Oak Bay Bank Heist

Written by Harold McNeill on March 3rd, 2012. Posted in Police Notebook


Bank of Nova Scotia Oak Bay

Photo (Author Files): This bank was robbed several times over the years.  While all bank robberies have the potential for violence, the robbery in this story had a particularly tragic outcome for an ordinary family.

Bank robbers come in all shapes and sizes
as well as from varied backgrounds

The recent story of the young Calgary woman, a University Student Union President, made National headlines that thrust her into a certain kind of notoriety. Living a secret life, she is alleged to have committed several frauds as well as at least one bank robbery, the one for which she was recently arrested.

While the Oak Bay case is not a carbon copy it follows a similar circumstance, but is one in which the ending was far more tragic.  Again, Detective Sergeant Al Campbell, was the lead investigator, the same Detective Sergeant who arrested one of the FBI’s Most Wanted – a multi-millionaire drug trafficker from Indiana who had been tracked down in south Oak Bay. (Link Here)

At one time during the 1970s and early 1980s, Oak Bay might easily have been tagged with the dubious distinction of being the Bank Robbery capital of the British Columbia, if not all of Canada. With a population of barely 15,000, there were several banks along Oak Bay Avenue and a lone bank on Estevan Avenue, banks that acted like catnip to robbers. Each bank was hit at least once and a few, more than once. For staid old Oak Bay, it was big news as bank robberies were still considered to be the most flamboyant and, at times, the most glamorous of crimes.

Bank robberies were usually solved as robbers, the persistent characters there were, usually committed a string several in quick order. That very much upped the chances of bringing them to justice and, while weapons were often used, it was unusual for anyone to get hurt.  Never the less, a robbery was a very traumatic event for the bank staff who had to face the pointy end of a sawed-off twelve gauge shotgun. I would venture to say that all bank robbers, no matter how good or daring, eventually ended up doing hard time in a Federal Institution.  Correct that, most, but not all, as was this case where the Bank of Nova Scotia, located on the corner of Oak Bay Avenue and Hampshire Road in Oak Bay, was robbed by a lone bandit.(lead photo)

In the Oak Bay case it was not a druggy looking for his next fix, nor was it a career robber such as Danny Cain or Stephen Reid, who gained notoriety for daring escapades around Greater Victoria and the Lower Mainland. Both Cain and Reid became rather famous not only for their robberies, but also for the lifestyle they led between robberies.

For his part, Danny always used a sawed-off shotgun when he burst into a bank, jumped on the counter, (perhaps firing a shot into the ceiling) and then held the bank staff and customers at bay while a colleague or two collected the loot. One of his most famous daring robberies occurred on Shelbourne Street-  and was one of his last. At one time, while in custody, Danny escaped and was cornered on a ledge of the police station (I cannot find any details on the web). I am sure many retired Vic PD will remember the case or may have been directly involved.

On the other hand, Stephen Reid, who wrote a National Best Seller, Jackrabbit Parole, while serving time, was known both for his flamboyant robberies (known as being pulled by the Stop Watch Gang) as for escapades after the robberies. After one robbery, there was a protracted pursuit into James Bay as shots were fired and hostages taken. In another case, Reid convinced the Judge to let him out on bail.
Neither of these men were known to rob banks in Oak Bay. (Perhaps that is fitting as we would expect Oak Bay robbers to act in a much more civilized fashion than those who plied their trade in Victoria, Saanich or Esquimalt.) It was also fitting that when a robber dared to venture behind the Tweed Curtain to knock off a bank, it would be Oak Bay Police officers, with the help of ever-alert bank staff, who would solve the case.

In the present case, shortly after the early morning opening, a well dressed, male bandit entered the Bank of Nova Scotia, approached the teller and handed her a neatly written note ordering her to clean out her cash drawer and hand it over. Other than wearing a balaclava pulled over his head, the man could have been a businessman having just walked in off the street. He told the teller he had a gun and warned her not to sound the alarm. As was bank protocol for such events, the teller followed the robber’s instructions to a tee.

Interestingly, bank robbers seldom, if ever, obtained more than $1500; often less, in a single heist, as tellers only had access to a limited amount of cash.  It would take a sustained effort, a good deal of planning and daring, to pull off a heist that would net more than $5000. That was not much money for what is considered to be a violent crime that usually involved weapons and threats of death and could land the perpetrator in jail for one or two decades.

