Heaven's Angel


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On the filthy floor of a jail cell, Mel Chancey lifted his eyes to the heavens and found redemption in the arms of Jesus Christ. But even after he began walking the path of angels, his old life caught up with him. Now, a convicted felon is proving the everlasting strength of a second chance and showing the world that sometimes the road to heaven winds through miles and miles of hell.

Ellie’s Crow Bar on Wilmington Island might just be the perfect bar for sitting down with a guy like Mel Chancey. When I entered, the hazy light of morning was just barely filtering in through shades across the preindustrial-looking oak furnishings, casting the whole place in a dingy pallor. The ghosts of a million cigarettes still lingered in the air, despite nearly a decade since anyone was allowed to smoke inside. I was offered a drink right away. It was 10:30 in the morning.

You know that bar you picture when you picture the bar your mother warned you about? That’s Ellie’s Crow Bar. But then I met Ellie, and saw the collage of smiling faces along the back wall, and realized Ellie’s Crow Bar was far friendlier than I’d first assumed. The same was true of Mel Chancey.

When he first shook my hand, enveloping mine in his massive mitt, then squeezed himself down into a ladder back chair behind a four-top bar table, he looked exactly like the kind of person my mother warned me about. I can’t read biker tattoos, but one glance at the canvas of artwork up and down his arms told me anyone who could, would be suitably impressed. Or terrified, depending on their allegiance. His mountain of muscles need no such decoding—they proclaim loud and clear that this is not a guy you want to piss off.

Before we really got down to business, we had to talk about what we couldn’t talk about. Specifically, the name of the famed outlaw motorcycle club of which he was once the Chicago chapter’s leader.

“I don’t want to glorify that, but I also don’t want those guys thinking I’m trying to profit off the name,” he told me, his voice a gruff Great Lakes–accented timber. Despite having been out of the life for years, he talks about his club like family, mentioning how they used to come check in on his mom when he got sent to jail the first time.

We also can’t talk about some of the juicier details. He leads with a story he knows I’ve heard, one that finds him duct taping a guy to a chair and working him over with a baseball bat until he was hamburger. We’re allowed to talk about that. He’d rather we didn’t talk about what he did next.

Mel Chancey isn’t interested in rehashing the past. He doesn’t hide from it, certainly, and it’s almost impossible to. Even if it wasn’t written in ink up and down his body, no one gets to hide he presents what happened as preamble to what came next. And that’s when I find out that, much like Ellie’s Crow Bar, Chancey’s intimidating facade hides a surprising wellspring of humanity.

He’s more than what he was. He’s a father. A devoted husband. A grandfather. A champion of the bodybuilding community and an inspiration to thousands. He’s a survivor of a hell of his own creation. The story of Mel Chancey only truly begins with his second chance, in that moment when he found God. But first we have to discuss the past, and his life with the outlaw motorcycle club he’d rather not mention.

Running and Gunning

As a kid, Mel Chancey seemed like the last person who would wind up on the wrong side of the law. Born of a Northern Italian mom and a German Irish dad, he was raised a strict God-fearing Catholic. If you can believe it, he was an altar boy. But even he admits his faith wasn’t always as strong as it is now. “I was the Catholic who prayed every night, saying ‘God forgive me for my sins, and the next day went out and did them all again. It was like I was mocking him.”

At 16, he first discovered a love of bodybuilding that would run the course of his whole life, starting out by lifting cheap weights made of plastic and sand. He also discovered his extraordinary talent for raising hell.

“I got kicked out of high school six months into my freshman year,” he said. The expulsion was partially due to a fight he got into with some other students, one that saw the other students going through a library window. But mostly it was due to what happened after. He was sent to the dean’s office, where he found his mom in tears and the dean berating her, telling her none of it would have happened if she’d done a better job of raising her kid.

“I jumped over the desk and broke his nose.” Odd jobs working with his uncle’s cement company over the next few years sustained him until he joined the motorcycle club at 19. By 24, he was president. “That’s very fast… Usually, if you’re president you’re usually in your 30s or 40s. The guy who was president at the time kind of took me under his wing.”

For a guy who had spent his high school months putting other students through windows, the club was a natural landing pad. “It was high school revisited, except you were doing it in public.”

Punching Above Their Weight

The biggest problem facing Chancey’s motorcycle club was an entrenched rival gang, one that had a huge advantage when it came to manpower. Chancey thought back to the bodybuilding he’d pursued for years and found a way to even the odds.

