Clockwise, from top left: Patrick Bearup, Sean Gaines, Jessica Nelson and Jeremy Johnson
Clockwise, from top left: Patrick Bearup, Sean Gaines, Jessica Nelson and Jeremy Johnson
courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriff'S Office

Problem Skins

Last week's arrest of four skinheads charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder offered another glimpse into a world where, despite the white supremacist gang's professed beliefs, violence is not limited by the ethnicity of their victims. It appears that anyone who encounters them, whether friend or innocent bystander, is fair game.

Police say a crew of skinheads brutally beat and murdered Mark Mathes, a white man and former roommate of one of the skins. The four suspects -- Jessica Nelson, Patrick Bearup, Sean Gaines and Jeremy Johnson -- are part of the same group of skinheads alleged to have kicked and punched Cole Bailey Jr., another young white man, to death as he waited for a taxi outside a pool hall last fall.

Three of the four are convicted felons and prominent figures in the Valley's skinhead scene. Some held themselves out to be local spokespeople, of a sort, for the skinhead culture they are trying to promote.

In a recent New Times story ("Local Hero," Susy Buchanan, June 19), Nelson and Gaines were surprisingly candid about skinhead activities. They welcomed media attention. Nelson carefully explained the rules for advancement within their ranks, seniority evidenced by the color of a skin's bootlaces. Nelson admitted that she, like others, had earned the right to wear red laces through bloodshed, although she had been knocked back down to white laces at the time as punishment for her methamphetamine use. (Drug use, unlike violence, is frowned upon.)

Gaines, who often flashed a pistol during interviews with the paper, boasted he'd earned his reds by murdering a "nigger." He claimed he was altering his appearance to avoid warrants for his arrest.

Gaines and Nelson are friends of another skinhead, Patrick Bearup, whose father, Tom Bearup, a former Maricopa County sheriff's deputy, has run against Sheriff Joe Arpaio in previous elections and has filed to run for the position again this year.

Nelson, Gaines and Bearup's circle also includes the men who have been charged with capital murder for Cole Bailey's death. In fact, Bearup was shooting pool that night with the two, Chris Whitley and Samuel Compton ("Skinhead Slayer," Susy Buchanan, July 17). He has not been charged in connection with that murder.

The fact that both recent victims of skinhead violence were white "only serves to underscore the threat that hate groups and the individuals who participate in them pose to the entire community," says Bill Straus of the Anti-Defamation League, which closely monitors such groups.

So does the Phoenix Police Department. Phoenix detectives have compiled a detailed narrative recounting the last hours of Mark Mathes' life, based on an extensive investigation begun months earlier when they first learned of the murder through an informant.

Gradually, details of what happened in February 2002 began to emerge, a chilling story corroborated by suspect Jeremy Johnson during interrogation after his arrest on September 10.

The story police tell is one of torture, mutilation and, ultimately, the decision to murder Mathes, handed down by Nelson, and carried out primarily by Gaines, police say.

Johnson told police that after Mathes was beaten to unconsciousness, they placed his body in the trunk of a car and transported him to a remote area where Nelson and Gaines decided to kill the man.

"Sean Gaines then asked Jessica Nelson, What are we going to do with him?' Jessica then responded, You know what we have to do,'" the report reads.

The following chronicle of the evening's events is based on police reports and sources close to the investigation.

Police say it was near 10 p.m. on an evening in late February 2002 when the four skinheads encircled 40-year-old Mathes in the backyard of his Phoenix home. The sky was black as they struck the man with their fists, a baseball bat and the butt of a shotgun.

What provoked the brutal beating, kidnap, mutilation and eventual murder was Jessica Nelson's claim that Mathes had ripped her off.

Nelson, 27, was a matriarch of the skinhead crew she considered her family. When she discovered the missing money, she called Sean Gaines for help. Gaines, 22, is notorious for his violent temper and criminal activities. He did time for car theft and was convicted of felony assault for beating a Hispanic man in the head with a tree branch in 1998. In addition, Gaines was convicted this summer in the assault of a Jewish teenager last October, and arrested for car theft and weapons violations in March. Gaines had bailed out of jail less than a month before his arrest on this murder.

