HOW I CAPTURED THE RED HOOD GANG
Between 1956 and 1960, the 15 bandits who became notorious as the Red Hoods stole almost two million dollars in 45 holdups across Quebec. They worked with split-second timing, a fleet of trucks equipped with peepholes for casing jobs, portable radios tuned to police frequencies. Here, a veteran detective reconstructs his long hunt for “the slickest thieves I ever chased”
DET. INSPECTOR JOSEPH BEDARD, as told to KEN JOHNSTONE
IN FORTY YEARS of police experience I've never run into smarter, slicker criminals than the Red Hood Gang — Les Cagoules Rouges — whose leaders were sent to prison tor about a dozen years apiece this spring. In four years they carried out fortylive holdups in Quebec lor a total haul of close to two million dollars in cash and securities; at Marieville alone they cleaned up nearly half a million dollars. Brandishing pistols and machine guns, they struck unexpectedly all over the province, sometimes in weekly succession, and in the course of their hectic career they showed skill and imagination combined with painstaking planning and spiitsecond timing. They knew all the old tricks, and they uncovered a lot of newones too, some of them borrowed straight out of the television thrillers that the gang leader and brains, 29-year-old Michel Delisle, followed religiously.
None of the leaders had any previous police record. They had served no apprenticeship in crime, which meant they had no records to help us track them down. They were inspired amateurs.
The gang got its name from the red hockey stockings — the colors of Montreal C anadiens — they pulled down over their faces. This was the only bit of horseplay they ever indulged in. They used a licet of trucks equipped with peepholes for casing jobs, portable radios tuned to police frequencies to follow our moves. made-in-Japan handcuffs for trussing their victims, sub-machine guns and bulletproof vests, oxyacetylene tanks, reefer coats and coveralls. rubber gloves, and those red masks. They struck fast and then vanished. A minute to a minute and a half was their average time for a holdup.
Ihe Red Hood Gang varied its pattern of operation and territory so that you couldn’t tell where
or how it would strike next. I he Red Hoods made fabulous cash coups, and they spent the money recklessly; when we finally cleaned them up, they were broke and desperate for another job to keep them in their accustomed luxury. It took a running battle to finish them off. with two casualties on each side.
Now behind bars serving their sentences, the Red Hoods remain a symbol of what police will come up against more and more in the future. 1 contend that bank robbers are getting smarter all the time, and the Red Hood Gang is my best proof.
I've dealt with tougher and more ruthless criminals in the past. On the holdup squad you don l get to meet many sissies. I ake the stickup artist. Bill I.ittlc. for one. I got the drop on Little when he was holding up a store, and I knew from the start that if I hadn't had my gun in his back. Little would have shot me dead. I was just going on my vacation when he got out eight years later and 1 told Chief of Detectives Bill Fitzpatrick: "Look out tor that guy Little. He's going to kill someone or gel killed himself.” I wasn't gone a week on my vacation when Fit/, phoned me and said:
"You called the shot on Little, all right. He killed a cop today, and got killed himself."
Ihe Red Hoods were different. They were too smart to be trigger-happy, though they shot it out with us when they were cornered. And they were alwavs willing to spray a few bullets around to keep a crowd subdued. But the\ didn't have any serious charges against them aside from attempted murder m their last venture. I here were four of them then, and two got away, including Michel Delisle, the leader. He always got away, until the last time.
1 said that the Red Hood Gang had about four
years’ life operating as an organized gang. The first two years of their career were spent mainly around the province, perfecting their technique. They started off hijacking cigarette trucks and selling off the load, worth around $25,000. They used a red flasher like a police car to make the trucks pull over.
Then they got bolder and began to knock off credit unions and small-town banks where the manager slept on the premises. They would break in at night and force him to open the safe. They always seemed to know exactly where they'd find him, and to strike when the most money was in the safe. And they always worked fast, left no clues, and made getaways that revealed an intimate knowledge of obscure roads in the area. And because of the stocking masks, nobody could tell their age or the color of their hair, eyes or skin.
