JOPLIN, MO.--- "As far as Newton County goes, if it's a stolen motorcycle or a stolen vehicle, chances are the suspect is a Joplin Honky." Sheriff Ken Copeland, Newton County Sheriff's Department.
It's a name you may not take seriously at first, but the Joplin Honkies are no laughing matter to Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland.
"Misfit thieves and burglars who get together, hang together," said Sheriff Copeland.
Sheriff Copeland believes the Honkies started in prison as a way for criminals to protect themselves and watch each others' backs, but it's become a significant problem for the community.
"After they get out and released, they continue on a rampage of burglary and car thefts, other violent crimes," said Sheriff Copeland.
It's not just Newton County, Joplin police are also tracking the group. They say it started with just five members in the late 90's but has grown to more than 200.
"With such a large number, the police department will come into contact with members and or associates of the Honkies on a weekly basis," said Detective Justin Barnett, Joplin Police Department.
Through that regular contact, authorities are gaining a better understanding of the gang. They don't believe it's formally organized or has set leadership.
"They are somewhat grouped together when they commit some of the crimes but then again, we've found certain individuals will be committing the crimes on their own," said Barnett.
Newton County deputies have confiscated a handbook for the Joplin Honkies, mainly filled with symbols which can also be found on their bodies.
"Do a tattoo across their stomach or chest or back. Also, they put 417 on themselves," said Sheriff Copeland.
The Newton County sheriff has warrants out on several Honkies. Doug Alexius is one name at the top of their list, wanted for first degree burglary. He's considered armed and dangerous.
"It seems like you're repeatedly dealing with them in county jail, in city jail, sometimes they get sent to the Missouri pen and usually they're out before long," said Sheriff Copeland.
Chelsie Berry and Jared Prier are both in custody at the Newton County Sheriff's Office. They're both charged with abandonment of a corpse after investigators discovered pictures of Berry with the dead body on her Facebook page. Dennis Meyer, 30, of Joplin was found dead lying in a resident's driveway on Highway V, near Diamond. Sheriff Copeland says Meyer had tattoos, one saying "Joplin Honkey." An autopsy was done in Springfield, but the cause of death is still unknown at this time. A $50,000 bond has been set for each suspect.