“Oh, Honey. That was a gunshot,” said the tourist from Phoenix, Arizona, while they were on a quaint horse-carriage ride through Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, B.C. – a city so quiet it was affectionately known as the home of the newly-wed and the nearly-dead.
Carriage driver Amy Kazeil assured her tour that it wasn’t.
They heard two more.
“Oh, yah. Those are gunshots. Honey, we’re from Phoenix. We know what gunshots sound like,” the tourist insisted.
Suddenly, Amy Kazeil’s heart was in her throat as a big boxy boat of a car came roaring around the corner toward her horse and carriage, going the wrong way on the narrow one-way road through the park – four police cars hot in pursuit.
She pulled her carriage up on the grass with just millimetres to spare as the car raced by. For a split second, she locked eyes with a man hunched down in the back seat.
“I remember thinking, ‘someone has shot someone in the park and taken this old man hostage’ because he was sort of crouched down in the back seat of the car and looked terrified. Absolutely terrified,” said Kazeil.
As she would soon learn, that old man was B.C. author and notorious bank robber Stephen Reid. After living a life of reform after serving time for his infamous role in the Stopwatch Gang, robbing over 100 banks of millions of dollars in the 70s and 80s, Reid relapsed. His life-long battle with heroin and cocaine addiction spurred a drug-fueled bank heist that morning on June 9, 1999.
But this heist was different.
While the Stopwatch Gang carried guns, they never used them. Their meticulous adherence to a tight in-and-out timeline meant they were gone long before the police showed up.
On this morning, Reid entered the Royal Bank in Cook Street Village, high on a speedball and dressed in a homemade police uniform. He was in the bank much longer than usual and when he exited with $93,000, cops were outside.
Reid hopped in a getaway car driven by Allan McCallum, and fired shots out the car window at the cops behind as they tore into Beacon Hill Park – straight towards Kazeil’s carriage.
After the cars passed the carriage, Kazeil and her tour dropped to the floor of the carriage just as more shots rang out, whizzing past them.
“There was another big bang. I didn’t know if the shot came from the car or outside of the car. So I wasn’t sure if there was someone shooting in the bushes,” said Kazeil. “I honestly thought someone else was going to jump out of the bushes with a gun. I had no idea.”
With the cars heading into the distance, Amy radioed the ticket stand.
Terrence Waldron, a ticket-seller for the carriage tours, was down at the stand by the B.C. Legislature when the call from Amy came over the radio: “Oh my god, there’s been a shooting in the park. There’s been a shooting in the park.”
He was about to find out that the drama had only begun. In a weird coincidence, the horse carriage community ended up book-ending Reid’s chaotic and violent police chase.
Lon Granger had been up early that morning, cleaning the stalls in the backyard of the carriage house in James Bay where the horses would get harnessed before their shift. The carriage house looked like an ordinary house on a quiet residential street, but the backyard was transformed into open-air horse stalls. As caretaker, Granger lived in the front of the house with roommate and carriage driver Natalie Decaro, while the office for the carriage business was in the back of the house, accessed through the backyard.
After cleaning the yard that morning, Granger went into the house for a nap. Decaro was asleep in her room with another carriage driver who had spent the night.
All awoke to the sound of gunshots, getting louder and louder as they came closer to the house.
Granger looked out his bedroom window just in time to see a cop peeling up on a motorcycle and cranking it into the driveway. The bike slid out from under him but right away the cop was up on his feet with his weapon drawn, pointing up the driveway towards the garage.
Granger ran downstairs to the others.
“I opened the front door first and the cops spun on me, guns in hand. They yelled at me to get back in the house and lock the doors,” Decaro recollects. Knowing that Terra Brown, the manager of the carriage company, was in the office in the backyard, Decaro said she ran to the back door to see if she was OK. On opening the back door, she said she found herself a few feet away from the robbers’ car that was up against the garage, engine still running, with the door open and a shotgun on the bench seat.
That image is burned in her memory.
“We were all scared as f**k,” said Granger. “All we knew was the cops were after somebody and they were shooting at each other. My fear was they were in the office holding someone hostage.”
Terra Brown was in the office when she first heard the shots approaching.
“You could hear all the commotion going on, sirens and shooting. The sirens were getting louder and louder so I went out to look,” said Brown. She saw the robbers at the end of the driveway, firing bullets down the street.
She grabbed a phone and the three staff members that were in the backyard, including a horse chiropractor that was working on one of the horses, and locked themselves in the bathroom.
After Brown saw them shooting in the street, the robbers proceeded to pull the car right up to the carriage house garage and hop out. McCallum, the driver, took off on foot down the street and was apprehended a block away. Reid ran into the backyard of the carriage house.
“Picture this,” said Granger. “These guys have just robbed a bank, they’ve been shooting off at the cops and now they’ve abandoned their car and they’re going to run through this backyard. Only the backyard is full of f**king horses. Big f**king horses.”
Everyone in the bathroom stayed quiet, fearing for their lives. Brown phoned 911 but the police chase caused so many calls to pour in from around town that it took her multiple tries to get through. When she finally did she tried to explain where they were hiding.
“It was pretty terrifying. We didn’t know if they were going to try to break in there and try to get us. We didn’t know what was going on. It was just a crazy moment in time where you just have no idea what’s going to happen,” said Brown.
Her boyfriend Gene was working that day down at the ticket stand. Panic had set in as they heard about the shooting in the park and started to hear rumours of things happening at the carriage house.
“They were all freaking out because they didn’t know what was going on, they couldn’t get hold of anybody. They couldn’t get to us because the police had blocked all that off and the car was in the driveway so nobody could get close at that time,” said Brown.
Help did eventually arrive for those huddled in the bathroom, but it came with more terror.
The police didn’t know exactly where they were, where Reid had gone, or if there was a hostage situation. They ended up breaking through the bathroom door with their guns drawn.
“That was probably the worst part, the cops coming in and they’re yelling at you and pointing guns at you. They were running on really high adrenaline and doing whatever they thought they could to catch these guys. Then they quickly realized that it was just us and they got us out of there,” said Brown. “I remember getting escorted out and walking by the car. You could see there was a gun across the seat.”
In the end, police found Reid had run through the carriage house yard, hopped the fence, and holed himself up in an elderly couple’s apartment one block over.
Police apprehended Reid hours later.
Those who had been stuck in the carriage house were questioned by police.
“The cops didn’t know if we were part of it. They thought maybe they were using us, that it was all planned and it was a strategic move to help them get away,” said Decaro. “They needed to know that we didn’t know them.”
While he didn’t then, Granger would later find out that Stephen Reid is actually related to his mom’s friend. They both grew up in Massey, Ontario, a rural town of 1,200. After hearing about the ordeal, Granger’s mother sent him her copy of Reid’s book Jack Rabbit Parole but Granger refused to read it.
“It’s been on every shelf in every place I’ve lived since but I was just so pissed off with him. I didn’t want any reason to feel sorry for him,” said Granger.
“There was no care on their part about who was in the vicinity when they were firing those shots,” said Decaro.
“What they pulled that day,” said Granger, “messed up on whatever, was terrorism.”
Reid was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
He was granted day parole in January of 2008 but was back in jail in November of 2010 when police pulled him over and found a significant amount of contraband cigarettes in his vehicle.
He was again granted day parole in 2014 and lived as a free man until he died earlier this month after being admitted to the hospital on Haida Gwaii with a lung infection and heart failure.
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