Between October 1983, and
February 1984, the Stander Gang, comprising Andre Charles Stander
(37), Patrick Lee McCall (34) and Allan Heyl (32), were South Africa's
Most Wanted Men.
Their story is one of daring
prison escapes, dramatic bank robberies and inevitably - violent
death. In other words, the stuff of legend. It is not surprising,
therefore, that for some people Stander, McCall and Heyl have become
something akin to folk heroes. In reality, they were simply three
hardened criminals on a desperate flight from justice.
Andre Stander, the mastermind
and driving force behind the Stander Gang, was the son of Major-General
Frans Stander. As a police detective, and later a bank-robber, he
was sometimes described as 'brilliant' although he was a less than-average
student at school. He failed his matric and was pressurized by his
father into joining the police force. Nevertheless, he excelled
at Police College and was judged 'Best Recruit' in 1964. After graduating
from Police College in Pretoria, Stander joined the regular force
and was sent to Johannesburg. He rose rapidly through the ranks,
and by the age of thirty-one held the rank of captain and was head
of the Kempton Park Criminal Investigation Department.
Despite a blossoming career
in the police force, Stander was obviously a discontented man. To
compensate for whatever was missing in his life, he took to robbing
banks as a sideline. This started in 1977. On his days off, he would
catch an early-morning flight to Durban, where he would don a disguise,
hire or steal a car, and then set out for his target. At the bank
or building society in question, he would hold up the teller at
gunpoint, take the money, and then casually drive back to the airport.
It was all very simple and professional.
During the three years that
Stander operated alone, he hit a string of banks and netted himself
at least R100 000. In fact, he became so successful he couldn't
keep his mouth shut and approached his best friend, Car van Deventer,
who was then working for the Bureau of State Security (BOSS), and
invited him to join the fun. “He admitted to me that the first
few times were sheer agony,” van Deventer said. “But
after that he couldn't stop. He began to enjoy himself. He used
to watch the faces of his victims. He was laughing up his sleeve
when he committed his robberies. There was an element of sadistic
Eventually, van Deventer approached
a senior colleague and told him what his friend had said. Together,
the two men went to examine a hired car, which Stander claimed to
have stolen and parked at Jan Smuts airport. In the glove compartment
they found a balaclava, a number of wigs, and a false beard and
moustache. In the boot there was a false number plate and a roll
of masking tape. They returned the items to the car and then staked
it out. On 2 January 1980, Stander was observed removing a number
of items from the car. The following day a bank was robbed in Durban.
On 4 January, Stander flew into
Johannesburg from Durban. In the presence of Major-General Kobus
Visser, the commander of the CID, he was arrested in the arrivals
lounge and escorted to the car. He had R4 000 on him, a balaclava,
a revolver, and a false moustache and beard in his luggage.
Following his arrest, Stander
was remanded in custody. On 6 May 1980, he faced 28 charges of robbery
at the Durban Supreme Court. He was found guilty on 15 charges and
sentenced to a total of 75 years in prison. As some of the sentences
were to run concurrently, he faced an effective jail term of ]7years.
“I forced him to become a policeman against his wishes,”
his father admitted after the trial. “He should have left
the force years ago.”
No one has been able to explain
why Stander turned so suddenly to crime. His family claimed that
his behaviour was in response to his experiences during the township
unrest in Tembisa in 1976, when he was involved in a 'blood bath',
but Carl van Deventer disputes this. “I don't accept that,”
he said. “He was supposed to have shot 22 people, but 1 never
heard about it. Don't you think he would have told his best friend
about it at some time or other? If it had really happened...”
Part of the reason may have
been that Stander's marriage was also under strain during this time.
He had first met his wife, Leonie, in 1967. They were married in
1969, and divorced two years later. In 1975 they remarried, but
Leonie walked out on him in 1978. They were divorced for a second
time in 1979. The most likely answer is that Stander simply enjoyed
the thrill of robbing banks, which may partly explain the myth that
built up around his name. And myth indeed it was. During the height
of the search for the Stander Gang, an ex-colleague of Stander's,
Chris Swanepoel, remarked to the press: “You know we read
every day of the brilliant student who was forced on the road to
robbery. Brilliant? How could he be brilliant and still fail matric?
Sure he was a captain of the police but Was he a brilliant detective?
