A real nowhere man: new book revisits Toronto’s Beatle Bandit

Several years before Charles Manson was inspired by the lyrics to “Helter Skelter,” 24-year-old Matthew Kerry Smith put on a Beatle wig and a Halloween mask and robbed a CIBC branch in the Toronto area, killing a man who tried to intervene, earning the nickname the Beatle Bandit.  Now, the tale is being told in a new book The Beatle Bandit:  A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, A Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea That Shook a Nation.

“To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing about this crime and I’m a little embarrassed by that,” admits Nate Hendley, author of more than a dozen books, primarily in the true-crime genre.

Hendley had been giving a presentation at a library when he was approached by Paul Truster, a retired legal educator and sometime freelance writer, who remembered the case from his childhood.

“I was a little weary at first because I get approached all the time by people with great stories that often turn out to be not so great or kooky,” Hendley admits.

Related article:

It turns out Truster was the real deal.  The two hit it off and Truster ended up giving Hendley a plastic tub full of research materials, including government records and court transcripts.

“It was just incredible having this info,” he says. “I augmented it with my own research and interviews with a lot of the people who were involved with the case.”

Hendley says the book takes its name from the Beatle-style wig used by Smith.

“I’ve seen photos of these Beatle wigs and, bear in mind, they were, like, everywhere.  Summer of 1964, retailers across Toronto, well, across North America, were selling these ridiculous ‘long-haired Beatle toupees.’  You know, ‘look like your favourite Beatle.’  This was the big thing.”

“So, he wears this Beatle wig, and he also wears a t-shirt that says ‘CKEY Good Guys.’  And this is a reference to a [local AM] radio station,” he explains. “That was his idea of a joke.  He thought it was sort of amusing to hold up a bank with a gun wearing a t shirt that said good guys. So, there was no real logic behind the Beatle wig. [But] the press immediately dubbed him the Beatle Bandit and that kind of stuck.”

Hendley not only takes us back to the day of the robbery but also looks at Smith’s upbringing, noting that his mental illness likely would have been handled differently today.

“He had been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, but his father had noted that he’d always been eccentric,” Hendley says.  “Smith is diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia but they decide he’s not a menace, he’s not dangerous, and they had this sort of hands-off approach.  If there was some sort of stricter medical regime that he was put under, maybe he could have been treated and led a relatively normal life.  We don’t know.”

The case sparked several debates, including about gun control, as police had a hard time tracking down the weapon used.

“And they never found it until Smith was arrested and they raided his house.  So, that was a huge frustration for police,” Hendley explains.  “That was one of the fascinations for me was that we considered some of these issues like gun control to be sort of a modern topic of concern [but] all these things were played out during the Beatle Bandit case.”

“There were issues about insanity pleas, there’s a whole section in the book where I explain the difference between legal insanity and medical insanity and also the issue of gun control.  We tend to think of these things as a modern issue.  Well, guess what.  We were arguing about it in the `60s.”

Look for The Beatle Bandit:  A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, A Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea That Shook a Nation from Dundurn Press.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today