled veteran” in a run-down apartment to “pull a trick.”
The disabled veteran wasn’t there. So Owings smashed a beer bottle across Deese’s head. Then Spider, Super Squirrel, Crazy John, and Mangy drove her out “to the crucifixion spot.” Fat Frank said, “Oh goody, I get to watch.” While her boyfriend nailed her to a tree, Christine never screamed. That was the name of the Newsweek story on December 11th: “She Didn’t Scream.” There was a deal. If she screamed, her boyfriend would smash her face with the hammer. She said, that following July, Owings “could be nice when he wanted to.”
Just before Christine’s 19th birthday on Christmas, Governor Kirk said, “We’re going to make living in Florida so unpleasant that [the Outlaws] go back home.” In the next few years, newspapers printed photos of Florida’s “Outlaws in Chains,” reporting their involvement in illegal drugs, aggravated assault, battery, false imprisonment, rape and murder.
In mid-January 1970, 28 Outlaws were arrested in Fort Lauderdale for chaining a girl to the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse, stripping her, beating her and raping her. They threatened to shoot her, to crucify her by nailing her to a tree, and to feed her alive to alligators. Newspapers reported an “unwritten code of the Outlaws, whose girlfriends must obey every command or face punishment.”
The Tampa Tribune quoted an unnamed young woman present with the Outlaws “at the time of the Crucifixion,” saying, “One of the guys patches you with his shield and that means you gotta do whatever he wants you to.” She said, “When he gets tired of you, he’ll sell you to someone else for a beer, a pack of cigarettes or whatever he can get. Sometimes they just lend you to another guy for the night.”
In February 1974, police raided a Jacksonville house trailer and arrested 10 Outlaws. A 17 year old girl had led them to the Southside trailer where she and five other “women,” one of them only 14 years old, had been beaten, raped, and prostituted by Wilson Tony “Roadblock” Harrell and other Jacksonville Outlaws. Eleven people were living in the trailer, including a baby girl, a year and a half old. In future years, Harrell would call himself a “martyr.” Though police later suspected he planted the car bomb that killed the Sharrows, he was never charged.
On August 22, 1974, a 23 year old Daytona Beach woman told an Outlaw with whom she’d been living that she didn’t have to take orders from him. So four Outlaws beat her, burned her with cigarettes, and lowered her into a bathtub full of water, where they tried to electrocute her by filling the tub with a toaster and other electronic appliances.
In October 1974, police arrested an Outlaw in Hollywood, Florida for a stabbing murder less than 24 hours after four Outlaws were arrested in Broward County for beating and burning 23 year old Joyce Karleen and kicking her in the face as a warning to other gang members’ girlfriends not to disrespect “one percenters.”
On April 17, 1975, The Detroit Free-Press reported that Jacksonville Outlaw Donald “Deke” Tanner had engaged in a bitter fight with the family of his murdered wife over whether he could dig up her remains. Sandra Lee Tanner, 19 years old, had been shot to death on January 24th on a rural road outside of Jacksonville. The murder was never solved. Two months earlier, Deke Tanner had taken out a $20,000 life insurance policy on his wife, naming himself beneficiary. One month before Sandra Lee’s murder, their daughter was born.
Deke Tanner had first come to Florida from Michigan to extend the Outlaws’ turf. He’d spent four and a half years in Florida’s Raiford Prison for grand larceny, narcotics and other charges.
Now Tanner wanted Sandra Lee’s body exhumed from Roseland Park Cemetery in her native Michigan to have her cremated and spread her ashes across Jacksonville as revenge for her parents not having Sandra Lee’s married name, his name, engraved on her headstone.
Tanner had previously agreed that if Sandra Lee’s parents paid for her burial and funeral, they’d determine how and where their daughter was buried. The family’s attorney believed the disinterment fight was vengeance for Sandra Lee’s parents’ attempt to gain custody of their not quite five-month-old granddaughter.
Which brings us back to February 1976. Without naming a source, Dan Hatfield wrote in his Fort Lauderdale News story of “rumors” and police fears “lately that the longstanding and much publicized feud between the Outlaws and the Chicago-based Hell’s Angels is about to boil over.” For the past decade, Florida had been a “battleground state,” not just for electoral college votes, but for biker allegiance, and the soldiers had waged their war through women.
Despite (now former) Governor Claude Kirk’s tough talk, police detectives often left motorcycle “club” crimes unsolved. Despite the high drama of headlines of car bombings and crucifixions, the people these crimes affected, both cops and journalists frequently assumed, wallowed in violence and degradation as a natural habitat. Once the public forgot the headlines, authorities forgot to pursue the cases.
Nevertheless, retired Police Sergeant Hal Bennett suspects Roadblock Harrell planted the bomb. Bennett’s parents lived down the street at 9714 Tiffany where a foot in a shoe was later found hanging from a utility line. Bennett says the police “years later […] developed information” that Roadblock Harrell placed the bomb, though Harrell, already in prison by that time, was never charged.
Associated Press stories from the Saturday after the Jacksonville bombing quoted the assistant manager of the unnamed bar where Willon worked as a bartender and go-go dancer: “She was tired of feeding her husband’s Outlaw motorcycle gang and cleaning up after them.” The cops weren’t the “pigs”—the Outlaws were. Her co-workers and patrons knew her as “Winnie.”
