I perch on the on the edge of a classic 80s coffee table in a classic 70s living room. I stare without blinking at a modern, 30 inch television screen. And for the six hundredth, or eight hundredth or thousandth, or fifteen hundredth time, I watch John Lindeman die.
I don’t know how many times I have seen Lindeman die. Go out into the Mojave on a new moon night. Look up at the sky. Count the stars. Probably, I have seen Lindeman die about that many times.
The Sober Murders
John Curtis Unterseher “Ripley” Lindeman was 43 and Bradley Burritt Lutzow was 45 when they were murdered last February 17th outside a QuikTrip convenience store near 19th and Peoria Avenues in Phoenix, Arizona. Lutzow was from Durand, Illinois. Lindeman lived in Golden Valley, Arizona. Both men belonged to a clean and sober motorcycle club called the Association of Recovering Motorcyclists (A.R.M.) I have been told countless times that they were murdered by members of the Sober Riders Motorcycle Club because the Sober Riders claim Arizona.
Both clubs describe themselves as self-help groups. Neither club wears a bottom or side rocker. Neither club wears a one percent patch.
The Sober Riders are alleged to be the “largest clean and sober motorcycle club in the United States.” And it continues to be a prominent club in Arizona. The club’s one piece patch was easy to spot at the Third Annual Riot on the River Run on the weekend of October 9th. A week later the club’s “Casa Grande Crew” co-hosted a motorcycle rodeo with the Red and Black. November 28th in Phoenix, the club will sponsor its Fifth Annual “Takin’ It To The Streets” run. If the club has made enemies, it seems not to have made enemies who shoot back
The Sober Riders Motorcycle Club was founded in 1994 by a man named Pat “Pooh Bear” Conley. In his most widely circulated photograph, Conley appears to be a right, jolly, old elf. He is still President of the Sober Riders. For at least a half dozen years he was the President of the Arizona Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs. And, although he has stepped down from that post he still contributes a column to the Confederation’s newsletter, the Arizona Spokesman.
In last May’s Spokesman, three months after Lindeman and Lutzow were assassinated, Conley contributed a touching anecdote that he seems to have invented to demonstrate his wisdom and good will. His theme was that all motorcycle clubs should just get along.
Prose To Gag On
“Recently at a run attended by many new clubs,” Conley began, “as indicated by so many new and different patches, a bystander asked an old gray bearded member of an older well established club.
“‘How do you feel about all these new clubs?’
“The Old Gray Beard replied, ‘it is good, the more the better for our cause.’
“‘Your cause?’ asked the bystander.
“‘Not my cause. Our cause. Our rights. Our liberty, Our freedom. All the things held dear to us all! Our cause includes you as an independent and Patch Holders alike.’
“‘Wow! How do you all get along with so many different opinions as signified by so many different clubs?’ asked the slick back.
“‘We treat each other not as we wish to be treated, but as the other guy wishes to be treated. It is simple courtesy,’ replied the Patch Holder. All this brought to mind the movie Pay it Forward.”
Conley wrote this self-serving homily, including his apparently unintentionally ironic reference to the Buddhist concept of karma, well after, according to multiple trusted sources, he sat in a Denny’s restaurant in Phoenix and told Lindeman (who had lived in Arizona for years and was employed by a newspaper named the Arizona Republic) to get out of the state.
(One second hand but cogent source has described Conley’s ultimatum as very blunt and unequivocal. Conley, of course is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I am just trying to tell a story, is all. You can believe anything you want.)
Dear Mr. Conley
While preparing this story I wrote Conley and asked him for his side of the story.
“Dear Mr. Conley,” I wrote. “This is your chance to influence what I write. At your request, anything you do not want attributed to you will not be. I protect sources. If you just ignore me, I will identify you by name as having stonewalled me. You can answer the questions you are comfortable answering and ignore the others. No problem. But I will notice which ones you answer and which ones you don’t. I really think that most of these questions are softballs.”
Among the questions I asked Conley were:
“Were you at the sit down that preceded the murders? Did you give the A.R.M. representatives an ultimatum to stay out of Arizona? Do you have a version of that meeting?”
“As far as you are concerned, are members of the Association of Recovering Motorcyclists welcome to fly their patch in Arizona?”
“Has the SRMC been inaccurately characterized by me or by anyone else? Tell me how.”
Conley stonewalled me.
.WMV And .AVI
The first time I look at the video of Lindeman dying I can hardly see anything. I write down questions. Who is that? What did he say? When is this? The first time I look I see the dark shadow of Lindeman die forty or fifty times. The next day I watch him die five or six times. I am very stupid so it is not until about day three that I start playing with the brightness and contrast and color saturation.
