Inside the investigation of Charlotte’s worst mass killing

Published: Jul. 4, 2016 at 5:10 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Washburn/The Charlotte Observer) - Homicide detective Ron Guerette called his supervisor on the night of July 3, 1979, to say he'd just closed a case.

"Give me something harder to do," he joked.

At dawn the next day, Sgt. Jay Horner obliged. "He said, 'I've got five people dead. I need you to go,'" Guerette says. "I said, 'Sarge, it's too early to mess with me,' and hung up."

It was no joke. Inside a filthy house at 2500 Allen Road South, the Charlotte headquarters of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, was the scene of Charlotte's worst mass killing, a case closed only a year ago and still shrouded in mystery.

Guerette, the original lead investigator, remembers the case as being one of the most vexing of his career. A year ago this week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police announced they had determined the killings were the work of two men, both long dead, including one Guerette suspected early in his investigation.

Whether braggadocio, drunken ramblings or just intimate chit-chat in the years before their deaths, Gregory Lindaman and his sidekick Randy Pigg told others about the five slayings, confiding details that only those at the scene would know, police say.

Guerette remembers arriving at the crime scene. So many police cars jammed the street that he had to park a block away from the four-room clubhouse.

"I can still see it today," says Guerette.

On the front porch, he found William "Waterhead" Allen, 22, reclining on a chair beside a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, one leg propped up and a .38-caliber pistol in his lap. He had been on guard duty. He was shot in the chest, the impact of the bullet apparently knocking a pack of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket.

Inside the door lay William "Mouse" Dronenburg, 32, the club's beloved tattoo artist. He was sprawled on the floor, legs wrapped in blankets on a couch, an unfired gun nearby.

Shot in the head on a sofa was Bridgette "Midget" Benfield, 5-feet tall and two months shy of her 18th birthday. Drawn to the excitement of biker culture, she had run away from her Gaston County home months earlier.

Beside her was Leonard "Terrible Terry" Henderson, 29, resting beside another unfired gun. On another couch lay Randall Feazell, 28, bullet holes from leg to face.

"I don't think they ever woke up," Guerette says. "They all were dead within a matter of seconds."

Gangs ascendent in era

Charlotte was a hub for motorcycle gangs in the 1970s. As the decade progressed, Hell's Angels and the Outlaws absorbed clubs of bandit bikers in the region. Drugs, prostitution and violence fueled the gangs.

A string of massage parlors they operated along a tawdry stretch of Wilkinson Boulevard near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport were fronts for prostitution.

Police tied more than a dozen killings in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties to the two gangs, but there was little systematic effort to crack down on them.

His biggest cases

Dark secrets and deadly mysteries are the turf of Ron Guerette, private eye.

Since leaving the police department and hanging out his investigator's shingle in 1982, he's been hired as an investigator on some of the highest-profile cases in memory, those involving Kim Thomas, George Shinn, Rae Carruth, Michael Peterson, the $17 million Loomis Fargo heist.

He is known for a flashy appearance, Italian suits and silver hair. He grew up as one of 14 kids in a farm family in Maine, along the Canadian border. Descended from French Canadians, he spoke only French until the fifth grade. After military service and a police job in Colorado, Guerette joined Charlotte's police force in 1972.

"Top brass didn't care for me," he says. "I was the only Yankee there."

Guerette, 71, says his gruff manner didn't make him popular.

"I'm not a chit-chat guy. I don't like to walk in and be nice to people because that doesn't work."

Gathering evidence

Inside the clubhouse, Guerette says he found a swarm of officers. A few were gathered around the pool table, examining a pile of weapons.

"I told everybody to get the hell out of the house," Guerette says.

Beer cans and trash were strewn about. Spent shell casings littered the floor.

Out back, three guard dogs – German shepherds – were tied up. Animal control officers took them away.

A pay phone hung on the wall. As word got out, calls poured in wanting to know what had happened. Guerette answered them, hoping to build a network of people who could help identify the bodies and maybe give a tip to who was behind the killings.

Most callers hung up when Guerette identified himself and asked who they were.

Security lax

Bikers arrived outside. Some were cooperative and went to police headquarters to give statements.

Among the first ones Guerette interviewed was William "Chains" Flamont, leader of the Charlotte Outlaws chapter. He told Guerette he arrived about 5:20 a.m. to check clubhouse security, which had been lax.

For one thing, the house was understaffed. Two members – "Trip" Lowery and Tommy Stroud – were in jail on charges of motorcycle theft. (Stroud, son of a Charlotte police captain, was gunned down in 1981, possibly by rival bikers.)

For another, "Waterhead" Allen had recently broken his leg and was taking pain pills, meaning he often fell asleep on guard duty.

Strangers weren't uncommon in the clubhouse, as Feazell demonstrated. He was only a visitor who met "Mouse" Dronenburg the night before; Dronenburg gave him a place to sleep.

It took days to figure out who Feazell was, Guerette says, because no one knew him. He was finally identified through dental records.

Flamont didn't know who was behind the killings, but bad blood was developing between his gang and the Hell's Angels, which was expanding its turf in Charlotte. In 1979, Charlotte was one of the only cities were both gangs were operating, and there was friction.

In only a few days, the Hell's Angels were dropped as suspects. Nothing pointed to them.

Tips on suspect

In the days after the slayings, tips began to come in about Gregory Scott "Teen Angel" Lindaman.

Lindaman grew up racing dirt bikes and graduated to a motorcycle at 16. By the time he graduated from Independence High School in 1974, he was an expert at taking bikes apart and reassembling them.

"He knew everyone on two wheels," says his brother, Michael Lindaman, who lives in north Texas.

Gregory Lindaman left Charlotte immediately after the killings. That got Guerette's attention.

