SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A determined mother tracked the killers of her motorcycle-loving son for 10 years, dogging leads and witnesses in tough biker bars and dangerous neighborhoods until the final suspect was arrested.
The long search by Rose Hoffman ended with the arrest on Christmas Day of suspect John (Slug) Stelle, 48, in Oakley on a murder warrant.
It was the best 'Christmas present' she could have, Hoffman told the San Francisco Examiner.
Her long search now over, Hoffman marvels at how even the starkest fear couldn't keep her from pursuing the four men suspected of killing her son, Gus, 22, in the summer of 1978 for his customized, rigid-frame Harley-Davidison Sportster.
'Sometimes when I'd get home,' she said, 'I'd think, 'My goodness, what did I do? I felt so strong. I prayed all the time.'
But there is still an unanswered, painful piece of puzzle to the case.
'They never found his body,' she said. 'If someone out there could help us find my son, I could put him to rest.'
Gus Hoffman, a mechanic, was taking his lovingly rebuilt motorcyle for a ride in San Jose when he disappeared on July 4, 1978.
The bike, popular with outlaw as well as conventional bikers, apparently drew the attention of a carload of biker types, said Sgt. Jeff Quimet of the San Jose Police Department.
They stopped behind Hoffman and either chased him or intimidated him into going to another location, the police sergeant said. Hoffman was never seen again, and Quimet said he could not disclose why police believed he had been murdered or in what manner.
'It will come out in court,' Quimet said.
Police investigated the disappearance but had few leads. Mrs. Hoffman, now 53, launched her own probe. Quimet said Rose Hoffman 'went to biker bars ... put up posters ... hired private investigators,' and finally helped to identify witnesses, a development that led to murder warrants for four suspects.
The search 'was like looking for a needle in a haystack,' Rose Hoffman said. 'I just put all the pieces together. I talked to druggies, and I found out (someone) chased him. I found out where they lived, and I drove by all the time.'
Despite death threats in bars and one extortion attempt, she kept up her search, feeding information to police.
That information led to the arrest last June of Michael Hodges, 36, of Sunnyvale. A second suspect, Richard Dollar, 33, was charged in his cell at San Quentin Prison, where he was serving time for a parole violation.
A third suspect, Michael Stevenson, was killed in an unrelated shooting in San Joaquin County in 1986.
Stelle's arrest, by Contra Costa County sheriff deputies, was the final chapter, Quimet said.
'I feel very strongly after all we've been through that justice will be done,' Rose Hoffman said. 'I'm praying for it.'