Frankly, I prefer not to watch Ripley Lindeman die. So I try that for a week. But when I don’t look I feel guilty. So then I look another 20 or 30 times.
And, life goes on. The world persists with or without us. I measure out my days with scribbles in boxes on a calendar. Then I turn a page and scribble some more. Before I know it I have been watching Lindeman die for months.
It is not exactly a secret that I have a copy of this video. A week or so ago, a relative of one of the victims asked me to post the video on this site. I promised I would give it a shot. I promised that if not the video, I would at least post a few words. And, I promised that knowing that my words, these words, are a poor substitute for letting you see Lindeman die with your own eyes. “Give me until Monday,” I said.
The problem is, the legally obtained video I watch has its own little history. It has made a journey through several hands. And, among the scars it wears is that along the way it has been converted to .WMV format, which means that it contains a single digit percentage of the information the original video had. Before I could analyze the video I watch in any meaningful way I had to up convert it into .AVI format. That up conversion, however, did not really increase the information on the video, only the number of pixels. And, after days of fiddling I had to concede that even if I posted the video, no one would really be able to see anything. All you could see is what I told you I saw anyway.
I give a copy of the video to someone who knows how to enhance these things in various, clever ways. He grabbed dozens of frames for me. I play with the frames in Photoshop. I take notes.
By Saturday afternoon, Halloween, I have been watching the video for four days straight. I cannot show you what I have seen so I am stuck with the task of describing what I have seen. I can do that, I decide. I do this stuff all the time.
In fact, I already have this story outlined in my mind. The outline goes:
A The video is one minute and nine seconds long.
B John Lindeman strides into the QuikTrip twelve seconds into the video.
C At forty two seconds, just outside the front door, John Lindeman dies. He dies. I know he dies. I have seen men die. So, I recognize that Lindeman has died. Even if I had not seen men die I would see that Ripley Lindeman died beautifully. He died beautifully as the Loyalist Militiaman died beautifully in Robert Capa’s classic photograph, “The Falling Soldier:” Falling, spinning, elegant, brave, poetically doomed. Except Capa’s photograph was a fraud and Lindeman really died. What I cannot tell is whether Lindeman died after he hit the ground or before.
D As Lindeman dies a clerk in the QuikTrip says, “Damn!” The clerk utters that curse three times between second 12 and second 42 of the video. “Damn bro…damn…Damn!” The clerk says that third “damn” the way Martin Lawrence used to say “damn” when he would look at his girlfriend’s ass: Damn spelled with a gratuitous number of aitches. “Dahhhhhmn!”
I look it up. The common, English, four letter word damn is derived from either the Latin damnare, to condemn. Or from the Greek daptein, to devour. Or from the Old Norse tafn, to make a human sacrifice. Take your pick. I think the clerk is describing all three of the above.
The clerk says “damn” as in, “Dahhmn, girl! You sure look fine!” Normally, listening to a convenience store clerk say “Dahhmn!” about a thousand or two thousand times would get on my nerves. But I can also hear the awe and fear in the clerk’s voice. He isn’t a clerk saying “damn.” He is a frightened dog barking at a ghost in the night.
The clerk says “damn” as Lindeman dies.
Ripley Enters The Store
There were three members of A.R.M. at the QuikTrip that night: Lindeman, Lutzow and a third man who has never been named. The third man drove the dying Lutzow to a nearby hospital. For months, I assumed that Lindeman and Lutzow were killed side by side while the surviving member of A.R.M. waited in the truck. And, that after the shooting the survivor checked on both men and dragged or fireman-carried the still breathing Lutzow off to the truck and then drove him to the hospital. Watching the video tears that conjecture apart.
As my copy of the video starts, the first witness, a white man wearing a blue tee shirt and a gray baseball cap walks into the store reaching into his back pocket. This first witness takes twelve, easy strides then disappears out of the left side of the frame. Just barely visible through the front left window is John Lindeman, wearing a denim jacket over a dark sweatshirt and a baseball cap. On the video the cap looks like a beanie but when the frame is grabbed and enhanced it becomes a blue or black baseball cap with a tan bill. Lindeman is pacing around in a pair of heavy, dark work boots. Maybe he smells the coming storm of violence. He obviously has no idea that storm will break as soon as it does.
Six seconds into the video, someone approaches Lindeman from the direction of the gas pumps. For five or six or seven hundred times I think this must be Brad Lutzow but I eventually start to think of him as “The Fighter” and I begin to suspect he is the A.R.M who lived.
