William Gilday and the Brighton Bank Heist, 1970

To shamelessly echo the words of fellow intern and blogger Allison Pekel, one of the smaller but still very real pleasures of taking part in the Boston TV News Project is the frequent and serependitous discovery of interesting (and, lets be honest, not so interesting) local events, people, and places from the past forty-odd years that I would have otherwise never encountered.

Entering data for even 75 of the most bare-bones cards can mean that you’ll bump into 30 or 40 different news stories, which is a virtual feast for anyone with the slightest interest in history and web surfing. Recently, while working with WHDH (“Channel 5”) cards from 1968-1971, I came across a series of cards describing the story of a one William Gilday and his dramatic arrest.

The story, which is far too long and complicated to completely recount here, spanning decades and state boundaries, goes something like this. On the morning of September 23, 1970, five robbers held up a Brighton branch of the State Street Bank and escaped with $26,000 in cash, leaving a veteran police officer, Walter Schroeder, mortally wounded with a bullet in his back.<!--more read more...--> One of the suspects, a 21 year-old ex-convict by the name of Robert Valeri, was identified using bank photographs and later arrested that night at his home in Somerville. While in custody, Valeri was remarkably compliant with officials, providing the identities and known whereabouts of those involved. They were: Stanley Bond, 26, an ex-convict enrolled at Brandeis University as part of a special prison program; Katherine Power, 21, a Brandeis senior who, along with one of the other five suspects, Susan Saxe, 21, was active in organizing protests for a student committee known as the National Student Strike Force; and William “Lefty” Gilday, 41, a then-recent parolee and former Minor League pitcher for the Washington Senators.

By the following day, September 24th, Officer Schroeder would be dead; the work of five ‘traditional’ bandits would emerge in local newspapers and newscasts as that of five “revolutionary type individuals”; and the four-day, interstate police chase of the suspected shooter, William “Lefty” Gilday, would begin. Boston Police Commissioner Edmund L. McNamara held a press conference that day in which he stated candidly, though without “documented evidence,” that the robbery and murder was not an individual act but “a conspiracy involving more than these five [suspects].” McNamara, working off what Valeri had told him, insisted that the five were involved in a radical campus organization.

While police in Boston raided the homes of Power and Bond, finding weaponry and equipment missing from the National Guard Armory in Newburyport, Massachusetts which had been bombed the previous week, Massachusetts and New Hampshire state police converged on Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where Gilday was reportedly seen eating in a restaurant. He eluded police for the night, and the following morning (September 25th) Gilday confronted an elderly woman at her home at gunpoint and forced her to drive him to Salem, New Hampshire. Leaving the woman in Salem, Gilday then headed towards Lowell only to be identified by police en route. What followed was a massive, hour-long pursuit involving “about 100 police cars” near state lines. Gilday was again able to dodge the police, abandoning the Hampton Beach woman’s car and forcefully occupying another in Wilmington, Massachusetts—this time owned by a local Ford dealer who managed to jump out at an opportune time. Gilday escaped back into New Hampshire, then back into Massachusetts, despite over 300 police officers scanning the area with helicopters and K-9 units.

Gilday was arrested on Monday, September 28. After hiding for more than 30 hours in a cellar in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Gilday occupied the home of a local family, the Huberdeaus, spending the night there on Sunday. The following morning Gilday took the Huberdeau family car on a route headed southwest with two of the children taken as hostages. The family left behind in Haverhill, however, notified the police, and a roadblock was set up in Billings Square in Worcester after a long period of surveillance. There was nowhere for Gilday to escape.

Based on Valeri’s statements to Boston police, which suggested that Power, Bond, and Saxe would likely be flying interstate, the FBI got involved sometime after Gilday’s wild high-speed chase on September 25th, linking the suspects to at least four other robberies across the country. In the end, Bond was arrested in Colorado on a plane bound for Chicago that Sunday, Gilday in Worcester, another Brandeis student that week as an accessory to the crime, and eventually Saxe in Philadelphia in 1975. Katherine Power fully eluded police for 23 years, changing her name and raising a family in Oregon until she turned herself in willingly in 1993.

Although all four of the Brandeis students were actively engaged in anti-Vietnam organizations on campus, Bond was understood to be the ringleader of the group’s revolutionary motives. Self-proclaimed the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Action Force-East (Valeri was supposedly the leader of RAF-West), Stanley Bond was the only person implicated in all of the group’s alleged crimes. The group’s mission had been to disrupt the activities of the U.S. military in protest against the Vietnam War, with bank robberies serving as one source of funding. Bond’s relationship with Power and Saxe was deemed primarily political and romantic, and most reports described Bond as having been a manipulating presence in the two woman’s lives. Valeri and Gilday were believed to have associated with Bond for what most considered ‘pragmatic’ reasons.

Providing a veritable pastiche of an early 1970s American culture polarized by the Kent State shootings and the Vietnam War, these five or six cards, after a little secondary research, really do offer a unique perspective on a complicated period in history. I look forward to viewing the original tape to say the least. In the meantime, however, I highly recommend reading the series of articles put out by The Harvard Crimson in 1970 that cover the crime. It is perhaps the most thoroughly written piece of journalism regarding the crime and its investigation that I have encountered, and much of my research was gleaned from them.

Do you remember William “Lefty” Gilday and the Brighton bank heist? Can you remember any other local incidents from this time period where violence—or even the threat of violence—was used to make a political statement? Have you seen anything like this recently?