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True Crime Heists & Robberies

The Beatle Bandit

A Serial Bank Robber's Deadly Heist, a Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation

by (author) Nate Hendley

Publisher
Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2021
Category
Heists & Robberies, General, Historical
  • eBook

    ISBN
    9781459748125
    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price
    $10.99
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9781459748101
    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price
    $21.99

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Description

The sensational true story of how a bank robber killed a man in a wild shootout, sparking a national debate around gun control and the death penalty.
WINNER of the 2022 Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book

On July 24, 1964, twenty-four-year-old Matthew Kerry Smith disguised himself with a mask and a Beatle wig, hoisted a semi-automatic rifle, then held up a bank in North York, Ontario.

The intelligent but troubled son of a businessman and mentally ill mother, Smith was a navy veteran with a young Indigenous wife and a hazy plan for violent revolution.

Outside the bank, Smith was confronted by Jack Blanc, a former member of the Canadian and Israeli armies, who brandished a revolver. During a wild shootout, Blanc was killed, and Smith escaped — only to become the object of the largest manhunt in the history of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force.

Dubbed “The Beatle Bandit,” Smith was eventually captured, tried, and sentenced to hang. His murderous rampage had tragic consequences for multiple families and fuelled a national debate about the death penalty, gun control, and the insanity defence.

About the author

Nate Hendley was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1966 but grew up in Waterloo, ON. From 1985 – 1989, he attended Trent University in Peterborough, ON, and graduated with an Honours BA in Cultural Studies.In 1991 he returned to school to study journalism at Conestoga College in Kitchener, ON. Shortly thereafter, he began freelancing. Since the early 1990s, Nate has written hundreds of news articles, features, profiles, investigative pieces, advertorials, corporate stories and public relations items.His writing credits include The National Post, The Globe and Mail, Marketing Magazine, eye weekly, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Journal, etc. He is particularly adept at writing about political, social and cultural issues, automotive, high-tech and business topics and health-related concerns. In addition to his work as a journalist, he is a published author, formerly with Altitude Publishing, and now with Five Rivers.Nate is the Ontario Regional Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada. PWAC is a national organization that represents the interests of freelance writers.

Nate Hendley's profile page

Awards

  • Winner, Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book (Crime Writers of Canada)
  • Nominated, Heritage Toronto Book Award

Excerpt: The Beatle Bandit: A Serial Bank Robber's Deadly Heist, a Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation (by (author) Nate Hendley)

Chapter One: Bullets, Banks, and Beatle Wigs

On the afternoon of July 24, 1964, Matthew Kerry Smith drove to the intersection of North York’s Overbrook Place and Elder Street in a modified Ford Galaxie that contained guns, a wig, and a guitar case, among other items. He parked and began to prepare for the armed robbery he’d been planning. It was Friday, and the weather was sunny and hot. Smith’s target — the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at nearby Bathurst Manor Plaza — was dealing with the last customers of the day.

The intelligent but troubled son of a successful businessman and mentally ill mother, twenty-four-year-old Smith had more than just money on his mind. He harboured dreams of a revolution and viewed bank robbery as a means of financing it.

Smith had previously robbed two other banks at gunpoint and seized thousands of dollars. He had tried and failed to steal weapons from an armoury and been jailed for leading police on a wild car chase. Prior to these criminal exploits, Smith served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

Still in his car, Smith was clad in a white T-shirt bearing the slogan “CKEY Good Guys,” referring to the local radio station. He ducked beneath the dashboard and put on his disguise, which consisted of a Halloween mask depicting the face of French President Charles de Gaulle, sunglasses, and a longhaired Beatle wig. The Fab Four from England were all the rage, and Toronto retailers had started selling wigs modelled after the band’s shaggy locks. A few months earlier, Harold Ballard, president of Maple Leaf Gardens, had donned one of these wigs to greet fans lined up to buy tickets for that first pair of Beatles concerts.

On March 23, 1964, the Beatles had six songs in CKEY-rival CHUM’s hit parade top ten, although the day of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) robbery the number one song at CHUM was “Memphis” by Johnny Rivers — a brief hiatus from the Beatles’ onslaught.

Smith was heavily armed. His main weapon of choice was an air-cooled, gas-powered Fabrique Nationale (FN) .308 (7.62 mm) semi-automatic rifle. For backup, Smith packed a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol in a belt holster.

Dubbed “the quintessential battle rifle,” the long, lethal FN was developed in Belgium and used by soldiers around the world. The Canadian Army was equipped with a licensed, made-in-Ontario version of the FN rifle called the C-1.

It was the type of firearm to give you pause — even if Smith had painted the barrel of his weapon pink. The rest of his rifle was black. There was some logic behind Smith’s choice of colour. He intended to approach the bank on foot, hiding his rifle in a guitar case. Unfortunately, the rifle was longer than the guitar case. So, prior to the heist, Smith had drilled a hole in one end of the guitar case large enough for the rifle barrel. Smith now placed the FN rifle inside the case, carefully poking the pink barrel through the hole. He snapped the guitar case shut and exited his car. Anyone who glanced his way would see a guitar case with a pink, metallic object sticking out of it and never guess it was part of a rifle.