“The Fighter” takes Lindeman’s place, standing watch next to the front door and at eleven seconds, the second witness, a portly white man in a maroon tee shirt and wearing white sneakers opens the stage right front door. Simultaneously, Lindeman opens the other front door and politely lets the man in the maroon shirt enter first. As the second witness enters he, in turn, politely steps aside and holds open his door for the third and fourth witnesses, two, young, possibly Hispanic men in hoodies and baggy pants.
Witnesses three and four clear the front door when Lindeman is seven steps into the store. Lindeman walks with the slightly stiff shoulders of a man who does bench presses but other than that he seems relaxed, unremarkable and oblivious to the approaching danger ten or twelve yards behind his back.
Before the fourth witness clears the front door, in full sight of the fifth witness, the store clerk, three men trace Lindeman’s steps across the parking lot from the gas pumps. They appear out of the gloom, behind the glare of the front door glass, like ghosts.
I think one of them looks like a troll and that is how I start to think of him. He is a stocky, bearded man wearing a light colored bandana and a denim vest over a black, leather jacket. He was born to be a villain. The way he walks is obnoxious. He is looking for a fight. When he stops in front of the Fighter his knees are a little bent and he is leaning aggressively forward so that his arms look longer and more simian than they probably are.
I have been told by someone with knowledge of the fight that this actor is the leader of the Sober Riders war party. I have heard three versions of what he said as he exited a white, crew-cab pick up truck. The versions are practically identical. They differ principally in punctuation, inflection and the inclusion or exclusion of the word “mother.” What I think he said was, “Where’s the little fucker?” And, I have inferred from this that the attack was premeditated; that the first thing the Sober Riders did when they arrived was acquire the location of their targets, and the target who was John Lindeman was already inside the store and so he was out of sight.
Can you hear it now? “Where’s the LITTLE fucker?”
Dear Detective Verthein
The same day I wrote to Pooh Bear Conley I also wrote to Matthew Verthein, the detective who may or may not still be investigating this case. I sent him a list of 16 questions. And, with all the subtlety I can manage, which is not much, I ask him about the stocky, bearded man wearing the bandanna. But, first I ask Verthein:
“Is the investigation still active? No bullshit, okay. How does a case get classified as cold? What happens when a case is classified as cold? What is the murder clearance rate in Phoenix?”
I know the national clearance rate on murders is around 61 percent. I know that most of the murders that are solved are something like when a husband murders his wife. I think the Sober Murders might not be a “Who done it.” But these murders are pretty surely a “How To Prove It.”
To his credit, Verthein does not stone wall me. He replies:
“It would be highly inappropriate and unprofessional to share information with you in a confidential manner. That would not be fair to the victims families as well as others who have made public records requests.”
Really, if I had known his response in advance I might have just gone ahead asked him to make me a photocopy of the case book. But he will not even tell me if the case is active or cold. So I am stuck with reading between the lines. My best guess is that Verthein is still investigating.
And, I also suspect he is stumped because the next thing he writes is: “From your questions it appears to me you may have information that may be helpful to this investigation. If you want to meet with me, call me, or share what you know anonymously, I am open to a meeting, a phone call, or you can contact our Silent Witness program and remain anonymous.”
Verthein may have missed the post when I explained that: “This page does not cooperate with the police. This site sympathizes with the survivors of the victims and with the fugitive suspects equally.”
Verthein asks me to give him a drink. And, if he is asking me for water I think his well must be going dry.
The Fight Starts
I have been told the same three names for months: Spike, Orphan and Sly. And, I have also been told that the Sober Rider who looks like a troll is called Sly.
The troll-like Sober Rider is followed across the lot by two other Sober Riders. When he stops they flank him. They are taller than the Troll. The three of them stop about ten feet from The Fighter who is standing against the front of the building. The Troll smirks and appears to say something. I leave open the possibility that this is when he asks, “Where’s the little fucker?”
The Fighter straightens up, takes four steps and hits the Troll with a big, straight right on the left side of his chin. It is a very nice punch. The first thousand times I saw it I almost cheered. It is the kind of punch you try to teach your kid to throw. You can hear it land on the audio inside the store. And, the Troll was unmistakably asking for it.
I have been told by confident sources that the A.R.M. started it. Maybe this is what they are talking about. I back up the tape. Look again. Take notes.
