Stopwatch Gang members Lionel Wright (L) and Stephen Reid (R) in a 1980 robbery in San Diego. (Bank of America video)

The Stopwatch Gang: notorious bank robber, celebrated author dies

A man of lists: FBI most wanted, Canadian best seller -Stephen Reid dead at age 68

They were headline grabbers throughout the 1970’s.

Canadian Stephen Reid was the leader of a trio of robbers who hit over the course of just a few years robbed well over 100 banks across Canada and the U.S. escaping with a total haul estimated in the several millions of dollars before being caught.

Stephen Reid interview on CBC investigative reporting show 5th Estate- 2011. (CBC)

Reid always insisted that no-one get hurt, and the gang always planned the robberies meticulously, which allowed them their long success. The gang would wear sophisticated disguises as respectable bearded businessmen or wear weird masks like a Star Wars mask, or President Nixon, and sometimes with big stickers on their clothes like “save the whales” as these were the details victims would remember and which were ultimately useless as details for the police.

The trio became known as the stopwatch gang for the stopwatch Reid wore to time the heists. Another of his details was limiting their time for the robber to less than 100 seconds in and out, and gone. He said that allowed them to drive away calmly so as not to attract attention outside the bank from passersby or the approaching police cars.

Their exploits of notable masks and precise timing were the basis for the hit bank robbery movie “Point Break”.

The Stopwatch Gang-“nobody be a hero” the gang makes off with thousands of unmarked bills from an armoured car guard 1980. (Bank of America video)

The gang’s biggest haul was $750,000 in gold bars from the Ottawa airport in 1974, but went on to rob armoured cars and dozens of banks, many in California including $283,000 from a bank in San Diego in 1980.

Finally caught in that same year, Reid used the time to write a semi-autobiographical novel called “Jackrabbit Parole”.  He sent the manuscript to already well-known poet and children’s writer who was writer in residence at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. The book was published with great success and Musgrave was so intrigued that the two formed a relationship and she later married him in prison in 1986. Released in 1987, the couple moved to the British Columbia coast where Reid continued to write poetry and fiction and teach writing at a local college.

Reid’s first book, (with later reprinted cover) the start of a successful career as a writer. (McArthur Publishing)

Always charming,

Reid went on to be a darling of the literary world in Canada, and a documentary was even filmed with him and Musgrave called “the Poet and the Bandit”, but he was always struggling with addiction.

Shortly after the 1999 documentary, he relapsed into drugs and ended up trying another bank robbery, but this didn’t go well and he was caught and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

In 2012 another book came out, “A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden-writing from Prison”, a series of essays which won a literary prize, but along with other interviews, it was controversial.

Some said he was a great talent deserved sympathy, others said he was a notorious robber who put lives in danger and awards and interviews were celebrating a criminal.

Stephen Reid spoke to media in Victoria in 2015 after he was denied full parole. He was released from prison in 2016. Reid died Tuesday at the age of 68. (Dirk Meissner- CP)

Released on day-parole in 2014, Ried himself said he understood the harm he caused and also the problems that addiction brings to himself and others. He also never blamed his actions on a troubled background at age 11 at the hands of a paedophile doctor who injected him with drugs.

His wife of 31 years said in a statement Wednesday the Ried died in  hospital in Masset B.C. of pulmonary edema and third-degree heart block.

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