Cover Image: The Beatle Bandit

The Beatle Bandit

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Member Reviews

Nate Hendley’s The Beatle Bandit: A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, A Cross Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation (Dundurn Press, 2021) is a sad and shocking tale about Matthew Kerry Smith, a twenty-four year old man who robbed a bank in North York, Ontario in 1964 while wearing a Beatle wig. During his mad dash from the bank, Smith was confronted by bank patron Jack Blanc. The two exchanged fire and Blanc was killed. This murder and robbery prompted the largest manhunt in Toronto Metropolitan Police history. 

Hendley’s text does an excellent job of not only outlining Smith’s case, trial, and the aftereffects of both, but also does a great job of giving his reader a sense of what life was like in 1960s Toronto. At the beginning of his text, he outlines what life was like in Canada both socially and politically. I really appreciated these passages because it gave me a sense as a reader of what the important issues of the day were. This in turn helped me to understand how this crime would have been received when it occurred. Hendley also provides a detailed account of the fatal robbery, and additionally outlines one of the strangest historical details I’ve ever heard about Canada: that banks usually kept a loaded gun on the premises and “expected staff to use these weapons in case they were robbed” (14). That there was an accessible gun on the premises ends up having fatal consequences in this case. As Hendley explains: 

“The pistol[ ]… had six chambers, but for safety reasons [the bank employee] kept only four loaded. The cylinders were positioned so the hammer would hit an empty chamber if one of the revolvers should fall to the floor” (14). 

This detail becomes important when later, as Blanc chases Smith with this gun in hand (accounts differ from how Blanc obtained the gun, some say he was given it by a bank employee, and some say he took it) he eventually runs out of bullets because “he didn’t know the pistol wasn’t kept fully loaded. After four shots, the revolver was empty, and Blanc didn’t have any replacement cartridges or another weapon” (18). This detail was chilling to read, especially because it is Blanc’s inability to fire back that eventually leads to Smith killing him. A small and strange historical detail about guns being kept in banks in the 1960s becomes instead an inciting event in Hendley’s text as he draws a thread between this policy and Blanc’s death. I appreciated this attention to detail. 

The other aspects of this text that are crucial are Hendley’s depiction of Smith’s early life and decent into mental illness. Hendley documents in detail Smith’s childhood, the mental illness of Smith’s mother, his short stint in the navy and his diagnosis of schizophrenia prior to the North York burglary. Hendley also summarizes the additional bank burglaries that Smith committed prior to the North York incident. Hendley explains these details in such a way that you can see Smith’s descent into illness corresponding with his descent into criminal activity, and I found this strategy astute and timely, especially considering the lack of mental health care that Smith received while making his way through the Canadian justice system. If true crime is to move into a new era where the prison and justice systems are critiqued and assessed, more texts need to draw the kinds of correlations that Hendley’s text does—Smith’s erratic behaviour prior to the North York burglary indicated serious mental illness and should have been addressed. The result of that negligence is the crime Smith committed where a person’s life was lost. As a reader, I appreciated that Hendley did not allow me to lose sight of that fact. 

Hendley’s text also touches on a piece of Canadian history that most Canadians would rather overlook: capital punishment. Hendley explains that

Historically, Canadian courts had shown little mercy to people convicted of serious offences like murder. From the time of Canada’s semi-independence until the early 1960s, anyone convicted of murder automatically received a death sentence. Such sentence as could be commuted, but for the most part politicians and the public were content to see harsh justice done. A total of 710 people were executed in this period, all by hanging (134). 

Hendley goes on to explain when these laws were changed and how the effected Smith’s case, but I appreciated the attention he brought to this often glossed-over aspect of Canada’s history. Hendley discusses Smith’s trial, his sentence, and the lack of mental health care given to Smith, with disastrous results. Overall, Hendley’s text brings forth serious questions about the nature of incarceration, the lack of mental health care in and out of the prison system, and the injustice that is imbedded within the Canadian justice system. This book is a must read for anyone looking for contentious and responsible true crime. 

 Please add The Beatle Bandit to your Goodreads shelf, visit Nate Hendley’s website, and follow him on Twitter. 

Don’t forget to follow True Crime Index on Twitter and please visit our Goodreads for updates on what we’re reading!

About the Writer: 

Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime is forthcoming from Crime Fiction Studies.
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This was a very well done and well rounded novel. I really enjoyed the characters and the development of the plot throughout.
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This was a fun and interesting book to read. It was kind of an off beat subject, but it proved to be a well written tale.
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The sensational true story of how a bank robber killed a man in a wild shootout, sparking a national debate around gun control and the death penalty.
Fascinating read!
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The Beatle Bandit by Nate Hendley is a comprehensive deep dive into a gun-toting one-man crime spree from 1964 by Matthew Kerry Smith. Due to his bank-robbery attire, Smith was dubbed 'The Beatle Bandit' by the Canadian media, but as a solo artist, Matthew was quite a successful bandit, albeit for a few troublesome civilians that were killed whilst he carried out his crimes. 