The Troll stops right in front of the QuikTrip door and spreads his legs 19 seconds into the video. The Fighter punches the Troll in the face at second 21. The Troll rocks back a foot. His knees buckle and he is sitting on his backside at second 22. He would have gone flat on his back except that a fourth Sober Rider has hurried over to catch him. You can hear the clatter he makes when he falls.
There are not just three Sober Riders. There are more than four. My best guess is that there are nine.
The Fighter still has two more Sober Riders to fend off. Through the front window, next to the candy bars, you can see one combatant backing another up with slow, heavy jabs. The fight has a cinematic flair.
At the clattering sound John Lindeman jogs toward the door. Near the cash register he breaks into a sprint. By 27 seconds into the video Lindeman is out the door and he has 15 seconds to live.
There may be the sound of a gunshot at around 27 seconds. If it is a gunshot it is coming from over by the gas pumps, where I think Brad Lutzow has just texted his wife in Illinois, “I love you.”
By the time Lindeman is out the door there are clearly two fights going on. The one that is all but impossible to see on the video I have is the fight near the gas pumps. I suspect that Brad Lutzow, whether he has already been shot or not, is in the middle of that one. Lindeman hesitates for a fraction of a second then runs off to the pumps.
By then, the Troll has managed to find his feet and he has grabbed the Fighter from behind. He holds the Fighter’s arms behind his back so the other Sober Riders can get their punches in. Eventually, the Fighter flings the Troll off but by then the Fighter is already going down.
Lindeman Has 13 Seconds To Live
At 29 seconds the clerk says, “Damn, bro!”
In the background, outside, somebody is yelling “Huh! Huh! Huh,” like a martial artist breaking boards. It might be someone throwing kicks and punches. A second-hand source has also told me that the sound I hear is the sound of one of the combatants striking another with a collapsible baton.
There is a sharp report which may be a gun shot deep in the parking lot at 31 seconds. The clerk says “Damn” again. The shot seems to come from the direction of the gas pumps. Then somebody honks their horn from second 33 to second 34. And, a car hurriedly backs out into the street trying to escape. Another second hand source has told me that the headlights I see belong to a car driven by a Sober Rider. The headlights are where they are because the Sober Riders have blocked the driveway. And now, the Sober Riders have begun their escape.
At 36 seconds, someone rises and appears in the front window of the convenience store. I suspect it is the surviving member of A.R.M. He rises and appears ready to head into the parking lot in the direction of the disappearing headlights of the fleeing car.
Two unmistakable gun shots ring out at second 37 and the man who has risen seems ready to head toward them. The shots are getting closer to the microphone. At second 38 another shot rings out and the man who is undecided about entering the parking lot turns and runs.
Then the fight finds its climax.
The gunshot at second 40 of the tape is the loudest so far. As the shot sounds you can see John Lindeman running straight at one of the Sober Riders.
Lindeman is running with his hands out in front of him as if he is trying to avenge Lutzow, as if he can’t wait to get his hands around his adversaries throat. You can see the shots hit him. One shot hardly slows him down. Another shot makes his back arch. His hands fly up in the classic pose of a man who has been shot. But he keeps coming. The gunman fires three times while running backward. At the third shot Lindeman falls at his killers feet, just outside the door of the QuikTrip. The killer lifts his left foot so Lindeman will not fall on him. It is the move a toreador makes as he elegantly evades a bull. You can hear Lindeman hit the ground. The way he falls, you can see he is dead.
And, inside the store the clerk says, “Dahhhhmn!” As if this is the best movie or the worst movie he has ever seen.
The killer strides away. He stops to pick something up. The first thousand times I watch the video I think it is probably a spent cartridge. And, I wonder if the killer bent to pick this thing up because he was trying to conceal evidence or because he wanted a souvenir.
At 46 seconds, another shot reports. At 50 seconds another shot.
By Halloween night, I am so far gone that watching Lindeman die has degenerated into a philosophic exercise – into a rumination on the nature of truth.
I have become the English actor David Hemmings in Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up. Only I am without the soundtrack by Herbie Hancock and the Yardbirds, without the young and naked Vanessa Redgrave to distract me. I have Trick or Treaters at my door. I am wearing a tee shirt with a picture of a skeleton riding a rigid. I try not to scare the little ones.
In Blow-Up, Hemmings character is a man searching for the pixel thin line between fantasy and truth. He takes a photo of a couple screwing in a London park. When he enlarges the photo he sees a body in the bushes near the couple and he assigns himself the task of finding the truth, of solving this apparent murder. Eventually, after many blowups and many filter enhancements, after much staring at blurry images through a magnifying glass, he finally manages to see a hand holding a gun. Or is it a gun?