As these reports came into us. we were puzzled, for they didn't operate like any other gang we knew. They always worked in a group of four, though we were able to determine that there were about fifteen in the gang. Only one person was consistently in every operation; that turned out to be Michel Delisle.
The gang started to operate in Montreal in the spring of 1958. On a tip we got from someone who resented their move into town, we nearly ran them to earth on their first attempt. 1 was at home that night when 1 got the call. Much of our job in the holdup squad depends on having such sources of information, and when I got the tip 1 reacted quickly. 1 learned that a gang was going to get into the C ity and District Bank at St. Denis and Paillon streets that night and lie low until the vault was opened at 9 the next morning.
But when l checked in w ith my men at the police station at Jarry and St. Hubert streets at 5 a.m. prior to closing in for the 9 o'clock fireworks. 1 learned the sad news.
"You missed the excitement." the desk man told me. "About two hours ago we got a report from some fellow who was on his balcony having a quiet smoke before he went to bed. He saw three men going into the C ity and District Bank and he called us. We sent down four squad cars, but they must have heard the sirens. They escaped through the root"
Checking. I found that the fleeing gang had the nerve to pose as police officers during their escape. Breaking into an apartment, they told the roused householders: "Be quiet! Were police, trying to stop a holdup!” Then they calmly strolled out and made their getaway.
This was the first but not the last time that the Red Hood Gang was to profit from such breaks. This time. I was so mad 1 decided to take my vacation.
While 1 was away the gang moved out of town. They struck at a small-town bank and got a warm reception. Three policemen were waiting for them and opened fire. Two of the bandits were hit, but they made their getaway in a brand-new stolen Buick. They drove it into a remote part of the country where their own car was waiting and set fire to the Buick to destroy evidence of bloodstains. At 2 o'clock next morning in Montreal's Maisonneuve Hospital a man was admitted with a bullet wound m his shoulder. He said he had been shot in a quarrel and he refused to give the other man s name. But i had a strong hunch that he was a member of the Red Hood Cuing and our first clue to the gang's identity. He turned out to be Michel Delisle’s right-hand man.
We still didn't know who the real brain of the gang was. We simply knew we were up against very clever operators, l ake the business of the duplicate kevs for example. We found later that Michel Delisle was a near-genius at making duplicate keys from tin blanks. He would go to extraordinary lengths to get his duplicates. In one case, he later admitted to me. he shadowed a bank employee who possessed the bank keys, found out where he lived and where he went at night. One evening in a night club he bought the man a few drinks and introduced him to a girl who danced with him and extracted the keys from his CONTINUED ON PAGE 36
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How I captured the Red Hood Gang continued from page 15
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With no visihie means of support, they sported new Cadillacs
pocket, passed them on to Delisle, who had them duplicated by a friendly locksmith and returned to the victim’s pocket without the man being any the wiser. Delisle still had the key when we finally caught up with him.
Meanwhile he proved an elusive and shadowy figure. We had all our underworld contacts working overtime to get a lead on the gang’s identity when the next clue fell almost in our lap. But that wasn't until about June of 1959, by which time the Red Hoods were driving the squad near-batty with their tactics. It just happened that an old lady reported seeing a car drive down her street, stop behind two brand - new Cadillacs, with four men getting out of the first car to split up, two by two, get into the Cadillacs, and drive away. When we found that the first car was stolen and that the Red Hood Gang had just pulled another job in that neighborhood, we started checking the Cadillac agencies around town, and it wasn't long before we struck oil. Michel Delisle and his brother, Claude, drove new Cadillacs, and neither had any visible means of support. They were our pigeons.
But to suspect a criminal and to prove your case in court are vastly different things. Sometimes when you know the members of a gang and one of them falls into your hands, you can round up the others. But the Red Hood boys were
artistic operators; they never showed skin, as the underworld phrase goes for giving the smallest visible clue to later identification.