Smith got out of the Ford Galaxie, holding his guitar case and a pair of canvas haversacks. In his odd attire, he walked the short distance to the bank. Bathurst Manor Plaza was on Wilmington Avenue, which ran north/south. The CIBC branch was at 221 Wilmington, next to Overbrook, which ran east/west. Also called the Wilmington Plaza, the shopping centre consisted of a nondescript cluster of retail and service outlets facing a parking lot.

A few people on the street gaped as the tall, lanky young man passed by. To make it look like he was a harmless goofball, Smith affected a causal bantering manner, calling out, “Hi, cats!” to a group of young people hanging around the parking lot.

Guitar case in hand, Smith walked through the parking lot and toward the CIBC branch. The bank had a vestibule and double doors. An exterior sign above an awning announced the presence of the CANADIAN IMPERIAL BANK OF COMMERCE in bold capital letters. Big windows along the south wall offered a view of the outside.

Inside the bank, twenty-four-year-old accountant Carman Lamb was fetching American currency for a customer. He looked out the window and saw Smith heading toward the bank. Taking note of the stranger’s appearance, Lamb turned to a colleague and joshed, “There goes your brother!”

Lamb went back to his tasks as Smith stepped inside. It was roughly 5:05 p.m.

Smith’s attire instantly drew the attention of the roughly two dozen customers in the bank. Some thought he was pulling a prank. Sally Blanc, who was in the bank with her husband, Jack, would later tell a courtroom that Smith “looked like a clown.”

At fifty-four years old, Jack Blanc was short and muscular, with dark hair, a moustache, and a soldierly bearing. He worked as a furrier — a maker of fur garments — and was a veteran of both the Canadian Army and the Haganah (a predecessor of the Israel Defense Forces).

Jack and Sally Blanc had two children: daughter Diane, in her mid-twenties, and son Stanley, fourteen, who went by the nickname “Butch.” The Blanc family — save for Diane, who resided elsewhere — lived in an apartment building at 242 Wilmington Avenue. Their unit overlooked Bathurst Manor Plaza. That Sunday, the family was intending to go on vacation.

“My husband and I went in to open a joint bank account for our holidays, so that we would know exactly how much money we were spending and there wouldn’t be any complications financially. We were both quite happy. We were going on a holiday to the States with our son,” Sally Blanc later recounted on an episode of the CBC-TV program Toronto File.

“We were supposed to go to Kingston first, because I wanted to see Fort Henry and then go back to Windsor, and go to Detroit, to see my father’s younger brother,” recalls Stanley today.

Some bank customers recognized the CKEY name on Smith’s T-shirt and wondered if he was taking part in a publicity stunt. These thoughts ended when Smith opened the guitar case and took out the FN rifle with the pink barrel. He held the rifle in his right hand with the stock resting on his hip, the pair of canvas haversacks in his left hand.

Smith stepped to the northwest corner of the bank, to the office of manager Henry Martens. Martens was inside chatting with salesman Hartley Lepofsky when Smith kicked the door open. The men looked up in surprise at this outlandish character in the doorway. Martens noticed the barrel of the weapon pointed at him was pink and briefly wondered if it was a toy gun.

“He was dressed in cartoon fashion, like a comedian of some sort … He ordered us behind the cages, which I did not understand what he meant. He followed with another instruction to move, and we both just sat there looking at him thinking it was a practical joke or something at the beginning,” Lepofsky later testified.

What Smith had to say, however, was anything but funny.

“This is a holdup! I want all the money!” shouted Smith.

Martens didn’t react right away.

“I don’t think this is very funny,” huffed the bank manager.

To show he meant business, Smith fired a shot a few feet above Martens’ head. The bullet blasted a hole in the wall measuring one inch in diameter and one-a-half-inches deep.

“When I saw the hole in the wall, I knew this could be no joke, and the noise itself had brought me back to reality,” stated Lepofsky.

At the front of the bank, Lamb was stunned by the sound.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a .308 in a close space,” he says today. Patrons and staff alike froze in place.

“Get moving! I mean business!” snarled Smith, behind the mask and shades.

With the FN rifle pointed at them, Martens and Lepofsky scurried out of the office. They headed behind the bank counters as staff and customers milled about in shock. Lamb also noticed that the barrel of Smith’s weapon was painted pink.

The rifle “was metal rather than nice wood stock [and] about four inches of pink barrel were sticking out of the end. I’m sure I thought ‘that’s different’ but I wasn’t giving it that much thought because we’re in the middle of a holdup,” recalls the accountant.

