Stephen Reid, an author and one of Canada’s most notorious bank robbers, has died.
Reid’s wife, poet and novelist Susan Musgrave said Reid died on June 12 at the Masset hospital on Haida Gwaii. He was admitted to the hospital on June 8 and was diagnosed with a lung infection and heart failure. He had been waiting Monday night for an air ambulance to take him to Vancouver, but Musgrave said the plane could not land until Tuesday morning. She added medical staff in Masset and Vancouver paramedics did their best to save Reid.
Reid’s publisher, Allan Forrie at Thistledown Press, also confirmed Wednesday that Reid had died.
Sixty-eight-year-old Reid was part of the Stopwatch Gang, a group that robbed more than 100 banks in Canada and the U.S. and stole more than $15 million in the 1970s. They were known for robbing banks in 90 seconds or less and for stealing $785,000 worth of gold bullion from Ottawa’s airport in 1974.
The “Stopwatch” name was given to the gang by the FBI because a witness had reported one of the men in the group wore a large stopwatch around his neck.
However, on Vancouver Island, Reid was known for a bank robbery that came more than a decade after he was released from prison for his days in the Stopwatch Gang.
On June 9, 1999, Reid held up a Cook Street bank in Victoria with a shotgun and made off with $93,000. After the robbery, as a passenger in a getaway car, Reid shot at a Victoria police officer.
Reid then broke into the home of an elderly James Bay couple and held them hostage as he hid from police. He was arrested that night. After the robbery, Reid said he had been struggling with a heroin and cocaine addiction.
Reid was sentenced to 18 years in prison for armed robbery and attempted murder. He got day parole in February 2014 but was denied full parole in March 2015. He was eligible for statutory release in August that same year, which marked two-thirds of his sentence.
As for his work as an author, Reid started writing in 1984 while serving his 21-year sentence for his role in the Stopwatch Gang. During his sentence, he submitted a manuscript to Musgrave, who was then writer-in-residence at the University of Waterloo. The two later married in 1986 and Reid published his novel, Jackrabbit Parole, later that year.
After he was released from prison for that sentence, he taught creative writing and worked as a youth counsellor.
He was also the subject of a 2007 National Film Board of Canada documentary film, Inside Time, which was the recipient of a 2008 Golden Sheaf Award for social/political documentary
Reid won the 2013 City of Victoria Butler Book Price for his second work: A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison. He is survived by his wife, Musgrave, his daughters Sophie and Charlotte, and his grandchildren.
“The day he was admitted to the hospital, seven killer whales came into the inlet. The Haida First Nations belief is that when a killer whale is seen in the inlet it means someone is going to die,” Musgrave said in a statement.
“On Friday, there were seven.”
Thistledown Press also released the following statement:
“Stephen Reid demystified the life of a celebrity criminal in his writing. He knew what went on behind locked doors in Canada?s penitentiaries, knew their need to balance rehabilitation with punishment. He was articulate in writing about these experiences in all his work but none more clearly and beautifully than his essays held in A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden. His writing commanded a large audience of readers who seemed to understand that Reid knew prisons and, if fact, he was an expert on them having served time in more than 20 of them over 40 years.
What those who love notoriety sometime forget is that Stephen Reid grew old in prisons and saw more than his share of their solitude, their vicious cycles, and their subculture relationships. He participated in the economics contraband, the incredible escapes, the intimacies of their torture. He understood the miscarriages of justice and witnessed the innocent souls whose childhood destinies doomed them to prison life. He met those people. He cared for them.
Reid once claimed that he learned that everything is bearable, that the painful separation of family, children, and friend is tolerable, and that sorrow must be kept close, buried in a secret garden of the self if one is to survive and give others who love you hope. Within his writing runs the motif that his prison life has never been far from his drug addictions, and that the junkie or drunk who has some straight time and means to stay that way knows a lot about the way we really live, think, feel, hope and desire in this country. He offered this wisdom to us.”