Over and over I go to my door and I say, “Don’t you look cute. Now take turns. Happy Halloween!” And, then I go back to watching the last four seconds of John Lindeman’s life and the two seconds immediately after it ends.
Lindeman’s Dying Charge
At 40 seconds John Lindeman’s right arm seems to be held straight out from his body. He is just coming into view behind the orange interior wall of the QuikTrip. I cannot prove it, I might very well be wrong, but it seems to me that by then Ripley Lindeman is all alone.
If I am right, by then the A.R.M. who threw the first punch has been beaten to the ground. And, then he rose, thought about returning to the fight, recognized the gun fire and ran for his life. If I am right, Brad Lutzow has already been mortally wounded in or near his pickup truck. If I am right, Lindeman is now fighting alone. What he is fighting for I do not know.
I have been told that there were two guns involved in this murder, a .40 caliber and a nine. I know Lindeman was shot four times. I do not exactly go play golf with the detective in charge of the case so I cannot ask him if Lindeman’s hands were bagged.
At 40 seconds into the video John Ripley Lindeman is running straight at the Sober Rider who kills him. He is not running away. He is not running for his life. He is running toward his fate. The two men seem to be eight feet apart and Lindeman’s right arm is extended. I cannot see anything in his hand. And then, after much staring at a blurry image I can. Or, maybe I can’t.
If I had to guess, I would say that the most common firearms carried by bikers are the North American Arms, five shot, .22 caliber revolver, several brands (such as the Davis) of .22 caliber derringers and some flavor of .38 caliber derringer. None of them are shootout guns. All of them are “Lord, please lead me out of this bar” pistols. If you are reading this now you, yourself may own one of these excellent, disposable handguns. So, you know they are all pistols that are only effective at distances of six feet or less.
Certainly there must be a reason why John Lindeman fearlessly chased his killer across that parking lot. There must have been some reason why his killer was backing up. I cannot see a gun in Lindeman’s hand but he might be holding a tiny gun like a derringer. And simultaneously, everything I have heard about Ripley Lindeman in the past eight months leads me to believe that he was not a man who carried a gun. He was not a man who believed he had a reason to carry a gun.
I have to wonder, if Lindeman is holding a gun where did it come from? Is it a baby nine? A little nine can disappear in a man’s hand, too. Is it the gun that fatally wounded Brad Lutzow? Did Lindeman take it off one of the killers?
Is he even holding a gun or is Lindeman only holding up his hand in a defensive gesture? Is he trying to grab the gun from his killers hand? I do not know. I am fairly certain the police know. But I do not cooperate with the police so they do not cooperate with me.
All Hallows Eve
It is nine o’clock on the night of banshees and goblins and ghosts and hauntings and I am still watching video of a man who died months ago when the doorbell rings.
“Well aren’t you sweet! Ooh! You scared me there, little partner! Happy Halloween!”
I go back to a computer screen so that over and over I can watch six seconds of video. There are three shots in quick succession. At 41 seconds into the tape Lindeman has been mortally wounded and his momentum is carrying him forward as he falls. He turns to his left as he falls. His killer gracefully dances out of the way so as not to get any of Lindeman’s blood on his shoe.
Quickly the killer scampers around Lindeman and steps to the exact spot where Lindeman started to fall. The killer bends over and picks something off the ground. Then he disappears into the gloom.
Inside the store the clerk says, “Damn!”
Who Gives A Damn
And, if you have read this far, if you have been patient enough with me to have done that, if you are a normal person, if you are not me, you may have begun to wonder why I watched this one death over and over. I know it is a strange way to scribble out one’s days.
And all I can tell you in my own defense, in John Lindeman’s defense, is that every man dies twice. The first time he dies he becomes a corpse. And, the second time he dies he becomes forgotten.
A century ago, John Masefield, the longtime Poet Laureate of Britain wrote a sonnet about this second death. The corpse “cannot lift the silly hand again,” Masefield declares in line three.
Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears.
And muffled mourners put it in the ground
And then go home, and in the earth it lies,
Too dark for vision and too deep for sound,
The million cells that made a good man wise.
Yet for a few short years an influence stirs
A sense or wraith or essence of him dead,
Which makes insensate things its ministers
To those beloved, his spirit’s daily bread;
Then that, too, fades; in book or deed a spark
Lingers, then that, too, fades; then all is dark.
Life goes on without John Lindeman. But he died so fearlessly. And, the least I can do for him is cup my hands around his fading spark.