Discovery Channel had found a hit in the reality series, “Sons of Guns,” as millions of people in over 200 countries watched in fascination how Will Hayden and his team built customized weapons in his gun store, Red Jacket Firearms. He had become the face of the gun movement in America as his popularity soared. The show had a successful run for five seasons from 2011 to 2014, when its cancellation became inevitable following the arrest of its main star for his horrific crimes. Fans of the show were left reeling after everything came to light, but they also wondered what became of the cast.
- 1 The Rise of Will Hayden and Red Jacket Firearm LLC
- 2 “Sons of Guns”
- 3 The Cast
- 4 Will Hayden’s arrest
- 5 Show’s cancellation
- 6 What happened to the store and cast of the show?
The Rise of Will Hayden and Red Jacket Firearm LLC
William Michale Hayden hailed from Louisiana. Those around him said he was destined to live an impoverished life with his mother’s side being good-hearted but dirt-poor, and his father was described as ‘kind of a fuck-up’ who abused him, about whom he said, ‘He put me through a wall with a punch when I was five.’
This taught him to never mess with people who could beat him on a whim, and that surviving his childhood meant that he could deal with just about anything. Will grew up in a rough neighborhood in Dixie, north of Baton Rouge, wherein 12-year-olds engaged in gunfights wasn’t a surprising sight. Since he couldn’t afford to buy a handgun, he would make his own weapon, something similar to a zip gun, out of discarded materials from a construction site. which he sometimes referred to as a ‘point-22 Frankenstein’.
Admittedly, Will wasn’t a good student, but he was very much interested in reading about history, most especially pertaining to battles and wars, saying that the stories about marines made an impression on him. He dropped out of high school aged of 16 but passed his GED. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program, and was in boot camp shortly after his 17th birthday, graduating in 1982.
Will underwent aviation training, and worked as a helicopter mechanic before switching to active duty, serving in Camp Pendleton, California, with a short stint in Okinawa, Japan. He left the marines in 1987 with the rank of sergeant.
He later established his own business, Red Jacket Refrigeration, and then a retail gun store, Red Jacket Firearms. Will is partly of Choctaw Indian descent, and the story behind the term, “red jacket,” goes way back during the War of Independence, when his ancestor fought back against the British soldiers. It’s a translation of Oshkhouma, and became a nickname that his ancestor took on with pride as a sign of courage and defiance against tyranny.
Will put everything he had into his new business, $40,000 in total. However, while he was away at a gun show, his place was robbed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took charge of the case and drew the same conclusions that he did, that it was an inside job because it was well-planned and all the security counter-measures in place were bypassed.
Naturally, he became the No.1 suspect, but upon learning that he didn’t have insurance, he was crossed off the list. Not wanting to air his dirty laundry in public, he refrained from sharing any more details about the case, but suffice to say his marriage to a woman named Trudy was over after this. They were together for eight years and he had three children with her, but then ended-up homeless, penniless, and with a pile of debt.
The building owner, Mr. Scotty, who fronted him the money for the shooting range, soon seized everything after Will failed to pay back the money he owed. However, Mr. Scotty opened Red Stick Firearms and had Will run it for him, and let him live behind the store. Will made his first set of AKs for a distributor in Arizona, and struck a deal with him to get his guns advertised as “Proudly Manufactured by Red Jacket,” and a major distributor in firearms in Maryland took notice.
When his daughter Stephanie turned 18, she began working for him. They later had to move to another building, and hired more people as the business started to pick up.
“If you can dream it, we can build it” was their motto, as they manufactured and modified weapons, not just selling, but fixing and restoring them; their clients even included military and police personnel.
“Sons of Guns”
How did it start?
It was Will’s video on YouTube, which he did ‘just for shits and giggles,’ that paved the way for his career on television. In the clip, he was in a wrinkled wife-beater and bunny slippers, looking his ‘usual pissed-off, semi-psychotic self…and “I could give a fuck” grin.’ He let loose his Saiga-12 fully automatic shotgun, before turning to the camera saying, ‘Red Jacket, motherfucker.’ He said there’s nothing to it, as this was just his standard Baton Rouge greeting.
