Mother’s Work Pays Off: Last Suspect in Biker’s Murder Arrested

Times Staff Writer

Rose Hoffman, a middle-class San Jose-area mother who immersed herself in the seedy underworld of outlaw motorcycle gangs in an effort to identify the killers of her 20-year-old son, said Wednesday that she was “absolutely relieved” that the last suspect in the case was arrested on Christmas Day.

“I was so joyful the tears came running down,” said Hoffman, 53, whose son, Gus Hoffman, disappeared while riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in San Jose on Independence Day, 1978.

Following leads that Hoffman developed during almost a decade of amateur detective work, San Jose police investigators pieced together a gruesome scenario in which Gus Hoffman was tortured, murdered and probably dismembered.

Suspects Arrested


In June, detectives arrested suspects Michael Hodges, 36, and Richard Dollar, 33, and charged them with the murder. Another suspect was killed in an unrelated incident in 1986. But suspect John (Sluggo) Stelle, 48, remained at large on a murder warrant until his arrest Sunday night.

According to a report by the arresting officers, Stelle was spotted through the window of a house in the Northern California town of Oakley while officers were questioning his girlfriend.

A paroled felon, he attempted to flee through a back door, the officers’ report said, and deputies found him hiding in back-yard bushes with a .38-caliber handgun in his waistband. He is now in Santa Clara County Jail on $1 million bail.

Case Called ‘Ridiculous’

Attorney Richard Keyes, who has been appointed to represent Stelle, said he did not know enough about the complex case to comment. But James McNair Thompson, who is defending suspect Dollar, repeated his assertion that the prosecution’s case is “ridiculous” and based almost entirely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of his client’s ex-wife, a witness he characterized as unreliable.

Hoffman said in a telephone interview that she saw the arrest as a sad Christmas present. Her family, she said, has “been suffering all these years. There’s always someone missing around the dinner table on a holiday. . . . They didn’t only murder my son. The pain we’ve lived with we’re going to have to live with the rest of our lives.”

Her final hope, she said, is that with the last suspect in jail, witnesses to the murder will come forward with information about where her son’s remains are buried. “I don’t know where my son is and I’ll never stop until I find my son,” she said.