Stephen Reid was mem­ber of Stop­watch Gang

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - PA­TRICK JOHN­STON pjohn­ston@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/risin­gac­tion

Stephen Reid, who couldn’t stop rob­bing banks but also couldn’t stop writ­ing and found love be­cause of it, has died. He was 68.

His pub­li­cist con­firmed the news on Face­book on Wed­nes­day.

Of Irish and Ojibwa de­scent, Reid’s no­to­ri­ety be­gan in the 1970s as part of the Stop­watch Gang, a group of three who ex­e­cuted a se­ries of metic­u­lously planned bank heists, which took just a minute and a half to com­plete, all while wear­ing stop­watches around their necks.

The gang ’s No. 1 rule was “No­body gets hurt.”

Their first heist was $750,000 in bul­lion, taken at the Ot­tawa air­port in 1974. The gang robbed nearly 100 banks and got away with an es­ti­mated $15 mil­lion be­fore be­ing cap­tured.

Reid landed a 21-year prison sen­tence and wrote a novel, Jackrab­bit Pa­role, while be­hind bars. In 1984, the man­u­script landed in the hands of poet Su­san Musgrave, then writer-in-res­i­dence at the Univer­sity of Water­loo.

The novel, a semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ac­count about the Stop­watch Gang, won crit­i­cal ac­claim and also launched a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two. They would marry in 1986.

He won full pa­role in 1987 and the fam­ily moved to Sid­ney, where he be­came stepfather to Char­lotte, and they soon had So­phie, a daugh­ter of their own. He would teach cre­ative writ­ing and later worked as a youth coun­sel­lor for a time in the Northwest Ter­ri­to­ries.

But he strug­gled with drug ad­dic­tion and in June 1999 he found him­self — high on heroin and co­caine — in a botched bank rob­bery that in­cluded an ex­change of gun­fire with Vic­to­ria, B.C., po­lice and his tak­ing an elderly cou­ple hostage. Po­lice ar­rested him af­ter he nod­ded off to sleep. He was sen­tenced to 18 years in prison.

He kept writ­ing and he won the 2013 But­ler Book Prize for a col­lec­tion of es­says ti­tled A Crow­bar in the Bud­dhist Gar­den.

“My life was mostly de­fined by ex’s these days, ex-smoker, ex­con, ex-bank rob­ber, ex-ad­dict,” he wrote. “But there was al­ways one shadow I could never seem to turn into an ex — a sense that I am as sep­a­rate from this world as a switch­blade knife.”

He was granted pa­role in Fe­bru­ary 2014.

“Ad­dic­tion, it just over­whelms your life, you spend all your time tor­tured by your ad­dic­tion, schem­ing for money for the drugs, hid­ing it from other peo­ple or try­ing to, so the ad­dic­tion is this huge mon­ster that sits on top of you, and you try and live your life while you are be­ing squashed by it,” he told the Van­cou­ver Sun in 2014.

He would ini­tially live in a half­way house in Vic­to­ria and would visit Char­lotte’s home.

Even­tu­ally, he and Musgrave moved to Haida Gwaii, where they ran the Cop­per Beech House.

Musgrave told CTV News that Reid had been in hos­pi­tal since Fri­day and was wait­ing for a mede­vac to take him to Van­cou­ver to re­ceive a pace­maker, but the plane couldn’t land in Haida Gwaii.

Stephen Reid

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