Following the robbery, Oak Bay officers, under the direction of Detective Campbell, attended the bank, obtained a vague description of a masked suspect, completed the usual identification work and circulated details to all cars and departments (ACAD’s). Bank staff noted the robber to be well dressed, almost professional looking, a man who spoke in a quiet almost in a gentlemanly way as he warned the teller to comply.

Cartoon: It is interesting that Bank Robbers have always been pursued with such tenacity while Bank Barons get a bonus for doing the same thing from the inside. See comments in footer.

While there was a regional plan in place for dealing with such calls, most robbers usually disappeared within minutes, holed up and waited until the heat dissipated.

In this robbery, as was the protocol for all Oak Bay banks, a number of marked bills (serial numbers recorded) were included in each teller’s cash draw. In the robbery, all the marked bills were to be handed over with the stolen cash. As soon as possible following the incident, bank staff were to fan-out the numbers of those bills to all other banks in Greater Victoria.

Although the system was set up such that every bank was sent the numbers of the stolen bills, it still required that each staff member be given the list and that they take the time to scan incoming money.  For several reasons, the marked money could easily pass by unnoticed.

Al CampbellNothing further developed until mid- afternoon that same day when a call was received from a downtown main branch bank advising that several of the marked bills had been deposited in one of their external cash deposit machines.

Photo, Oak Bay Star Weekly News:  Oak Bay’s ‘Star’ Detective, Sergeant Al Campbell (left), stands with FBI Agent, Bob Hanis from South Bend, Indiana, in a lead to a story about apprehending an International Fugitive listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. The story of the capture was posted in International Pursuit of a Felon (Link Here).

Bingo!  Not more than four or five hours after the robbery, an amount of money, roughly equal to that taken in the robbery, had been deposited to the personal account of an individual who dealt regularly with one of the branches of that particular bank. While that was not conclusive proof the person was the robber, it was certainly a good lead.

The investigation then went into overdrive.  A name and address was soon obtained and under the direction of Detective Campbell, a team of Oak Bay officers as well as the SWAT team from Saanich, was assembled as the robber was believed to be armed and dangerous, Given the MO and description of the man, it seemed likely he was responsible for several other robberies in the Greater Victoria area.

Through surveillance, it was established a car registered in the name of the suspect, was parked in the driveway of an upscale Saanich home. After the SWAT team and other officers were in place, Detective Campbell, who was also one of Oak Bay’s hostage negotiators, phoned the residence and spoke to the homeowner. The man was advised of the nature of the call and told that his house was surrounded.  It did not take Campbell long to establish the man was in fact the bank robber. A standoff ensued.

Conversation extended for a considerable time but the suspect stated he would not come out and eventually hung up on Campbell.  As time passed and no further contact could be made, it was decided SWAT team members would effect an entry. First they tried to contact the man using a loud hailer and then by knocking at the door. When no response was received and after exhausting all options, the decision was made to enter.  Once inside, team members found the suspect locked in the bathroom. He had committed suicide.

Follow-up investigation revealed the man, a professional by training and career, had fallen on hard times when his business began to falter and his financial world was collapsing.  By various investigative means it was established he had been responsible for several other bank robberies in the Greater Victoria area over a two month period.

While it was great to catch the robber, it was a sad ending to a life that at one point had likely held such promise.

Harold McNeill
Victoria, BC
March, 2012

Comment

It has always struck me as strange that street level, run of the mill bank robbers, are jumped on with the full force of the law whereas, back room bank robbers, such as those that regularly pop up along Wall Street and other centres around the world, are given a free pass.  Why is that?

The bank robbers I met were just ordinary citizens. Some were drug addicts looking for the next fix (e.g. Stephen Reid), while others chose it as a preferred life style rather than living what they might consider a humdrum life (e.g. Danny Cain).  Both men were bigger than life. It is probable you could find several police officers who would have been happy to speak on their behalf, yet both men were locked away decades because they openly declared their chosen career was robbing banks and they did so with panache.

It is my belief these men, and many more like them were much more honest than the hundreds of men (mostly men) along Wall Street who cheated, lied and defrauded hundreds of thousands of people out of their life savings and homes and, along the way gutted the US and many other economies around the world. Many in big business do the same. All this was (is) done to enrich themselves and their families while pretending to be honest, upstanding citizens. Other than a couple of notable cases, how many of these men ever ended up in jail?

How is it we as a society permit this to happen when it is within the power of our government and judicial system to bring these criminals to justice?  I am not suggesting we should let run of the mill bank robbers go free, just that we should ensure tha other robbers are regularly detained in the same penitentiaries.

