Dale Hartlaub is thankful every time his last name triggers someone’s memory.
That memory is often about his younger brother and his high-profile murder case.
“How many people remember him ...” he said. “I always love when somebody shares (something) about him.”
Dale will never forget the night he lost his brother. He was watching the 1988 Winter Olympics when he got the call.
“It was just total shock,” he said.
Twenty years ago today Sandusky resident David Hartlaub was shot to death by members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.
Hartlaub, a 28-year-old assistant manager at Musicland in Sandusky Mall, was making a night bank deposit just before 10 p.m. that fateful day. Thirteen bullets riddled his body as he pulled his yellow van up to Trustcorp bank near the mall.
It was a case of mistaken identity.
Members of Hell’s Angels mistook Hartlaub as a member of their rivals, the Outlaws. As part of an initiation ritual they were supposed to kill the rival gang member. Instead, they shot and killed Hartlaub.
The shooter, John Ray Bonds, along with fellow gang members Mark S. Verdi and Steven W. Yee, jumped into their car and drove toward downtown Sandusky.
About five minutes after the shooting, they were stopped by a Sandusky police officer near the intersection of Milan Road and Perkins Avenue for a traffic violation. The officer was unaware of the shooting that happened just a few miles down the road, but noticed the driver made an illegal turn on a red light. As he issued a warning to the driver, Sandusky police Lt. Max Jarrett noticed a passenger wore a Hell’s Angels belt buckle.
“That’s what broke the case,” said Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter, adding that the warning and police officer’s observations later proved the men were in Sandusky on the night of the shooting.
Back at the crime scene, the murder weapon — a 9 mm pistol — was left in the van along with the $4,000 cash deposit Hartlaub was trying to make. That led investigators to believe the motive was not robbery.
Collecting the evidence
For more than a year investigators collected evidence in the case.
Ballistic tests on the murder weapon were run, hair and clothing fibers were collected and DNA was analyzed.
Shortly after the shooting, highways workers found a hat with hair fibers, papers containing Hartlaub’s name, a .38-caliber revolver and other items on the side of Ohio 2.
“It just was an amazing case,” said Baxter, who prosecuted the defendants at the state level.
Shell casings were found in the getaway vehicle, “which matched the murder weapon to the exclusion of any other,” Baxter said.
Relatively new in the field of forensic science, it was the DNA evidence that eventually clinched the case. Some blood samples taken from Hartlaub’s van were linked by DNA to Bonds, who was injured by a flying shell casing.
“It played a very significant role,” said Special Agent Charles Holloway, who has worked in the FBI’s Sandusky office for 23 years.
The FBI was already investigating Hell’s Angels and took an active role in the Hartlaub murder investigation. Holloway was the agent assigned to the case.
“It was one of the most interesting cases I’ve worked on,” he said.
The first DNA testing had just become available in 1987, and its reliability was debatable. After a month-long hearing in federal court, DNA was determined to be valid evidence.
The Hartlaub case was the first case in which DNA evidence was used.
James Wooley, a Cleveland attorney, prosecuted the case at the federal level.
“It was by far to me the most significant case I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. “That sort of changed the way people investigated violent crime from that day forward.”
The Hartlaub murder also gained national attention when it was featured on “America’s Most Wanted” as law enforcement officers searched for Bonds. The broadcast brought in about 400 tips, including one that led to his arrest in Kentucky.
All three men were convicted on federal weapons charges in 1991. At the state level, Yee and Bonds were both convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. Verdi was convicted of aggravated murder.
Years after the shooting, in 2003, the case was featured on “The FBI Files” cable television program.
While most people remember how Hartlaub died, his family remembers how he lived.
A Sandusky High School graduate and five-year Navy veteran, his family described him as determined and self-motivated. The youngest of five, Hartlaub’s interests included music, writing, the outdoors and photography. His brother Ray, 57, said he imagined David would eventually get into promoting bands.
“He knew what he wanted, and didn’t quit until he got it,” he said.
Twenty years passed quickly for the family.
“I don’t think it seems that long ago,” said his mother, Connie Hartlaub, 83. “I remember it very vividly.”
Dale Hartlaub, 55, kept a 4-inch-thick binder of newspaper clippings about his brother and the case.
“Just the volume of it, it amazes me,” he said.
Connie said she remembers her son most when she hears music. Dale said he remembers his brother when he thinks about photography or “whenever somebody hears the name Hartlaub and gets that look on their face.”
Ray said he is thankful no one else was hurt in the shooting.
“When you look back to that night, we’re lucky more people weren’t killed,” he said.
Ray, a Vietnam veteran, said his brother’s death doesn’t make sense.
“How could I be over there, get home safe ... and my younger brother gets murdered in our hometown?” he asked.
Today, just the same as that day 20 years ago, the Hartlaub family turns to one another to find comfort.
Motorcycle gang activity
An Outlaws clubhouse still sits on Dewitt Avenue in Perkins Township. While local law enforcement officials say the motorcycle gang’s presence is minimal, the rivalry between such gangs continues throughout the nation, said Franklin County Sheriff’s office Deputy Charley Brown, who specializes in gang activity.
“Cleveland is predominantly Hell’s Angels; it always has been,” he said, adding the group has between 30 and 60 members in Cleveland at any one time there and 1,800 members in their ranks worldwide.
While being part of a gang does not constitute a crime, performing an illegal activity does.
The rivalry between the Hell’s Angels and the Outlaws still exists today, mostly about turf battles and drugs, Brown said.
“This stems back for years and years,” Brown said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen again. You just can’t predict that stuff.”
* John Ray Bonds, 51, Lorain, is serving time in a Pennsylvania federal prison. His projected release date is August 2011, after which he begins his state sentence of 30 years to life in prison.
* Steven W. Yee, 51, Parma, is serving 20 years to life in a state prison. His first parole hearing is April 2018.
* Mark S. Verdi, 59, Cleveland, is serving 20 years to life in a state prison. His first parole hearing is August 2011.
Source: State and Federal Prison Web sites