The silent bandit — copycat attempts to rob cigar store

by Bruce Cherney (part 2 of 2)

Why bank teller John Resch’s gun was loaded with the wrong rounds and thus misfired when he took aim and attempted to take down the “silent bandit” was never fully explained. J.M. Campbell, the manager of the Royal Bank branch at Portage and Carlton where the $5,000 robbery took place on October 26, 1928, said that the guns were examined and cleaned regularly. “This time it was the fault of ammunition as the gun was alright. The ammunition was bought in the regular way and was supposed to be all right.”

It was further reported that it was the custom of bank inspectors on their annual visits to a branch to inspect all the firearms.

“Outside this inspection the guns are supposed to be kept in condition by the official or clerk to whom they are issued,” according to an October 27 Winnipeg Tribune article.

An unnamed assistant manager at another bank said it was “most particular” to keep guns in good working order.

“We have faulty guns coming in here very frequently,” he said, “and in such cases the services of a gunsmith are requisitioned. Generally, however, it is the duty of the man for whose protection the gun is issued to see that the weapon is in workable shape.”

Winnipeg Police Chief Chris Newton had years earlier offered the expertise of his staff to train bank employees in the use of firearms, but only the Bank of Commerce took advantage of the offer.

The most likely explanation of how the wrong rounds were loaded into Resch’s firearm is that the branch’s employees were unfamiliar with the manner in which their guns actually operated, including the individual who bought the shells for the revolver and failed to take into account the type of weapon and its specific firing mechanism.

A dragnet was cast across the city by Winnipeg police and outside the city by Manitoba Provincial Police (MPP), but the police had little to work on and their efforts to apprehend the bandit were fruitless.

Police later admitted it was unlikely that the “smooth Royal Bank robber,” as described by the Tribune, would be caught.

“With only a meagre description to work on and no trail to follow, the police can only watch for a suspicious stranger with plenty of money to spend,” reported the October 29, 1928, Tribune. “Police in other cities have been warned to be on the watch also.” 

As the search for the Royal Bank bandit continued, a copycat thief decided to emulate the successful robber. The  problem for the copycat was that he chose to rob a less cash-filled establishment and was far from smooth in his carrying out of the crime.

About midnight on October 27, Fred W. Green, the manager of the United Cigar store at the corner of Main Street and Bannatyne Avenue, was approached by a young man  who handed him a piece of torn newspaper.

“Mildly surprised, Green took the paper and glanced at it. It had been torn from the front page of Saturday’s Tribune.”

According to the October 29, Tribune, the scrap of newspaper contained the picture of the note that had been handed to Royal Bank teller Resch on Friday, which featured the note with the demand: “You’re covered. Hand it over.”

Apparently, Green heard a chuckle and the young man in his store said, “Hand it over!” 

By uttering these words, Green would have known he wasn’t dealing with the “silent bandit.” But he still believed his life was endangered, as Green saw that the young man held a tiny, black automatic pistol in his right hand, so he handed over $47 — all the money that was in the cash register at the time.

The bandit then calmly walked out the door, but broke into a run as he headed westward down Bannatyne.

“Green rushed to the door, yelled to a passerby, pointed after the runaway and then telephoned the police. Two men, Charles Gustavson and Tommy Lennon, who were passing the store in an auto, at once gave chase. They caught the bandit at King and Arthur st.”

The two men handed their captive over to the police when detectives arrived on the scene.

The young man gave his name as George Anderson and claimed he was from Yorkshire, England. But after further interviews, the police determined he was not from England, but was from New Zealand and his name was George Izzard — later it was discovered that his real name was Norman Izzard. The police recovered the $47 stolen from the cigar store.

Detectives had a surprise in store for them when they inspected Izzard’s gun. 

“In Izzard’s pocket was the tiny automatic with which he had held up the store. It was a toy, such as are sold in cigar stores to hold cigarettes.”

Toy or not, Izzard was charged with robbery with violence.

On Monday, October 29, he entered a guilty plea before Winnipeg Police Court Magistrate Hugh John Macdonald, who requested a detailed report on the crime and on any past criminal record before passing sentence on Izzard.

Police discovered that Izzard didn’t have a past criminal record, was born in Newbury, England, and before coming to Winnipeg had been living with his “well-connected” family in New Zealand. 

Izzard had been living in Winnipeg for some time before committing the robbery and was said to have spent more than $600 while partaking of the city’s night life. As a result, Izzard told the police that he was broke and starving, and decided to relieve his plight by robbing the cigar store. 

The articles about the daring Royal Bank robbery in local newspapers were the inspiration behind the method he employed, although his effort clearly demonstrated a lack of originality at a time when the public and police were well aware of the modus operandi of the “silent bandit.” 

Izzard further told the police that he was merely passing through Winnipeg en route to England, his country of birth.

He received no sympathy from Magistrate Macdonald, who sentenced Izzard to two years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary.

“There have been far too many crimes of violence in the city lately,” said Macdonald when sentencing Izzard, “and I am afraid I cannot pass this matter over lightly.”

Macdonald was merely expressing the frustration of many in Winnipeg where armed robbery — pistols were plentiful and easy to obtain — was virtually an everyday occurrence and employees and shopkeepers were sometimes wounded or killed by bandits. For example, drugstore owner L.D. Poyntz was shot and killed by robbers on December 28, 1928.

Macdonald also ordered that Izzard be deported to England after serving his sentence at Stony Mountain. 

The crudeness of Izzard’s approach to the robbery of the cigar store contrasted sharply with the smooth manner that allowed the “silent bandit” to successfully rob the Royal Bank and avoid capture. In fact, he was never brought to justice for his crime.