At that time, Discovery Channel was in search of the right material for a new reality show, that would delve into the heart of the American gun culture thru a ‘mom-and-pop-type’ retail store with manufacturing capability.
When people from the network chanced upon his video, they immediately called and asked if they could send a cameraman to his shop to get footage, and see what happens. Will agreed, though he didn’t see anything special about his shop. Even if they worked on ‘cool-ass weapons,’ he didn’t think it was the kind of entertainment that people would be interested in.
Much to his surprise, months after the camera guy came and went, he received a call that the network executives had given the green light to the show. Before he knew it, people were coming to his shop with cameras to film him and his staff doing what they usually do.
About the show
It premiered on 26 January 2011 with the “Civil War Cannon: Shotgun Silencer” episode, and American viewers were hooked, making it No.1 on cable.
The main star of the show said, ‘If people out there wanna keep tunin’ in, well, I’m flattered. Heck, I don’t quite get it, seriously, I don’t, but I’m flattered nonetheless.’ The executive producer told him from the get-go that people were going to watch the show because of who he was, because he was real. With the show’s popularity, it was a given that the cast gained fans, particularly gun enthusiasts as they not only sold guns and explosive devices, but also made them. Not all the attention they received was good, as people who hated guns came to despise them as well. However, considering that the show lasted for five seasons, it meant that a lot of people shared the same passion as them.
They have had interesting clients in the shop, from WWII veteran Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, who wanted his flamethrower restored, to “World War Z” and “The Zombie Survival Guide” writer Max Brooks, who wanted to brainstorm with them on ideas for weapons one could use against the undead!
In 2009, during a routine inspection by the ATF, 10 guns were said to be unaccounted for. This was a major violation, so their licenses were revoked. However, they reached a compromise the following year in which they got to keep the store, but under another licensed gun dealer, Vince Buckles, would take charge of the company, with Stephanie and Will becoming regular employees. Vince was their manager at that time, however, he left and opened his own gun store, Mesa Kinetic Research.
Stephanie Hayden is Will’s daughter. Growing up, she didn’t play with Barbie dolls, but with bows and arrows. Her dad gave her shooting lessons when she was around six years old, starting with a revolver. Stephanie shared that her dad told her that there’s nothing she couldn’t do. ‘My dad gave me strength and conviction. He empowered me. It was the greatest gift I could have ever asked for,’ she said.
Being on television was hard on her, as she couldn’t resist reading online what other people think of her, and the mean comments made her want to quit. It was her dad who put things in perspective, and helped her focus on things that really matter the most. She once said that she’s proud of her dad for what he had done, and the positive effect he had on other people. She has two kids from a previous relationship.
When he first came to work at Red Jacket Firearms, what he knew about guns was general stuff, and not gunsmith level. Kris came from a family running a gun business called Ford’s Firearms, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t part of that. He worked in construction, and was into singing and songwriting. Will revealed that ‘Kris used to party like a rock star without being a rock star,’ and had also passed up a music scholarship at the University of Miami, so his career in the music industry never took off despite his talent. He ended doing odd jobs to make ends meet, while living from place to place.
Kris turned his life around through working at Will’s store. He lived there while also learning everything he could about what he needed to know about guns and assembling them. Will loved him like a son, and couldn’t have been happier when Kris and Stephanie fell for each other. His daughter believed that she’s the luckiest woman in the world for having Kris in her life. They tied the knot in Las Vegas, and Will gave Kris a five percent share in the business.
Joe Meaux, better known as Mojo, hailed from Baton Rouge, and graduated from Louisiana State University. For more than a decade he taught at a local high school, before working full-time at Red Jacket Firearms as the chief operating officer. His duties hadn’t been limited to that of a COO, as he worked in the development department in which he would assess whether a project was feasible or not, and if it could be done safely. There were times though that Will would accept the client’s request, even if Joe said not to.
