Ken Leishman

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Kenneth Leishman
Ken Leishman.jpg
Born(1931-06-20)June 20, 1931
DiedDecember 14, 1979(1979-12-14) (aged 48)
Occupation Mechanic, Door-to-door salesman, Thief

Kenneth Leishman (June 20, 1931 – December 14, 1979), also known as the Flying Bandit or the Gentleman Bandit was a Canadian criminal responsible for multiple robberies between 1957 and 1966. Leishman was the mastermind behind the largest gold theft in Canadian history. [1] After being caught and arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Leishman managed to escape twice, before being caught and serving the remainder of his various sentences. [2]

Canadians citizens of Canada

Canadians are people identified with the country of Canada. This connection may be residential, legal, historical or cultural. For most Canadians, several of these connections exist and are collectively the source of their being Canadian.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police mounted police force in Canada

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the federal and national police force of Canada. The RCMP provides law enforcement at the federal level. It also provides provincial policing in eight of Canada's provinces and local policing on contract basis in the three territories and more than 150 municipalities, 600 aboriginal communities, and three international airports. The RCMP does not provide provincial or municipal policing in Ontario or Quebec.


In December 1979, while flying a mercy flight to Thunder Bay, Ken's aircraft crashed about 40 miles north of Thunder Bay. [3]

Mercy Flights is a ground ambulance and air medical transport service based in Medford, Oregon.

Thunder Bay City in Ontario, Canada

Thunder Bay is a city in, and the seat of, Thunder Bay District, Ontario, Canada. It is the most populous municipality in Northwestern Ontario with a population of 107,909 as of the Canada 2016 Census, and the second most populous in Northern Ontario after Greater Sudbury. Located on Lake Superior, the census metropolitan area of Thunder Bay has a population of 121,621, and consists of the city of Thunder Bay, the municipalities of Oliver Paipoonge and Neebing, the townships of Shuniah, Conmee, O'Connor, and Gillies, and the Fort William First Nation.

Early life

Ken Leishman was born on June 20, 1931 in the town of Holland, Manitoba. Coming from a troubled home, he dropped out of school prior to graduation, and worked various jobs before marrying Elva Shields at the age of 17. Sometime in the summer of 1951, Leishman started working as a travelling mechanic for Machine Industries, repairing straw cutters in southern Manitoba. In 1952, he was able to purchase an Aeronca aircraft, using it to fly to the farms he needed to work at, as well as making additional money selling short rides in the aircraft. At some point in the next five years, Machine Industries closed its doors, and Leishman started working for Queen Anne Cookware. He continued working with them until November 1957, when they went bankrupt. [4]

Holland, Manitoba City in Manitoba, Canada

Holland, Manitoba is an unincorporated community recognized as a local urban district in the Rural Municipality of Victoria, in Manitoba.

Criminal career

First theft

On December 17, 1957, Leishman, by posing as a friend of the manager, robbed the Toronto-Dominion Bank on the corner of Yonge Street and Albert in Toronto, Ontario. He got away with $10,000. This was accomplished by arranging to meet the manager to talk about a business loan. Once inside the manager's office, with the door closed for privacy, he produced a gun, and had the manager write him a cheque for $10,000. After receiving the cheque, and questioning the manager for personal information about himself, his family and friends, he coerced the manager into taking him over to a bank teller, and having the cheque cashed. The knowledge gained from the questioning was used to appear as though he was a close friend of the manager. After getting the money, under the pretense of getting a drink, Leishman took the manager with him to the getaway car, then let him go.

Yonge Street road from shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto to Lake Simcoe

Yonge Street is a major arterial route in the Canadian province of Ontario connecting the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto to Lake Simcoe, a gateway to the Upper Great Lakes. Until 1999, the Guinness Book of World Records repeated the popular misconception it was 1,896 km (1,178 mi) long, and thus the longest street in the world; this was due to a conflation of Yonge Street with the rest of Ontario's Highway 11. Yonge Street is actually 56 kilometres (35 mi) long. The construction of Yonge Street is designated an Event of National Historic Significance in Canada. Yonge Street was fundamental in the original planning and settlement of western Upper Canada in the 1790s, forming the basis of the concession roads in Ontario today. Once the southernmost leg of Highway 11, linking the capital with northern Ontario, Yonge Street has been referred to as "Main Street Ontario". Today, no section of Yonge Street is a provincial highway.

Toronto Provincial capital city in Ontario, Canada

Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada, with a population of 2,731,571 in 2016. Current to 2016, the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA), of which the majority is within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), held a population of 5,928,040, making it Canada's most populous CMA. Toronto is the anchor of an urban agglomeration, known as the Golden Horseshoe in Southern Ontario, located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A global city, Toronto is a centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Second theft

Three months later, on March 16, 1958, Leishman attempted to rob the C.I.B.C. bank on the corner of Yonge Street and Bloor, in Toronto. This time, he was not successful, as the manager, Howard Mason, upon sight of the gun. did not acquiesce to his request. As Leishman attempted to escape the bank, he was tripped by a female customer, before being tackled by a teller less than a block from the bank, and was arrested. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, to be served at Stony Mountain Penitentiary. [5]

Stony Mountain Institution building in Manitoba, Canada

Stony Mountain Institution is a federal multi-security facility located in Stony Mountain, Manitoba, about 18 kilometres (11 mi) from Winnipeg. The medium security prison opened in 1877, the minimum security unit opened in 1962 and the newest addition to the prison, the maximum security unit, opened in 2014.

