All Research

Bandit: History vs. Hollywood


Josh Duhamel
Born: November 14, 1972
Minot, North Dakota, USA

Gilbert Galvan Jr.
Born: July 1957
Birthplace: USA
Bio: Bank Robber who Became Known as the Flying Bandit

Mel Gibson
Born: January 3, 1956
Peekskill, New York, USA

Tommy Craig (aka the Fat Man)
Birthplace: Canada
Bio: Fenced Stolen Jewelry for Gilbert Galvan
Renamed Tommy Kay in the Movie

Elisha Cuthbert
Born: November 30, 1982
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Janice Whiteman
Birthplace: Canada
Bio: Gilbert Galvan's Wife
Renamed Andrea in the Movie

Nestor Carbonell
Born: December 1, 1967
New York City, New York, USA

George Snyder
Birthplace: Canada
Bio: Ottawa Provincial Police Officer who Investigated the Robberies

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

How many banks did Gilbert Galvan rob?

The Bandit true story reveals that the real Gilbert Galvan robbed almost 50 banks over a period of three years, a Canadian record. At his height, he committed 21 robberies in a single year. "I didn't plan to do 21 robberies in a year. It just worked out that way," Galvan told CBC News. He committed robberies in every Canadian province except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

The real Gilbert Galvan (left) flew all over Canada committing a total of 59 robberies. Josh Duhamel (right) portrays him in the movie.

Did Gilbert Galvan escape from jail?

Yes. Los Angeles native Gilbert Galvan escaped from a Michigan prison in 1984 and a friend smuggled him across the border into Canada. -Chicago Tribune

Is it true that Gilbert Galvan's wife didn't know he was a bank robber?

Yes. A Bandit fact-check confirms that after escaping from jail and making it across the border to Canada, Galvan eventually met a Canadian woman named Janice (renamed Andrea Hudson and portrayed by Elisha Cuthbert in the movie). He told her nothing about his past, nor did he tell her his real name. They got married and settled in Pembroke, Ontario, which is roughly an hour and a half northwest of Ottawa. They lived in a modest home and had two children.

Janice believed her husband worked for a Calgary-based company as a courier of stocks and bonds. She would often drive him to the Pembroke Airport and bid him farewell as he embarked on one of his frequent "business trips." -CBC News

Top: Pictured is the house that Gilbert Galvan lived in with his wife in Pembroke, Ontario.  Bottom: The house that Gilbert Galvan (Josh Duhamel) and his wife (Elisha Cuthbert) call home in the movie.

Did Gilbert Galvan use an alias?

Yes. In Canada, he went by the name Robert Whiteman. His wife, Janice Whiteman, knew him by his alias, not his real name. An American citizen, Galvan had a long criminal record in the United States under his actual name, Gilbert William Galvan Jr. His offenses, which began when he was just 17, included armed robbery, attempted robbery, disorderly conduct, and obstructing a peace officer.

Why was Gilbert Galvan called the 'Flying Bandit'?

In researching how accurate is Bandit, we learned that Gilbert Galvan committed his robberies by flying into a city, robbing one or more banks, and then flying home. He would tell his wife he had to go on a "business trip." "He would travel first class all the time," said Officer George Snyder, who is portrayed by Nestor Carbonell in the Bandit movie. Eventually, Galvan built up 160,000 frequent flyer miles with Air Canada's Aeroplan program. The movie's title Bandit comes from a shortened version of his nickname 'The Flying Bandit', which was given to him by journalist Ed Arnold, who broke the story and co-authored the 1996 true crime novel The Flying Bandit with Robert Knuckle. The novel provided much of the basis for the film. -CBC News

Is the police officer who chases after Gilbert Galvan in the movie based on a real person?

Yes. As indicated by the photos at the top of the page, Nestor Carbonell's character in the movie, John Snydes, is based on George Snyder, an undercover officer with the Ontario Provincial Police. "As bank robbers, he's the best that I've ever seen," Snyder said of Galvan. -CBC News

Did Gilbert Galvan take his guns with him on the planes?

Yes. The Bandit true story confirms that he hid his two handguns in his luggage. He knew that his checked luggage would not be x-rayed on domestic flights, therefore his weapons would not be discovered. He carried his disguises in his suit bag.

