How The Messenger got the Pat Matter story

I get a lot of emails as the managing editor of The Messenger and – like most people – the majority of them don’t really interest me.

Last week, I got an email with the subject line “Kara Hildreth gave us your name to contact.” Kara is a newspaper reporter who had worked for The Messenger probably 14 or 15 years ago and, although we have talked a few times since, we really didn’t stay in touch. Still, the subject line intrigued me enough to open the email.

It turns out some retired captain from the Hennepin County sheriff’s office wrote a true crime book that was co-authored by the founder and longtime president of the Hells Angels in Minnesota.

While that was moderately interesting – I like stories about cops and criminals, and I’ve never seen a book where two of them collaborated – it’s a good thing I read the second paragraph of the email.

Prior to being a Hells Angel, the co-author was a Grim Reaper in Fort Dodge.

OK, now I was all in.

I’m not from Fort Dodge, but I’ve certainly heard stories about the Grim Reapers, especially the one about a biker getting shot to death downtown, not far from the building where I’ve worked for the past 25 years.

The email from Chris Omodt continues, “Pat talks in the book about one of his best friends that was killed in a biker shootout in Fort Dodge in the 1970s. Pat was there.”

Chris casually threw in at the end, “I am quite certain that Pat and I could make the jaunt to Iowa if need be to provide your newspaper with a story.”

From that moment on, I made it my life’s mission to make sure that meeting took place. Just as I was hoping to get Chris and Pat to Iowa, their to-be-released-on-Aug.-1 book was making big waves on Amazon. Suddenly, they were being inundated with interview requests.

I offered anything and everything I could think of to lure them to Fort Dodge. I offered to do the interview any time of day, any day of the week AND to postpone my vacation if necessary.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

On Friday morning, Pat called me en route from Albert Lea, and two hours later, I had a chance to sit down with him and Chris at The Messenger. Then, with photographer Hans Madsen, we did a walking tour of a greatly changed downtown Fort Dodge. Streets that were lined with bars, including the one that Pat and his friend had just left that night in 1974, are long gone. Much more respectable.

As is Pat. In the book, he is pictured as a long-haired biker. Today, he could be any 63-year-old Midwestern guy you would meet on the streets – as long as you don’t see the Hells Angels tattoos on his upper arms.

We also went out to North Lawn Cemetery, where Pat’s friend, Rick Wingerson, is buried. Pat Matter, a guy who ran the Hells Angels with an iron fist, survived at least one attempt on his life and never backed away from any fight any time, was concerned that people would think taking a photo at his friend’s gravesite was disrespectful. That he was using Rick’s grave to sell books.

I asked him what Rick would think.

He said, “He would have loved it.”

I think that’s all that really matters.

Barbara Wallace Hughes is managing editor of The Messenger.