Sun, Apr 09, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The robber in the sanitary mask

Lee Shih-ke shocked the country by committing the first known gunpoint bank heist in 1982, but despite killing someone in the process he is still worshipped in a shrine as a ‘righteous bandit’

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Front page of the Min Sheng Daily reporting Lee Shih-ke’s arrest.

Photo: Han cheung, Taipei Times

April 10 to April 16

A golden statue of Lee Shih-ke (李師科), looking harmless with his hands on his hips, stands watch as a “door god” under a corrugated metal roof outside a small shrine in the mountains of New Taipei City’s Sindian District (新店).

Taiwan is full of figures whose reputations have drastically reversed over time — but it is still quite incredulous that the country’s first gunpoint bank robber, who also admitted to murder, is still worshipped as a “righteous bandit” to this day.


On April 14, 1982, the 55-year-old military veteran entered the state-owned Land Bank of Taiwan’s Guting branch in Taipei and brandished the .38 revolver he had obtained two years earlier by murdering a special police officer. Lee was wearing a wig, baseball cap and a sanitary mask.

He reportedly yelled, “This money belongs to the country, but your life belongs to you,” and demanded NT$10 million (about US$326,000 at the current exchange rate). He ended up shooting and injuring the assistant branch manager, who did not heed his warnings to back off, and made off with about NT$5.3 million.

The heist was plastered all over the front pages of the newspapers, as it was something unheard of in those times. It was partially recorded by security cameras and shown on television.

“If the television news did not state that this happened in Taipei, we could have mistaken it for a commercial for an American Western film,” the United Daily News printed. “We would never imagine that this was a real person with a real gun ...”

Before Lee was caught less than a month later, the police first apprehended Wang Ying-hsien (王迎先). They forced a confession out of him, but Wang allegedly committed suicide by jumping into a river while feigning to lead the police to the weapon and cash.

A few hours after Wang’s death, Lee was caught. He confessed to the crime right away as well as admitting to killing the police officer two years earlier. He explained in detail his motives and how he pulled the heist off to reporters, stating that he had visited the bank several times and had already planned out his escape route. He stored NT$4 million at a friend’s house, while keeping the rest in his apartment.

Lee told United Daily News reporters that he robbed the bank because he was unhappy with the way society was developing. He detested the “noveau riche” and financial criminals and wanted to make a statement.

However, when pressed further about why he needed so much money, he replied, “To provide for myself in old age. It costs money to womanize, it costs money to gamble, it costs money to buy things!”

While he initially claimed that he only spent NT$50,000 of his loot, later reports state that he spent about NT$140,000. Lee admitted that he spent most of it on women as well as purchasing a gold bracelet and a watch.

The reporters further questioned why Lee, who was a taxi driver with no family in Taiwan, had no savings. He replied that he spent all his money on “women and dice.”

Not a very sympathetic figure so far — but this next statement, in addition to his anger towards the unequal distribution of wealth — is probably why some saw him as a sort of modern-day Robin Hood. The reporters then asked Lee why he stored the bulk of the money at his friend’s house.

He replied, “He has a daughter in elementary school. I figured that I would be caught anyway, so I decided to leave the money with him so the daughter can go to college.”

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