When the police struck the Head Hunters today, they went right to the heart of the gang.

And they hit where it hurt.

A string of properties have been legally restrained, including the gang's "headquarters" at 232 Marua Road.

The building is the focal point for the gang and its wider family. It is also the place through which the gang connects to the community through its "That Was Then, This Is Now Trust".

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This is where the "Fight Nights" are held. High-profile Aucklanders rub shoulders with patched members of the Head Hunters, the staunchest gang in New Zealand.

At the centre of it all is Wayne Doyle. While his name appears on records for each of the properties restrained, it is the ownership of the Marua Road headquarters that points to the roots of the Headhunters' story.

Owned by East 88 Property Holdings Ltd ("East" for the east chapter, "88" for the eighth letter of the alphabet, "HH"), it has one director - Doyle.

The shares are all held in trusts, and the trusts carry the names of some of the Headhunters' oldest members.

David O'Carroll, Sam Marsters and William Hines are just a few of names of trustees. Their names would likely be instantly recognisable to any police officer.

They are all names of those who were there at the beginning: in Glen Innes at the tail end of the 1960s.

All these years later, no single gang commands respect or conveys menace the way the Head Hunters do.

They started as a street gang. They exist now as a controlled and focused organisation firmly embedded in our society.

The rap sheets of some in its membership - which has changed dramatically in recent years - covers almost the entire spectrum of the Crimes Act.

Police searched and raided the Headhunters HQ in Ellerslie. Cars and motorbikes were siezed during the search. A 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 leaves on a towtruck.
Police searched and raided the Headhunters HQ in Ellerslie. Cars and motorbikes were siezed during the search. A 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 leaves on a towtruck.
A gun found several weeks ago in the Auckland suburb of Mt Wellington as part of Operation Sylvester. Photo / Supplied
A gun found several weeks ago in the Auckland suburb of Mt Wellington as part of Operation Sylvester. Photo / Supplied

Drugs and violence feature. There are murder convictions. Beyond those cases which have made it to court are questions - unspoken in the underworld - about people last seen with the Head Hunters but never been seen again.

Patched, The History of Gangs In New Zealand has the most definite published account of their roots. Author Dr Jarrod Gilbert describes how the gang formed in 1969-1970, initially as the Freaks and then the Head Hunters.

One of the earliest members was Doyle. If New Zealand gangs ever had a Godfather figure, it's arguably Doyle.

Wayne Doyle. Photo / Christine Cornege
Wayne Doyle. Photo / Christine Cornege

Teenagers who formed a bond in the early 1970s were serious contenders a decade later. Like others determined to make an impact, they wore patches on their back and fought for their territory.

They began pushing up against other gangs including the King Cobras, including one altercation which resulted in Doyle and Graham "Choc" Te Awa serving murder sentences.

An officer involved in the murder inquiry told the Herald that Doyle was never physically tied to the murder but went down because he refused to rat out the others involved in the Ponsonby street brawl which saw King Cobra Siaso Evalu beaten to death.

Police is currently investigating large-scale production and supply of methamphetamine. This morning's search warrants also involved investigation into the alleged supply of contraband such as tobacco and cellphones to HeadHunter- affiliated and other prisoners at the Mt Eden Corrections Facility. One of the three Mt Eden prison inmates arrested is a former guard at the facility. "There was some offending occurring while there were on remand" said Detective Inspector Bruce Good this afternoon at Harlech House in Auckland. Credit: NZN Video

Detectives urged Doyle to think of the young family he had waiting on the outside and the opportunities to make the most of the prime of his life. He refused to budge.

While Doyle sat inside, those on the outside developed their own path. In the style of the gangs growing in the United States and Australia, they started riding motorcycles and attached the "MC" for "motorcycle club" to their patches. Doyle would apparently say later it stood for "Mad *****".

By the mid-1990s, the Head Hunters were in the form which would dictate their next 15 years. They were always a tight crew, compact and hard. Their size was their strength - everyone knew what the others were doing, everyone knew someone else had their back.
Membership stayed between 20 and 30 members.

The gang set up West and North Auckland chapters although their main headquarters would become East chapter in Marua Rd, Ellerslie. A quote from The Godfather movie was once seen on the wall there: "Real power can't be given. It must be taken."

Police search Headhunters HQ in Ellerslie. Armed police at all entries to the building with members of the gang gathering outside. Photo / Nick Reed
Police search Headhunters HQ in Ellerslie. Armed police at all entries to the building with members of the gang gathering outside. Photo / Nick Reed

A photograph taken in 1998, obtained for a 2005 feature on Auckland's drug trade, portrays the gang as "The Class of '98" - almost a graduation picture of a serious criminal group which had completed the journeyman phase and was ready for mastery of its trade.

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And so the gang grew - not in size, but in impact and organisation. The Head Hunters' reach was growing.

That reach was there to help methamphetamine grow from a cottage industry into a full-blown epidemic which made fortunes throughout the underworld.

An apocryphal story of the P-boom was a meeting in the late 1990s featuring Head Hunters members and representatives of other gangs. Property developer Mark Lyon was the focus of the meeting and his money the object.

It was said to be the start-up fund for the methamphetamine trade. Dr Gilbert wrote in Patched that Lyon was said to have lost up to $800,000 through the practice of taxing - effectively surrendering wealth in submission to pressure from the gangs.

