When bank robberies were the norm

File photo
File photo
The robbery of Kiwibank in Parklands last week was sort of a blast from the past.

Bank hold-ups, thankfully, are relatively uncommon these days. Dairies are now a primary target, usually by teenagers in groups after cigarettes, cash and anything else they can grab.

But there was a time when banks and the security vans which would pick up and drop of large amounts of cash were the targets.

Most of the robbers who targeted banks were well-organised, experienced criminals, often linked to gangs, and armed with cut down shotguns or rifles. An influx of drugs, particularly cocaine, was often the reason for the need for lots of quick cash.

The robbers knew what they were doing and getting in and out as quickly as possible without incident was paramount – but that was no consolation for the terror endured by bank staff, customers and security guards.

There were also the lone wolf robbers. One individual stole the same motor-cycle parked in the central city on two occasions to rob banks. He was believed to have been a fairly well-known sportsman at the time, but police were never able to get enough evidence to arrest him.

Then there was the guy disguised in a clown mask who shot himself in the foot, figuratively speaking.

Armed, he turned up at a Stanmore Rd, Richmond, bank – minutes before it was due to open. He couldn’t get in. Threats and gesturing didn’t convince the staff to open the main door. He fled on foot, dropping the mask as he ran. Police caught him soon after.

And then there was the late Wayne Beri, prime suspect for the Aulsebrooks payroll robbery, and an individual who spent most of his adult life in prison (where he died of a heart attack) for drug dealing.

Beri had been released on work parole into the sponsorship of someone police also kept a fairly close eye on. How that was signed off is anybody’s guess.

Police began to bug phones after hearing through the grapevine Beri’s time on work parole could be put to another use – robbery.

Security vans delivering and picking up money from Christchurch banks were believed to be the target.

During the bugging, they also picked up something more sinister: Police heard a man who had known Beri from years before asking him to murder his wife.

Most people just get divorced.

Police swooped, numerous people were arrested, including the woman’s husband, and the intended victim was put into a place of safety. Police were later unable to proceed on the attempting to procure a murder charge in court on a technicality. The evidence from the bugging was ruled inadmissible and the husband walked free.

A few years later, when I was interviewing Beri by phone from prison for a life and times of Wayne Beri-type article, I asked him if he would have killed the woman: “No,” he said sharply. “But I might have burnt her house down.”Mmm.

During the interview, he did reveal he once held up a bank in Sydney – while on a sports trip.

Beri was a good rugby league player here in Christchurch, and his club side went across the Tasman on an end-of-season type trip.

While his teammates were elsewhere, Beri told me he held up the bank. He went straight to the counter, was very aggressive, made out he had a weapon and was out with the cash in super quick time.

But one of the more audacious bank heists here in Christchurch I can recall wasn’t actually a robbery. A man dressed as a security guard went into a bank just before a scheduled pick up. He was so plausible and convincing, bank staff handed him the cash.

He calmly walked out of the bank and he and the money were never seen again.

That’s planning.

 

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