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The Stander Gang - excerpt from Rob Marsh's 'Of Criminal Intent'
Forum Stander Gang
Andre Stander
Patrick Lee McCall
Allan Heyl: “It was a game of cat and mouse – a death wish, the ultimate act of defiance.'
Allan Heyl
The gang gained a reputation for being polite to their victims and were called the “gentlemen robbers”.
Stander Gang

Date : 27 October 2002
Producer : Kate Barry
Presenter : Ruda Landman
Genre : Crime, Profiles

[SABC News Archive]
“Police are watching all airports in the country for the two fugitive bank robbers Andre Stander and Allan Heyl, amid fears that the pair may have already skipped the country.”

The Stander Gang were South Africa’s most famous bank robbers, becoming the stuff of legend. Their exploits gripped the country’s attention and were written about in countless articles and books. They also captured the imagination of crime author Rob Marsh.

Rob: “They took on the forces of law and order, they were successful; for a time they were the most wanted people in South Africa. They were in all the newspapers. I mean it was big news and they were doing things that, in one sense, some of us like to think that we’d like to do – in other words, get one over on authority.”

The members of the gang were Andre Stander a former policeman turned bank robber, Patrick Lee McCall a car thief and fraudster, and Allan Heyl a car thief and bank robber. It all began in 1977.

As the son of a police general, great things were expected of Andre Stander when he joined the police. And he lived up to those expectations. At 31, Captain Stander was head of the CID in Kempton Park. No one knew that he was living a double life.

Stander began a profitable sideline. He would catch an early morning flight to Durban, don a disguise, rob a bank, and then catch the next plane home to return to his police desk.

In three years he stole over a R100 000. But when he boasted about committing the perfect crime to his best friend, Cor van Deventer - a Bureau of State Security agent - the game was up.

He was arrested and sentenced to 75 years imprisonment. In 1980 he was sent to Zonderwater Prison and it was here that he met McCall and Heyl. Three years later they escaped and went on a crime spree that enthralled the nation with its sheer audacity. Wearing outrageous disguises they would sometimes rob three or four banks a day.

[SABC News Archive]
“A total of R172 000 was stolen in three separate bank robberies in Johannesburg today. In all three cases, the robbers were three white males.”

It became quite prestigious to be held up by the Stander Gang, because they always managed to stay one step ahead of the police. But eventually their luck ran out.

McCall was killed when the police raided the gang’s hideout. Stander fled the country and was killed in a shootout with an American policeman, and Heyl went on the run to Greece but was eventually apprehended and deported back to South Africa.

It was the end of an era, but the legend lives on. They will be immortalised in a movie called “Stander” being shot in Johannesburg with an American director and cast.

The last surviving member of the so-called Stander Gang, Allan Heyl, is now middle aged and he’s spent 25 years of his life behind bars. At the moment he’s here – in the Krugersdorp prison – and if he isn’t granted parole, he will be here until 2010.
He now teaches Biology, Afrikaans and Life Skills to other prisoners.

Ruda: “What kind of man was Andre Stander?”

Allan: “He was calculating. He was, I think, beyond emotion, despised everything that the police force stood for. His colleagues will be very surprised to hear this. Nobody knows him better than what I know him, and I know for a fact that he hated his colleagues.”

Ruda: “Why?”

Allan: “He had no respect for them. He considered them to be corrupt, inefficient and brutal and savage. He was probably the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde.”

Brigadier Manie van Rensburg was the Commanding Officer of Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad in 1983. He led the hunt for the Stander Gang.

Ruda: “How did the Stander Gang manage to keep on evading the police?”

Brigadier Van Rensburg: “I think Andre probably had a big part in it because he’d been in the police a long time and he knew how they operated. He probably knew that all the robberies were unexpected, and he knew that the police wouldn’t be able to get to the scene that quickly.”

Allan: “We just both realised that we could be extremely brazen, to the extent that we pulled up in front of a bank one day in Braamfontein and there was a policeman with a shotgun slung over his shoulder. And he was there looking for us, but looking for us in terms of what is portrayed in the movies – screeching of tyres, slamming of breaks, skidding – so he literally saw right past the blue Cortina, and right in front of him, under his very nose, we both got out of the car, walked into the bank, walked out and took our leave.”

Perhaps somebody should tell Hollywood how it’s really done.

In the movie, shots are fired during a bank robbery - but in reality this never happened. In fact, the gang gained a reputation for being polite to their victims and were called the “gentlemen robbers”.

Trix Style was working at the Trust Bank in Benoni when she was held up.

Trix Style: “These two men came in. One came towards me and the other one walked around the office and came into my cashier’s cage and stood behind me. That was McCall. Stander put a big sports bag on the counter, took out a revolver and pointed at me and said ‘Don’t push any buttons or anything’. So they must have known exactly how the alarm and security system worked. Strangely enough I wasn’t scared of Stander, who openly pointed the revolver at me. But McCall, who was standing behind me with his hand in his pocket, who I realised probably also had a gun, I was scared of him.”

As soon as they left the bank, Trix pressed the alarm button.

Ruda: “But obviously by then the bank had raised the alarm – so the police would be looking for you?”

Allan: “That was the whole idea.”

Ruda: “How do you mean that was the whole idea?”