Rubbish, I say! When we were in the force together he couldn't even
catch a cold...”
He was seen by many people as
a 'gentleman robber', a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, but the police
also alleged that he was a rapist. In October 1983, while he was
on the run from the police, Stander lured a teenage girl to the
Kyalami Ranch Hotel for a photographic session. She was to pose
fully clothed and he claimed to be a reputable photographer. After
the session, he raped her and then threatened to cut her to pieces
if she told anyone about what had happened. It was only later that
she discovered Stander's identity. Photographs of the girl were
also discovered at one of the Stander Gang's hideouts. There is
also evidence that Stander raped another teenage girl in a similar
After his conviction for armed
robbery, Stander was sent to Zonderwater maximum security prison
near Cullinan. It was here that he met Patrick Lee MCCall and Allan
Heyl. Both men were bank robbers, and McCall was also an expert
On 11 August 1983, Stander,
McCall and five other prisoners were taken out of the prison to
see a local physiotherapist at consulting rooms near Cullinan. Stander
and McCall had faked their injuries. The seven prisoners were accompanied
by three prison officers. In the waiting room, Stander and McCall
suddenly sprang into action, overpowered the guards and took their
service revolvers. They then ordered Mrs Amelia Grobler, the physiotherapist,
to give them the keys to her car. They sped off in the direction
of Tembisa township. The other five prisoners, who had refused to
have anything to do with the breakout, remained behind.
About seven kilometres from
Cullinan, Stander and McCall turned on to a dirt road. They eventually
arrived at a farm belonging to Mr Martin Riekert in the Rayton district.
They were greeted in the yard by Mr Riekert and his teenage son,
Henk. At gunpoint they forced Mr Riekert to telephone the local
police station on a pretence, whereupon Police Constable Mostert
was sent to the farm. Stander and McCall were waiting for him. He
was first forced to change clothes with Stander, and was then bundled
into the back of his own van along with Mr Riekert and his son.
With the three hostages locked in the cage of the police van, Stander
and McCall continued in the direction of Tembisa township. On a
secluded road not far from the farm, they stopped again. Stander
got out of the van and flagged down the next car that came along
- a silver-grey Opel driven by a 27-year-old nurse named Nakkie
Fouche. Ms Fouche was bundled into the back of the police van along
with the other three hostages. Stander and McCall then drove off
in the car. The prisoners eventually escaped from the police van
by kicking out the window between the cage and the cab, but by that
time the two fugitives were long gone.
After escaping from custody,
Stander and McCall went to ground for a while. For two months they
lived quietly in Johannesburg on money it is thought Stander had
stashed away during his bank-robbing days. However, on 31 October
1983, the two men hit the news headlines again. At 10.30 a.m., they
burst into the Olifantsfontein Trade Test Centre with guns drawn
and released Allan Heyl, who had been taken there for a trade test.
After forcing the two prison warders who were guarding Heyl and
the three members of the Trade Centre staff to lie on the floor,
they sped off in a Ford Cortina XR6 Interceptor. For the next four
months, the Stander Gang, as the trio came to be known, were to
be front page news. Ten days later, Stander, McCall and Heyl raided
a gunshop in Randburg, wounding the proprietor in the process, and
made off with an arsenal of heavy calibre guns and ammunition. Then,
operating from at least three 'safe houses' in the Johannesburg
area, the three men went on a spree of 'bank-hopping' robberies
in which they hit a string of banks in quick succession, sometimes
as many as four on the same day. Between mid-November 1983, and
mid January 1984, the Stander Gang robbed twenty banks and stole
over R500 000. On 19 January, alone, they netted R165 000 from three
Nevertheless, the three men
realised that time was running out for them. Indeed, Stander himself
had come close to arrest more than once. On one occasion he had
been in a video shop in Turffontein when it was raided by the police,
but had not been recognized. On another occasion, he had been spotted
by a police captain at a Maseru restaurant but had managed to get
away. The answer was to go abroad and to this end the three men
planned to buy a yacht, which they could sail out of the country.
Towards the end a 1983, they saw just the vessel they were looking
for at the Royal Cape Yacht Club in Cape Town. She was the Lily
Rose and the asking price was R219 000. In January 1984, negotiations
to purchase the Lily Rose began in earnest. It was also in January
that the police received an important break when Stander, McCall
and Heyl were photographed by hidden video cameras during a bank
robbery. For the first time since the men had broken out of prison,
the police had good recent photographs of them. Pictures of the
three wanted men were published on 25 January.
