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12-Year Search for Son’s Killers Ends in Guilty Verdict

August 13, 1990 GMT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ For more than a decade, Rose Hoffman nosed around biker bars, braved threats and talked to virtually everyone she met in an effort to find her son.

Her quest ended this month when three men were convicted of sodomizing and murdering 20-year-old Gus Hoffman Jr. and stealing his motorcycle.

His mother’s ordeal began in 1978, when the young man didn’t return to his San Jose home the night of July 4.

″We’re a very close family, and when your son doesn’t come home all night, you right then know something is definitely wrong,″ Mrs. Hoffman said. ″I would brag he was home every night, and I would say at least I know where he is.″

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Hoffman was last seen on his rebuilt Harley-Davidson motorcycle at a San Jose intersection. Witnesses said he was being chased by two other motorcycles and a car filled with people. Neither his body nor the motorcycle was ever found.

″My son was a very gullible young kid. He helped a lot of people in his life. He had a heart of gold,″ Mrs. Hoffman said. ″The bike was the reason he was killed. He spent almost all his money ... on that bike. He only had it running for three weeks, and then he was missing.″

Immediately after their son’s disappearance, the Hoffmans hired private investigators, sent out fliers and offered rewards. Mrs. Hoffman, now 55, began checking out biker bars and other places zfor information.

″I didn’t care if I went into a grocery store or liquor store, I talked to people,″ she said. ″I just would not give up. I’m very, very persistent. He was my son. ... What would you do for your son?″

She said she was threatened and told to stop asking questions. ″But it didn’t bother me,″ she said, adding that ″there are a lot of good bikers out there.″

The case had been assigned as well to police, who didn’t find much. But Mrs. Hoffman kept dogging them to pursue the case. On her own, she learned that a man named Michael Lee Stevenson might have had something to do with her son’s disappearance.

In 1987, the San Jose Police Department’s homicide chief, in an attempt to close the books on old cases by assigning them to night detectives, gave the case to Sgts. Jack Baxter and Jeff Ouimet. They took it from there.

″We knew we had leads and witnesses to talk to, which led us to other witnesses,″ Ouimet said. ″There was a ray of hope there which felt pretty good.″

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A key prosecution witness turned up: the ex-wife of suspect Richard Morris Dollar, who said she witnessed the attack.

Deputy District Attorney Don Shearer said the woman, whose name was withheld, had kept silent for years for fear of retribution from Stevenson and the legal system.

But Stevenson, in whose garage the assault is believed to have occurred, was shot to death in 1986 by an elderly man after trying to shake down the man’s son, Shearer said.

In 1988, Dollar and two other alleged motorcycle gang members were arrested in Gus Hoffman’s slaying.

Dollar, 34, Michael Allen Hodges, 38, and John Michael Stelle, 49, face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole at sentencing Oct. 17.

Hodges’ attorney, Francis Cavagnaro, said he will seek a new trial.

″It did not bring our son back,″ Mrs. Hoffman said of the conviction. ″But we did what we could to get justice, and our prayers were answered.″