Friday, September 16, 2011

Radical Brighton Bank Robbers From The Age Of Aquarius

This is a real blast from the past - indeed, from the days when leftism still existed in the United States, when it roamed the mod streets of Boston like a herd of bison. In September 23, 1970, two Brandeis students, Susan Saxe and Katherine Power, and three ex-convicts - William Gilday, Stanley Ray Bond and Robert Valeri - "entered the State Street Bank and Trust Company in Boston with the intent to expropriate funds to help finance the movement against the Vietnam War." Sadly, for them, they netted less than $27,000. Even adjusting for inflation, this was a paltry sum for such a serious crime. But then again seventies lefties were never noted for their soaring financial acumen. Far and away the worst consequence of their crime was their murder of 42-year old Boston police officer, William Schroeder. Killing a cop is never a good career move, but this action was especially horrifying for at least three reasons: 1) They shot him in the back, 2) they shot him with a Thompson submachine gun, and 3) Schroeder left behind nine kids.

This event alone mobilized the Boston police to hunt them down, but the Brighton robbery had not been their first serious felony in the name of radicalism. September 1970 had been something of a spree month for the gang. They had "expropriated funds" from Bell Federal Savings and Loan in Philadelphia on September 1st, and on September 20th they broke into the National Guard Armory in Newburyport, Massachusetts, stole some ordnance, and then attempted to blow the place up. These were serious radicals indeed.

Most of the ink devoted to this case in the past has been spilled on Susan Saxe and Katherine Power. Saxe was apprehended in 1975, but Katherine Power was not apprehended until 1993, when the former high school valedictorian was working as a restaurant owner, cooking teacher and food writer in Oregon. Having become depressed by her terrorist past, Power outed herself to her Oregon social circle and eventually surrendered to the FBI. Saxe was sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison, and Power served only six years. Both women compel our fascination as "nice girls" - bespectacled super-student type "nice girls" no less - gone horribly bad.

However, the guys I'm curious about are the ex-cons, at least two of which were Massachusetts natives. The youngest was Robert Valeri, only 21 at the time. He was also the first apprehended. Identified by bank surveillance photographs, he was arrested at his Somerville home and quickly gave up his compatriots, fingering both Gilday and Bond. Gilday was apprehended on September 28th after an hour-long highway pursuit that reputedly involved "about 100 police cars". Although Gilday never managed to escape Massachusetts, Bond got all the way out to Grand Junction, Colorado before he was arrested while boarding a plane. One wonders if he had a D.B. Cooper-type scheme in mind.

Both William Gilday, 41, and Stanley Bond, 26, were clever men with rather interesting back stories. A native of Amesbury, Mass., Gilday had once been a minor league pitcher for a Washington Senators farm team, where he was known as "Lefty Gilday". (I know. Lefty? Washington Senators? You can't make this stuff up.) In his thirties he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to Walpole State Prison. It was there that he, Valeri and Stanley Bond enrolled in a rehabilitation program called STEP (short for Student Tutor Education Program). He and Valeri began taking courses at Northeastern, while Bond - himself a former Vietnam War helicopter pilot and perhaps the smartest of the trio - attended Brandeis University in Waltham. Brandeis was infested with radicalism at that time, and it was here that Bond connected with Saxe and Power, both members of a radical faction of the Students for a Democratic Society called the Weather Underground. Bond began an affair with Power (who, after her capture in '93, gave lukewarm reviews to the sex). Cocksman or not, Bond was allegedly brilliant and charismatic and was able to unite the interests of the ex-cons and the coeds.

Both Gilday and Bond spent the rest of their lives in prison. Gilday, who developed a reputation as a "jail house lawyer extraordinaire", recently died at the MCI in Shirley, Mass. at the age of 82 - prematurely, according to his die-hard radical admirers, as his parents lived to 99 and 102, respectively. Bond died in 1972, while making a bomb to help himself escape from Walpole, pretty much blowing off his head and his hands.

Ah, those were the days! The days when youngish white criminals could still have some sexy radical cachet, and were not yet the shambling illiterate proles or the tattooed and shaven-headed Aryan Brotherhood types of more recent times. It is questionable whether or not these guys actually saw themselves as warriors for a more equitable society, or were simply co-opting radical politics to serve their own sociopathic delusions of grandeur. I'm inclined to believe the latter. Although homegrown terrorism has waned in recent years, having apparently been "outsourced" to more foreign populations, I can see a certain continuity between gun-toting smart cons like Gilday and Bond and other varieties of "smart guys gone wrong" that have been a staple of Boston area criminality for decades.

Crime: The Radical Bank Job (Time)
William Gilday and the Brighton Bank Heist, 1970 (Boston Local TV News Project)
William Gilday (Denver Anarchist Black Cross)
Political Prisoner William 'Lefty' Gilday passes away (Google Groups)
Stanley Ray Bond (Wikipedia)
Katherine Ann Power (Wikipedia)
Last words on the Weather Underground (Media Nation)
Susan Saxe Pleads Guilty; Receives 10-12 Year Sentence (Harvard Crimson)

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