Then, unlike most gangs who help us by sticking to characteristic techniques, they kept changing their method of operation. First they worked with stolen cars, which they drove to where their own cars were waiting. And often they would enter a bank at night by means of a duplicate key, conceal themselves in the basement, and then burst out of hiding as the vault was opened. They netted hauls of $175,000, $150,000 and $105,000 successively, and at Marieville, Que., the take was close to half a million in cash and securities. Then they switched to the fleet of trucks that they kept so well equipped; they would llee from the scene of the crime in a stolen car, transfer to the waiting panel truck, and then trundle off slowly down the road while police cars with wailing sirens passed them in all directions. They shed their disguises, discarded the incriminating garments, cached the money, and in minutes there would be no evidence left to tie them to the crime.
The hit-and-run technique they developed was the most shattering to bank employees, and the hardest to foil. After carefully casing a bank for days to determine when the vault was opened, how the money was distributed, and the move-
ments of each employee, and often even entering at night to make a map of the layout, Michel Delisle would call his gang together and tell them they would be working next morning. To prevent tipoffs like the one that nearly nailed him at the City and District Bank, he kept the location a secret until a meeting just before the holdup. Then he would outline the operation. A split second after the vault opened, the gang would career down the street in a stolen car to the front door or window of the bank, whichever entry had been selected by Delisle. Then one of the gang would hurl a six - foot iron bar through the glass, and in the uproar the other three would follow, hooded and flourishing guns. While two of them kept watch over the employees and any bystanders, the others would rake together the cash in a cardboard beer carton. Then, with a screaming of tires, they would vanish. It took them just one minute to grab $64,000 on their last operation and run into our welcoming committee. But that's getting ahead of the story.
Michel Delisle's ambitions knew no bounds. Twice he tried to hold up big CNR shipments of cash; once three men were spotted pulling their masks over their faces as the train from Ottawa pulled in with a heavy shipment of cash. When the trainmen gave the alarm, the gang made its escape in a spray of bul-
lets that sent bystanders ducking for cover. Then we got a tip that they would try next day for a CNR armored truck that would be carrying more than a million and a half dollars in cash. Upon our warning, the CNR changed its schedule for the truck, dumping off most of the money in a safe spot; when the two employees got out of the truck on St. Paul Street to pick up a shipment, the gang struck, opened the door of the truel; with a duplicate key, covered the guard inside with a machine gun, handcuffed him, and stole the safe — which contained $500. That tip saved the CNR quite a piece of change.
Then they tried for the $125,000 payroll of the CPR’s Angus shops. We nearly had them that time. An employee spotted a cut telephone wire just before che money was due to arrive. He got in (touch with us and I sent two detectives down right away, but unluckily they were spotted by the gang as they took up positions in a covering restaurant. The phone in the restaurant rang, and when the owner answered, a voice said: "Let me speak to one of those detectives there.” A detective went on the line and heard: "You bunch of dirty dogs, you won't catch us today!” And the line went dead.
By this time we had pulled Michel Delisle in for questioning several times ¿nd he knew that we had his identity, but he was confident he could stay out of our reach. On my part, I had just been appointed chief of the holdup division. I had some eight squads under rae, and I was supposed to sit at a desk, ßut l asked the director of police to let me finish this job myself, and he agreed. Delisle's open taunt over the phone really stung.
A diamond on his finger
That night I knocked off work early and went over to the Café St. Jacques in the east end for a quiet drink to sooth my frayed temper. 1 was sitting there with some of my squad—I believe that members of the holdup squad should mix with the fringe element that feeds us some of our most important tips—when Michel Delisle walked in. Michel is tiny (he's five foot four), dark and thin, with curly black hair. He was elegantly dressed in a flamboyant way, and a big diamond ring sparkled on his finger. He was just about to order a drink when he looked up and saw me.
He made a motion to rise, but I got up and walked over to his table and sat down opposite him. 1 reached over and straightened his tie and said: "We're alone here, and you’re going to tell me the truth or I'm liable to lose my temper and damage this tie. Did you try to hold up the CPR this afternoon?”