Witnesses also took note of Smith’s headgear. Even people who might not otherwise be fans recognized the Beatle wig. The Beatles were everywhere that year, their pudding-bowl haircuts an endless source of media fascination.

Smith tossed the canvas haversacks over the bank counter. Then, he pressed his left palm against the smooth surface of the counter and leapt over it, tucking his FN rifle under his right arm and hip as he vaulted.

Smith stood on top of Lamb’s desk and shouted, “This is a holdup!” For good measure, he added, “Hurry up, because robbing banks is a tough way to make a living.”

People weren’t sure how to take these remarks. Was the robber trying to be funny or issuing a threat? Regardless of his motivation, everyone tried to stay calm. According to Lamb, everything was “dead quiet” inside the bank. One staffer did have the presence of mind to activate the silent alarm, alerting police that a holdup was in progress.

Smith ordered the tellers to empty their tills and place the cash in his haversack bags. Martens instructed the tellers to do as they were told, and hand over the money from their tills. As tellers stuffed cash inside the bags, Smith said, “I’m not satisfied with the till money. I want all you have.”

This meant accessing the vault and the money inside. Opening the bank vault, however, required the actions of three people: Martens, accountant Lamb, and first teller Joan Hoffman. Lamb had the combination for the outer vault door, but only Hoffman had the combination for the inner vault door.

Editorial Reviews

Hendley is a clean, crisp writer who knows how to pace a story.

Winnipeg Free Press

With The Beatle Bandit, Nate Hendley does a splendid job reconstructing the life and crimes of one of Canada’s most unusual bank robbers, Matthew Kerry Smith. Known as ‘Toronto the Good’ in the early sixties, violent crimes were few and far between, and murders committed during the course of bank robberies were rare. Hendley’s book paints a vibrant portrait of a city on the brink of becoming a world-renowned metropolis, a deeply disturbed young man, and the debate over capital punishment.

Robert J. Hoshowsky, author, The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada

This book is a must read for anyone looking for contentious and responsible true crime.

True Crime Index

Nate Hendley is a great storyteller and tells this true crime story as it should be; facts, stats, first-hand witnesses, and news reports of the time.

Viva La Books

The Beatle Bandit is a fascinating, brutal, unflinching true crime story, shorn of sensationalism, which will thrill you and anger you in equal measure.

Kid Ferrous Reviews

The Beatle Bandit is a fascinating true crime story that weaves meticulously researched facts and compassionate observations into a gripping narrative that is as much historical as entertaining. Nate Hendley’s eye for detail provides the reader with an engaging account of life in 1960s Toronto, a bank robbery gone bad, mental illness, the Canadian judicial system, and the individuals who were a part of those places.

Desmond P. Ryan, Retired Toronto Police Detective and author of The Mike O’Shea Crime Fiction Series and The Mary-Margaret Cozy Series

An absorbing true life story that reads with all the drama of a fiction novel...a compelling and informative read from cover to cover.

Midwest Book Review

A fascinating, bizarre, important story told by one of the country's top true crime writers. What's not to enjoy? The Beatle Bandit is a hit.

Peter Edwards, Toronto Star crime reporter and co-author of The Wolfpack: the Millennial Mobsters who brought Chaos and the Cartels to the Canadian Underworld

Hendley does a fine job putting Smith’s crimes in the context of Canadian culture decades ago. Students of true crime won’t want to miss this thoughtful book.

Publishers Weekly

Hendley tells the story as though he were writing a crime novel; an apt read-alike might be Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, with which The Beatle Bandit shares a journalistic style and a perceptive analysis of people and events. First-rate true crime.

Booklist

In his compelling new true crime book, Nate Hendley walks us through a case that roiled the peaceable province of Ontario in the mid-1960s. At centre stage is a troubled young man facing the death penalty for a murder committed in the course of an armed and violent bank robbery. As the tragedy unfolds, Hendley demonstrates with lucidity and empathy that when it comes to mental illness, sadly, there are no simple answers.

Lorna Poplak, author of The Don: The Story of Toronto’s Infamous Jail

Excels at unpacking the crime in light of the time setting in which it occurred… Highly recommended for readers of the true-crime genre.

Miramichi Reader

Nate Hendley has written a page-turner with The Beatle Bandit, about Toronto bank robber Matthew Kerry Smith, who donned a Beatle wig when robbing banks in the mid-1960s Beatles’ era. Hendley’s background as a journalist and narrative writing skills bring to life Smith’s story from childhood into adulthood.

Sharon A. Crawford, author of The Enemies Within Us: a Memoir

With this absorbing, deeply researched tale of a troubled, gun-obsessed bank robber-turned-killer in 1960s Toronto, veteran true crime writer Nate Hendley has scored another triumph.

Dean Jobb, author of The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream and Empire of Deception

Hendley writes like a reporter, sticking to the facts, with a clear sense of how to pace a story in order to keep readers turning pages...a solid addition to the true-crime canon.

Literary Review of Canada

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