On 27 January, Stander flew
to Fort Lauderdale in the USA using a false passport. His task was
to arrange the sale of the Lily Rose. Back in South Africa, a tip-off
following the publication of the Stander Gang photographs led the
police to one of the safe houses in Sixth Avenue, Houghton. Much
assistance in identifying the safe houses reputedly came from escort
girls who had been employed by members of the gang and taken to
their hideouts. On the day after Stander left the country, the place
was staked out and in the early hours of 30 January 1984, a crack
police squad moved into position with marksmen in bullet-proof vests
taking up strategic positions.
At 5 a.m. the silence in the
neighbourhood was shattered by a loud-hailer. The message from the
police was clear and simple: 'Get out of the house or we shoot.'
McCall was alone inside, and he was determined to go down fighting
rather than surrender. Darting from room to room, he began to shoot
at his attackers. A tremendous gun battle followed, with the police
eventually hurling grenades into the house and storming in. They
found McCall sprawled naked in the hall. He was dead.
Twenty-four hours later, the
police discovered a second 'safe house' at Linmeyer due to the publicity
that the gang was receiving. They also learnt of the scheme to buy
the Lily Rose from a crew member that Stander and Heyl hired to
deliver the yacht to the USA. On 5 February, the police flew to
Cape Town and seized the R219 000 boat. A few days later, the police
discovered a third hideout, again in Houghton, which had been hired
on a one-year lease at R2 000 per month. In the garage were a number
of stolen cars, including a yellow Porsch Targa which Stander himself
was known to like. But of Stander and Heyl nothing was known. Both
men had flown the coop.
Stander was in America, and
ten days after McCall had been killed, he made his own fatal mistake.
On 10 February, Stander was arrested by the Fort Lauderdale police
for driving an unlicensed vehicle - a Ford Mustang which he had
recently bought from a second-hand car dealer named Anthony Tomasello
- and for forging a driver's licence. The car was impounded by the
police and Stander, who claimed to be an Australian author named
Peter Harris, was photographed and released. That same night, he
broke into the police pound and stole the car back again. The next
morning, he took it back to Tomasello and asked him to have it re-sprayed.
Unfortunately for Stander, that very morning Tomasello had been
reading about the exploits of the Stander Gang in his local newspaper,
the Sun Sentinel, just as 'Peter Harris' walked into his office.
He put two and two together. The moment Stander departed, Tomasello
got in touch with his lawyer, who advised him to contact,the police.
That night an elite tactical
impact team surrounded Stander's apartment. At 10.30p.m., Stander
rode up on a bicycle. He was confronted by Officer Michael van Stetina,
but attempted to escape. There was a brief struggle for Stetina's
shotgun and Stander was shot. He bled to death on the wet driveway
to his apartment block while waiting for an ambulance.
After the death of Patrick Lee
McCall, Allan Heyl left South Africa and moved to the picturesque
Greek island of Hydra. From Hydra he flew to England, where he made
a payroll snatch which netted a mere R4 000 - he had expected the
haul to top R300 000 - then he moved to Spain. He was later forced
to enlist the help of a confidence trickster named Billy Williams.
Williams, who was supposed to help Heyl reclaim money and valuables
left stashed in Britain, first took all he could for himself, then
went to Scotland Yard and gave the police details of his new identity,
Phillip John Ball, and his address in the United Kingdom. The British
press would later label Williams 'Supergrass'. Not long afterwards,
Heyl was arrested at his girlfriend's mother's house in Surrey,
In May 1985, at Winchester Crown
Court,Allan Heyl was sentenced to nine years in prison for armed
robbery and illegal possession of a firearm. Following Heyl's arrest,
the South African authorities attempted to have him extradited to
face charges in South Africa, despite the fact that no extradition
treaty between Great Britain and South Africa existed.
For a time Heyl's fate hung
in the balance. In December 1986, this 'very complicated' matter
was finally resolved when the British Government announced that
Heyl was to remain in Britain. He was released in the mid 1990s
and extradited to South Africa where he was imprisoned on robbery
charges. Currently (June 2003) he is still in prison.