INDIANAPOLIS — On Sept. 20, Gilbert Galvan will board a plane at Indianapolis International Airport to fly to Los Angeles for the Hollywood premiere of a movie based on his career as a prolific robber of Canadian banks and jewelry stores in the 1980s.
Because he often flew from one end of The Great White North to the other, pulled a job and returned home by the end of the day, Galvan was dubbed, “The Flying Bandit.”
“I never ever planned on doing 59 robberies in Canada, but, they were just so easy and it became my job,” he said. “I’m not bragging when I say this, but, nobody has even come close to the number of robberies that I committed.”
Galvan said he never thought his exploits would make for a good movie either.
“It never crossed my mind.”
But luckily it crossed the minds of an author and a Hollywood scriptwriter and the movie, titled “Bandit” and starring Josh Duhamel and Mel Gibson, will trace Galvan’s five-year-long career.
“I think they’re gonna wanna see this movie because Mel Gibson’s in the movie. They’re not gonna wanna see it because of me,” said Galvan, a man made modest by the 25 years he spent in prison for various scams and stick-ups. “It’s not even believable. It’s like, I mean, how do you even make that up? I mean, we’re talking Mel Gibson.
“We talk like we were next-door neighbors.”
Though Galvan was armed during his robberies, he said no one was physically assaulted though he imagines the psychic scars of his victims may have taken a long time to heal.
“Armed robbery is a violent offense,” Galvan admitted. “There’s no getting around it. I think about it all the time.
“This is 30 years old. I’m really glad that it’s finally coming to a head so I can move on. It’s pretty much consumed my life.”
The life Galvan and his wife lived during his criminal heyday included regular trips to the Bahamas and Europe from their home in Canada.
“It was fun,” he said. “It was cowboys and Indians, man.”
Galvan said he often wore a disguise that he immediately discarded only to often come back to the scene of the crime as an interested onlooker or sometimes a bank customer.
“I didn’t run. It wasn’t because I had a lot of guts,” he said. “It was because I figured out it was safer to stay there than it was to run.
“There was four or five banks that I robbed and I went back into the banks to deposit the money into the money machines to pay off my credit cards and stuff while they’re in there investigating the robbery.”
Galvan said his life of crime wasn’t a total mystery to those around him, including friends on the Ottawa Police force, members of the local business community or his wife, who surprised him when he explained how all the lavish foreign trips were paid for.
“She’s going, ‘Well, what are you doing?’ and I said, ‘I’m robbing banks’,” he said. “And she looks at me and she goes ‘It turns me on.’ She says, ‘Well, I want to watch you do it’.”
Galvan said it was a shotgun left behind by a partner at a $1.2 million jewelry heist in Vancouver that led police to his front door. He confessed, as long as investigators would leave his wife and children out of it.
Now, Galvan counts the detective who cracked the case as one of his best friends and said, with some pride, that neither Bonnie and Clyde nor John Dillinger of Mooresville, Indiana, ever robbed more banks in the 1930s than he did 50 years later, though he said he understands the public’s fascination with outlaws.
“They see a rebel,” he said. “They’re like, ‘How the hell did he just do that?’
“People don’t want to believe it and people don’t want to say it, but, there’s a criminal class in the United States. That is their lifestyle. It’s crime,” said Galvan. “People don’t want to know it, that there is a whole class of criminal, that’s their life.”
Galvan said he doesn’t have any of the money he stole and one man actually went to prison, but was later exonerated, for a robbery he did.
“I was always scared shitless. I wasn’t superman,” he said. “I was terrified, but I knew that if I was terrified and I did this, I would probably be okay.”
Galvan said when he walked out of the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute and relocated to Indianapolis seven years ago, he put his criminal ways behind him, though he admits, knowing how it all worked out, he would do it again.
“Oh, yeah. In a New York minute. As long as I knew that at the end of it, this is where I would be, talking to you,” Galvan said as we sat at a picnic table next to a dumpster in a parking lot outside his near northside apartment building.
“That being said, I’m proud to be an American,” said Canada’s most legendary bank robber.