By William Thomas
When I first moved to Wainfleet so very long ago, I opened an account at Niagara Credit Union in Port Colborne. It was so long ago the ATM outside the bank was operated by a gas generator. It was so long ago the credit union’s motto was: “You can’t take it with you, but if you want to try – we fireproof for free!”
I remember the front-line staff – Debbie Crowe, Karen McKay and Next Teller, who hardly ever showed up for work. The manager, Frank Hannaway, had such a thick accent that nobody could understand him and nobody cared. He was Irish and a lot of fun to deal with.
Much like today, it was a cold day in March, with a couple of inches of fresh snow, when a guy walked in and robbed the place. Simple as that, he handed the teller (no, not Next) a holdup note which claimed he had a gun, and walked out the front door with a bag full of bills. Back then, they didn’t have silent alarms or exploding dye packs or armed security guards. They had Frank.
So the robber climbs aboard his getaway vehicle and takes off down the street. More precisely, he jumped onto his CCM two-wheel bicycle and peddled off down the sidewalk of King Street, which is technically illegal. Everybody was clear on the model of the bike because, after some slip slidin’ in the snow, in order to get aboard the bike with the bald tires, all of the staff and Frank Hannaway had time to gather at the black, one-way window and watch the getaway happen.
Then Frank calmly walked out the back door of the bank, got into a car, driven by a customer who was just leaving the parking lot, and as a bit of a fan of crime adventure, said something he always dreamed of saying: “Follow that bike!”
A chase ensued, if you could call it that. Walking behind the robber at a safe distance (remember there was word of a gun) were customers from the bank, shoppers, Joel the Window Washer and his cart, a few high school kids on lunch break, a taxi driver hoping for a fare, a lawyer waiting for an ambulance to chase and “Bond, Frank Bond.”
Sadly, it was as close as the town of Port Colborne will ever come to hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was like the O.J. Simpson chase – slow and fun to watch, but you had to hope this guy was not making a run for the border of Mexico.
The road was slippery and Frank had to make sure the guy driving the pursuit car did not get too close to the group on foot who were following the erratic tire marks in the snow.
At some point, the guy finally came around to the conclusion that a bicycle in snow is an exceptionally bad choice of a getaway vehicle and he abandoned his CCM two-wheeler near a set of railway tracks.
Having the advantage of a motorized vehicle, Frank was able to follow the robber, block by block after he took off on foot. When the police did show up, they weren’t sure if they were responding to a robbery in progress or conducting crowd control. They arrested the guy in a backyard where he was sitting in a hot tub counting the loot. Although the police made the actual arrest, it was Frank’s posse who had led the charge.
Before they hauled him off to jail, one of the arresting officers noticed that the knife they found in the guy’s jacket pocket was inconsistent with the gun mentioned in the holdup note. When asked the bank robber said that in his haste he had written several holdup notes but the spelling of the word “knife” just didn’t look right to him.
And that’s why I love small town living! Even in the midst of a bank robbery, the whole community comes together to help. After a long winter, it was good for everybody to get out and go for a walk.
Frank Hannaway retired recently as one of the nicest bank managers you would ever want to meet. He should have received an award from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – only one robbery on his watch and yes, he got his man.
All these years later, I keep hoping the robber has reformed and turned his life around. Maybe he’s become rich by inventing snow tires for bicycles or a spelling app for cell phones.
But then yesterday I read where a robber in Florida was stunned and okay, dismayed, at being taken down by security police at the bank’s entrance as he was casually making his exit with a bag full of cash because a friend had convinced him that if he smeared lemon juice on his face he would be invisible to the electronic security cameras!
That’s when I think naw, that guy – Port Colborne’s ‘Bicycle Thief’ – he just moved to warmer climes.
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