READ MORE: Developer's mansion raided in tit-for-tat

"The reality here is that the Head Hunters have significant influence over the methamphetamine market in New Zealand and turn as a key driver for crime " said Detective Inspector Bruce Good following this morning's major raids against the Head Hunters in Mt Wellington. Credit: NZN Video

However they began, the Head Hunters were never far from the sharper end of the business. They were evolving into a new style of gang - one laws were ill-suited to match.

West Aucklander Peter William Cleven went on trial accused of running one of the country's largest drug networks after police seized his palatial Titirangi home, a Harley-Davidson motorbike, Mercedes-Benz convertible and a speedboat.

He was acquitted twice, testifying that his fortune came from goat farming.

READ MORE: Accused: goats made my millions

The case led to a law change which forced those who had goods seized to prove they had earned the money used to buy them.

READ MORE: Change of fortunes with Cleven clause

The methamphetamine surge drew the Head Hunters close to those in society circles who wanted the drug. Members were regular features at Lyon's house on the slopes of Mt Eden, just behind Government House. Sam Marsters - a seriously tough enforcer - had a room in Lyon's mansion at the time it burned down in an out-of-control party.

Lyon wasn't the only wealthy society figure affected. Lynne Carter was dragged down after her son Lance got caught up in the underbelly of Auckland life.

READ MORE: P charge: A socialite's fall from grace

The Head Hunters control over Lance's life gave members a hook by which they could insinuate their way into Carter's world.

David Dunn, who led the West chapter, was among members who moved into her $6 million home on Argyle St, Herne Bay.

A house in Argyll St, Herne Bay, Auckland, where property developer Lynne Carter used to live. Photo / Doug Sherring
A house in Argyll St, Herne Bay, Auckland, where property developer Lynne Carter used to live. Photo / Doug Sherring

They stayed for months. On Friday nights, Dunn used the front lawn overlooking the Waitemata Harbour as the launch pad for a ground-shaking pyrotechnics display. Carter's Ferrari vanished, as did almost everything else of value over the months which followed.

Doyle was also seen at the address, but for all the apparent menace the Head Hunters might have, his presence tempered any concerns. Carter at the time described him as a "good person" with "a high level of integrity".

The "Godfather" is widely regarded for his quietly spoken, fiercely intelligent way. He is known as a tightly controlled, highly disciplined man.

It was his efforts which led to the gang attempting to find a firmer footing in society. Records from the Register of Incorporated Societies show the Head Hunters registered as a formal organisation, filing accounts and reporting some income as a registered club.

Headhunters HQ in Ellerslie. Photo / Nick Reed
Headhunters HQ in Ellerslie. Photo / Nick Reed

The club's That Was Then, This Is Now Trust deed states it wants to be a bridge between prison and the community and have former inmates "through their own efforts ... choose to have a better future".

A flyer for the trust says it was born from a conversation in a prison gymnasium "from a vision to develop physical motivation and health".

It offers a large gym at the Marua Rd headquarters, training for boxing, kickboxing, weightlifting and other personal training - along with an annual children's Christmas party.

The Fight Club events are promoted to "show-case up and coming talent". It offered two events a year which were fully catered, highly regarded evenings at which Head Hunters members mingled with society figures - like Carter.

So moved was Carter, she said at the time, she donated money to support the boxing events.

The development of the trust and its associated Fight Club brand had the effect of presenting a more acceptable face to the public than the Head Hunters' criminal records might. A police officer would visit to draw numbers for authorised lotteries run by the trust for fundraising purposes.

All Black Ma'a Nonu was featured on the Facebook page of one person connected to the gang, smiling amid a group of happy children with the "Fight Club" outlaw emblem over his shoulder.

For all the trust and Fight Club served as a means of softening the gang's image, it was also said to capture Doyle's desires for a structure which supported the strong family ethos which bound the original members.

That protective family ethos was seen at the most high-profile event at Marua Rd, an incredible merging of two worlds.

Connor Morris, 26, had died.

READ MORE: Heartbreak for Millie Elder-Holmes after boyfriend killed in machete attack

The son of long-time Head Hunter Chris "One Eye" Morris, he had lost his life in a late-night attack in Massey. His death bereaved Millie Elder-Holmes, daughter of broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes, and drew an extraordinary amount of media attention on the gang.

READ MORE: Millie delivers emotional eulogy for boyfriend Connor Morris

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Sir Don McKinnon was among mourners at the funeral. He attended with wife Clare de Lore, a close friend of Sir Paul. In a statement, Millie's mother Hinemoa Elder described Connor as "our second son".

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Head Hunters are immersed in our society at all levels. Almost half a century of living together shows that.

Detective Inspector Bruce Good talks to the media in realtion to the Police search raid at the Headhunters HQ. Photo / Nick Reed
Detective Inspector Bruce Good talks to the media in realtion to the Police search raid at the Headhunters HQ. Photo / Nick Reed

Recent years have suggested they are preparing for another 50 years.

The police raid comes amid a rapid expansion by the Headhunters. Previously based in west and east Auckland, with a clubrooms in Wellsford, they have expanded hugely in the past five or so years.

Now, they have appeared north in Whangarei and south in Christchurch, and a host of towns between.

The expansion has been possible through an increase in patched members. The gang has gone from allowing only dozens to wear the patch - older, original members - to accepting prospects in large numbers.

The number of patched members has increased 10-fold, at least, in recent years.

Younger and brasher members are under the gaze of experienced older figures.

The fresh blood has injected fresh energy and created opportunity - but also an element of risk.

The Head Hunters have always known there is a cost to doing business.

- This story has been updated since being originally published in 2015 to reflect the police raid in September 2017