Broadway & Burrard Branch, Vancouver
It came like a blot from the blue (it was actually a ‘bolt out of the blue’, but the typo can remain; you’ll see why later). It’s also a memory I will never forget.
It was the autumn of 1976. I had been the Branch Accountant for a year by that time. There had been a spate of bank robberies that summer, and we’d had a Vancouver Police robbery detective visit our branch a week or so before this incident. His advice was, when faced by an armed gunman, don’t be a hero: hand over the money, but try to remember as much as you can of the event.
It was a Friday evening, almost 6 o’clock, our extended closing time. I was sitting in the Manager’s office speaking with him about ‘this and that’, nothing special. Suddenly, one of the tellers shouted out, “I’ve been robbed!”
I immediately jumped up from my seat and ran out the front door. As I got outside, I could see which direction he ran: to the right. I followed him. In the picture shown above, there is an alley to the parking lot at the back, running next to the storefront with the green awning. He was about 50 feet in front of me. As I ran down the alley after him, I saw he was carrying a rifle in his left hand, the bag of money in his right. He seemed to be running hunched over.
If he had turned around at any point, I would have hit the deck, but he didn’t. Instead he jumped into a car that was sitting there, idling. His accomplice then drove off at speed. I noted the licence plate, and returned to the branch.
The Immediate Aftermath
Upon re-entering the bank, I locked the front door, and immediately wrote down the number plate of the car. Then I took stock of the situation in the branch. It was mayhem.
The Manager had called the police, who were on their way, and the Bank of Nova Scotia Regional Office, who were sending a team of Bank Inspectors. You see, there has to be a mini bank inspection after a robbery, to ensure that the amount stolen was completely accounted for. It turned out to be $3,500: a lot of money in those days.
The branch management’s immediate job was to help the tellers balance their cash holdings. It was going to be a long night, for sure.
Something Didn’t Add Up
I must have a suspicious nature. There can be no other explanation. I started to review the previous afternoon for anything strange that had happened, even as the police were coming through the door.
The first thing that seemed odd was the fact that the gunman had stood in line for the first teller. He waited patiently, with his firearm under wraps, as she was taking in a commercial deposit from one of the local businesses. That seemed to make sense in itself, as he would have wanted to maximize his ‘withdrawal’. The part that didn’t make sense was how he knew she was the one that we designated the Treasury Teller. In other words, the holder of the majority of the branch’s cash.
In the end, he had moved to another teller’s position, when she called him over.
Poor Joyce: I’ll bet she wishes to this day that she’d not opened up her till at that moment.
In the centre of the customer area is a customer service desk for writing out deposit and withdrawal slips. With one of the police detectives in tow, I looked for anything that the robber might have left behind. I found something: a triangular corner of paper with “1” written on it. What?!
The paper was lined on the back. It looked like the pages (boldly lined) we used for documenting cash contra-ed between tellers. What was going on here?
If there is a wedge of this paper in the customer area on the floor, where’s the rest of it? So I started to look on our side of the counter.
In one of the waste bins at the desks behind the tellers’ area, I found the rest of that page. The corner had been ripped off, and the reminder of the paper was covered with one teller’s dated stamp impressions, as if she’d been inking it up and making sure that it didn’t blot.
Then the penny dropped. Hadn’t that same teller excused herself from the office about 3:30 that afternoon? She’d told me that she had a quick errand to run.
Just a Hunch?
I explained all this to the police detective, but he didn’t see the relevance. A piece of scrap paper in a bin? A wedge of that same paper on the floor of the customer area? What did I think it was: a conspiracy to commit a bank robbery?
It turns out that the APB (all points bulletin) had yielded a result, almost immediately. But my licence plate details must have been wrong because they said that no car existed in BC with that plate. Then I saw what I had missed: it had been an Ontario plate. I was still used to them, rather than the BC plates. As it was familiar looking, I hadn’t twigged.
The robber and his accomplice had driven down the street and stopped at the Burrard Hotel. In the coffee shop, a waitress noticed that two men were dividing up a load of cash, so she called the police. They were arrested there.
The police detective returned to the branch a week or so later. He had a photograph of the suspect in a police identity parade. He wanted to see if Joyce could pick him out. I suspect she had been traumatized by the incident, because she couldn’t identify him.
He let me look at the photo. One of the suspects had hunched shoulders. I pointed to him and said to the detective, “That’s the man!”
The detective said, “How did you know? You didn’t even see his face that day.”
I said, “I’ll never forget those shoulders.”
No one ever believed that it might have been an ‘inside job’. That one teller decided within a month to transfer to the data processing unit that was effectively down the street and around the corner from our branch.
Even though I was suspicious of her actions that day, I had no proof, so they allowed her transfer to go through.
An armed robbery never happened to me again.
I guess “lightning never strikes twice…”