By Lisa M. Krieger
Saturday's murder at a San Jose cemetery occurred at mid-day in front of 4,000 people -- but the killer has not been found, and useful evidence has vanished.Hells Angels honcho Steve Tausan, 52, reportedly got into a fight while attending the funeral of close friend and bike gang president Jeffery "Jethro" Pettigrew at Oak Hill Memorial Park, himself a slaying victim, when he was felled by a bullet.
Police were nearby -- standing at the gates and perimeter of the cemetery -- but by the time they arrived at the scene, Tausan had been carried out by private vehicle, the shooter was gone and, police say, someone had tried to cover up the crime in an apparent attempt to foil an official investigation.
"Although police responded quite quickly, by the time they arrived, they noticed that the scene had been tampered with," said San Jose police spokesman Jose Garcia. He would not comment whether guns, shell casings or other pieces of evidence were missing from the scene.
The Hells Angels, a secret society of motorcycle riders, typically eschew police protection and end their feuds internally, and often violently.
So despite Saturday's very public crime, the shooter was not caught. It is not known if he escaped or was killed at the scene, then hidden.
And the victim was taken to the hospital in a private vehicle, not an ambulance, also avoiding official intervention. Tausan was declared dead at a local hospital at 1:44 p.m.
Police are interviewing several witnesses, and encourage others to come forward.
No known motive
Tausan was a "sergeant-at-arms," or rules enforcer, for the Santa Cruz chapter of the club who had been acquitted for murder in 1999. A former member of the San Jose chapter, he was attending the funeral of San Jose gang president Jeffery "Jethro" Pettrigrew, slain last month in a Nevada casino shootout by a member of the rival Vagos club.Nicknamed "Mr. 187" after the state penal code number of murder, Tausan was a father and professional bail bondsman.
On Sunday, an unidentified person at Tausan Bail Bonds on San Jose's N. 1st Street would not answer questions about Tausan's death, saying simply "I don't have any information. I have no clue."
The police have no motive for Saturday's violence.
Some witnesses said that the shooter was angered after being punched by Tausan. Another said that he fired after Tausan accused him of failing to protect Pettigrew, and stripped a patch from his vest.
San Jose police would not confirm Tausan as the victim, saying that the medical examiner would release a name on Monday after the family has been notified.
The Hells Angels began in 1948 in Southern California. The San Jose chapter, headquartered in a building near Interstate 280 and Bird Avenue, was founded in 1998. The hierarchy consists of a sergeant-at-arms, as well as president, vice president and secretary-treasurer.
According to Jorge Gil-Blanco, an investigator who has specialized in outlaw motorcycle gangs since the 1990s, the Hells Angels are heavily involved in the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs like methamphetamine -- dubbed "crank" because riders carried it on or near their crankcases for long road trips.
Biker club lawsuit
A former Marine and professional middleweight boxer raised in East San Jose, in 1997 Tausan was suspected of murder in the beating death of a man at the Pink Poodle strip club. During trial testimony, Gil-Blanco quoted an informant as saying that defendant Tausan was involved in illegal drug activity, information that was later declared inadmissible.The jury acquitted Tausan, persuaded that he had acted in self-defense.
A series of police raids after Tausan's arrest also backfired. The raids were conducted to gather evidence of his Hells Angels membership and portray the club as a criminal street gang, potentially adding three years to Tausan's sentence. The raids not only failed to bolster the case, they also wound up costing local governments $1.8 million in legal settlements after the bike club filed a civil-rights lawsuit.
Saturday's funeral drew thousands of bikers from clubs all across the West Coast, such as the Henchmen, East Side Riders Car Club, Devil Dolls, Top Hatters and more.
Uniformed officers from various law enforcement agencies ringed the perimeter of the cemetery.
Tausan must have sensed his vulnerability -- after Pettigrew's death, he received death threats, he told a reporter for this newspaper recently.
No date has been set for his funeral.
Anyone with information can called homicide detectives Sgt. Dave Gutierrez or detective Brian Spears at 408-277-5283.
Sean Webby and Tracey Kaplan contributed to this report. Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 408-920-5565.