In an interesting criminal character analysis, Nate Hendley takes apart the robber's personality. Matthew Kerry Smith was a bright but mentally disturbed young man, who launched his bank raids as some sort of misguided attempt to galvanise the public, begin a revolution, and (laughably) overthrow the government. Funny, if it wasn't for his victims. One in the particular victim was military veteran Jack Blanc, who's died in a gunfight with the robber. Following an enormous manhunt, Smith was caught, jailed and given a death sentence. When police searched his home, Smith had an arsenal of personal weapons and even gained a small property empire from his proceeds of crime. The crimes themselves gained media attention and caused Canadian gun laws to be revised. The book is based on court transcripts, police documents, extensive first-hand interviews, media accounts, and other sources.  Nate Handley tells this story brilliantly, and as a fan of The Beatles, it wasn't a case I had heard of. It's an interesting sell on the story but as a reader of true crime, I am well aware of the monickers the media give to serial killers, murderers, & even terrorists (the ISIS Beatle bombers springs to mind) Nate Hendley is a great storyteller and tells this true crime story as it should be; facts, stats, first-hand witnesses, and news reports of the time. Nate  Hendley is a journalist and author. His other books include The Boy on the Bicycle, The Big Con, and Bonnie and Clyde; A Biography. All worth checking out, I think!
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A very interesting true crime novel set in Canada. I found the story to be intriguing and really held my attention. The author does an outstanding job of of telling the story and to maintain your interest.

Thank you to #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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A true story of the bank robber in the sixties. Now bank robberies are mostly stuff of movies, so it is interesting to learn the real deal.
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I've never heard of this true crime and wanted to know more. Written in a very unbiased fashion but full of facts.
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I wish to extend my thanks to NetGalley and Dundurn Press for the ARC, a well-researched, true account of The Beatle Bandit. The book was well written by Nate Hendley, an author of factual, mostly forgotten Canadian crime stories.

 This gives a dispassionate, unbiased account of a little-remembered crime that was a sensation in the Toronto area and the press in 1964. It lead to the biggest manhunt in the history of the police department. The story involves a young man who had pulled off a couple of earlier bank robberies. He was the son of a successful businessman and a schizophrenic mother. His psychiatric examinations were divided between a diagnosis of schizophrenia or a psychopathic personality.

 In the summer of 1964, dressed in a bizarre disguise of a mask and Beatle wig, he entered a bank in North York with a semi-automatic rifle. Exiting the bank with a large amount of stolen cash, he was confronted by a former Canadian and Israeli military man. This vigilante obtained a bank pistol and there was a shoot-out on the street. This man was killed in the bloody battle, the victim of horrific wounds, to the horror of observers in the street. The bank robber made a sloppy getaway and was finally apprehended after a wide police search.

 The events are reported in a factual, straightforward manner, devoid of sensationalism and elaboration. Statements and conversations were those on record at the time. Much of his twisted thoughts and behavior were obtained from his criminal associates. We learn of the long-term impact on the families of both the bank robber and his victim.

 This violent crime and the subsequent court case led to nationwide debates on the death penalty, the insanity defense, gun control, and prison conditions. These debates have been an ongoing process, and some changes were eventually made.

 Recommended for those interested in intriguing true crime reporting and warped criminal behavior and thoughts.
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This is a great read and i would recommend you read this! This was a really fun read which I read so so quickly. I was kindly gifted an e-book in return a honest review.
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This is a good Canadian true crime story about a mentally ill young bank robber from back in the early 60s. Matthew Smith had been obsessed with crime since he was a young boy. Once he was old enough to be on his own, he began his criminal career in earnest by planning out and committing bank robberies fairly successfully. At one bank, he ended up in a shootout with customer Jack Blanc and killed him. He used the proceeds to pay hangers on to live with him and to do his bidding and stay with him at the home he purchased with stolen money. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Nate Hendley and the publisher.
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This is a true crime story about Matthew Smith, a bank robber who sparked a man hunt and instigated debate on the death penalty and gun control. The story is detailed  and thoroughly investigated, your interest will be held until the last page. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks to Dundurn Press and Nate Hendley for the opportunity to read this book and offer an honest review.
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1% DNF... the Liberalization of the Diversity in Toronto is a Joke. Maybe if you lived in the city the country?  Toronto was a Mirror image of NYC 5 Burroughs East York North York Scarborough Toronto and what ever was southern.  Toronto was just that TORONTO you wanted diversity it wouldn't be on 5th ave NYC in 1960s same as The Ritzy areas of Toronto, Black population would have been found in Scarborough or North York this is where the Ghettos are.. now discuss the 1959 - 2021 black crime epidemic then find another race thats been allowed to over 60 years become 13 % of a population yet 70% of crime committed... Problem with Liberal Authors they have no idea how not to write their own opinions rather than the story itself...
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On July 24th 1964, Matthew Kerry Smith, wearing a Beatle wig, burst into a Toronto bank toting a semi-automatic rifle - with a barrel painted pink to disguise its purpose in a guitar case - escaping with over $25,000 after a street gunfight which claimed the life of a local man, Jack Blanc, and led to a violent crime spree and a national manhunt. When Smith was eventually caught, his crimes raised wider issues of gun control, mental health and the death penalty in Canada. 
The tale of the robbery itself is riveting and lucidly told; many sentences made me catch my breath, and this quality of writing is consistent throughout the book. A word of warning, the details of Jack Blanc’s and others’ injuries are uncompromising. Nate Hendley writes with forensic clarity as he describes the robbery and its aftermath, offering a lurid insight into Smith’s life and motivations. The impact of Blanc’s death on his family and community is touchingly told. 
Illustrated with photographs of Smith, the crime scene and his trial, “The Beatle Bandit” is a fascinating, brutal, unflinching true crime story, shorn of sensationalism, which will thrill you and anger you in equal measure.
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