Andre Stander was undoubtedly the most notorious bank robber in South African history; but surprisingly, there is very little coverage of this in the press.
There have been many conspiracy theories to why this is so, with some majorly pointing out the fact that it may well be because he was white, while others believe that Stander’s story has been pedaled down the history books because he was a police officer, who exploited the blind spot of the law. Others claim it is with respect to his family name and father – who was a Major General.
Whichever reason it may be, none is worth withholding the story of how a white South African policeman terrorized banks between 1977 and 1980, while not only keeping his job as a cop but also investigating his own robberies.
Andre Stander grew up under the law and was the son of Major General Frans Stander – who was highly respected in the South African Prison Service. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and thus helped him into the service.
According to records, Andre was never interested in going into that line of work but only became a policeman as a result of pressure from his father.
During this time, apartheid was at its height in South Africa and Andre, like the other white South Africans enjoyed the privileges of being white. His father’s influence helped him rise up the ranks and he lived a reckless life disgraceful to the uniform.
Available records state that:
“One fine morning in 1977, he handed out assignments to his squad and headed to the airport in Johannesburg during lunch break.
“He flew to Durban, put on a false wig and beard, walked into a bank and pulled a gun on the cashier, but very discreetly, handed her a bag and asked her to fill it up with cash.
“She did as she was asked. Andre did not threaten anyone else in the bank nor did he brag about having a gun. No one else realized what had happened. He quietly walked out, drove back to the airport and flew to Johannesburg post lunch and carried on with policing.”
Andre Stander made around R100,000 between 1977 and 1980 before he was arrested in January 1980, after a robbing a bank in Durban.
He was found guilty of 15 counts of robbery and sentenced to 75 years in prison. But since many charges ran concurrently, he had to serve 17 years at Zonderwater Maximum Security Prison.
While in prison, Andre Stander became friends with inmates who were also bank robbers - Allan Heyl and Patrick McCall.
The trio planned their escape from prison and it worked.
“In 1983, Andre and Patrick complained of back pains and were sent to a physiotherapist. While at the clinic, they overpowered a few guards and escaped in the doctor's car and a couple of months later they went back to the same prison to break Heyl out. The three buds holed up in a safe house in Houghton.”
How this was all possible remains a matter for consideration. All free, the three bank robbers went straight back into business and robbed more than 20 banks in a space of two months, carting away over R500,000 in cash.
They came to be known as the Stander Gang, they became so famous and it was the fame, money, and girls that led to their downfall.
Soon, their pictures made it to every newspaper and this made them leave South Africa. Andre flew to Florida to make arrangements while Heyl and McCall were to sail there in a new yacht they had purchased.
One of the prostitutes who had spent a night with them in the past recognized their pictures in the papers and informed the police. Heyl fled but McCall refused to leave the hideout. He eventually killed himself when the police came knocking.
The South African government issued international warrants by Feb of 1984, and this led to the capture of Heyl in Britain, in 1985, where he continued robbing banks and was sent to South Africa to complete his sentence. He was paroled in 2005 and has since become a motivational speaker.
Andre Stander was in the US before Heyl was captured. He was caught one night while returning to his hideout on a bicycle; during a struggle, he tried to reach for the policeman’s pistol and was shot. He bled to death before the cops arrived.
Additional Quote By Akarsh Mehrotra
Header Image Credit: Li Dunia