Gaines and Jeremy Johnson, a "fresh cut" relatively new to the skinhead culture, drove to the home to confront Mathes with Bearup following in his own vehicle. Prepared for a fight, Bearup brought a large knife, Johnson carried a baseball bat and Gaines was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Mathes, who had a lengthy rap sheet of his own in Washington state, had recently moved to Phoenix where he worked as a freight driver. His ties to the community were such that no one would notice he'd gone missing. Police say no one suspected foul play or cared that they didn't see him anymore until hunters found his spine and jawbone -- and not much else -- near Swastika Hill. For nearly a year, it was as if he had never existed.

Once Mathes was surrounded in the backyard, Gaines pointed the 12-gauge at him. "You fucked up," police believe he told the man, and ordered Johnson to "take his legs out." Johnson obliged, smacking Mathes in the knees with his bat. When Mathes did not go down fast enough, Johnson swung again, striking his ankles and back. Mathes crumpled to the ground. Nelson decked him in the face with her fist. Then Gaines stepped in, bashing Mathes' head repeatedly with the butt of the shotgun as Mathes screamed. He was soon beaten to unconsciousness.

Next, Bearup dragged the bloodied Mathes to the car Johnson had borrowed and put him in the trunk. Gaines and Johnson drove north on I-17 with Nelson and Bearup following in Bearup's vehicle. The group exited the highway at Horse Thief Basin and headed into the mountains. During the drive, Johnson said, he and Gaines could hear Mathes moaning from the trunk.

Their destination was a remote area seven miles south of Crown King, a ghost town in a region spattered with abandoned mines. They stopped at a spot near the old Swastika Mine. When Johnson opened the trunk, he told police, he saw Mathes looking at him, eyes wide open, gurgling and choking from his injuries.

As Nelson and Bearup ripped the man's clothes from his body, Nelson noticed a cheap ring on his finger and decided she wanted it. She and Bearup proceeded to cut off Mathes' finger to retrieve it, while Mathes screamed. He was silenced when Gaines again laid into his skull with the butt of the shotgun.

They then dragged Mathes to a guardrail and hurled his body over the side of a ravine. Gaines shot him twice with the shotgun.

Last week, during a search of Gaines' home following the arrests, police found a loaded Remington 12-gauge shotgun in his couch, which police say Gaines admitted was his. A search of Bearup's home turned up a loaded 9-mm handgun and five loaded magazines.

Both Johnson's and Bearup's families are shocked by the accusations against their sons. They say both young men were trying to distance themselves from the skinhead movement in recent months.

Johnson's mother says her son moved to Prescott just after the murder in an effort to shake the skinheads' influence. She says he left her a list of names to investigate should anything happen to him, a list that included Bearup and Nelson. She says Sean Gaines has made repeated visits to their home over the past year and a half trying to locate Johnson, and that he often brandished a gun.

Tom Bearup says his son Patrick had also left the skinhead movement, although Patrick has an extensive history with the group both before and after Mathes' murder.

In 1997, Bearup and Joshua Fiedler, one of the leaders of the local skinhead crew, shot 40 rounds into the fleeing car of two men (one black and one Hispanic) and served two years in prison for felony assault. Bearup's father, an ordained minister, officiated at Fiedler's marriage while Fiedler was incarcerated. In September 2001, not long after their release, Patrick Bearup attended a skinhead party with Fiedler in which a Jewish star was burned. Fiedler was in possession of two guns and a 14-inch knife when police arrived on the scene after a fight broke out and was promptly returned to prison for violating his probation.

Despite Bearup's past, his father insists he had changed his ways since the night Cole Bailey was killed. "He bought a house, he got married, he has children now, and he told me he was getting out. Those were the indications we had [that he had left the group]," says Tom Bearup, who believes his son had no involvement in the crime.

Another father isn't so quick to buy the young man's conversion. Cole Bailey Sr., who met with Patrick Bearup on several occasions while investigating the murder of his own son, is adamant in his belief that Patrick continues to embrace the skinhead lifestyle. During their encounters late last year, Bailey says, Patrick was always "laced and braced" in the skinhead uniform.

"Whether or not Patrick Bearup has been an active skinhead' and has been keeping a low profile in the past few months is irrelevant to the fact that he is probably a murderer," Bailey says.

"Of the four charged in this murder," Bailey adds, "Patrick Bearup holds the highest rank and is definitely the most intelligent."

Tom Bearup has vowed to continue his political campaign for sheriff no matter what the outcome in his son's case. "If he did it, shame on him," Tom Bearup says. "If he gets the death penalty, I'll be right there with him until the moment he dies."


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