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1932 Bank Robbery Gone Wrong


91 Years Ago  A Local Bank Robbery Went Very Wrong – Shubenacadie, NS.


August 22, 1932 marked the date of perhaps one of the strangest attempted robberies in Canadian history. The Royal Bank in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia set the stage for an unusual shoot out, which not only incriminated the would-be robbers, but members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Halifax Police Department as well. In addition to the bizarre unfolding circumstances, the truth about the shoot out did not surface until quite some time after it took place.

The Bandits
S. A. Rafuse was an ex-bank manager who had been discharged from the bank for financial irregularities. After being discharged, he took to selling insurance. He and his brother-in-law, Gerald Freckleton, conceived a plan to rob the bank. After devising the plan, the two men felt they needed a third man. They recruited Edson Boutlier, a young man on parole and a known criminal with an expertise in car theft.


The Plan

Rafuse would enter the bank shortly before closing and engage the manager, Robertson, in a conversation about insurance. He would stay until after the bank closed, so that Robertson would have to open the front door when he left. At that point a masked Freckleton and Boutlier would rush in and take Rafuse, the manager and the other employees hostage, forcing them to the rear of the bank and tying them up. Finally, they would scoop up the cash and leave, locking the door behind them.

Boutlier was on parole and a known criminal. He decided that it would be to his benefit to reveal the proposed crime to the police. So he snitched to Thomas Kennedy, the chief of detectives with the Halifax Police Force, whom he knew. The detective told him that they should go ahead with the proposed robbery, at which time the three bandits would be arrested. Boutlier could then turn King’s evidence and receive no punishment. This act would also assist at his parole hearing.

At this point, the Mounted Police were brought into the plan. Boutlier was to provide the car for the robbery since he was an expert car thief. He was also expected to get his own handgun. He did not wish to steal either, so the police provided him with a car that had been seized from a bootlegger and was in police possession. The police also gave him a Colt .45 revolver, but no ammunition. He was instructed to go to the Shubenacadie area with the other two men, where they would be stopped by the police for supposedly carrying weapons with a stolen car, at which point Boutlier would reveal the planned bank robbery and Freckleton and Rafuse would be charged with criminal intent.

On the day of the robbery, the three bandits drove to Shubenacadie, fortifying themselves with liquor. They drove around the village, but Boutlier saw no police. He suggested that they drive out of the village and find a spot to have another drink before the robbery. They drove up the Gay's River road, parked and had a drink. It was getting near the time of the robbery and Boutlier did not wish to go through with it, so he backed the car into the ditch as a solution. Unfortunately, they were only there for a few minutes when a local farmer with a team of horses appeared and pulled them out of the ditch, being promised money for his services. Boutlier then had to drive to the bank, perplexed as to what had happened to the police. The men parked out in front of the bank a few minutes before closing time and Rafuse went in to visit the manager. 

Unbeknownst to Boutlier or the other two bandits, five city and Mounted police were hiding at the back of the bank. The staff (Lawlor and McNeil), had been informed about the robbery and instructed to fall to the floor when the bandits appeared. When Robertson opened the main door to let Rafuse out, the other two bandits rushed in with drawn weapons. Rafuse and Robertson were quietly forced to the floor and the bandits cried to the other employees that it was a robbery. Immediately the police rose from hiding and opened fire. Freckleton was killed instantly, Boutlier, more alert, jumped out the door and fell on the sidewalk, but received a bullet through his shoulder.

Dr. D. F. MacInnis had just left his office two hundred yards from the bank and had almost arrived at the bank when Boutlier fell on the sidewalk. He stopped his car and ran over to Boutlier. At the same time a policeman emerged from the bank and, according to Dr. MacInnis', he intended to shoot Boutlier again. Dr. MacInnis' presence prevented that from happening and Boutlier's wound was stabilized. The next train was stopped, and he was sent to Truro Hospital (built in 1926) by escort on one of the baggage cars. Dr. MacInnis testified that Boutlier kept calling the police by name and saying, "You double crossed me!"

After Boutlier was sent to the hospital, Dr. MacInnis entered the bank to see Freckleton's body. He asked if the bandits had fired any shots and was told that Freckleton had started the shooting and was shown a wooden pole in the bank with two bullet holes in it, whom the police claimed came from Freckleton's gun. Dr. MacInnis commented that this was impossible, as the splintered exit holes of the bullet were on the wrong side of the post.

Regardless of the suspicious bullet holes and Boutlier's reference to the police having "double crossed" him, the news stories the following day contained the police's version of the hold-up. Freckleton was noted as having started the shooting and Boutlier was said to be in critical condition with a very unlikely chance of survival. S. A. Rafuse was identified as a bandit as well, thanks to expert detective work. Maps showed the supposed location of policemen and robbers when shots were fired and the five policemen were credited with foiling a possible robbery. As an added bonus for the policemen, it was reported that S. A. Rafuse had been connected to a robbery in Halifax that had taken place a few days before the hold-up in Shubenacadie.

Eventually Boutlier fully recovered in the hospital and revealed the entire story of the hold-up, including the police's prior knowledge of the crime. Apparently, the police wished to garner publicity about their successful deterrence of a violent bank robbery—it was the time of Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger, and bank robberies were big news. Their obvious intent was to kill Boutlier and conceal their prior knowledge of the robbery and the assistance they had given to it.

Boutlier was let free without being charged. S.A. Rafuse was sent to prison and served a sentence for criminal intent. All five of the policemen involved in the hold-up were demoted and/or transferred. W. P. Robertson was discharged from the bank in later years, along with Lawlor and McNeil, due to financial irregularities within the bank. For some years the bullet holes from the shoot out were still visible in the bank building and were a source of conversation and debate.

This building still stands, and was most recently known as “Shubie Pizza”. The bank vault is still there, surrounded by the same concrete walls that served as a pantry for the pizza shop.  Strange things would happen in this shop from time to time. For example, water puddled on the floor with no visible water source, fridges and cash registers would open on their own, brand new appliances would simply stop working, donair sauce would be seen moving from one end of the counter to the opposite end of the counter on its own.  Although nothing ‘bad’ happened to anyone, the strange phenomenon occurrences had employees scratching their heads and perhaps even looking over their shoulders from time to time during their working hours.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre coincidences in recent history was the fact the ‘to be’ owner of Shubie Pizza, Marcia Klingerman, was unaware of this tragic event that took place all those years ago in the very space she was to open her shop.  Marcia had just given birth to a healthy, baby boy a short time before opening her business. She named her son…Gerald!

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