Serial bank robbers tend to be creatures of habit. They’ll use the same modus operandi over and over: donning similar disguises, targeting locations with common physical characteristics, and/or repeatedly choosing branches of the same bank. Every once in a while though, one will come along and test the skills of the detectives pursuing them.
The Book Bandit, who hit five banks in Mississauga as part of a 31-bank cross-country spree, was one of those.
“This one was so frustrating, with coincidences and surprises that were so off the wall,” Dave Andrews, now Staff-Sgt. with Peel Regional Police says of the chase. “At one time we thought we were chasing three different people. We had a suspect who was perfect for the robberies. It was a classic whodunit. Even the motive for the robberies was different.”
On Thursday, July 3, 1997, a man walked into the Bank of Montreal, then located at the corner of Lakeshore Road and Hurontario Street, and opened a large day timer in front of a teller. Inside was a demand for cash in large denominations as well as the threat of a gun on the other side of the counter. The frightened teller quickly complied with the demand and the thief calmly walked from the branch with the cash-laden day timer under his arm.
Five days later, the same man hit the CIBC at Lakeshore and Clarkson Road in exactly the same way, and on August 27 he performed a similar robbery at the TD branch at Lakeshore and Stavebank Road. The signature tactic gave the thief the name “Book Bandit”.
Dave Andrews transferred into 12 Division’s robbery squad shortly after the third heist and joined Detective Braden Baron on the case. They did what detectives do whenever a serial robber pops up on their turf: given that the unknown suspect operates with a set pattern, they check with other forces for similar hold-ups.
They discovered that police in western Canada had been chasing their own “Bookworm Bandit”, who used a day-timer to pass hold-up notes in banks in Edmonton, Calgary and North Vancouver in May and June of 1997. RCMP had a surveillance photo of a suspect in the North Vancouver heist that bank staff in Missisauga said looked like the one who held them up. Peel detectives changed the name of their suspect – already similar – to match the one from out west and shared as much information as they had.
“Despite the number of banks hit, there wasn’t much evidence to go on at that time,” Andrews says.
On December 4, 1997, a new, more sinister suspect struck at the same TD on Lakeshore at Stavebank that the Book Bandit had hit three months earlier. A man calmly placed a box in front of a teller. Taped to it was a note declaring that it held a bomb and would detonate in one minute’s time unless he was given all the money from tellers’ drawers. It was a ruse, but detectives opened a file on the “Bomber Bandit.”
During their initial probe of the Bomber Bandit, detectives learned of two robberies that took place two hours apart in September: the Book Bandit hit a bank in Toronto and then the Bomber Bandit struck another in Whitby. Security camera pictures of both robberies were sent to Andrews and Baron.
“We were shocked to see it was the same guy,” Andrews says. “Bank robbers seldom change their modus operandi, but this guy used two different tactics on the same day.”
And so, the Book Bandit and Bomber Bandit investigations became one. At around the same time, the police learned of similar heists in Montreal. Total robberies attributed to the same suspect: 13.
Just over a month later, a new, more violent suspect hit the same TD branch at Lakeshore and Stavebank. One minute after opening, a robber burst in wearing a toque and a kerchief over his face and waving a handgun. He jumped the counter and began rifling tellers’ drawers. When he spotted the bank manager calling 911, he pointed the gun at him and fled with his haul.
Surveillance cameras didn’t give detectives much to go on. But a teller who dealt with the Bomber Bandit two months earlier did. When the bandit jumped the counter his kerchief fluttered up and uncovered his lower face. She was certain it was the same odd-looking man dubbed the Bomber Bandit. For the next nine months, the Bandit vanished completely. Then on November 16, 1998, he walked into a bank in Brampton carrying his day-timer.
The heist was caught on a tack-sharp digital image and detectives finally had a really picture of their suspect which they circulated to police forces across the country. It turned out he was also sought in a Regina robbery making him wanted for a total of 30 heists across the country in 18 months. Two days later, he’d add his last crime.
A tow truck driver in Belleville was parked outside a bank listening to his police radio scanners when the branch’s robbery was broadcast over the air, including the suspect’s description. The driver watched a man matching the description get into a car and drive off. He followed and radioed what he was doing and where he was to his dispatcher who relayed it to police.
A local cop caught up. Driving at high speed, the Bookworm fired what turned out to be a starter’s pistol out his window at his pursuer. He didn’t see an upcoming curve and skidded into a ditch. He was done.
It turned out that the Bookworm was a civil engineer who, seven years before the robberies, had undergone a series of gender-change operations and became Christine White. Her transgendered status made her unpopular with society of the time and she found herself unemployable as an engineer.
She told detectives that she hadn’t robbed for the money. She did it simply and purely to pay society back for her mistreatment as a transgendered person. Nothing more.
In 2002, Christine White pleaded guilty to all 31 robberies and received an eight-year prison sentence. She has since been paroled.