Gilbert Galvan was captured on surveillance footage robbing a bank in Regina, Saskatchewan on April 2, 1987.

Did the real Gilbert Galvan dress in nice suits?

Yes. "He would be impeccably dressed in the best suits," said Officer George Snyder. "As he approached a bank, that's what you would see, a businessman carrying an attaché case, impeccably dressed." Like in the Bandit movie, the true story corroborates that he would often wear work clothes and other disguises over his suit. After committing the robbery, he would tear off the work clothes and his facial disguise. It's true that he would sometimes walk back toward the bank in his suit and ask the police what was going on while carrying a briefcase full of stolen cash. -CBC News

Pictured on the left is a real-life sketch of Gilbert Galvan in disguise, and on the right is Josh Duhamel as the criminal in disguise in the movie.

Is Mel Gibson's character, Tommy, based on a real person?

Yes. Mel Gibson's character is based on Tommy Craig, aka the Fat Man, a well-known fence in the Ottawa area. Tommy and some of his close friends drove Chrysler Fifth Avenues, earning them the nickname The Chrysler Gang. Tommy was a buyer and seller of jewelry and it wasn't uncommon for him to be wearing more than a hundred thousand dollars worth of rings, watches, bracelets, and other items. "If you're gonna sell it, you gotta flash it," the real Tommy told CBC News.

How did Gilbert Galvan and Tommy Craig meet?

In real life, Gilbert Galvan (portrayed by Josh Duhamel in the movie) heard about the notorious fence Tommy Craig (played by Mel Gibson) and wanted to meet him. They eventually became very close friends and would fly all across Canada together. Craig never admitted that they were partners in crime. When asked that very question by CBC News, he responded with a smirk, "Oh, no, no, no, no. No, no, you can't say that."

Top: Tommy Craig and Gilbert Galvan pose together for a photo in the 1980s.  Bottom: Actors Mel Gibson and Josh Duhamel portray Tommy and Gilbert in the Bandit movie.

Was Gilbert Galvan liked by everyone?

According to his friend Tommy Craig, aka the Fat Man, Galvan, then known by his alias Robert Whiteman, was well liked. "He was just an out-and-out great guy. Everybody loved the man," said Craig. -CBC News

Did Gilbert Galvan's wife almost discover his secret?

Yes. On one occasion, she told him she needed five dollars to pay for a taxi. He told her to get it out of his pants pocket. When she reached in and pulled out his money clip, she saw 18 one thousand dollar bills. "She just about had a heart attack," recalled Galvan. He lied to her and told her that it was from two paychecks and a bonus. She told him, "You gotta put it in the bank," which he then did. -CBC News

The movie veers into fiction by having Galvan (Josh Duhamel) admit to Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert) that he is a bank robber. Instead of being overly upset, she is intrigued and asks him to take her on a heist. She goes with him and watches from the car as he robs a bank. None of this actually happened in real life.

Did Gilbert Galvan rob jewelry stores in addition to banks?

Yes. In answering the question, "Is Bandit accurate?" we learned that after finding success robbing banks, Gilbert Galvan started to rob jewelry stores too. With a partner standing guard, Galvan (aka the Flying Bandit) would clean out the cases with the most valuable jewelry. Like in the movie, Tommy Craig (portrayed by Mel Gibson) would help him fence the stolen jewelry. Galvan robbed half a dozen Birks jewelry stores. His biggest payday came in Vancouver, stealing $1.2 million in jewelry from a Birks store. It was the biggest armed robbery the city had ever seen.

Gilbert Galvan is caught on surveillance footage robbing a jewelry store in February 1987.

Did Gilbert Galvan ever fire his gun during a robbery?

No. A Bandit fact-check verifies that despite robbing 59 banks and jewelry stores, Gilbert Galvan never fired his gun. "My only motivation for a life of crime is money," said Galvan. "I mean, I was fully cognizant of what I was doing. I understand the concept of right and wrong. I did it for money, period." -CBC News

How was Gilbert Galvan caught?

The Flying Bandit was caught because of a mistake made by his partner. After a jewelry heist, his partner left behind the disguises and a sawed-off shotgun. The latter was traced back to the Fat Man (played by Mel Gibson in the film), a well-known fence in Ottawa. The police, including Officer George Snyder, began looking into all of the Fat Man's associates at the time, and there was no mistaking his relationship with Gilbert Galvan, who was using the alias Robert Whiteman. Though he seemed an unlikely suspect, the police put Whiteman under surveillance in his hometown of Pembroke.

