Barry Mills made a name for himself in Stewarts Point when he and another youth robbed a store at gunpoint in October 1969, taking $775.
The Windsor man was convicted three months later and, except for a brief period, he has been in prison ever since.
Mills is a reputed leader of a notorious prison gang, accused of negotiating a murder with the late Mafia chieftain John Gotti among other crimes.
Mills’ name tops the list of 40 members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood indicted last month for murder, attempted murder, racketeering and conspiracies to control drug trafficking, gambling and extortion in the California and federal prison systems.
Mills, who prosecutors say also is known as McB, is one of 23 people named in the 110-page federal indictment who face the death penalty if they are convicted.
He is believed to have joined the white-supremacist gang while in state prison after the robbery in Stewarts Point, on Sonoma County’s northern coast.
Federal prosecutors say Mills was a principal leader in forming a comparable gang in the federal prison system and helped direct its day-to-day operations from one of the nation’s most secure prisons, creating a structure that included separate departments for security, gambling, drugs and other activities.
“When you’re in the AB, you’re at the top of the heap,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, a prosecutor of the Aryan Brotherhood case filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
“He’s actually one of the people that founded the ‘federal commission,'” Jessner noted, referring to the name given the gang’s leadership. “So he was sort of a pioneer in the federal system. And by virtue of his position he ranks as highly as anybody does.”
Plenty of career criminals start with relatively minor crimes, said retired Judge John Gallagher, who prosecuted the Stewart’s Point robbery as a Sonoma County deputy district attorney.
“You can never tell just from the nature of the case how dangerous the person is,” Gallagher said. “They find their footing in prison. And some of them are really mean.”
Mills’ first conviction was in 1967. He was sentenced to a year in the county jail for stealing a car from the Coddingtown parking lot.
Two years later, Mills, then 21, pulled off the Stewarts Point armed robbery with William Hackworth, 20, of Windsor.
The store’s clerk, Raymond Berleyoung, testified during the trial that he rang up a sale for two cans of soda before they pulled out long-barreled .22 revolvers and told him to lay face down on the floor.
He said they took all the money in the cash register and his wallet and checkbook. Then one hit him in the back of the head with his gun and the clerk thought the gun went off.
“We’re fortunate that they didn’t kill somebody, that Ray was alive when it was all over,” said Arch Richardson, whose family has owned the store since the 1880s.
Two days later, the pair was arrested. Hackworth pleaded guilty and testified against Mills at his trial. Mills was convicted and received a sentence of five years to life in prison.
Mills was paroled in the mid-1970s. Within a year he was back behind bars, this time a 20-year sentence in federal prison for helping rob a Fresno-area bank in June 1976.
The Aryan Brotherhood was founded at San Quentin State Prison in 1964. Mills served part of his sentence there for the Stewarts Point robbery.
The federal indictment states Mills and other Aryan Brotherhood members formed a three-member “federal commission” in 1980 to govern the gang’s federal faction. Mills is alleged to have helped form a “federal council” in 1993 to govern the federal faction’s day-to-day operations.
Mills and Tyler Bingham, a reputed Aryan Brotherhood member from Sacramento, make all major decisions involving the federal faction, according to the indictment issues by a Los Angeles federal grand jury.
The 10-count indictment alleges members of the Aryan Brotherhood committed 16 murders and attempted to commit 16 murders. It also alleges conspiracies to commit murder and solicitation of murder.
Using coded messages, Aryan Brotherhood members communicated through the mail and over phones. Another technique was writing messages in disappearing ink.
“It’s definitely a complicated enterprise,” Jessner said.
Mills already is serving a life sentence for a conviction of killing a fellow inmate at an Atlanta federal prison in 1979. That slaying is one of the racketeering acts alleged in the latest indictment.
After his murder conviction, Mills was moved to the federal government’s super maximum security prison in Marion, Ill. Federal authorities subsequently moved Mills to a new super maximum security in Florence, Colo., when it opened in the late 1990s.
From Florence, Mills is alleged to have ordered a murder at Marion for Gotti, the late Mafia kingpin known as the “Dapper Don.”
Gotti was serving a life sentence at Marion when, in July 1996, he allegedly offered to pay the Aryan Brotherhood to murder inmate Walter Johnson because Johnson assaulted Gotti.
Two Aryan Brotherhood members communicated the offer to Mills. Then Mills and other leaders approved the plan during meetings in Florence that were arranged by a prison guard also named in the federal indictment.
But Johnson never was killed, and Gotti died from throat cancer in June.
The case brought against the Aryan Brotherhood follows a six-year investigation.
Mills and the other defendants are being moved to Los Angeles as attorneys prepare for trial, which is expected to feature witnesses from within the gang. A trial date has not been set.