That time when the Hells Angels killed a man right in front of Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger watches an audience member killed right in front of him, caught on film
(Image credit: Gimme Shelter/YouTube)

The biker gang shootout at a Twin Peaks "breastaurant" in Waco, Texas, which left nine dead, seems so shocking in part because biker gang violence hasn't been in the American news much for a few decades. But outlaw motorcycle gangs (or, yes, OMGs for short) used to make the headlines with some regularity, especially on the West Coast, starting with the 1947 biker riot in Hollister, California. Hunter S. Thompson, in Hell's Angels (1966), and Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, 1968) wrote about the world's largest OMG, Hells Angels, in mid-1960s California.

By the late 1970s, murders and other crimes had led to the jailing of several biker gang leaders, prompting a shift to more muted, underground criminal enterprises, notably drug trafficking. In 1985, the FBI arrested 113 Hells Angels in a nationwide sting, charging them with racketeering and trafficking meth and other drugs. The Hells Angels and the other three major OMGs — the Outlaws, the Pagans, and the Bandidos, alleged instigators of the Waco shootout — took their bloodshed overseas, with notable flare-ups in Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia.

But probably the craziest story about biker gangs is from the disastrous Altamont Speedway Free Festival, held in December 1969 at a racetrack about 60 miles north of San Francisco. The lineup was amazing: Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones as headliners. The concert was a mess. After Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin was knocked out cold by a Hells Angel during the band's set, the Grateful Dead — co-organizers of the festival — skipped out, fleeing in a helicopter before their scheduled performance.

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There were a lot of causes for the mayhem, most of them stemming from the slapdash nature of the event. But the decision to essentially hire the Hells Angels as security, paying them with $500 worth of beer, proved catastrophic. The Angels were drunk and belligerent by evening, and during the Stones' set, while Mick Jagger was singing "Under My Thumb," an Angel named Alan Passaro stabbed a gun-wielding concertgoer named Meredith Hunter. Other Angels kicked and stomped on him, and Hunter died. Amazingly, the killing was captured on camera, featured in the the 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter. You can watch Jagger view the killing on film for the first time in the clip below. — Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.