Leishman was paroled on December 21, 1961, and for a time, to support his family, worked as a door-to-door salesman. By 1966, however, with his family having grown to seven children, the income provided by legitimate work was insufficient, and Leishman needed to find another means of supporting his family, reverting to a life of crime.

Parole is a permanent release of a prisoner who agrees to certain conditions before the completion of the maximum sentence period, originating from the French parole. The term became associated during the Middle Ages with the release of prisoners who gave their word.

The Great Gold Heist

On his most famous heist, Leishman and four accomplices stole almost $385,000 (just over $2.5 million 2009 dollars) in gold bullion being transported by TransAir to Winnipeg where it would be shipped via Air Canada to Ottawa, Ontario.

While watching aircraft at Winnipeg International Airport as a form of inexpensive entertainment, Leishman had occasionally seen gold shipments from Red Lake being flown into the airport for transport via Air Canada to the mint in Ottawa. [6] While incarcerated in Stony Mountain Penitentiary, he formed the basics of the idea.

Leishman recruited four people to be accomplices in the heist. Harry Backlin, a Winnipeg lawyer who had befriended Leishman in Stony Mountain was to provide financial backing. John Berry, and Richard Grenkow were recruited to be the ones to actually get the gold, as Leishman was too well known to the police to take the gold himself. Grenkow's brother Paul was recruited to go to Red Lake in the guise of a salesman to watch for a large shipment to leave.

In addition to this preparation, Leishman also prepared fake Air Canada coveralls by purchasing some winter coveralls, and stenciling the Air Canada logo onto them. Lastly, he acquired some Air Canada waybills from the Air Canada desk at the airport by simply waiting until the desk was unmanned at lunch, and taking what he needed. [7]

On March 1, 1966, the lookout called Leishman to report a large shipment of gold was being delivered. The team put their plan into action. Wearing the fake Air Canada coveralls, Rick and John stole one of the Air Canada trucks, and drove to the tarmac to meet the arriving TransAir aircraft carrying the gold shipment. Pretending to be Air Canada staff, they explained that there had been a change of plans, as there was a charter flight leaving in an hour, and Air Canada wanted to ship the gold out immediately, rather than waiting on the normal flight. As the two were driving an Air Canada truck, had Air Canada uniforms, and had what appeared to be a valid waybill for the shipment, their ruse worked, and the gold was loaded into their truck, and they drove off with the gold. [7]

The gold was then transferred into Leishman's car, and driven to the house of Harry Backlin, his lawyer, who was on vacation with his family. The gold ingots were loaded into his freezer. [8] The plan was to leave the gold there overnight, prior to moving it to a farm in Treherne, belonging to Leishman's uncle, but a blizzard on March 3 and 4 prevented them from recovering it. [9] Since Backlin had distanced himself from the heist, the gold could not stay there. Most of the gold bars ended up buried in Backlin's backyard, but were soon unearthed by the local police force who were investigating all of Leishman's suspected associates. [4]

Later life

Imprisoned again as a result of the gold heist and awaiting trial, Leishman, assisted by some accomplices, managed to escape from Headingley Jail in September, 1966, and stole an aircraft from Steinbach, Manitoba, reinforcing his reputation as the "Flying Bandit." [1]

Leishman and his accomplices were arrested after a shootout in Gary, Indiana. In 1975, after his release from prison, Leishman moved to Red Lake, Ontario to manage Tomahawk Airlines. He was a "model citizen", even being nominated as a candidate for Reeve of the community. Leishman disappeared while on a mercy flight in 1979 and was declared officially dead in 1980. [10]

Leishman's exploits caught the fancy of the public, and he became something of a "Robin Hood" figure. [11] A 2005 television documentary, written by Bob Lower and directed by Norma Bailey, entitled Ken Leishman: The Flying Bandit recounts his life and career as a criminal. [4]

Other biographical material about Leishman includes a play (The Flying Bandit (2007) by Lindsay Price), a book (The Flying Bandit by Heather Robertson) [1] and a "non-fiction novel" based on his life, called Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman by Wayne Tefs. [12]

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  1. 1 2 3 "The Flying Bandit." This was Winnipeg. Retrieved: January 21, 2016
  2. Barnes 2008, pp. 104–110.
  3. "Presumed dead, Flying Bandit 'alive'." The Montreal Gazette, September 26, 1980.
  4. 1 2 3 "Documentaries:'Ken Leishman: The Flying Bandit'." Archived 2013-01-01 at Telefilm Canada. Retrieved: January 21, 2016.
  5. Schroeder 1997, p. 172.
  6. Barnes 2008, p. 106.
  7. 1 2 Schroeder 1997, p. 161.
  8. Dreidger, Mary Lou. "Account by the lawyer retained to defend Backlin.", March 21, 2012. Retrieved: January 21, 2016.
  9. Redekop 2002, pp. 81–82.
  10. Redekop 2002, pp. 89–90.
  11. "Ken Leishman." The Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved: January 21, 2016.
  12. "Daily Book Review: Inside the life of Canada's rock-star criminal." Globe & Mail, July 7, 2011. Retrieved: September 28, 2011.


  • Barnes, M. Red Lake: Golden Treasure Chest. Renfrew, Ontario: General Store Publishing House, 2008. ISBN   1-897113-95-1
  • Redekop, Bill. Crimes of the Century: Manitoba's Most Notorious True Crimes. Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications, 2002. ISBN   1-894283-34-1.
  • Schroeder, A. Cheats, Charlatans, and Chicanery. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, 1997 ISBN   0-7710-7953-2.