If you have a plausible explanation as to why one type of bank robbery is allowed and the other not, I would be pleased to hear your comments.

Harold

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Comments (5)

  • September 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm |

    Morning Danny (assuming, of course, it is Danny and not someone co-opting his name)…thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is wonderful to see that you have found a place in the sun that provides you with family, friends and a network of other supporters in the community. I agree there is nothing better in life as one grows older than to be surrounded by people you love and people who love you in return. Although we have never met, I have no doubt that in your past life there were any number of police officers, probation officers, prison officials and others who recognized in you a core being far better that which you so often exhibited as a young man. Perhaps one day, as we grow older, we shall meet and have a few chuckles about the ‘old days’. I am pleased you found this post for, as you will note in any number of other posts on this blog, I feel very strongly about many of the issues that confront our society particularly as relates to the “justice” system. Regards, Harold

  • Danny Cain
    September 2, 2012 at 12:46 am |

    Unchecked Wall Street Robbers… My personal experience has shown me a couple of things. One, is that society cannot afford to be seen to the tolerate even the propensity for violence, which underpins the high majority of Bank Robberies.

    Second, White Collar Crime is commonly seen by society as a victimless crime. The facts remain, that the lies, manipulations and broken trust to defraud and steal enormous amounts of money, actually can clean out family life savings, ruin a company and destroy hard and honest working investor.

    And the proof is in the pudding, they say… no White Collar Criminal was ever seen during any of the extentended engagements of nearly twenty five years I spent with the federal government.

    Some fourteen years after my imprisonment and being entrenched in the gangster lifestyle, my wife and family, my own successful small local business, and Full Pardon has shown me that that nothing, and I mean nothing is more important than family, friends, community and living a law abiding life.

    Somethings never seem to change mind you. Take for example, a researched factual article that is supportive of a true story versus countless slanted and inaccurate versions of the facts written as dramatizations meant to influence the uninformed and to sell papers, to say the least!

    At the end of the day, there are many Police Officers, Major Crime Detectives, retired Police Chief’s, various Probation and Parole Members (one being a Retired Oak Bay Police Chief, who was instrumental in granting my Full Pardon), and countless others here in my hometown, who have been exceptionally supportive throughout my life and especially in recent years and during the times when times were the darkest, they were those who were there for me. It is this type of genuine support, circumstance and understanding that I regard as being cruical to having helped in turning my life around…

  • Danny Cain
    September 2, 2012 at 12:53 am |

    Unchecked Wall Street Robbers… My personal experience has sn howme a couple of things. One, is that society cannot afford to be seen to the tolerate even the propensity for violence, which underpins the high majority of Bank Robberies.

    Second, White Collar Crime is commonly seen by society as a victimless crime. The facts remain, that the lies, manipulations and broken trust to defraud and steal enormous amounts of money, actually can clean out family life savings, ruin a company and destroy a hard and honest working investor.

    Proof is in the pudding, they say… no White Collar Criminal was ever seen during any of the extentended engagements of nearly twenty five years I spent with the federal government.

    Some fourteen years after my imprisonment and being entrenched in the gangster lifestyle, my wife and family, my own successful small local business, and Full Pardon has shown me that that nothing, and I mean nothing is more important than family, friends, community and living a law abiding life.

    Somethings never seem to change mind you. Take for example, a researched factual article that is supportive of a true story versus countless slanted and inaccurate versions of the facts written as dramatizations meant to influence the uninformed and sell news papers, etc., to say the least!

    At the end of the day, there are many Police Officers, Major Crime Detectives, retired Police Chief’s, various Probation and Parole Members (one being a Retired Oak Bay Police Chief, who was instrumental in granting my Full Pardon), and countless others here in my hometown, who have been exceptionally supportive throughout my life and especially in recent years and during the times when times were the darkest, they were those who were there for me. It is this type of genuine support, circumstance and understanding that I regard as being cruical to having helped in turning my life around…

  • dave armit
    March 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm |

    good old fashioned police work done by good old fashioned policemen……….in regards to mr cain..i learned a few years ago that he was born on the same day in the same hospital that i was..my father was a close friend of the cain family…!!! interesting..d a

    • Harold McNeill
      December 21, 2018 at 12:11 pm |

      Hi Dave,

      Not sure if you are the same Armit as was at Oak Bay PD or not. Interesting to see your comment on Danny Cain and your birthdays and family friendships. Cheers, Harold

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Comments

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold