ANYONE CAN STEAL A MILLION
She was a girl nobody noticed...until she proved that
BY ALAN EDMONDS
KATHLEEN ANN SPILLER looks like all the comptometer operators and Eaton’s clerks and bank tellers you have dealt with, but never really seen. She is 26. Her hair is short and mousyblond now because they don’t give color rinses in jail. Her face is angular rather than pretty, and so is her figure. “She’s average blah,” says a boy she went to school with.
She used to be so unsure of herself she couldn’t bring herself to play the piano in front of her own music teacher, Esther Whittaker, who tried to teach her music theory. “She never did grasp the fundamentals of music,” says Miss Whittaker. “But she’s had more confidence since . . . well, since people began to notice her. Besides, she bought a Steinway baby grand for $8,500 out of the money she got. She’s been working very hard in private trying to learn Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring all the way through.”
NOTHING ABOUT Ann Spiller or her trial lived up to the enormity of it all. The solitary courtroom in Penticton, British Columbia, is bleakly functional — the law gains no majesty reflected from its dun-colored walls. In the dock, Ann Spiller looked strangely chastened, and her clothes were fittingly subdued: hardly the
best of her $65,000 wardrobe. And then there was the charge: theft, contrary to section 269, sub-section 1A, of the Criminal Code of Canada, of moneys, exceeding $50.
To wit, half a million dollars.
Fifty dollars lifted from the till, and Ann Spiller would have been a nasty little sneak thief. But $492,000 stolen from the Royal Bank of Canada at the corner of Main and Nanaimo, over four glorious, manic, spendthrift years . . .
They were noticing Ann Spiller now. When her case was finally heard
on November 1, the court and corridors were crammed with people. The average man labors for 40 years and earns $200,000 before dying in debt. Ann Spiller, $73-a-week teller in a modest branch of Canada’s biggest bank, had an income of twice that much in four years, and spent it, every penny. Three minks (or was it four?) and a sable ... a new car for Dad on Father’s Day . . . weekends in Portugal ... a wild ride to Fiji, with friends ... a $17,000 diamond ring for weekdays, with a bigger one for best . . . and those 24-karat goldplated taps in the marble-walled bathroom . . . “It was almost a beautiful thing, what she did,” says Gary Lane, her friend the hairdresser.
Ann had help spending the money, mostly from Frances (Bambi) Shubin, the 44-year-old clerk with whom she lived. But then Bambi says she didn’t know it was stolen money, so it is Ann Spiller who has become almost an anti-heroine in Penticton (pop.: 16,000) and the Okanagan Valley. Somehow the amount she stole, and its source, transcends all serious moral opprobrium. “We’ll have to revise our profit figures for next year,” says the grinning man from the Hudson’s Bay store, where Ann spent thousands on furniture. Says Roy Ashton, whose dress shop is a few doors from the bank: “I think everyone would have liked part of the action, but Ann only bought underclothes — very plain ones — here. Ann and Bambi bought most of their clothes at Madame Rungé’s in Vancouver.” Rungé’s is the sort of place where a clearancesale skirt and top costs around $125. Ann did a lot of her shopping in Vancouver.
Besides, they were thoughtful. Mrs. Phyllis Matthams, 66-year-old widow of a United Church minister, lived next door to Ann and Bambi. She says they “were very nice neighbors, which is why I am so sad about their troubles. Every morning before they went to work they would put their newspapers in my box so I didn’t have to buy them for myself.”
ANN SPILLER continued
Ann Spiller’s status can, perhaps, be measured in the almost admiring mythology that has grown up about her exploits. She did not, for instance, have color TV in her Cadillac, or 1,500 bottles of French champagne in her house. But the truth is harder to find: the Royal Bank, concluding that Ann’s banking habits are bad publicity, demanded that she refuse to talk to reporters. Her lawyer, trying to reach a restitution agreement with bank officials, forbade her to do so.
ANN PLEADED guilty to theft and to falsifying accounts with intent to defraud. She was arrested on September 20, and released on bail while bank officials tried to work out how she had done it. Finally, her case was heard on November 1 by Magistrate R. D. Collver, a 34-year-old lawyer with a reputation for clemency.
Brian Weddell, a gently plumping man, was prosecutor. He said she had stolen the money between January 1, 1964, and September 20, 1968, by means that required “a high degree of skill and competency.” They had, he said, traced everything but $88,000 “and the majority of it all seems to have been just . . . well, spent. There would not seem to be any large depository accounts anywhere in which money has been secreted.”
THEY LOOKED, THOUGH. Gary Lane, whose name used to be Twiss, the lissom hairdresser at The Carriage House salon is right in saying, “Everyone figures Em the international courier who took stacks of money over to Switzerland and salted it away.” Gary, 24 was in Switzerland when the two girls were arrested. “My friend and I felt I had a responsibility to come back and prove I am not the sort of person people thought I was,” he says. The RCMP met him at Vancouver airport, detained and questioned him but released him. “If I were a money courier I wouldn’t be here now,” says Gary. Besides, he had left the Mustang fastback Ann bought him in Penticton.
ANN SPILLER’S LAWYER, Fred Herbert, is a lean, saturnine man. Like Weddell, he is a contradiction of the image of the slow, small-town lawyer. He said it was not sophisticated theft, but “the simplest of simple procedures.
The thefts were there to be seen in the books every day of every week of every month of every year. But the bank would not look. Instead of $500,000, we should be talking about $5,000. We are talking of this astronomical sum because of a basic breakdown and failure in the internal systems of this branch of the Royal Bank.”
Most of the money, he said, was stolen in the past year, most of it in the same simple way, which, in oversimplification, went like this:
Ann Spiller would make out cheques for outrageous sums — $10,000, $20,000, more perhaps — drawn on the account into which her $3,800-a-year salary was paid. These cheques would be honored by other banks provided they were not bounced by the Royal Bank. They weren’t.
How did Ann do it? She intercepted her cheques, “helped” the hank clerks and fiddled the books
As proof teller, Ann was first to handle all cheques drawn on her branch when they arrived from the clearing house each morning. She would destroy her own cheque. Then, if her cheque were for, say, $10,000, she would add this sum to the total drawn that day from the branch’s current accounts. She would enter this inflated figure in the general ledger, the master-accounts book where any deficiencies are supposed to show.
She would then sort the remaining cheques and give them to girls who kept separate ledgers for Savings, Personal Chequing and Current accounts. Later, these girls would make entries in the general ledger, and thus any discrepancy between Ann Spiller’s figures and theirs should have shown up. But on the days she had handled one of her own cheques, Ann Spiller would offer to make the general-ledger entries for the Current-accounts girl. The girl would accept and Ann would then add her $10,000 to the accurate Current-accounts total; enter it in the ledger and — presto! Vthe new figure tallied with the old one she had already entered that morning.
THE TWO FACES of Ann: calculating thief — or simple girl, unbearably tempted by the ineptitude of the bank? On the answer depended the sentence of the magistrate.
“There was a high degree of cal-
culation, utilizing her position of trust,” said Weddell. She survived all normal internal audits and two spot bank inspections, one in 1966 when she had taken only $66,000; the other in July 1967, when her offer of help was accepted by the inspectors and placed her in a position to fiddle the books again. “She conned the rest of the employees.”
Lois CATLiN now works at the Safeway store as a cashier, but she used to work with Ann. “She was a nice girl, but aloof,” says Lois. “She would always come to baby and wedding showers. She was always the one we asked to buy the present for all of us. She had good taste. When I got married she bought me a little crystal saltand-pepper set. It’s an exquisite thing. No, I don’t think she ever spent more than we contributed.”
FRED HERBERT was just swinging into stride in his version of the Story of Ann. She was, said Herbert, the eldest of the three children of a fruit grower of modest means. She suffered from asthma and eczema, and missed a lot of school. She had been unable to finish the academic program at Penticton High; had graduated from grade 12 only in the commercial program. She joined the bank only because she hadn’t been able to cope with her first job, in an insurance office.
“I AM VERY ANGRY with Fred Herbert,” says Principal H. D. Pritchard. “He makes it sound as though there’s only one kind of education worth a damn. She wasn’t a girl for university but that doesn’t mean she was a nitwit. She was an above-average student. She was not a great mixer.
“High school is a jungle for sensitive kids, and if a girl doesn’t get dates, she’s dead. Ann didn’t get dates,” says Bruce Rowland, who was with Ann in Bert White’s bookkeeping class. She also attended the lunchtime meetings of the Interschool Christian Fellowship with Pearl Zaporozan, who is short where Ann is tall, and gregarious and talkative where Ann is quiet and shy. In grade-12 bookkeeping Ann got a C-minus.
“As A RESULT probably of the illnesses I have described, asthma and eczema, Ann Spiller was lacking social contacts,” Fred Herbert said. “A friendship sprung up between her and Miss Shubin. Miss Shubin had an alcohol problem and Miss Spiller set out to help her, and they started batching together.” LIKE PEARL ZAPOROZAN, Bambi Shubin is also short and forthright and gregarious.. She is the daughter of a Californian Pentecostal preacher who is also a butcher. She came to Canada almost 10 years ago, after being jilted when she worked in a nutand-bolt factory. She was rooming with Esther Whittaker and Esther’s father when she first met Ann, then learning piano theory from Esther, five years ago. “Bambi was an unhappy person,” says Esther. “She ate too much and was plumper than she is now. And she took to drinking. Then along comes Ann Spiller, who is terribly religious and of the same faith. She recognized Bambi as a backslider and she set about reforming her with a missionary zeal, and what’s more, she succeeded.”
Ann borrowed money from her father to put down on an $11,000 two-bedroom bungalow in Naramata, a cluster of houses on Okanagan Lake 10 miles outside Penticton. She and Bambi lived there quietly for almost five years. Bambi stopped drinking; began losing weight.
AGAIN AND AGAIN Fred Herbert made the point: it could not have happened if the Royal Bank had maintained a proper internal audit. “At first Miss Spiller got into a certain amount of debt and in the classic manner of embezzlers she started stealing sums of money — five, 10, 15 dollars — intending to pay it back. She didn’t.
“She was living in a constant state of terror, expecting the bank to catch her any minute”
“A year or so passed and she was living in a constant state of terror, expecting the bank to catch her any minute. Finally, she started living in a complete dream world and adopted the policy of the condemned man facing the gallows tomorrow: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow I will be caught. The irrational, meaningless way she spent every last plugged nickel of it shows how desperately she wanted to be caught.”
IT WASN’T UNTIL 1968 that Ann got greedy. By March 1965, 15 months after she began stealing, she had only stolen $18,000. In the nine months before she was caught, she took almost $300,000.
At first, she spent the money mostly on furniture and travel. The first ten-
tative trips into the world of the jet set were to Vancouver, where she and Miss Shubin first stayed in standard $20-a-day rooms at the Bayshore Inn, then graduated through $75-a-day suites to the hotel’s International Suite, a rather oppressively plush two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor that
For Ann and her friends: $30,000 for six cars.
For her home: gold* plated bathroom fittings
costs $200 a day, including valet, in which Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Mary Martin and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands have stayed when visiting Vancouver.
The trips grew more venturesome. They went to Hawaii perhaps a dozen times. Once Ann took two friends, a local industrialist and a beautysalon owner, on a jaunt around the South Pacific, stopping off at Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. “I’m not so young as I used to be,” Bambi complained to her friend Esther Whittaker a couple of years ago. “I’m fed up with all this flying around the world.” Paris, Lisbon, Rome, Madrid. “Miss Spiller was a very sophisticated traveler,” says Mrs. McMahon, manageress of Russ Light’s travel bureau on Main Street. “She knew where she wanted to go and she went.” She used her annual holidays for long trips; bank-holiday weekends for flying visits. “Some of her journeys were a little whimsical,” admits Dan Geernaert, the local Canadian Pacific agent. Including one weekend in London, England.
At first, they shared a Ford Mercury station wagon, but last spring Ann got Bambi a $10,000 Burgundyred Thunderbird and bought herself a $12,800 green Cadillac Eldorado with every possible extra, except the $130 seat wanner. Ann used to park the Cadillac in the bank’s parking lot, just behind Manager R. L. Duncan’s rather basic sedan.
She bought her father a Plymouth Valiant for Father’s Day. She bought hairdresser friend Gary Lane a $5,000 Mustang fastback — or at least, he says she paid for most of it after he produced the down payment. In all, she bought six cars for around $30,000, and when arrested she had just made a $6,000 deposit on a Lincoln Continental Mk III — list price, with all options: $10,703. Presumably it was to be a spare car. At weekends Ann and Bambi rode around Naramata on
rusty old bikes, exercising their five dogs.
By the spring of 1968 she had decided on some home improvements. She had a wing and an extra bathroom built on the bungalow. The bathroom had walls of imported green Venetian marble. There was a sunken bathtub. The taps and other fittings were 24-karat gold-plated, though while awaiting trial Ann angrily denied a rumor that the flushing lever on the toilet was also gold. There was also a hand-cut crystal chandelier in the bathroom, one of three in the house. A sauna bath was installed. The house was refurnished.
“It’s not true what they say, that she refurnished the whole house three times,” says Mrs. Barbara Filbrandt, the middle-aged widow who was the Friday-morning charlady for 18 months. “Twice maybe, but not three times. Though she did have three different stoves while I was there. Ann used to do most of the cooking and housework, and Bambi did the outside things, like the garbage and garden. Ann couldn’t dust because of her asthma, but there wasn’t much dust anyway. Neither of them smoked. They were nice to me and always left me their movie magazines.”
The home improvements cost $65,000. Furniture cost $130,000: that included $6,000 for carpets and $35,000 for silverware, crystal glassware and a Royal Crown Derby china set, at $35 a place setting; $35,000 for a custom-built stereo in a handcarved teak cabinet and $1,200 for color television. Neither Ann Spiller nor Bambi Shubin drank much. On their frequent nights out at Penticton’s two better restaurants, the Pilgrim House and the Stardust, they would drink one or two whisky sours or Tom Collins apiece, rarely more, even when with friends. / Even so, there were about 150 bottles of wine and liquor in the house. Half it was either Piper Heidsieck champagne, or other imported wines.
