Former Hells Angels boss accused of disposing bodies in ‘the pizza oven’

Federal prosecutors say that a former Hells Angels boss disposed of the bodies of up to four of the group’s members at a central California funeral home, known to the gang as “the pizza oven”.

US prosecutors set out in gruesome detail last week how they believe members of the gang used the Yost and Webb funeral home in Fresno, California, to cremate four men.

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The allegations came in the sentencing of Merl Hefferman, a 54-year-old former member of the Fresno county Hells Angels chapter, who in December had pleaded guilty to disposing of the body of Joel Silva.

Silva, a member of the Sonoma county Hells Angels, had been killed by another member in 2014.

Crematory manager Levi Phipps had testified at trial he had received a call from Hefferman on 16 July 2014, instructing him to be at the funeral home and leave the “hangar door open”, prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum. There, Phipps said, he was threatened at gunpoint by two men while they loaded a body into the incinerator.

Shortly after, prosecutors said, Phipps received another call from Hefferman, this time telling him to keep quiet. According to prosecutors, Phipps’s testimony is corroborated by cellphone records.

“The only reason Hefferman wanted that access was to make bodies disappear without a trace,” prosecutors wrote. “Merl Hefferman arranged to have Joel Silva’s body illegally cremated.”

But prosecutors last week also said Silva’s was just one of four bodies Hefferman appears to have helped disappear.

Prosecutors allege Phipps told a federal grand jury that several months after the disposal of Silva’s body, Hefferman contacted him again to arrange yet another cremation. Prosecutors believe that the second body was that of Robbie Huff, a Hells Angels member who went missing in 2015 and, according to prosecutors, colluded in Silva’s murder and cover up.

The pattern repeated itself on a third occasion, prosecutors say, this time to dispose of a body they believe to be of Art Carasis, a Hells Angels member who went missing in 2016. Phone records between Hefferman and Phipps corroborate Phipps’s testimony, prosecutors say.

The prosecution did not name the fourth alleged victim, though Hefferman’s attorney, James Bustamante, identified him as Hells Angels member Juan Guevara.

Hefferman has not been charged in connection with the cases of Huff, Carasis and the fourth alleged victim. In his sentencing memorandum, Bustamante wrote that “despite ample opportunities to do so, it is clear that the government did not find Phipps credible enough to seek additional charges”.

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When reached for comment, Bustamante referred to his memo. Yost and Webb funeral home did not return a request for comment.

Hefferman’s case is part of a larger racketeering investigation into the Sonoma and Fresno Hells Angels.

The murder of Joel Silva occurred on 15 July 2014. Prosecutors say he was lured to the biker gang’s Fresno club headquarters and shot by Brian Wayne Wendt after running afoul of other Hells Angels. A jury in June 2022 found three members of the gang responsible for the murder: Wendt, Jonathan Nelson and Russell Taylor Ott. Hefferman was accused of disposing of the body, not of killing Silva.

Silva’s family said in a victims’ statement last week that not having a body to mourn over had impacted their grieving process. “Not knowing where our son was for years was difficult and extremely emotional,” they wrote. “The Hells Angels are all cowards. They took Joel’s life over somebody’s ego and no one has a right to take anyone’s life.”

Hefferman was sentenced to four years in prison on 19 October on the obstruction of justice charges relating to Silva, according to the Fresno Bee .