When the police began looking into the pattern of Robert Whiteman's business trips, they discovered it was a perfect match with the jewelry store robberies. On June 12, 1987, Whiteman boarded a plane and flew to London, Ontario where he robbed a bank for $22,000. He chartered a plane back home to Pembroke where his pregnant wife and child were waiting for him at the airport, but so were the police. "As he walked through the airport, two members of our tactical squad passed by him, one on either side, and grabbed him and put him down on the ground," said Officer Snyder. On his person was a briefcase filled with $22,000, two guns, a wig, false skin, and a removable mustache. -CBC News

After his 59th heist, Gilbert Galvan was arrested at Pembroke Airport with a briefcase filled with $22,000.

How did Gilbert Galvan's wife react to learning he was a bank robber?

In real life, Galvan's wife didn't learn he was a bank robber until after his arrest. "She was stunned," recalled Galvan. "She thought it might have been a practical joke or something at first. This is a mistake. That's my husband. You obviously don't mean to arrest him."

After Gilbert Galvan's arrest, his wife confronted him with regard to his lies. "She comes in and she sits down, and she looks at me and she goes, 'Your name's not Robert Whiteman. You're not even Canadian,' and I said, 'Well, yeah, yeah, that's true.'" Galvan didn't admit to having remorse but said "there's a lot of feelings" and that he loved Janice. He said that he "provided." "To me, that was my definition of a good husband," said Galvan. -CBC News

In researching the Bandit true story, we learned that his wife divorced him several years after his arrest but still visited occasionally with their children (pictured below).

This is one of the photos of his two children that Gilbert Galvan hung on the wall of his prison cell. Photo: CBC News

Did Gilbert Galvan refuse to rat on Tommy Craig (aka the Fat Man)?

Yes. The authorities offered Gilbert Galvan deals in exchange for testifying against his partners, including Tommy Craig (Mel Gibson's character in the movie). If he agreed to testify, it would mean a lot less prison time. Galvan, aka the Flying Bandit, turned down the offers, refusing to implicate his associates.

"All he would have had to say was yes, and I should be sittin' inside with him," said Tommy Craig. "'Cause they would have took his word and the police would have charged me with fencing the jewelry. Nine out of ten guys facing twenty years would have signed in a minute, 'cause we know he would have got eight years. All he had to do was sign his name. ... He'd be out today. What do I call a man [who doesn't implicate his partners]? A friend." -CBC News

What was Gilbert Galvan's punishment?

Galvan pled guilty to a total of 59 armed robberies that yielded him $2.5 million. He was given a 20-year prison sentence. He began serving his prison time at the Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario. -CBC News

After confessing to 59 robberies, Gilbert Galvan was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Where is Gilbert Galvan now?

Galvan was transferred to a U.S. prison in 1994 to serve the remainder of his sentence for crimes he had previously committed in Wisconsin. After being released early in 1998, he eventually decided to start robbing banks again. He was caught in 2001 after robbing the same Illinois bank twice. Galvan pled guilty to both bank robberies and was given 15 years. He served nearly 14 and was released in December 2014.

In May of the following year, he walked into an Illinois supermarket and tried to walk out with a shopping cart full of almost $1,000 worth of booze. He was stopped by an employee and fled. Two days later, he tried to steal alcohol and other items from the same store and was arrested by police in the parking lot. He was put back in jail on four felony counts of retail theft, a disheveled and aging shadow of the notorious criminal he used to be. -Chicago Tribune

This mugshot of Gilbert Galvan was taken later in his life.

Does Gilbert Galvan approve of the Bandit movie?

Yes. Currently a free man, the real Gilbert Galvan met the actors and spoke with Josh Duhamel prior to filming. He visited the set during the making of the movie and even has a cameo in the film (it was shot in Georgia, which stands in for Ontario). He can be seen in the background during the bar scenes. According to screenwriter Kraig Wenman, Galvan "is excited to show people the insane story that he lived, and enjoys the notoriety." -Victoria News

Gilbert Galvan Jr. (center) on the set of the movie with actors Olivia d'Abo (left) and Nestor Carbonell (right). Photo: Instagram @banditthemovie