Allan: “It was a game of cat and mouse – a death wish, the ultimate act of defiance. What you are doing is so fundamentally anti-everything that society stands for – it’s a feeling of such brazen cheek. Obviously there was fear, a little bit of anxiety, but with time it almost started becoming like a game, and we were playing with people’s lives. And notwithstanding the fact that we never, ever intended to kill anybody, we should have been at all times aware of what possibly could have gone wrong.”

And things did go wrong.

[SABC News Archive]
“Escaped convicts Andre Stander, Patrick Lee McCall, and Allan Heyl are believed to have been involved in a hold-up in Randburg today, at which an employee at a shooting range was shot in the shoulder. Police said two armed men went inside the building holding the Potshot Shooting Range and fired one shot. A bullet struck Mrs Marlene Hem, who is reported to be in a satisfactory condition. The robbers then took six firearms and ammunition before making their escape in a white Cortina XR6.”

Ruda: “Allan, you actually did that shooting.”

Allan: “No I was present when it happened. It was McCall. Look, we were in a state of mind of complete insanity. Normal people don’t behave like that. Normal people don’t escape from prison and then go on a robbing spree.”

Over five months they robbed 27 banks and stole almost R700 000 in cars and cash.

Ruda: “What did you do with the money?”

Allan: “Living on the run is pretty expensive, and we had two houses in Houghton, with servants, motorcars – most of which were stolen – reasonable clothing, eating out every night.”

They also bought a luxury yacht.

Ruda: “And the girls?”

Allen: “Now the girls, that’s another story. I said to him, ‘It took three years to get out of Zonderwater – do you realise that you are bringing women to the safe house?’”

Ruda: “What was his response? How did he motivate it?”

Allen: “You must understand that normal rules never applied to Andre.”

For example, Stander never acknowledged his illegitimate son.

Ruda: “Did he ever talk about that – that he had a son?”

Allen: “He told me that someone told him to go and feel the child and he would know instinctively. And he took the baby and he hugged the baby, and said he felt absolutely nothing.”

But it was Stander’s weakness for women that led to his downfall. The escort agency girls gave the police the address of the Houghton house.

Allan: “I arrived at Andre’s house after seeing him off at the airport the day before, only to have the servant come running out of the servant’s quarters area. He said ‘Mr Roberts, the police called here and they were asking me if three men lived here, and they mentioned names like Stander’. And I said ‘I know what this is all about, I’ll go and see them now’ and I reversed out there and I departed.”

He phoned McCall and told him not to return to the house. But McCall ignored the warning.

In the early hours of the 30th of January 1984, the police stormed the house. The Special Task Force threw stun grenades through the windows and the sharpshooters also did some damage. It was all over very quickly.

Lying in a linen closet in the passage they found the body of Patrick Lee McCall. An inquest ruled that he had shot himself in the head.

Ruda: “And then how did you get out of the country?”

Allan: “Courtesy of SAA. I flew out from Durban, drastically changed my appearance.”

Ruda: “What did you do? How did you change it?”

Allan: “I made myself virtually bald, I drew a moustache, contact lenses, and I assumed this German accent which I had been practicing for weeks and weeks because I had this German passport.”

Stander, Heyl and McCall were masters of disguise. In the pile of dockets that remain in the police archives it is almost impossible to recognise them. This talent enabled the gang to move freely around the country and overseas.

Using false passports Stander travelled to America to await the arrival of the yacht, Lily Rose. On the 13th of February 1984 he was shot dead by police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His true identity was finally revealed when fingerprint records confirmed that the dead man was in fact South African fugitive Andre Stander.

But here is his legacy. Pretoria gospel singer Ernie Amos was 21 when he discovered that Andre Stander was his real father.

Ernie: “I’d expected that I’d get to know my father in times to come, and after that I knew that he’d been shot so I knew that he was dead, and that was a bit of a shock to me.”

Ernie is now 30 and works as a pastor in a church in Pretoria.

Ernie: “I think Christianity has helped me - knowing God, knowing Jesus. It’s helped me a lot, and getting to know God as my father in my actual father’s place.”

He is excited by the making of the “Stander” movie and wants to write a song for it about Andre.

Ernie: “Just maybe express forgiveness in my heart towards what he’s done, and not getting to know him, saying ‘I love you and it’s okay’.”

And Allan Heyl has also found solace in music.

Allan: “All my life I’ve wanted to play the violin, and I recently received sponsorship – look at this present I got. A thing of extreme beauty.”

He’s been taking lessons for one month.

Ruda: “If you get parole now, how are you a different person? How do I know that you’re not going to walk out of here and hit another bank? What has changed?”

Allan: “Everything has changed. Everything. I am a fundamentally different person, and for anybody to deny that would be to deny redemption. I suffered from self-loathing, no respect, and I don’t care what anybody outside says now in terms of what I did in the past. That person does not exist anymore, to the extent that I can now live with myself, and I have developed self-respect. There is no way that I could have believed 25 years ago that I could have ever endured what I have endured. And I’ve endured it and I’m proud of myself for being able to have endured it. I’m terribly sorry for what I subjected my family to. I’m desperately sorry for what I’ve subjected other members in society to, and I’m also very sorry for what I subjected myself to. But if I had not gone through this, who knows what sort of person would have been released?”

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.

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