Meanwhile, George’s boss at a Jacksonville trucking company said, “He did his job, did what he was told and would help you.” Though “one percenters,” by definition, avoided regular employment, George’s boss said, “He was a super worker. I’d like to have 10 of him.” Both bosses, worried about their safety, spoke on condition of anonymity.
3. Your Own One Percent
These streets are so drearily ordinary. The trees are tired. The semi rigs parked in driveways in front of 828 square-foot 1952 ranch-style houses sleep with all the weary weight of mountains. Naturally, land rises: it rises through leaf fall and self-compost and the dust of the planet that alights constantly and invisibly from high in the sky; here, however, streets sink, even beneath great oaks.
Stand in the oblong depression where the car bomb incinerated 44 years ago. It’s been paved over, but still it’s noticeable, just like stories in the land always are—landscapes on landscapes on landscapes. You come along and scrape the surface and find samplings of everything human.
This case could’ve been easy enough to solve. Once. Murder arrests at the same address, one year prior. Constituent parts of explosives seized from the same house where a car bomb kills a former president of a notorious motorcycle club. Current club president attesting no problems, no rivalry, no internecine differences. Outlaws throughout the state, which they’d colonized the last 10 years, on high alert to possible incursions from Hell’s Angels. By the time police fully suspect Harrell, he was behind bars already and they didn’t bother.
The trees on these streets sag. I’ve known them all my life. They’re alternates for the weary water oaks and pines and palms of my childhood neighborhood. Someone’s nailed a handwritten sign to a tree in a front yard that antagonizes “Jax idiots” who’ve offended him, but offers, of these idiots’ transgressions, no specifics. An ambiguous sad anger hangs on the branches and utility lines like the bloodied burnt vestiges of Winnie’s clothes did 44 years ago. It permeates the air like the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide.
Plenty of people knew why what happened happened. It’s hard to imagine that plenty of people with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office didn’t also know. Earlier than they said they did. In the annals of Outlaw M.C. politics and rivalry, the name George Sharrow, even under his wife’s maiden name, as police reported him “George Kriley,” as he’d rented the house for 10 months, stands out suspiciously as absent.
I found George’s grave, not so far from my father’s: epitaph for George Arthur Sharrow, 1945 to 1976, including “Outlaws M.C.” and George’s nickname “Greasey.” I found the 2012, 2013 and 2014 novels written by Jacksonville Outlaw Wilson Tony “Roadblock” Harrell. “In January 1983,” says his January 2018 obit, “Harrell and 13 other Outlaws were tried in federal court in Jacksonville and convicted of racketeering. He remained in federal custody until 2009.”
Then Roadblock becomes writer. “Flashback to 1970,” the description for his first novel begins. “From New Orleans to Jacksonville to Atlanta, a menagerie of bikers, hippies, rednecks and Cajuns do business together…when they aren’t trying to eliminate the competition.”
On the Fourth of July, 2017, Roadblock posted a youtube video, in which he stands before an American flag and bemoans “the problems that’s facin’ our country and the way things are goin.’” Ironically, bikers who defined themselves as the “one percent” who rejected the law, proudly against their own government, waxed patriotic when their ranks filled with Vietnam War veterans.
By 1979, at the time of the Fourth of July Massacre at an Outlaws’ clubhouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a probationary Outlaw murdered four Outlaws and a bikers’ “old lady,” 16 year old Bridgette “the Midget” Benfield, Outlaws seemed as self-righteously patriotic as they were “outlaw.”
I wonder how proud of his country Roadblock felt when arrested in 1974 as one of several Jacksonville Outlaws who raped, beat, drugged and pimped out “women” aged 14 to 24. If it was indeed Harrell who set the bomb that killed the Sharrows, it didn’t seem to weigh on his conscience more than any other crime. In his last eight years, since being released from prison, he called himself not a rapist, but a “martyr.” When he died, fans offered prayers—ironic enough by itself, praised his “wisdom and knowledge thru the school of hard knox,” seated him “in the Great Hall of Valhalla,” and lamely instructed his spirit: “Let’s ride.”
Buck Buchanan grew up three houses down and says, “After all the dust settled, the guy who owned the house didn’t rent it out for several years. As kids, we played football in the front yard. There was a big hedgerow between that house and the next house. If the ball went in the hedges and you crawled in there to get it, you’d find parts of the car.”
I knock on Greasey’s front door of 44 years before. Buck says shreds of Winnie’s nylon skirt “hung on the power line for several years.” I long to climb the pecan tree in the front yard next door. I’m sure there’s a wristbone, a scaphoid, still lodged in an upper branch, an eardrum knocked into a wall just beneath a roofline, a tooth lodged somewhere in a burgeoning pecan, a kind of teratoma, a tumor that sprouts teeth or hair or muscle.
In this case it sprouts a resurrection. Crack the shell. Consume the nut, the drupe. Everything we are comprises all the death before us and the object that centers that everlasting fact must flower. Nobody wins a war: war is failure. To hell with men so desperate every minute to prove that they’re men. Nobody’s place on this earth can rightly depend on the subjugation of others. Everyone’s their own one percent.