Working here allowed him to pursue his interest in firearms and mechanics, which he could only previously enjoy as a hobby.
He attended Louisiana Tech University, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science before obtaining his Master’s degree in Natural Science from Louisiana State University. Charlie worked as a forensic scientist for the State of Louisiana, and subsequently as a technical troubleshooter for Red Jacket Firearms.
Glenn “Flem” Fleming
He served in the US Air Force and became a staff sergeant in the 20th Special Operations Squadron, with tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and Bosnia. His passion for weaponry led him to work at the Red Jacket Firearms in 2010. After a year, he quit his job to establish his own shop, Acadiana Gunworks, and launch a YouTube account called The Gunners Vault. He sometimes worked as a contractor for Will’s gun store.
Will Hayden’s arrest
Rebecca Ramsey, Will’s personal assistant at that time, revealed that she walked in on a girl performing oral sex on her unclothed boss in the living room of his Greenwell Springs Roadhouse on 4 August 2014. She filed a report the following day at the Sheriff’s office, and an investigation ensued.
On 11 August 2014, the East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputies arrested Will, and booked him for aggravated crime against nature and on child molestation charges. He posted bail at $200,000, and denied the allegations as he said that it was just a bitter ex-girlfriend’s vengeful act.
In 2017, the 15-year-old testified that Will raped her repeatedly from March 2013 to August 2014 when she was 11 and 12 – it was revealed that the victim was his daughter. She told investigators that her father threatened her and said, ‘Don’t tell them nothing, because I’m all you got,’ so when she was first interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center, she lied out of fear.
However, when she broke down to an ‘elderly man’ about what happened, including the fact that her dad took her virginity on her 11th birthday, she then told the detectives about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The elderly man testified to this in court.
After hearing about Will’s arrest, a 37-year-old woman came forward claiming that she was also raped by Will, in 1992 when she was 12 at his Cedarcrest apartment after smoking marijuana with him, and it happened again when she was 13 in Amite at his friend’s house, while his then-wife, Karen Hayden, and children were asleep in another room.
At first, Stephanie defended her father as she said, ‘There was never any impropriety in our home. He was and is a good father.’ However, when she appeared in “Dr. Phil” in September 2014, she revealed that her dad, who was drunk, came into her room one night when she was 12 and ‘pinched and kissed her while trying to remove her clothes.’
She managed to escape and it never happened again. With her permission, her husband posted on Facebook: ‘You fooled with my wife when she was young. Sucking and groping, do you remember what was done?’ The post was deleted later.
Will Hayden was found guilty on all charges on 7 April 2017, and received two life sentences and additional 40 years. He was later given a third life sentence plus 10 years. He was serving his sentence in Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola, and isn’t eligible for suspension of sentence, probation, or parole.
On 27 August 2014, the Discovery Channel issued a statement: ‘Given the serious and horrific nature of the charges against Will Hayden, we have decided to halt further production of “Sons of Guns”, and cancel the series.’
What happened to the store and cast of the show?
Following his arrest, the gun store achieved full legal separation from Will Hayden. They also issued a statement on their website: ‘With heavy hearts, we will be continuing to operate and ensure the fulfillment of new customer orders, backorders and to provide support to those affected by these new developments.’ In January 2015, Joe Meaux rebranded the business that he co-owned to Meaux Gun & Ammos. He also established another company called Aklys Defense, that specializes in manufacturing firearms. Charlie Watson worked with him in this new business venture.
Kris and Stephanie Ford were also arrested in 2014 after the father of Stephanie’s nine-year-old son reported seeing a bruise on his son’s body; it was alleged that Kris struck the child with a belt, however, the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence. The couple later established their new business, IAC Wargames: Airsoft Range & Event Facility. Kris also began working in his father’s company.