Wake for notorious Stopwatch Gang leader brings out working class Ottawa

By Bruce Cheadle

OTTAWA (CP) - The life and times of one of Canada's most celebrated rogues were recalled in a boozy hall Thursday as unofficial Ottawa - little known to most Canadians - gathered to say farewell to one of its own.

Patrick Michael (Paddy) Mitchell, the locally born leader of the Stopwatch Gang that rattled bank managers across North America in the 1970s and '80s and rose to the top of the FBI's most wanted list, was given his due after succumbing to cancer last week in a U.S. prison at age 64.

"You won't see a crowd like this in Ottawa again," boasted one gap-toothed septuagenarian, surveying the 200 or so gathered in the St. Anthony Soccer Club by mid-afternoon.

Fur coats and pony tails, three-piece suits and ball caps, babies and bikers with tattoos and leather vests: It was an eclectic mix celebrating the man known for his courteous good humour, gift for subterfuge and cool aplomb in relieving dozen of banks of more than $10 million while timing his robberies with a stopwatch to keep them swift.

"This is working-class Ottawa," said Jimmy Allen, a retired fire captain and lifelong friend of Mitchell.

A hand-printed sign, tacked over a montage of old photos and newspaper clippings of the once intrepid bank robber, said: "Just a small town boy. Paddy Mitchell."

One photo showed a young Mitchell riding a pony. Another pictured him, shirtless and rock-ribbed, mugging with his two Stopwatch Gang members.

"They called him the Gentleman Bandit and there's not a one that could say anything bad about him," said Sara Getson, 76, who first met Mitchell in 1964 when she was a 34-year-old Ottawa waitress and he was a young man about the neighbourhood.

"There was no monkey business," added Getson, sitting beside her walker and in front of a bottle of Molson Export. "Whenever he dropped me off in his car, every time, he said 'God bless'."

Getson recounted the time Mitchell hurled a beer bottle through a mirror over a bar in Hull, Que. - something to do with a girlfriend - and borrowed $120 from Getson to pay for the damage.

He paid her back within a week, and also threatened to take a baseball bat to another fellow who also owed her money.

"He was a true gentleman," said Getson, who corresponded with Mitchell during his stints in Leavenworth Prison in Kentucky and later in Lewisburg, Pa.

He died Jan. 14 in a prison hospital in Butler, N.C., while serving a 30-year sentence for armed robbery.

Mitchell, who escaped from custody more than once, had a book written about his gang's exploits by Toronto Sun columnist Greg Weston, called The Stopwatch Gang. There was also an autobiographical novel penned by fellow gang member Stephen Reid.

Mitchell was writing a weekly weblog (www.paddymitchell.wordpress.com (external - login to view)) when he died.

His brother, Pinky Mitchell, his son Kevin and grandkids were among those in Thursday's throng.

Allen, a burly ex-firefighter in blue suit and tie, recalled going door-to-door with Mitchell in their gritty, immigrant neighbourhood selling ice and stolen beers to elderly women.
The two Irish boys - one Catholic, one Protestant - went their separate ways only after Allen's father read him the riot act.
"He went one way, I went the other," said Allen.
The firefighter said he bumped into Mitchell in a Montreal hotel once in 1982, and immediately recognized the fugitive from U.S. justice by his eyes and his gait.
"Are you going to turn me in?" a surprised Mitchell asked him.
"I won't rat you out," Allen said he replied, "but they're going to catch you sooner or later.
"They did," Allen added, "but it was 11 years later."
Mitchell was arrested for the final time in 1994 following a bank robbery in Mississippi.
Diagnosed last year with terminal lung and brain cancer, his last wish was to be moved to Kingston Penitentiary to be closer to his family. It didn't happen.
The outpouring of goodwill at his wake spoke not just to Mitchell's charm and notoriety, but also to his reputation for robbing banks without physically harming anyone.
Allen recalled a Mitchell tale about a robbery in which an aging employee who reminded Mitchell of his mother was visibly terrified. Mitchell quietly showed her that his gun had no bullets, and she responded by pointing out the money bags with the big bills.
Mitchell walked out with more than $180,000.
"That's wrong," said the blunt-spoken ex-fire captain.
"But (convicted sex killer) Karla Homolka's on the street."

Copyright 2007 Canadian Press
heard many stories of these guys ,Ottawa /hull being there playground ,lots of folks at the wake and at diffrent paries throughout the city --my ,how mature they all became ,

diffrent time ,trust and honour was synoums with these people ,It wasnt me, me, me

Similar Threads

Working Class Conditions
by darkbeaver | Nov 22nd, 2008
no new posts