Reid Arrested After Bank Robbery

Over the telephone, Susan Musgrave, one of British Columbia's most celebrated poets, is weeping and talking ceaselessly at the same time, trying to figure out how things could have taken such a terrible turn.

Reid Arrested After Bank Robbery

Over the telephone, Susan Musgrave, one of British Columbia's most celebrated poets, is weeping and talking ceaselessly at the same time, trying to figure out how things could have taken such a terrible turn. How is she going to explain to her 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, that daddy will not be home for Father's Day or her next birthday in January? Last week, Musgrave's quiet life plunged into nightmare when her 49-year-old husband, writer and supposedly rehabilitated bank robber Stephen Reid, was arrested on 10 counts, including attempted murder, assault with a weapon, breaking and entering, and unlawful confinement. Musgrave acknowledges Reid, a former addict, had fallen back into heroin and cocaine use in recent months. Still, "this is all a mystery," she says in a conversation with Maclean's from her home in Sidney, B.C., just outside Victoria. "I'm in an amazing state of shock."

Reid's arrest, along with that of Allan McCallum, 30, occurred last Wednesday in Victoria. Two masked men, one armed with a shotgun, entered a branch of the Royal Bank that morning, filled a duffel bag with money and fled in a 1978 Chevrolet. Police cars that happened to be in the neighbourhood followed in close pursuit. Near the provincial legislature, shots were traded before the men stopped their car and tried to flee on foot. Reid was found in the apartment of a terrified elderly couple, hiding inside the foldout couch. An acclaimed novelist, he was also a former member of the threesome known as the Stopwatch Gang, infamous across North America during the 1970s for their ability to rob banks and armoured cars in less than two minutes.

Reid, born in Massey, Ont., spent 14 years in U.S. and Canadian prisons - making daring escapes at least three times - but was released on parole in 1987, the year after he and Musgrave married. (Nuptials were performed at Kent Institution near Mission, B.C.; when Musgrave strode into prison on the wedding day her French garters lit up the metal detector.) They met after a prison criminologist had given Musgrave the manuscript of Jackrabbit Parole, Reid's novel about a bank robber, which she later edited and helped publish (the title is a term for jailbreak). During a series of letters between them, Musgrave asked Reid to marry her. Their union, he later said, gave him strength to pursue his writing. But he had to battle many demons. "The problems Stephen had were very deep," notes close friend and novelist William Deverell. "There were so many expectations of him and those pressures over the last 15 years, including his inability to finish his second novel, caused him to implode."

Musgrave continues to avow her deep love for Reid, although she acknowledges that, lately, life with him had been difficult. Reid had begun using drugs again while building their new cabin on the Queen Charlotte Islands. Last month, he was hospitalized for addiction, but someone smuggled drugs into his room, Musgrave says, making it impossible for him to kick the habit. One day recently, after he had recovered from an overdose, he sent her $500 worth of flowers. "I said, 'Stephen, I don't want flowers, I want you,' " Musgrave recalls.

Friends and neighbours have rallied around Musgrave, bringing cookies and soup to her home, providing comfort to her daughter from a previous relationship, Charlotte, 16, and ensuring Sophie makes it to school. "I had no idea there would be so much support," Musgrave says. "It's too bad Stephen didn't know the effect he had on the world around him." Reid's story is a multiple tragedy, robbing him of the chance to watch the children grow, to share a married life with Musgrave, and to prove that writing really could provide redemption for his lost soul.

Maclean's June 21, 1999