George Wethern and Vincent Colnett - A Wayward Angel: The Full Story of the Hell's Angels, by the Former Vice President of the Oakland Chapter

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The True Story of the Hell's Angels

Jul 16, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Authentic, highly readably, an excellent description of California in the 1960's.

Cons:Would have liked an updated chapter on the Angels since 1978.

The Bottom Line: A fascinating and terrifying look into the most feared band of outlaws alive--you won't put this book down.


George Wethern was one of the earliest members of the Oakland Hell’s Angels in 1958 and served as vice president. He also became the largest hallucinogenic dealer in northern California through an association with ‘the Acid King’ Augustus Owsley Stanley III. He retired his colors in 1969 following a drug induced shooting of another Angel that landed him a suspended sentence and two-year probation, yet continued his gang associations and friendship with its infamous leader ‘Sonny’ Barger. When another Angel was marked for assassination to cover up a murder, the fallen member went to the police. Wethern’s ranch was identified as a burial site. Facing serious charges Wethern became the first Angel to turn against the club and testify against other members.

This was first published in 1978 after Wethern and his family were in the federal witness protection program. It is an inside look at the organization, history, culture and crimes of the world’s largest and most feared band of rebel outlaws. Wethern describes how the gang went from being a tough guy social club to a tightly organized criminal organization. The rise of the club matched the growing ‘petal thin’ flower power revolution of the 1960’s when the taste for LSD and other drugs was insatiable. The Angles were romanticized as the protectors of the flower children while in actuality they were capitalizing on the easy money in the drug trade. The myth that the Angels were friends of the flower children died with Meredith Hunter on December 6, 1969 at the Altamont music festival when he was stabbed to death by several gang members providing ‘security’ for the Rolling Stones. The book captures the tensions of that era as racial violence, politics and drugs all combined into a volatile mix.

“A number of myths died along with Hunter. The myth of the Angels as guardians of the flower children. The myth that the counter society required no keepers of the peace. The myth that people who enjoy the same music and drugs are one.”

Co-author Vincent Colnett has made a highly readable account of Wethern’s life as a Hell’s Angel. It is especially telling to read how the desire for drugs and free living degenerated the gang from what was once a tight brotherhood of real friends. By the late 60’s and early 70’s the Angels were killing each other over personal vendettas and competition in the drug trade. The book chronicles this evolution as well as the early comeback of the gang following the imprisonment of ‘Sonny’ Barger. It is also a moving account of Wethern and his wife Helen as they come through these trials and reestablish themselves as a family.

I think this account should be considered a classic among true crime stories and a warning to those who feel lured by the mystique of the Angels or other outlaw bands. A powerful true story.

"There was no easy way out of the club. The Hell's Angels was more a way of death than life. The old heavyweights, the clique of my longest and closest club buddies, were a microcosm. Jerry went to the grave after tangling with a train. Waldo went to heroin to totally that I couldn't lure him away with money, a motorcycle or a job. Junior wasted himself with speed, going from a hulking 300 pounds to a frail 160 or so. And I came close to losing my family, my mind and my life." - George Wethern


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