Here’s Mark Bonokoski’s take on the mystery $230,000 bank robbers may have stashed near Coe Hill

COE HILL — Mention the chance of $230,000 buried in the bush near Coe Hill, and people take notice.

Toronto Sun columnist  Mark Bonokoski saw a story on Coe Hill World earlier this week about township council renaming Jackie’s Lane near The Gut, Bank Robber’s Lane.

It marks a  Hollywood-style police chase that ended there in 1961. Five bank robbers hit the bank in Havelock and headed north, exchanging gunfire with pursing provincial police.  Eventually, a local posse helped police round up the gang from Montreal.

Bonokowski lives up Bancroft way and wrote about the robbery and missing loot in late 2007.

He forwarded a copy of the story to post here.

He also writes a thrice-weekly Moose Country Commentary:  click here to see what’s on his mind.

Here’s the story . . .

If the $230,000 from the 1961 Havelock bank robbery is still hidden near Bancroft, it might be worth investing in a pick and shovel

BY MARK BONOKOSKI

Years ago, while putting back a few beers at the Shot & Bottle Lounge at the rough-and-tumble Arlington Hotel in Maynooth, those of us who hung in for last call were entertained by an old drunk as he attempted to yank out a bad tooth with a length of guitar wire.

Toronto Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski.

Toronto Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski.

True story. I kid you not.

I had seen him there many times before, the Shot & Bottle lounge being the halfway point between my cottage near Bancroft and former Sun columnist Gary Dunford’s home in Combermere.

So that’s where Dunf and I would hook up for a few pints, in the downstairs tavern at the Arlington.

The old drunk was a fixture at the Shot & Bottle Lounge. At the time, he was living upstairs in the rooming-house part of the hotel, which has been since converted into a backpackers’ hostel much like that of the old Spadina Hotel here in Toronto.

The only time the Arlington Hotel is not a backpackers’ hostel is during the annual deer hunt, when the rooms are then occupied by the strippers brought in from Toronto to entertain the orange blaze crowd who fill the Shot & Bottle Lounge below.

Besides being a fixture, though, the old drunk was also quite the storyteller — one of his favourites being the fact, in his mind, that he knew where almost a quarter of a million dollars from a long-ago bank robbery had been stashed in the hills south of Bancroft.

It was just that the wooded terrain had changed so much during all the time he had been in-and-out of jail for various petty offences, and his mind had become so grog-saturated, that he could no longer zero in, with any precision, on the old fence line where he knew the money had been hidden.

How he knew about this treasure trove was never made exactly clear, although, when contacted about that night at the Shot & Bottle Lounge, Dunford remembers something about the old drunk doing jail time with one of the bank robbers. Either that, or he did time with a friend of one of the bandits.

“Who knows for sure,” Dunf agreed.

The robbery of payroll money for local miners, was committed back in the early sixties, the old drunk had said — at the Toronto-Dominion Bank, in the town of Havelock, perched, as it is, on the north side of Highway 7 on the eastbound approach to Madoc.

It was a good story, and well worth hearing.

But I never gave it second thought.

And then, over the holidays, a thin paperback appeared in my Christmas stocking. It was written by a Cobourg writer named Grace Barker and was titled The Bad Luck Bank Robbers — the Story of the 1961 Havelock Bank Robbery.

The five bandits, French-Canadian men from Montreal, were all eventually captured in the surrounding bush, and convicted, the only exception being the one who died in custody from a heart attack.

Despite the book’s brevity and the story’s potential, it is nonetheless a somewhat ponderous read — the only interest for me being the place names and the lakes north of the Madoc-Dixon line where the manhunt for the bandits took place, and with which I am so familiar.

And, of course, because — midway through reading the book — it suddenly triggered the memory of the old drunk at the Shot & Bottle Lounge in Maynooth who yanked his tooth out with a hunk of wire and who claimed to have remembered — and then to lose all track — as to where all that stolen loot had been buried so many years ago.

How I wish I had paid more attention.

Now, in this day and age, $230,000 is still a fine chunk of change. Back in 1961, however, it was huge. If the bandits had been successful, and had made their way back to Montreal, they could have booked a room at the posh Queen Elizabeth Hotel for $6 a night.

Today, a basic room on a typical Friday night goes for $179, plus taxes.

According to Grace Barker, the writer of the book, however, none of the money from the Havelock bank robbery has ever been recovered.

Theories abound, of course.

Barker claims to have been told that the canvas bag containing the loot was weighted down and chucked into Round Lake.

Another story has it being buried deep in the ground between Coe Hill and Gilmour, in an area known as The Ridge which, if the old drunk’s story has credence, tends to fill the bill of the fence-line scenario.

There was a report, as well, that two empty milk cans were stolen from a dairy farm the night before the robbery and, if that is the case, then the money would still be safe and sound today if stored in those containers — even 45 years later.

A good 20 years has passed since the night the old drunk at the Shot & Bottle Lounge yanked out his tooth at closing time and, best as I could ascertain, he shuffled off his mortal coil about a decade ago — still on welfare, and still telling his tall tale about a hidden bag of loot.

It was out there . . . somewhere, he said.

If only he could remember exactly where.

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