Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Alan Ross, in a police photo taken after his 1979 arrest for drug trafficking.La Presse

Alan Ross, who recently died after 27 years in prison in the United States, was a ruthless Montreal mobster whose actions led to some of the most shocking episodes in Quebec’s crime annals, such as a mass killing after which the Hells Angels dumped dead bodies into the St. Lawrence River, and the suicide of a senior RCMP inspector.

Mr. Ross died on August 21, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons said, confirming a report by the Montreal Gazette. He was 74.

He had been serving a life sentence after a U.S. court convicted him of drug trafficking in 1992.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but in past court filings Mr. Ross had said he had health problems for years, including a diagnosis for colon cancer in 2009.

As recently as last year, while detained at FMC Butner, a prison hospital in North Carolina, he was still petitioning the courts to reduce his sentence.

He was a top figure in the West End Gang, which began as a loose group of Montreal gangsters of Irish ancestry.

Under the leadership of Frank (Dunie) Ryan, the gang moved from local rackets, such as bank heists and truck robberies, to cross-border drug smuggling.

Mr. Ross became leader after Mr. Ryan’s assassination and he got the gang involved in even more ambitious international schemes.

“He became, in effect, the low-price, high-volume emperor of the drug trade, dealing with suppliers from South America and the Southeast Asian Golden Triangle … Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan,” author D’Arcy O’Connor said in his book, Montreal’s Irish Mafia: The True Story of the Infamous West End Gang.

According to Mr. O’Connor, Mr. Ross was nicknamed “the Weasel” by his colleagues, in part because of "his ability to weasel out of being busted for many years.”

However, the killings Mr. Ross ordered led to the death of five other gangsters, followed by an internal purge among the Hells Angels, during which six bikers were slain. It also resulted, eventually, in Mr. Ross’s arrest.

Alan Ronald Ross was born April 17, 1944. (While his given name often appeared as “Allan” in media reports and even court records, he wrote and signed it as “Alan.”)

Unlike other West End Gang members, who came from hardscrabble Montreal areas like Griffintown or Goose Village, Mr. Ross, the son of a salesman, grew up in middle-class Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

His criminal record as an adult began at 18, when he was arrested three times within five months for car theft, breaking and entering, and car theft again.

He eventually became second-in-command to Mr. Ryan, the leader of the West End Gang.

In mid-November, 1984, Mr. Ryan was lured to a motel room where Paul April, a trafficker who owed him money, killed him with the help of two accomplices, Robert Lelièvre and Eddie Phillips.

Mr. Ross took over the gang and, to avenge Mr. Ryan, hired a hit man, Yves (Apache) Trudeau, a member of the North chapter of the Hells Angels, based in Laval, a Montreal suburb.

Mr. Trudeau was such a prolific contract killer that he had a second nickname – the Mad Bumper.

He rigged a bomb inside a VCR and had it delivered to Mr. April and Mr. Lelièvre, on the ninth floor of a downtown apartment tower.

The blast, across the street from a police station, killed Mr. April, Mr. Lelièvre and two associates, wounded eight bystanders and damaged surrounding apartments.

A few days later, Mr. Phillips was shot dead by a gunman riding on the back of a motorcycle.

Mr. Trudeau had been promised $200,000 to kill Mr. April. He got a $25,000 advance. When he asked for the remainder, Mr. Ross told him to go instead collect $185,000 in cocaine debts that the Sorel and Halifax chapters of the Hells Angels owed to the West End Gang.

Mr. Trudeau’s attempt to get his money from the other biker chapters would be the last straw in tensions between his North chapter and other Hells Angels, who already thought that their Laval brothers were unreliable drug users.

In March, 1985, members of the North chapter were invited by other Hells Angels to a party at a clubhouse, where five of the Laval bikers were gunned down. A sixth man was beaten to death two weeks later.

Their bodies were cuffed to cement blocks and tossed into the St. Lawrence River.

Mr. Trudeau escaped death because he was in a detox centre at the time.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ross was picking up drug deals that Mr. Ryan had arranged. This included a scheme to smuggle cocaine from Florida that was handled by John Quitoni, a former New Jersey state trooper turned drug trafficker.

According to U.S. authorities, Mr. Ross feared that one of his men, David Singer, who had killed Mr. Phillips, would become an informant.

In May, 1985, while he and Mr. Singer were in Florida, Mr. Ross met Mr. Quitoni at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and asked him to help one of his associates, Alain Strong.

A few days later, Mr. Strong paged Mr. Quitoni and said he needed a pistol. They met at the Windjammer Resort in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where Mr. Strong was in the company of another Quebecker, Raymond Desfossés.

Mr. Singer was shot dead that night.

The next morning, Mr. Strong asked Mr. Quitoni to come to the Windjammer. Mr. Quitoni was told that the two Canadians had killed “the rat.”

Mr. Quitoni then drove Mr. Desfossés to the airport. Mr. Quitoni later received $20,000 from Mr. Ross for his efforts.

The murder went unsolved for five years.

In Quebec, Mr. Trudeau, seeing that his fellow bikers wanted him dead, became an informant.

He testified against the Hells Angels and also revealed that Mr. Ross had hired him.

The ensuing Canadian police crackdown, however, focused on the fratricidal Hells Angels.

Left undisturbed, Mr. Ross flew to Florida and Aruba to arrange shipments of narcotics. According to U.S. court evidence, he earned millions from the distribution of tonnes of cocaine, marijuana and hashish.

His only legal trouble at the time occurred in December, 1987. While at the wheel of a Jaguar on a Florida highway, he was stopped for driving under the influence.

In 1990, however, Mr. Quitoni was indicted in a drug case in El Paso, Texas. He flipped, entered the witness protection program and told investigators about his role in the murder of Mr. Singer.

Mr. Ross was arrested in October, 1991, in Fort Lauderdale.

While being taking into custody, he turned to Detective Chris Dale of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and told him: "Not that I would, but it sure would be nice if I could give you $200,000 or so and you would let me go."

Det. Dale ignored the comment.

After a six-week trial, Mr. Ross was convicted of drug trafficking in 1992, sentenced to life imprisonment and fined $10-million. The following year, in another trial, a jury convicted him of conspiracy to commit murder but acquitted him on a first-degree murder charge, sparing him from the electric chair.

Even after he was behind bars, there was fallout from his actions.

His Montreal lawyer, Sidney Leithman, was gunned down in May, 1991. While investigating the murder, police found unusual ties between Mr. Leithman, Mr. Ross and Claude Savoie, the head of the RCMP drug squad in Montreal between 1989 and 1991.

The CBC program The Fifth Estate also began probing the links between Insp. Savoie, Mr. Ross and his late lawyer.

In December, 1992, hours before he was to be questioned by internal investigators and the day before The Fifth Estate was to go to air, Insp. Savoie went into his office and killed himself.

The RCMP later found that Insp. Savoie had been passing information to Mr. Ross in return for $200,000 in bribes.

By then Mr. Ross was inmate No. 52368-080 in the U.S. federal prison system.

In May, 2009, he filed a court motion asking to be relieved from paying the remainder of his $10-million fine.

In a letter to the judge, he said he hadn’t been assigned to a prison-work program for 12 years because of poor health, so his wife and mother had been making the monthly payments for his fine.

And now he had been diagnosed with cancer

“In the last few years it has been a hardship on my family and myself,” he wrote. “My wife is 64 years old and due to health problems, now only works part time. My mom is 86 years old and just had a knee replacement, she lives on her old age pension… I can no longer impose upon my family in these difficult times.”

His request was turned down.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe