The Pursuit of North Bay’s First Bank Robber (1932)

“By his pure boldness, simply walking out and attempting no escape in a vehicle, the very openness of it made it nearly successful”

Judge Valin, 1933 on North Bay’s first bank robber. (Porcupine Advance, January 12, 1933)

The Act

On Saturday, November 26, 1932, North Bay was shocked at the experience of its first bank robbery. The robbery, the getaway and capture is an action packed story that is every bit worthy of the silver screen.

Main St. North Bay in the Mid 1930’s.
Original Image Source: A Bit of the Bay
Annotations by Author

Shortly before noon, when the bank was scheduled to close, a man walked into North Bay’s Bank of Montreal on Main Street. The man introduced himself as L. Fraser to the teller, and expressed that he wished to open an account in the local branch. Upon being handed a deposit slip, the man claimed that he was unsure about his account number at his original branch, and that he would seek clarification and then return shortly.

“He got the keys of the teller’s cage by threatening the teller with a knife. He got the money out of the cage, keeping us covered at the same time. Then he forced us into the tellers cage. He then backed out of the bank, keeping us covered”

Bank of Montreal Manager D.J McGuire (Porcupine Advance: December 1, 1932)

About 15 minutes after the bank had closed for the day, the man returned to the bank. The Ledger Keeper, Claire McGowan, recognizing the man from earlier, admitted him into the bank as she left for lunch (Porcupine Advance, December 1, 1932). The man asked for the manager, and upon his greeting, brandished two revolvers and was guided to the tellers cage, where he stole his loot.

He locked the remaining staff in the tellers cage, threatening any resistance with his knife, about the size of a butcher’s knife, rather than utilizing his guns. The man casually strutted out of the bank with over $4,800, he walked down the street, behind the Pacific Hotel, and crossed the railway to head West in the direction of Sturgeon Falls.

“I just walked out the door and down the street. I was not in a hurry. I took my time. Then I went down behind the telegraph offices and over behind the old Pacific Hotel (now The Nugget Building). I crossed the tracks and walked on until I got out of the city into the bush.”

Accused on his escape route (Porcupine Advance: December 8, 1932)
Original Map Source: NorthBayHistory Fire Insurance Plan 1905
Annotations by Author
Original Map Source: NorthBayHistory Fire Insurance Plan 1905
Annotations by Author

If we trace the path of the man out of North Bay (see above) based on an interview when he was incarcerated, we see he travels North on Main St from the bank, until he reaches Klock Ave (the Algonquin we know today). To give a more modern day perspective, the Pacific Hotel which the man mentioned travelling behind, was located in the block which currently houses Mr Pancho’s.

While the Original building that housed the Pacific Hotel is long gone, the building that currently hosts Mr. Panchos sits adjacent to its position on the same block where the hotel stood.

One important part of this story to keep in mind is that $4,800 in 1932 has the value of about $86,000 in today’s dollars (Bank of Canada, 2020). So with that much money stolen, it’s no surprise that the apprehension of the suspect and the recovery of the money was priority #1 for North Bay and Provincial Police in the region.

The Hunt

As the suspect was walking down Main St. and making his escape, the wheels were already in motion for the mission to hunt him down. Police were notified of the robbery immediately. Officers worked the case quickly and diligently, making contact with local hotels and cafes, and cross referencing the witness descriptions of the perpetrator with those of their clientele. Before long, it became clear that the suspect in question was Sam Ayoub, a man well known in Northern municipalities, and with no known criminal record (Porcupine Advance, December 1, 1932).

Fortunately, the public, shocked by the news of the robbery were also on the side of the police, and as a result numerous crucial tips were submitted that lead to Sam Ayoub’s capture. Immediately after the act, M. Laframboise and Joseph Radier gave the police information about his identity (Porcupine Advance, January 19, 1933).

After exiting the town heading west, Ayoub found himself turned around in the bush. He was lost in the woods until about 6:30 PM, a full six hours after the robbery. He was spotted at around 5:40 PM by a North Bay Trucker carrying a load of lumber.

Ayoub’s silhouette being spotted in the headlights of a trucker helped lead to his capture.
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

While he was loading his truck around Yellek, about 8.5 km West of North Bay, the trucker spotted a figure moving at a quick pace, and when the figure crossed his headlights, his attire, a black jacket and light fedora, was illuminated. The driver, Austin Larivee, connecting the description with what he saw, reported the sighting to the authorities upon his arrival back in North Bay (December 1, 1932).

The figure was indeed the perpetrator of the robbery. Sam had struggled with the forested escape, and was in need of sustenance:

“I didn’t get out until about 6:30 or 7 o’clock. I was right at a Lumber camp so I went in and bought my supper”

Sam Ayoub on being lost in the woods during his escape (Porcupine Advance December 8, 1932)

While after walking for such a distance, Ayoub’s hunger can be understood, his growling stomach betrayed him, as word made its way to the authorities that a man fitting the robber’s description had purchased food from the Miller-Stockdale lumber camp near Yellek. Peter Elder Smith and his wife (yes, this story even has its own Mr. & Mrs. Smith), who ran the camp reported the man’s presence to police.

Stopping for a warm meal at a lumber camp may well have cost Ayoub his escape.
Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Police converged on the reported location, sending out a posse of seven officers, but by the time they arrived, Ayoub had continued on his way West. The police gathered information at the camp, and broke up.

The members of the team in pursuit of Ayoub included:

  • Deputy Chief Dennis (NBP)
  • Sgt. Michaud (NBP)
  • Constable Belanger (NBP)
  • Constable Pilgrim(NBP)
  • Constable Smaill (OPP)
  • Chief of Police Leclair (OPP)
  • Constable Campeau (OPP)

While Deputy Chief Dennis, Sgt. Michaud and Constable Smaill covered the Canadian National Railway, the rest of the team covered the highway.

The two men that would eventually locate Ayoub, Constables Pilgrim and Bellanger of North Bay Police, were dropped off about 5 km east of Sturgeon Falls, and were instructed to start walking east along the Canadian National Rail line. The Deputy Chief suspected that a pump house located along the rail around Meadowside, by Jocko Point, might serve as a refuge from the cold for their target.

After about five and a half or so kilometres of travel on foot, the duo encountered a man walking west on the tracks, about 4.8 km West of Meadowside. The man attempted to casually pass the officers, when he was confronted and grabbed by constable Belanger and questioned:

“Just a minute, what is your name?”

Constable Belanger to Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance December 8, 1932)

The paths of both involved parties in the shootout can be seen approximated in the map I’ve roughly put together below. Note that I’ve given Sam a straight path, although it is clear by the timing described in the primary sources that he was certainly lost for some time. It took Ayoub over 8 hours to arrive just past Meadowside, a distance that is walkable in around 5 hours according to GoogleMaps. Of course the conditions may account for much of the time difference, but you can assume the path shown below isn’t winding the way Sam Ayoub actually traveled, but does give you an idea of the distance of his escape on foot.

The Shootout

Ayoub wasn’t amibiguous in his response to the police. It was immediately clear they had located their target as Ayoub replied to the question of his identity by firing two shots at Constable Belanger, who’s forearm was grazed and was hit in his side.

Luckily for the officers, that’s when Ayoub’s gun jammed, providing an opportunity for Belanger to wrestle with his attacker. Unfortunately, the two were so entangled in their clinch that Constable Pilgrim was scared to fire at the perpetrator in fear of putting his partner’s life at further risk. The brief moment in which the clinch subsided, and the combatants parted, Pilgrim fired twice, the first grazing his side, with the second piercing Ayoubs hand, and landing in his hip bone. Pilgrim then fired at Ayoub’s head, entering through the back of his neck and coming to rest in his jaw (Porcupine Advance, December 1, 1932)

Constable Joseph Belanger North Bay Police
Source: WikiTree

While there is no doubt Ayoub’s injuries were critical, his persistence continued as he tried to flee the scene, until he was tackled by the injured Belanger. Pilgrim rushed to Meadowside and informed the team of the capture, and Constable Campeau picked up the suspect and the arresting officers in his car. He had on him $4,836 as well as three guns, one of which was stolen from the Bank during the robbery.

As he was transported to the station in North Bay, he did not complain of his severe injuries, and refused to provide any information, calling himself L. Fraser. Once he finally identified himself as Ayoub, he refused further cooperation, stating:

“You’ve got me and you’ve got the money. What more do you want?”

Sam Ayoub upon his capture (Porcupine Advance December 8, 1932)

The Aftermath

While initially Sam Ayoub was brought to the police station for questioning, it was recognized that his injuries were severe enough to be life threatening, and he was brought to North Bay Civic Hospital and was treated under police surveillance. By the Monday following the Saturday evening capture, confidence had grown that Ayoub would recover to face trial, despite false reports that he had succumbed to his wounds (Porcupine Advance: December 1, 1932) (Porcupine Advance: December 8, 1932). Ayoub, when sufficiently recovered, was transferred to the North Bay Jail, and was charged with armed robbery and wounding an officer on duty.



The North Bay Police and Ontario Police received a ton of credit for their quick and effective response to the crime, as well as for the teamwork between the two organizations. They certainly made use of their resources, and their understanding of the local geography to execute the capture.

Constable Belanger’s wounds were minor, and were treated quickly, with the officer returning to work mere weeks after the shootout. Belanger was proud of the takedown, stating:

“I’m shot, but I’ve got my man”

Constable Belanger (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)

While the public praised Constables Bellanger and Pilgrim as heroic in their actions, Sam Ayoub had a different take on the matter, threatening the arresting officers, as well as those who provided the police with tips.

Interestingly, I found those who made the tips to police actually had their names published in the newspaper. I found this to contrast starkly with modern life, where tips are usually given anonymously, and are rarely published with names even when not provided anonymously.

“I’ll get you if I ever get out”

Sam Ayoub to informants and his arresting officers (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)

The Trial

On December 22, almost a full month after the robbery, it was reported that while Ayoub had recovered and was able to walk and stand in his cell, he was not anywhere near the condition needed to stand trial (Porcupine Advance, December 22, 1932).

Finally, on January 9 of 1933, Sam would have his day in court. The trial was highly anticipated, and the North Bay Courthouse was filled to capacity to watch John McColeman defend a stoic, emotionless Sam Ayoub. Even Judge Valin, who would hear the case, was amused by the large turnout.

McColeman attempted to convince the court that Sam’s sanity was in question. When the Bank Manager testified that he didn’t seem insane, McColeman pointed out that the Manager really didn’t have the qualifications to make such an assessment. Crown Attorney McKee did not weigh in on the matter of sanity, deciding to make no comment. Ultimately, Judge Valin sided with the Crown, stating:

“The prisoner may be partly insane, but not enough that he is not responsible for his acts”

Judge Valin on the issue of Ayoub’s sanity (Porcupine Advance January 12, 1933)

Following this decision, Judge Valin laid out the sentence, which consisted of 15 years for the armed robbery, and 3 years for the wounding of an on-duty officer. Mercifully, the Judge prescribed no lashed to the wounded defendant, and allowed for his sentences to be served concurrently, meaning that Ayoub would really only face 15 years in the Portsmouth penitentiary. At the time of his sentencing, Sam was 26, and was assured that he would still have time and an opportunity for a new life following serving his time, but that further evaluations of his mental state would be necessary (Porcupine Advance, January 12, 1933).

The Man

Why did Sam Ayoub rob the bank that day in 1932?

Prior to the trial, Sam interviewed with a Sudbury reporter who was given some pretty wild responses to his inquiries. The responses give us clues as to his motive, despite his lackadaisical attitude towards his crimes.

Initially, when asked why he did it, Sam replied:

“It must have been the devil that prompted me. I don’t know why I did it”

Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)

Then he explained that he wanted to get money for a girl that he had brought from Kirkland Lake to be with him in Sudbury.

When asked if he had robbed the bank in response to financial problems, Sam stated unequivocally that:

“I wasn’t hard up, I was foolish”

Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)

When asked why he robbed the Bank of Montreal specifically, he said:

“I don’t know. No special reason. I just went in there and thought I’d hold it up”

Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)

It was revealed in the interview that Ayoub was well known around town, and that he was bound to be recognized when he considered his crime in hindsight:

“Everybody knows me, even the chickens in the backyards know me. That’s the trouble.”

Sam Ayoub (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932)

It was also revealed around the time of this interview that Ayoub had been questioned for a robbery of the Sylvester Store in Kirkland Lake, and had been sought for further questioning as he left town. It was also revealed that Ayoub was a frequent customer of bars and pool halls throughout Northern Ontario, used aliases including Secord, Fraser, and Essa, and that he hadn’t worked in a long time (Porcupine Advance, December 8, 1932).



Premeditation or Impulse

One major point of contention in the trial was whether or not the robbery was premeditated. Had Ayoub planned his actions, or was he acting on impulse?

Crown attorney McKee cited Ayoub’s decision to use the silent threat of his knife rather than firing a noisy gun during the act, as well as Ayoub’s initial visit to the branch as reasons that his crime was premeditated. On the other hand, the defence argued that it would be poor premeditation to plan an escape through treacherous terrain in a densely forested region without provisions (Porcupine Advance, January 12, 1933).

Whether you believe the crime was premeditated, or not, will ultimately provide the foundation for your judgement of who Sam Ayoub was. If he had acted impulsively, as his interview suggests, he was a foolish young man. Whereas if it was premeditated, as suggested by his first visit to the bank, he certainly thought he was smarter than he was, as evidenced by the challenges of his escape after crossing the city limits.

George Mitchell, the King’s Council, made a court statement on behalf of Ayoub’s parents(below) which suggested that he lived a relatively good and stable upbringing from a prominent shop owner in Kirkland Lake, and that they were concerned that drug use had set him on the wrong path.

“The boy is well born and has a splendid record. He has been a hard working boy and his parents are exemplary in their relations to the world and to the community. The accused, has resided in Kirkland Lake, and, as I am told, has been consuming some drugs.”

George Mitchell Court Statement on Behalf of Ayoub’s Parents (Porcupine Advance January 12, 1933)

So, who was Sam Ayoub?

Was he a good kid who had fallen into the trappings of drug abuse, and was looking to support the habit and lifestyle?

Was he a man in love, aiming to give his girl the extravagant life he believed she deserved?

Was he an impulsive man, unable to resist the riches in a bank’s vault, despite the risks?

Was he calculated, but ultimately shortsighted on what would have been necessary to be successful in his plan?

Was Sam a young man with serious mental health issues, which would have been untreated and unacknowledged at that period of medical and criminal history?

Or is it possible, as he himself suggested, that the Devil himself momentarily took hold of him and compelled acts of evil through his bodily existence?

Really, we can only guess. One thing is for sure: Sam Ayoub’s name that is synonymous with an incredibly compelling and infamous black spot on North Bay’s history.

RM


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Sources:

Author Unknown. (December 1, 1932). Kirkland Lake Man Shot After Bank Robbery at North Bay. Porcupine Advance. Timmins, ON.

Author Unknown. (December 8, 1932). Says Robber Bank to Get Money for Girl. Porcupine Advance. Timmins, ON.

Author Unknown. (December 22, 1932). Ayoub Not Yet Able to Appear for Trial. Porcupine Advance. Timmins, ON.

Author Unknown. (January 12, 1933). Fifteen Years for Kirkland Lake Man. Porcupine Advance. Timmins, ON.

Author Unknown. (January 19, 1933).Six Ask Reward for Help in Capturing Sam Ayoub. Porcupine Advance. Timmins, ON.

Author Unknown. (January 19, 1933).Six Ask Reward for Help in Capturing Sam Ayoub. Porcupine Advance. Timmins, ON.

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