The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Just Can't Seem To Stop Killing Each Other
Steven Walter "Stainless" Cooke, posing with the pistol authorities claim he later used to murder an ABT rival.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice. Via.
This week, we've given you a little background on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, and some reasons why two experts familiar with the gang are skeptical that they could be behind the murders of Kaufman County DA Mark McLelland, his wife Cynthia, and ADA Mark Hasse. In short: because while the ABT are widely agreed to be violent, sociopathic meth-heads, they've never directed that violence at law enforcement officials before. (Mexican drug cartels, on the other hand, have proven themselves both willing and capable of assassinating public officials.)
Maybe the ABT has suddenly taken a bold leap forward in the murderous rampage department, spurred on by three dozen of them getting federally indicted late last year. Could be. The bottom line: we still have no idea who's involved in these killings, and a press conference this morning in Kaufman with Governor Rick Perry didn't shed any new light, although Perry did up the reward to $200,000 and vow to "hunt down and punish" the people responsible. The only thing we know for sure is that Nick Morale, the 56-year-old arrested yesterday for leaving a threatening phone message on a Crime Stoppers tip line, saying an unnamed county judge would be next to die, is very, very stupid.
But now we present another reason why ABT might be a long shot in the Kaufman County killings: because for the past decade or so, they've been very busy killing and maiming one another. For people said to refer to each other as "family" and "brothers," and their gatherings as "church," they sure fight like Cain and Abel.
Truly, the ABT just cannot seem to get along. Court documents and media reports suggest that since its inception, ABT leadership has been obsessed with maintaining control, compliance and loyalty among their members (something they share with their brothers-in-name-only, the California-founded Aryan Brotherhood. An unsealed FBI report from 1982 found a high level of informants in the AB, as well as murder contracts put out on members for "trivial reasons" and a "lack of dependability" between members).
The ABT seems to be in a constant state of "cleaning house," as Texas gang expert Terry Pelz put it to me yesterday, leaving them with very little time for much else. (Besides meth. There's always time for meth.) In fact, that house-cleaning seems to be what drew the feds' attention to the ABT in a serious way back around 2001. That's when the bullet-shredded body of gang associate Aaron Wade Otto, 27, was discovered near the Houston Ship Channel. The case wouldn't be solved for eleven years, when three ABT members serving time on other crimes were linked to the case.
Nothing gets the feds' attention like a random, bullet-strewn dead person. By 2008, the FBI, the ATF, and police forces across the state had focused in on the ABT and begun the probe that would lead the indictments. In the process, they collected a laundry list of crimes the gang committed on one another.
In 2007, Brent "Twist" Stalsby, an ABT lieutenant, and his wife Terry ("Peaches"), along with a captain called Charles Cameron "Mojo" Frazier, murdered another ABT couple because one of their fathers failed to pay back a debt he owed to another general in the gang. David "Super Dave" Mitchamore and his girlfriend, Christy Rochelle Brown, were both shot to death with a Winchester Model 1200 shotgun. Their bodies were discovered in a ditch in Nacogdoches.
In 2008, five Houston-area ABT members beat a prospective member who "violated the rules of conduct." In 2010 or 2011, a feared general named Steven "Stainless" Cooke ordered a dozen ABT members to stand in a circle and beat another member, in retribution for his stealing "dope, a gun, and a girlfriend from a ranking officer," as the Houston Chronicle put it. The whole thing was filmed on another ABT member's cellphone.
Or take the case of James Patrick "Wreck" Crawford, the man handed those two life sentences by a Kaufman County jury last August. The short version of the story is that Crawford was first arrested in connection with a shooting in Terrell. The long version is that Crawford had apparently kidnapped the wife of another ABT member, Jason Eugene Mask, as the DMN's Tanya Eiserer recently wrote. Crawford apparently also planned to cut off Masks's ABT tattoos. Instead, the two men got into a shootout in the middle of Dove Lane. Crawford was found by police in the front of his white Ford pickup with gunshot wounds to the chest. He had to be airlifted to a Dallas hospital for treatment. Mask fled and was later found at a local hospital, seeking treatment for his own gunshot wounds.
When 34 ABT members were indicted in November, several of them were charged with murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, and kidnapping. All of that had to do with various generals ordering subordinate members to kill rival ABT members. In one instance, an ABT soldier was ordered murdered after he failed to kill another senior general. Disobeying a "DO," like breaking any other rules or talking to the police, was an offense punishable by death.
"What we noticed is that they tend to beat up on each other a lot," Malcolm Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle at the time. "We continue to get information about people who have been disappeared, and the level of violence associated with their organization is something that we cannot tolerate. I don't compare them to the Mafia. They are too weird and dysfunctional in how they handle their lives -- heavy drug use and sociopathic personalities."
Most bizarrely, though, in May of 2011, 54-year-old Frank "Pancho" Roche, a heavily tattooed general with a handlebar mustache who lived in Baytown, was found slumped over the wheel of his crashed pickup truck, dying, along U.S. 59. He, at least, is believed to have died of natural causes. That must be some kind of record for an ABT member.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.