The Belsize Briefcase Bandit: A Bank of Toronto Robbery

Linger and Learn Mount Pleasant Village
Belsize Robbery

On Wednesday, February 28th, 1940, taxicab driver William Moffatt picked up a fare at Yonge and St. Clair. The passenger, a young man who Mr. Moffatt assumed was a businessman, was pretty talkative. The two discussed the weather and business as Mr. Moffatt made two stops for his passenger, before heading up to a third stop: a Bank of Toronto located at Belsize and Mount Pleasant Road. The man calmly exited the car with his briefcase and made his way into the imposing brick bank. When the man walked back to the car, he hopped in the front seat and pressed a gun to Mr. Moffatt’s ribs. “Don’t lose any time”, he ordered, “get out of here fast.”
Mr. Moffatt was no longer a taxicab driver- he was now an unwitting accomplice to a bank robbery.

On Wednesday, February 28th, 1940, taxicab driver William Moffatt picked up a fare at Yonge and St. Clair. The passenger, a young man who Mr. Moffatt assumed was a businessman, was pretty talkative. The two discussed the weather and business as Mr. Moffatt made two stops for his passenger, before heading up to a third stop: a Bank of Toronto located at Belsize and Mount Pleasant Road. The man calmly exited the car with his briefcase and made his way into the imposing brick bank. When the man walked back to the car, he hopped in the front seat and pressed a gun to Mr. Moffatt’s ribs. “Don’t lose any time”, he ordered, “get out of here fast.”
Mr. Moffatt was no longer a taxicab driver- he was now an unwitting accomplice to a bank robbery.

W.R Collier was the teller on duty when the young man, who stood out in his shaded sunglasses and fedora, approached the front desk. He stuck his hand in his pocket as if grabbing a gun and declared, “This is a hold-up”. The simple phrase worked: Collier gave him $300 (over $6000 today!). As the bandit turned to leave, Collier fired two shots from a gun beneath the desk, narrowly missing the man. His colleagues were enjoying their lunch in the back of the bank but were quickly alerted by the sounds of gunshots. They ran out to the front, grabbed their guns, jumped over the desk, and chased after the bandit.

Mr. Moffatt, with the gun still pressed to his ribs, followed the order of his passenger and sped East on Belsize to Yonge street. The pair flew down Yonge, nearly hitting several people trying to get onto a streetcar. Little did they know that the tellers had hopped into taxis as well and were firing shots at Moffatt and his criminal passenger. To Moffatt’s relief, the robber ordered to be let out at Yonge and Charles, where he gave Mr. Moffatt $5 for his troubles before calmly walking away (a nice tip equivalent to $100 in 2023). Shaken, Mr. Moffatt hailed down police officers to point them to the direction the man had fled in. He had confidently and coolly walked towards The Uptown Theatre.

Police suspected that the bandit was using the nearby Uptown Theatre as a hideout. Maybe he had stashed a change of clothes in the theatre, or he could be meeting an accomplice there who could help him blend in with the crowd. During the middle of a movie, officers turned up the house lights and turned them on the audience as they searched seat by seat for anyone matching the man’s description: around 25 years old sporting dark sunglasses, a coat, a fedora, and carrying a briefcase. The man didn’t turn up, but his clothes and accessories did. The man had abandoned his costume in a washroom at the theatre, along with the toy gun he had convincingly used on both his taxi driver and employees at the bank. The Briefcase Bandit, as the still unknown robber became known as, was able to escape the theatre without a trace.

The Bank of Toronto that saw what the Toronto Star described as “one of the most spectacular episodes in Toronto Police records” is now The Belsize Public House. Thankfully, The Belsize is better known for its craft ale and good eats than for dramatic robberies. Unlike the employees at the bank, you are able to enjoy your lunch in peace without needing to chase after any costumed criminals.

Belsize Briefcase Bandit_newspaper2
Aftermath of the robbery at the Belsize Bank Branch, 535 Mt Pleasant courtesy of Toronto Public Library (public domain)
Belsize Briefcase Bandit_newspaper2
Aftermath of the robbery at the Belsize Bank Branch, 535 Mt Pleasant courtesy of Toronto Public Library (public domain)

Now that you got here, don’t forget to check out The Belsize Public House. Come on in and check them on their social media channels.

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We have 8 different stories at 8 different locations! Check out our map to find other places for you to rest and learn more about our neighbourhood!

Thank you to our Sponsors 

This initiative has been funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), and the City of Toronto’s Main Street Innovation Fund.

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