“The other guys outnumbered us five to one,” he said. “If they wanted to put arms together they had 100 guys to our 25 right now. We had to think of a way to be a little bit smarter. We had young guys training at this gym hitting the bags. We had a hard crew to physically fight, even if they outnumbered us.” Adding to their advantage, Chancey made sure his guys did one thing the other guys didn’t—stay sober.

“When we were in a bar we were very alert. If I wanted to take a night out, I brought a crew with me. They’d say, ‘Alright boss, get [explicit] up.’ It wouldn’t matter how I was because they had my back,” he said. “Other crews would get [explicit] up and in the door comes six straight guys. I said, ‘Don’t be that dude…If one or two of you are out and getting twisted on the booze, and they come in, your reaction times are slow.’”

He spoke from experience. As the violence escalated between the two clubs, Chancey said it wasn’t unusual for him and his guys to raid a bar where they knew rival club members were getting drunk, cutting the phone lines and then surrounding the place. “We had a team that knew what we were doing. We didn’t even need to talk about it,” he said. “You had a job, he had a job; my job was I was the guy that came in with the ball-peen hammers and did the beatings. We were very militant when it came to that. And we were very effective like that.”

The Feds Get Involved

On a Wednesday afternoon in Chicago, the rival club began the turf war’s next chapter with a ferocious explosion that would rock the Windy City and cause turbulence as far as away Washington D.C.

“The third-largest bomb in U.S. history at the time, behind Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center, was set off in front of our clubhouse,” he said. Members of the rival club had put 100 pounds of C4 into a car and detonated it, launching Chancey’s club’s front door all the way out through the back of the building and scattering debris for more than a mile. Thankfully, the explosives hadn’t been shaped correctly and the majority of the blast went straight down, carving an eight-foot hole in the earth. “It became a war zone in Chicago for a couple of years,” he said. Chancey found himself at a disadvantage for the first time. “What were we gonna do? Put a firecracker under their car? We couldn’t even change the batteries in our pagers.”

In retaliation, his club found a former Navy SEAL who was experienced in explosives and set off a bomb of their own. Guys started getting shot off of their motorcycles, to the point where Chancey refused to let any of his girlfriends ride on his bike. As the violence intensified, so did the scrutiny. Attorney General Janet Reno decided enough was enough and soon Chancey was finding federal agents camped outside his house making no effort to conceal their cameras.

“It seems like forever, but looking back it was really just from ’94–97,” he said. “After ’97 we all sat down and said, ‘It’s time to put aside our differences. No one’s winning here. The government is locking us all up or we’re putting tombstones on our arms over some dumb crap.”

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South's Greatest Moms Contest 2018

We're looking for the greatest, most authentic and sincere, southern moms. Taking nominations November 1st!

South's Greatest Photographers 2018

We're looking for the greatest, most creative photographers. If that is you, or you know of any, don't hesitate to nominate!
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Events Calendar

  • Reindeer Run 8k

    Dec 15, 2018
    8:00 AM - 12:00 PM @  Savannah International Trade and Convention Center

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    10:00 AM - 4:00 PM @ Wormsloe State Historic Site

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  • Enchanted Princess Winter Wonderland Ball

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  • "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas" Play

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    11:00 AM @ Trustees Theater

    Bring the whole family for this special movie from Walt Disney's Gold Collection, "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas." The...

  • Savannah Santacon 2018

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    12:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Historic Savannah

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  • Restore and Renew with Sue Finkle

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    4:00 PM - 6:00 PM @ Savannah Power Yoga

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    5:00 PM - 7:00 PM @ Savannah Holly Days Stage

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  • Bonaventure Cemetery: After Hours Stories Eternal

    Nov 17, 2018
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  • Capture a ‘paw‑fect’ pic

    Nov 19, 2018
    5:00 PM - 8:00 PM @ Oglethorpe Mall

    Bring your furry friends in for a pic with Santa, because pets are family too! Capture a special moment with your dog or cat to cherish for years...

  • Lights of the South

    Nov 16, 2018
    5:30 PM - 10:00 PM

  • The 8th Annual Homegrown Holiday Hoedown!

    Dec 15, 2018
    6:30 PM - 10:00 PM @ Ballroom at the American Legion

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    Dec 15, 2018
    7:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Harbour Town

    Get into the holiday spirit by watching this classic movie under the Liberty Oak. Benches and a fire pit for roasting marshmallows will be...