He looked at me and decided I was pretty mad. He said, "Yes."
“Did you try to hold up the CNR last week?”
“When are you going to stop?”
“1 can't stop.”
"You know that one of these days we're going to get you good?”
“I’ll take my chances.”
Two months later we picked up that conversation.
By now I think that every man on the force would have given a week's pay to nail that gang. I know our own squads worked around the clock and never grumbled about extra hours. We kept a twenty-four-hour shadow on the Delisles and they watched for us, too. Often the phone at my home would ring at night and someone would ask for me. I didn't tell my wife, but I figured it was the Red
Hood Gang trying to find out where I was. Yet even though I didn't tell my wife, she worried, and after twenty-two years of living with a cop she came down with ulcers and had to go to hospital. That gave me another score to settle with the Red Hood Gang.
The mob were all living high, spending the money as fast as they stole it. Delisle sent his wife and three children to Florida in a Cadillac Eldorado for the winter while he shacked up in two different apartments with two different girl friends. The others lived on a similar scale. No matter how much they stole, they soon ran through it. I knew they would have to strike again soon. 1 can't discuss all the methods we used, but we managed to keep close tab on them most of the time.
We discovered their garage on Christophe Colomb Avenue with 100 sticks of dynamite, 10 loaded guns and four fully equipped trucks in it, and we arrested three of the gang when they came there to pick up their equipment for a job. But they got the benefit of the doubt and were acquitted. It seemed we had to catch them pulling the job or not at all.
Meanwhile the gang lost one member who played Russian roulette one night when he was drunk and hit the jackpot on his first try. He didn't succeed in blowing his brains out. but he paralyzed himself for life. Another was arrested with $ I (),()()() in stolen bills on him, and got three years. Gradually we were pulling in the net. We kept up our close shadow on the others, and generally we managed to remain out of sight.
One time, though. 1 saw some of the gang stop at a gas station, and though I looked away quickly as I passed in my car. they spotted me. When I doubled back, they were all waiting for me, and they waved cheerily. "Hello, boss," they called. I drove straight home and had a drink.
Michel, the lone wolf, had been casing the Royal Bank at the Pie IX shopping centre, and I figured he was getting ready
to strike. If he did, we would be ready. Meanwhile we harassed them with a scries of raids that netted us guns, handcuffs, masks and ammunition seized in a Rosemount house, and the arrest of 28-year-old Sylvio Turner. He was out on $12,000 bail for a Quebec City bank robbery count and bonds of $3,000 and $950 on Montreal gun charges. He got bail in time to join in Michel’s next holdup. That’s one way of raising money for legal fees.
We also raided their truck depot and picked up Michel's brother. 27-year-old Claude, as well as Robert Rocheleau, 27. and Yvon Duquette. 30. on charges of possessing burglar tools. Michel had been at the scene but he got away. He seemed to have a charmed life. We cleaned out the whole arsenal there, including the guns, bulletproof vests, masks, clothing. handcuffs and other tools of their trade that were being held ready for the next job. That was on a Friday night.
The next Monday morning, March 7, I960, just as I had anticipated, the harassed Michel struck at the Royal Bank at the Pie IX shopping centre. We were waiting.
I had stationed Detective Lieutenant Marc Maurice and Detective Sergeant Romuald Dubuc in the unfinished Steinberg store next door to the bank, and I had borrowed my son's Vauxhali for myself, with Detective Sergeant Maurice Bilodeau lying prone in the back seat.
We were expecting them when the vault opened at 9.10. and they were right on time. They must have been parked in a lot some distance away where they could still observe the bank; suddenly there was a scream of tires as they braked to a stop in front of the bank; one man was out in a flash with a big iron bar, and wham, right through the plate glass it went, with the four hooded men right behind. One of them carried a beer carton for the money, and in less than a minute they were coming out again.