The house was possessed by the Royal Bank when Ann was arrested. It still looks absurdly modest; a brown-painted wooden house on a tiny corner lot surrounded by a six-footsix fence, guarded by gates with a speaker-phone system and electricrelease lock. By the garage hangs a nameplate. Below the names Shubin and Spiller are: Princess, Chloe, Misti, Mali, Lori. Princess is a Scottie. The other four are Schnauzers, all neutered.
In April, Ann engaged hairdresser Lane, who also lives in Naramata, to do her hair and Miss Shubin’s each morning before they went to work. He also called at the house each evening to touch up his morning's handiwork. “Ann was extremely interested in becoming a lady and in being attractive,” says Lane. “Before Ann died — and I consider she has now — she was beginning to show excellent taste. Her jewelry was magnificent. She had one emeiald that was 32 karats, and her diamonds were perfect blues. We were friends. We both felt out of place in this crumbbum town.” Lane says he twice went on trips with Ann, once to Vancouver, where she bought him a $2,000 summer wardrobe and a “simply magnificent diamond ring.”
TOWARD THE END of his plea for Magistrate Coliver’s clemency, Fred Herbert waxed poetic. “Despite the lavish life she has lived, she has also lived a Life Of A Thousand Hells,” he said. “She has insisted on pleading guilty, and was not interested in legal defenses. She told me she had done it and she wants to end this hell she has been living.”
IN FACT, Ann called Fred Herbert the day before she was arrested — when she knew that a new member of the staff stumbled on the deficit and would probably discover where it had gone. She afterward told friends that she could have covered up the thefts even then, “but I couldn’t bear it any more.”
AND THEN Herbert posed the question that haunted the whole affair how did Ann Spiller explain away her wealth?
“To her close friends [including Miss Shubin] she indicated her parents were wealthy,” he told the magistrate. “Now it is community knowledge that they are not, yet this story the bank accepted To her paients she gave another story : that she had made money on the stock market. It’s incredible that in a community of this size these stories should have been accepted, but they were "
IT ISN’T AS incredible as all that. Penticton is not a poor town At least two stores stock Russian caviar Many people have done well on the stock market, mostly in the booming shares of local mines.
Ann Spilier says she first told Bambi Shubin that her parents were secretly wealthy. She explained last year’s sudden flood of riches by saying an uncle had died in Detroit and left a mil]ion dolíais to be shaied between her, her sister and brother. Anyone who wondered aloud about the bank teller who wore diffeient expensive clothes and a $17,000 diamond ring to the office each day was told the inheritance story. Most tradesmen heard one or the other. As one of them says, “No one ever questioned the inheritance story — the sums of money she spent were too preposterous for any other explanation.”
And, besides, as Fred Herbert says, “who kicks Santa Claus in the teeth?”
THE TRIAL LASTED one hour and seven minutes. With a final flourish — “No sentence could be the equivalent of the life of hell and torment she has lived these past years”—Fred Herbert rested his case. The magistrate remanded Ann Spiller on bail for a week while he thought of a suitable penalty.
By that week Bambi Shubin and Ann were both living with Ann’s parents in their rambling frame house three miles outside Penticton. Bambi, too, was awaiting trial: she was also charged with theft, though as her lawyer Frank Christian said, “She pleads guilty only to incredible gullibility, and not guilty as charged. She believed Miss Spiller’s story.”
The day before she was to be sentenced Ann visited Esther Whittaker. “Why?” asked Esther. Replied Ann, “Why does anyone do anything? I don’t know. I think it was an escape. Maybe it’s like a man who tries to commit suicide. He wants help and he wants to be noticed and he always wants sympathy. He doesn’t get any of it, and in the end he despises himself.”
Next day, back in court, Ann looked almost tearful. Magistrate Collver observed that “the luxuries which sustained her in this hell and torment of her own creation indicate she at least suffered in comfort.
THREE WEEKS LATER the BC AttorneyGeneral’s department launched an action in the Appeal Court asking that the sentence be increased. As I write neither this case nor Miss Shubin’s has been resolved. Fred Herbert says the bank will be able to recover about half the money Ann Spiller stole. Some of it will come from people to whom she gave extravagant gifts and who have agreed either to pay for them or return them. Except Gary Lane. He says, “The Mouniies told me it was a question of my conscience. Well, to hell with the Royal Bank.”
There is, however, one of Ann’s expenditures they will have little difficulty reclaiming. With one of her dud cheques she bought 50 shares of Royal Bank of Canada stock. It earned hei a letter of commendation from head office. They said it was nice to see a member of the staff investing in the organization that employed her □