And something more: People said there had been an argument between Lindaman and victim "Terrible Terry" Henderson, widely reviled among the Outlaws for his drunkenness and belligerence.

"Lindaman," says Guerette, "could piss off the pope."

A cross-country trip after killings

Already a suspect in a different slaying, Lindaman was arrested in San Bernadino, Calif., 10 days after the massacre on a Charlotte warrant for motorcycle theft. Guerette brought him back on a commercial flight in handcuffs.

"He was a good-looking kid," Guerette says, and from a good family. "He was a rogue. He was brought up better than that."

Within days, Lindaman was charged in Mecklenburg County with killing Larry "Popeye" Pressley, 28, shot in the head Dec. 16, 1978, in the parking lot of Trader Don's Lounge on Mount Holly-Huntersville Road. Pressley was a former member of the Tarheel Stomper motorcycle gang.

A month later, charges in the murder case were dropped. Witnesses said Lindaman appeared to kill Pressley in self-defense.

Guerette interviewed Lindaman about the Outlaws case.

"I knew he wasn't telling me the truth," Guerette said. "He didn't want to incriminate himself."

A beef with 'Terrible Terry'

Lindaman had a close connection to the Outlaws and their Charlotte clubhouse – he had joined the club but never passed probation.

"He was a wild one," says Guerette. "He wouldn't listen to command. The Outlaws were trying to keep it low key."

Guerette says he had to wonder whether Lindaman wanted to prove he was mean enough to be a biker.

"Lindaman was absolutely ruthless," says Tex O'Neill, a retired journalist who was one of the Charlotte Observer reporters assigned to the biker beat in the wake of the killings and became an expert on the subculture.

"I was hearing that Lindaman had tried to become an Outlaw and he screwed up and he got thrown out. He was persona non grata at the clubhouse."

In Texas, Michael Lindaman says his brother never talked about the killings and doesn't think he had anything to do with them. "I loved my brother dearly, and it hurts to see his name defamed."

As soon as Guerette began hearing about Lindaman, he began hearing about his sidekick, Randall Allen Pigg.

Pigg never belonged to any of the biker gangs, but was often at Lindaman's side. When Lindaman was returned from California, police brought Pigg in for questioning, too.

Pigg told police he didn't know anything about the killings.

It took only seconds

Trying to figure out a timeline, Guerette re-enacted the shootings.

Taking out "Waterhead" Allen, the porch guard, would be easy enough over the 8-foot fence outside the clubhouse, he reasoned, if someone gave the gunman a boost. His walk-through came in under 14 seconds.

Guerette believes the killings occurred shortly before dawn. Early morning is the deepest part of sleep.

Two weapons, a .223 rifle and a 9 mm pistol, were used. Investigators looked everywhere, even in the septic tank on the clubhouse property, but neither weapon would ever be found.

Other brushes with the law

Lindaman and Pigg stayed on the radar of police.

In January 1982, they were together at Lindaman's birthday party in east Charlotte when a dispute erupted. Both were beaten up and three other men were shot.

Five months later, at about 2:30 a.m. June 19, 1982, they were coming home from Lindaman's bachelor party, held at a bar on Monroe Road. One of their companions had a motorcycle crash. Despite the late hour, a crowd developed at the scene in the 9600 block of Monroe Road and a wild melee followed.

Two men were shot, one fatally. Pigg was arrested for wrestling with a police officer for his gun. Lindaman was charged with assaulting a police officer.

Pigg's next major arrest came in January 1988 when he was found with 30 pounds of marijuana and semi-automatic weapons.

A fatal 'Batman turn'

Lindaman moved with his new bride to Texas. They had a son and divorced in Houston in July 1990.

Three months after the divorce, Lindaman died in a traffic accident, doing a "Batman turn" in his Corvette, his brother says. Lindaman was trapped in the car after it overturned and he drowned in a drainage ditch.

Pigg started a welding company, which he operated for 18 years before dying at age 60 of a liver ailment in October 2007.

Easy Rider magazine ran a picture of his wake, held at Dirty Den's Sports Bar on Central Avenue and followed by a motorcycle procession to the funeral home.

Break in the case

Tim Jolly, a persistent Charlotte detective, started working on the case when he worked for CMPD's violent crimes task force. He kept at it in his spare time when he joined the homicide division.

Early last year, there was a development in the case – police won't say more – and Jolly went to Sgt. Darrell Price, head of the cold case squad.

Cold case detectives hit the road and talked to people they'd interviewed in the past.

"People are very reluctant to come forward at the time of a crime for many reasons," Price says. "These are the things that lead us to go out and get people again as time goes on."

Because it was a high-profile case, Price says, police knew they'd need to meet a high standard before closing it and expected some criticism from people accusing the department of pinning the crimes on two dead men.

What persuaded detectives they had the right suspects in Lindaman and Pigg was information that came from those interviewed about items at the scene of the slayings that had not been publicized and only the killers would have known and shared.

Police won't say what the information was, and Guerette, the original detective, has no idea what it could be.

Case closed

"There's no other way they would have known that without knowing the truth," Price says. "There were some things that were at the scene, and by comparing these things to the testimonial evidence given by many people we were able to believe we had probable cause."

It was what police suspected from the beginning when they began developing information about Lindaman and "Terrible Terry" Henderson – a personal score between one of the killers and one of the victims.

As for the other four, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After a series of interviews with people who had known Lindaman and Pigg, detectives took their evidence to the Mecklenburg District Attorney's Office, which agreed it was time to declare the case closed.

"Bottom line, we had enough evidence," Price says, "that if these guys were alive today we would arrest them and take them to court and convict them."

Guerette hasn't been involved in the case since he left the police department.

"I always hoped it would get solved," says Guerette. "It's been a long time."