2020 In Review – The Flying Bandit

To start 2021 I thought it appropriate to look back at this past year through your eyes. What posts did you spend the most time reading during the past year?

I’d say I was surprised, but I really had no expectations. Sometimes a post becomes popular, I think, because of some search engine algorithms. If this wasn’t a hobby I would figure out more about that, but it seems too much like work. 

The tenth most viewed post of 2020 was written in 2014 but not actually published until 2016 – I forgot about it on my phone. It goes back to my days in the late 1980s as a newspaper reporter.

I remember being tipped off by a police officer that I needed to be in court that afternoon, even though there was nothing on the docket. Showing up was a good thing. Once my news story was published I got a phone call from the National Enquirer. They offered me months salary for an interview with the deceived wife. I declined. Not my choice, my boss insisted I leave the family alone. That is small-town journalism.

Here is the post:

Husbands are advised to never keep secrets from their wives. Marriages, to remain healthy, require open and constant communication between husband and wife.

That wasn’t the case for Gilbert Galvan, whose wife I am pretty sure divorced him once the full import of his deception had sunk in. Not only did he lie to her, but his actions embarrassed her publicly. Forgiveness is difficult when you have been humiliated in the press, when everyone is asking: “How could she not have known?”

Galvan’s offence was that he lied to his wife about his job. Well, that wasn’t his offence under the Criminal Code, but it is what embarrassed her. It was the mid-1980s, and personal computers were just beginning to become popular. He told her that he was a travelling computer salesman, selling to companies that were modernizing. That is how I remember the story, but that wasn’t even close to the truth.

The only time I saw Galvan was in a courtroom, back when I was a newspaper reporter. I had received a phone call from a contact at the Ontario Provincial Police telling me that court was sitting that afternoon, despite it not being scheduled. He said I should head right over for what he was sure would be a page one story in the newspaper the following day. He was right.

In the prisoner’s box was Galvan, a handsome young man in his early twenties. He had just flown back into town from one of his “sales trips” and police had been waiting for him at the airport. No place to run or hide at the Pembroke airport – the only passenger plane servicing it only had a dozen seats. He wasn’t going to get lost in the crowd.  Galvan knew the jig was up and said he wanted to plead guilty. The judge was accommodating.

Turns out Galvan was indeed travelling for business, but his business had nothing to do with computers. He was Canada’s most successful bank robber. And given that we sometimes have a national inferiority complex maybe it is only fitting that he wasn’t really Canadian. Galvan was an American, married to a girl from Pembroke, which is why he used our town as his home base.

In his three year crime spree he made away with more than two million dollars’ worth of cash and jewels – none of which had been recovered at the time of sentencing. Not bad money for 1988. Or today for that matter.

Small town journalism operates under a different set of rules from its big city counterpart. I never did get the full story, as I was under strict instructions from my boss not to seek out the family for comment. They had been embarrassed enough.

That left me with unanswered questions. Did he serve his time and leave jail to then collect his loot? What happened to the outstanding charges he was facing in the US? What about his wife and child?

Stuff from 1988 isn’t always easy to find on the Internet. When I checked out Galvan’s name after I wrote this, I learned nothing I didn’t know already from being in that courtroom. Then yesterday, as I prepared to post this, I search again and discovered new material.

Canada’s most successful bank robber was in the news again last year. I guess thievery is a tough profession to give up. Success seems to have eluded him in his latest attempts though. Now in the US, he had taken to robbing not banks but liquor stores. Unsuccessfully.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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