THE STANDER GANG

1983-84

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 bullying...”

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 fashion.

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 car thief.

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 jobs!

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, England.

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.

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