  • Lean Ensemble Theater presents Bad Dates by Theresa Rebeck

    Dec 12, 2018
    7:30 PM - 9:30 PM @ HHPS Main Street Theatre

    Confessions of a single mother and self-described restaurant idiot-savant abound in this thoroughly charming, intoxicating and slyly sweet...

  • 2nd Annual Tybee Christmas Cabaret

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    7:30 PM @ Tybee Post Theatre

    Do You Hear What I Hear? It’s time for the 2nd Annual Tybee Christmas Cabaret!  This year our lineup features Broadway writer,...

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    All Day @ Bass Pro Shops

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  • Skatefest

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    All Day @ Savannah Civic Center

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  • License to Chill Snow Island

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  • FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS AND WINDOW WONDERLAND

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    What started as a small group of gingerbread houses built by community members in 1992 has evolved into one of our most treasured traditions at The...


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Scenes of the South

Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2018

Savannah's 39 Rue De Jean celebrated Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the official end of this year’s growing season. Harvest is complete and vintners—especially in France—are ready to celebrate the completion of the harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine that is annually released on the third Thursday in November. Nouveau wine undergoes a very short fermentation process, and yields an extremely fresh and fruity wine.

A Chefs Collaborative

This five course dinner held at Pacci Italian Kitchen and Bar allowed guests to taste exceptional flavors steeped in tradition. Included were the culinary skills of Chef Adam Barnett of The Katharine Brasserie & Bar, Winston-Salem, NC, Chef Robert Hoffman of Angeline’s Charlotte, NC, Chef Daniel Gorman of The Henley Nashville, TN, Chef Sebastien Rondier of Brabo, Alexandria, VA, and Chef Lauren Teague of PACCI Italian Kitchen + Bar.

East and West BBQ

A whole hog BBQ showcase, from two of the south’s most legendary Pitmasters, Pat Martin and Sam Jones. Hosted by Alida Hotel this event was a fabulous juxtaposition between Eastern North Carolina style BBQ and Western Tennessee style. Made possible by the Savannah Food and Wine Festival.

Savannah Food & Wine Fest

Hundreds came to experience Southern charm and hospitality, Savannah Style. The South's best culinary happenings - one exceptional week in Savannah. Iconic and historic coastal venues provided the perfect backdrop for gourmet and fun. South magazine captured the experience at the VIP tent.

Big Wig Boat Bash

Savannah's Riverboat, The Georgia Queen set sail to host the final fundraiser for the 2018 class of Big Wigs, together raising over $100,000 for the Susan G. Komen Coastal Georgia Foundation. This evening included heavy hors d’oeuvres, beverages, a silent auction, music and dancing and a contest to crown the Biggest BigWig! Contest categories included: The Biggest Wig, The Pink Ribbon Award and Best Pink Personality.

Boo Bash

This spooktacular evening included hors d’oeuvres, “spirits,” music and dancing, a Halloween costume contest with cash prizes, Halloween-themed entertainment, a 50/50 raffle, live auction and talent contest. Contest categories included: Dancing, Singing, Rapping, Stand-up Comedy and Lip Syncing.

Masquerade at the Mansion

Plenty of patrons donned masks and beads for an unforgettable Mardi Gras at the Mansion. There unique entertainment, food, and decor including magic fire, beignets, king cake and a photo booth, plus music and dancing, libations, late-night treats, and lots of surprises.

DineSouth After Party

This year's DineSouth ended in a blast. Dozens headed over to Barrellhouse, who hosted the after party. They enjoyed great drinks and live music by Individually Twisted.

DineSouth 2018

This year's DineSouth sponsored by Fulfillment.com was the greatest yet! South magazine has once again put on a night filled with fantastic food and entertainment. Guests enjoyed delicious food & drinks in the city while getting the opportunity to meet and mingle with the best chefs in the South. The entertainment was amazing with American Idol winner Candice Glover, unique band Velvet Caravan and the acoustic sounds of Annie Allman. The event supported the local Salvation Army.

Grand Opening of 201 Seafood

Mixing the traditional tastes of the south with the local flair of the city, 201 Seafood and Tapas Lounge showcases Savannah's culinary community and their grand opening now gives us full access to some of the best seafood in the Coastal Empire.