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Mother’s 10-Year Search For Son Ends With Murder Charges Against Three

June 23, 1988 GMT

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Ten years after Rose Hoffman began her search among the city’s motorcycle gangs for her missing son, police reported on Wednesday they have charged three men with his murder.

″It had to happen this way,″ said Hoffman, 53, who held a large framed photograph of Gus Henry Hoffman - ″my Gussie″ - who was 20 when he disappeared off a street.

″God knew if I found out then, 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I’m having a very hard time of it now,″ Hoffman said in a tearful interview.

Hoffman never really expected Gus to turn up alive. He was last seen at an intersection being chased by two other motorcycles and a car filled with people, police said. They suspect he was killed for his motorcycle.

His body has not been found.

″I have no grave to go to,″ said Hoffman. ″It won’t be over until I find my son.″

Hoffman is grateful for the work by Detective Sgt. Jeff Ouimet and Detective Jack Baxter, who were assigned in February 1987 when the homicide bureau chief turned over some unsolved murders to night detectives.

″What they did was fantastic,″ said homicide Sgt. John Kracht. ″They just put it all together.″

Hoffman said she intends to see that the two officers are honored.

But she wonders why she had to spend a decade searching for tips in bikers’ bars and other unsavory hangouts before witnesses who kept silent for 10 years came forward.

″I went everywhere,″ she said. ″Night and day I lived this, and my family suffered.″ She and her husband are considering holding a memorial service for Gus, the second-born of their four children.

San Jose homicide Lt. Richard Gummow said Wednesday afternoon case files were not immediately available for more details on Mrs. Hoffman or how she investigated her son’s death.

″We reinterviewed a number of people, many of them, and some of those previously interviewed modified their statements. And someone else came forward who had not come forward before,″ Gummow said.

Police charged Michael Allen Hodges, 36, of Sunnyvale, and Richard Morris Dollar, 32, with murder in the case. Both are being held in Santa Clara County Jail on $1 million bail.

A third man, John Michael ″Sluggo″ Stelle, 47, has been a fugitive since February, when he failed to report to his parole officer after serving time at San Quentin Prison for a drug conviction and parole violation.

One of the tips Hoffman received during her investigation involved a fourth suspect, Michael Lee Stevenson, a biker linked to the Hells Angels and the now-defunct Forgotten Few. Stevenson was shot to death two years ago at age 37 by an elderly man Stevenson tried to extort for property, police said.

″That animal,″ said Hoffman. ″A biker girl told people who told me that Stevenson said my son was dead and we’d never find his body.″

Stevenson was convicted in 1981 of sexually assaulting and killing a Modesto man who owed him money.

″The suspects had come up before,″ said Ouimet. ″But the witnesses were afraid to talk before″ Stevenson was killed.

″I know the witnesses were fearful,″ said Hoffman. ″But they should turn it around and feel as a mother would. Then they would say, ’Please, tell it like it is.‴

Among the scraps of paper in Hoffman’s boxes of notes is a yellowed newspaper clip telling how Stevenson was arrested in 1977 and accused of holding a woman cative and torturing her while she was chained in a closet for a month. The woman escaped to tell her story, but Stevenson, who was bound over for trial, was never convicted.

″The girl he captured wouldn’t testify against him because she feared for her life,″ said Hoffman. ″If he had been put away then, my son would be alive today.″