Ken Leishman, known as the Gentleman Bandit or Flying Bandit, was one of Canada’s most infamous and endearing criminals. He committed and was convicted of crimes ranging from bank robberies to aerial jailbreaks to masterminding the largest gold heist in Canada’s history. He made many wrong choices in life that led into run-ins with law enforcement, but the one decision that he made that his son, Ron Leishman, is forever grateful, was his decision to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ron Leishman is a cartoonist who creates digital cartoon clipart, animation, greeting cards, logos, newspaper editorial cartoons, and book illustration. His drawings are featured around the world. He is also the co-creator (with Richard Comely) of Captain Canuck, the first self-published independent full-color comic book in Canada. Richard was the chief writer, and over the 40-year sporadic run of the comic book, served as editor, artist, letterer, and colorist. The two came up with the idea in the 1970s, and while Ron served his full-time mission to Brussels, Belgium, from 1975 to 1977, Richard turned the idea into reality.
Reflecting on His Childhood
In retrospect, Ron recognizes that it was his father’s imprisonment and other unexpected turn of events that allowed Heavenly Father’s light and influence to shape his life.
As a young boy, he remembers his father as a charismatic man, a hard worker, and an expert salesman. On one side of the proverbial coin, he recalls that people would joke that his father “could sell ice to an Eskimo.” But, on the flip side of that coin, he remembers the years his mother struggled to raise seven kids alone during his father’s imprisonments.
His father, Ken Leishman, had an unstable childhood. He grew up in and out of foster homes and abusive situations. He married at the age 18 and was arrested soon thereafter for stealing furniture for the couple’s new apartment, resulting in him spending part of his honeymoon in jail.
Ken worked hard to provide for his family. He learned to fly and became a flying farm machinery repairman and later a salesman. But during the tough times when money was tight, or he became unemployed because companies he worked for failed, he resorted to other methods of supporting his family.
In 1958, he flew 1500 km from his home in Winnipeg to Toronto to pull off a bank robbery that left authorities baffled. In March 1958, he was caught in the middle of a similar robbery. Ron was only seven years old at the time, and for the next three years, he and his mother and his siblings had to survive on their own while his father was in prison. Shortly after his father was released from prison, the family was visited by Mormon missionaries for the first time.
Ron recalls, “We fell in love with the missionaries—Elder Fox and Elder Roberts.” He also remembers, at 10 years old, playing tabletop hockey with the missionaries. Shortly after meeting with the missionaries. The family was baptized and became members of the Church, albeit their membership was sporadic at best.
Ron gave his first talk in Sunday School at age 10 and attended Church from time to time, but many times, his family would go for drives and do other activities together on Sunday instead of attending Church. It wasn’t until his father was arrested and imprisoned for masterminding the largest gold heist in Canada’s history that the Church took on a whole new meaning for him and his family.
The Biggest Gold Heist in Canadian History
Ken Leishman had experience flying out of Winnipeg airport. He also had knowledge of gold bullion from the mines in Red Lake, Ontario, that passed through the airport in Winnipeg before reaching the mint in Ottawa. In 1966, with the help of four accomplices, Air Canada employee disguises, waybills, and a stolen Air Canada truck, Ken stole 750 pounds of gold – in the middle of a snowstorm.
He was arrested on 11 March 1966 for parole violation in Vancouver and was later connected to the gold heist and charged with conspiracy and robbery. A few months later, he orchestrated a jailbreak that involved flying a stolen plane toward Cuba. He was later captured in Gary, Indiana.
The Church Ministers to the Family
During all his father’s criminal shenanigans, Ron, who was 14 and the oldest of his siblings, was faced with finding ways to help his mother and six siblings. That is when members of the Church came to the rescue and began ministering to the family. Ron told LDS Living, “There was a fellow in our branch, Gordon Mears, who together with the branch president found us a home. The [members] just embraced our family and made sure we got to Church on Sundays and gave us rides.”
Soon Ron began making friends at Church and his faith and testimony grew as he learned about the gospel and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. As his knowledge of the gospel increased, so did his desire to serve a full-time mission. However, he had to delay serving a mission until his father was released from prison to help his mother financially. It was during that time that he met a new convert, Richard Comely. The two soon began brainstorming how to bring to life a Canadian superhero whose name would soon become legend. Ron also met a young woman named Nancy who corresponded with him throughout his mission and later became his wife.
Gaining A Whole New Perspective on Life
In hindsight, Ron told LDS Living, “I don’t fault my dad for the choices he made in his life. He made bad choices, it affected us, but I’ve looked back over those kinds of things and I call them pivot points in my life. If dad had stayed around, our family would have never been active in the Church.”
He continues, I look back now on my earlier life and I realize at the time I had no idea why things were going the way they were and why these obstacles were being put in my path. I look back now at those pivot points and I just see how they all fit together to where I am now. . .. The Church is everything. It gave me purpose.” Ron recognizes the blessings that came into his life because of the hurdles and obstacles that he had to overcome: his wife, his family, and his membership in the Church.
Ron’s wife, Nancy, adds, “Every person that prepared a Sunday School lesson and a Primary lesson and a Young Men activity, they changed my husband’s life. I have this amazing husband and our sons have gone on missions and we’ve served in the Church all because this small branch [in Winnipeg] and these people served [his family].” Ron currently serves as a counselor in a YSA bishopric.
After Ron’s father was released from prison, many members of the Leishman family became inactive or fell away from the Church. Ron, however, remained true to the faith, served his mission, got sealed in the temple, and continues to live a life full of Church service. Ron also continues to build strong family bonds with his mother, siblings, and father, who turned his life around and became the president of the Chamber of Commerce in Red Lake—the same town where the gold he stole was mined. His father missed becoming mayor of the town by a few votes, but he did fly medivac flights to Thunder Bay where there was a larger hospital. In 1979, on one of the flights, his plane crashed, and he was killed.
Ron’s mother was in her 50s at the time of his father’s death. She moved in with one of his sisters who had remained active in the Church and began attending once again. At the age of 72, Ron’s mother went through the temple for the first time.
Whatever the reasons for Ken Leishman deciding to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Ron is eternally grateful that at the age of 10 his parents listened to the missionaries. And because they listened, his life, and the lives of many others have been changed for the better.