A brazen daylight bank robbery in Saanich has been making headlines across Canada since Tuesday.
The incident has many talking about past bank robberies in Greater Victoria and one name routinely comes up in conversation.
Meet Stephen Reid, one of Greater Victoria’s most notorious bank robbers.
He spent decades in Canadian and U.S. prisons for his role in the Stopwatch Gang — a trio of quick, precise bank robbers so-called by the FBI for a stopwatch that Reid used during heists. They are believed to have taken part in over 100 bank robberies in the 1970s and ‘80s, including the theft of over $700,000 in gold bars from the Ottawa airport in 1974.
After serving his time, Reid lived a somewhat reformed life once he moved to Sidney. Until he didn’t.
On June 9, 1999, Reid relapsed after a life-long battle with heroin and cocaine addiction spurred a drug-fueled bank heist in Victoria.
But this heist was different.
While the Stopwatch Gang carried guns, they never used them. Their meticulous adherence to a tight in-and-out timeline meant they were gone long before the police showed up.
The June morning in Victoria was different, Reid entered the Royal Bank in Cook Street Village, high on a speedball and dressed in a homemade police uniform. He was in the bank much longer than usual and when he exited with $93,000, cops were outside.
Reid hopped in a getaway car driven by Allan McCallum, and fired shots out the car window at the cops behind as they tore into Beacon Hill Park.
In the end, police found Reid had run through a carriage house yard in James Bay, hopped the fence, and holed himself up in an elderly couple’s apartment one block over.
Police apprehended Reid hours later and he was eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison.
He was granted day parole in January 2008 but was back in jail in November 2010 when police pulled him over and found a significant amount of contraband cigarettes in his vehicle.
He was again granted day parole in 2014 and lived as a free man until he died in 2018.
The bank robber turned author began his writing career while behind bars. In 2013, he won the City of Victoria’s Butler Book Prize for A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden, a collection of essays about growing old in prison.
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