Unfortunately for us, two girl tellers
vere right in the line of fire as they came out. and we had to wait till they cleared the building. We opened fire and they leturned our shots. Sylvio Turner was carrying the carton of money, silver and all. and the silver saved his life. Three bul lets penetrated the box and splattered harmlessly against the coins. The pmg got to the car and started away. We aimed at the front tires, and hit them, for the car went out of control after traveling about 300 yards. It ended in a snowbank.
The four men were out in a flash and ninning. but we brought down Turner. He had left the money in the car— $64,000 in currency. Lying on the ground in agony with a bullet in his belly, he kegged for a finishing bullet. I ran after tine others.
One of them was Yvon Delisle, Michel's 25-year-old brother. I thought Ire had been hit too. But he took after the other pair, and I saw them three Mocks away, running down an alley between two houses. Two of our men had been wounded, but not seriously, and I hoped they were following me as I hightailed it after the trio. Down at the end of the alley I spotted Yvon Delisle crouched in a doorway. He had been hit in the leg. My gun was empty by then, but he didn't know' that. I called to him:
"Throw your gun out and come out vith your hands up or I'll shoot you diead."
The girl flashed $100 hills
The bluff worked. He threw out his gun. and I grabbed it. I turned him over to a couple of bystanders. And I ran on. But the last pair had vanished. I went back to Yvon Delisle and asked him where he had parked his getaway" car. He said he had left it on the Metropolitan Boulevard, but when we got there the escaping pair had beaten us to it. The car was gone.
Then began the hunt for Michel Delisle. We knew he had Yvon's car. and we organized a wide search for it. Orders were not to touch it: just report back and observe. If Michel Delisle tried to use it. then act. It took us eleven days to run Michel to earth. We spotted the car on Côte des Neiges near a new apartment development, and I posted eight men in a garage a hundred feet away from the car. "If he gets into the car, let him have it," I told them. But nobody showed up.
I decided to canvass the apartment blocks, and my second janitor told me what I wanted to know. Yes, an apartment had been rented recently; the girl flashed tw'o hundred-dollar bills when she paid the rent. She had a visitor, short, dark, curly black hair. It was my man. I asked the janitor about the exits. There was the front door, the service door, and the window leading to the balcony and a fire escape. We synchronized our watches and closed in from ail exits. The knock at the door was to come in three minutes. 1 was on the balcony, and through the window I could see Delisle in his shirtsleeves. He was watching television. I wondered if it was Highway Patrol.
On the dot of the third minute our men rapped on the door and the girl asked: "Who is it?"
"The janitor," came the answer. As she opened the door, we poured in.
"Where's your gun?" I asked Delisle after searching him.
"in the bedroom," he said, and we picked up two loaded guns there, two sets of handcuffs, extra ammunition, along with the usual clothing for dis-
guise, a pair of stolen license plates and an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
We resumed our conversation of the Café St. Jacques.
"What's the matter?" I asked him. "You look mad. Are you mad at me?"
"No." he replied. "It's all my own fault. But I'll bet you're happy.”
"You're damned right!" I told him. and we all went down to headquarters.
On charges of armed holdup and four charges of attempted murder, Michel Delisle received a ten-year sentence, Yvon
got eleven years, and Turner twelve. In four years they are credited with some thirty major holdups in the province of Quebec and in the last two years, fifteen in Montreal.
I had found about 200 keys at Delislc’s apartment, and before he came to trial I asked him: "1 suppose you've looked over most of the banks in the province?"
"Yes." he replied with modest pride. "Lve studied them all and I know the tough ones and the ones that are easy to take."
He confided in me that his big am-
bition in life was to hold up a train.
Later I had a chance to talk to the Del isles' father, a respectable businessman who operates a cut-stone business.
"I don't know why Michel turned out like this." the father told me sadly. "I gave them all good educations. They all went through high school, and I had jobs for them. But Michel wouldn't go into the business, and when he started living high without working, the other boys began to envy him. It didn't take him long to drag them down with him. And look at them now'.” if