Allan Heyl

Allan Heyl

Allan Heyl was a member of the Stander Gang in the late 1970s in South Africa. Heyl originally met Stander and another inmate, Lee McCall, while they were in Zonderwater maximum-security prison together.

First escape

After escaping with Lee McCall and three other inmates on August 11, 1983, Stander and McCall returned to break Heyl out of captivity. On October 31st, 1983, Heyl was taking a trade test at the Olifantsfontein Trade Test Centre. The three had befriended each other while serving time together in Zonderwater and legend is that Heyl and Stander had made a friendly bet as to who would escape first and return to spring the other. Stander won the contest.

The Stander Gang

After escaping from prison, Heyl joined Stander and McCall on a prolific bank-robbing crime spree, robbing dozens of banks in a very short period of time. The gang was called the Stander Gang since the media viewed Stander, the ex-Captain of Detectives in Johannesburg, as the "brains" behind the gang's activities. He was also the focus of a lot of media coverage because of his police background. Accordingly, he became the focus of the news media, with Heyl and McCall playing supporting roles in the media telling, although in reality all three were actively involved in planning and executing the gang's capers.

In January, 1984, the South African police caught a break when they arrested some call girls who admitted to having been hired by the gang. They even knew the location of the gang's main safehouse, haven been taken there to perform their services. They exchanged the information with the police for consideration in their own cases, and early in the morning of January 30th, 1984 police tactical units approached and surrounded the house. Only Lee McCall was there at the time as Stander was in the United States and Heyl was out for the night at an unknown location, presumably at one of the other safehouses or somewhere else. When the police announced their presence, McCall refused to surrender and fired on the police first. A gun battle ensued during which McCall was killed (presumably a form of suicide since he must have know that he couldn't hope to match the police's firepower and manpower advantage).

Stander, having been in the States when he heard the news, was essentially trapped overseas, in an unfamiliar land. He too was killed by police on February 10th, only 11 days after McCall's death.

Escape from South Africa

That left Heyl as the only surviving member of the gang. By sheer luck he hadn't been at the primary safehouse when it was raided, but he knew that only a matter of time was keeping the police from finding the gang's other two hideouts. The gang had a second identities prepared, including proper identification and paperwork, for each of them as part of their long-term escape plan. Heyl's new identity was Philip John Ball. As Ball, Heyl fled the country by commercial airline, going first to the Greek island of Hydra. From Hydra, he flew to United Kingdom. In Britain he committed one more robbery. He robbed a company's payroll, which he estimated would net him about 300,000 Rand (nominal value, 1984). In actuality, he got only 4,000. Being now a fugitive in the UK, Heyl created a stash of most of the valuables he had left (mostly cash and jewelry) and traveled to Spain.

Post-Stander Gang

Although he was temporarily safe from capture, he was in difficult situation being in a foreign land with very limited resources. Unfortunately for Heyl, much of the gang's stash of money was at the primary safehouse, which was now in police hands. There wasn't much at the other two houses, and Heyl couldn't go there anyway for fear of a police ambush. Even if he had been at one of the secondary houses on the night of McCall's death, he would have only been able to get a small fraction of the gang's loot. Also, the gang had spent much that it had amassed in purchasing an expensive blue water sailing yacht that they were going to use to escape South Africa. Stander had been in Ft. Lauderdale at the time of the McCall shootout because he was trying to resell the yacht after the gang had sailed it there from South Africa. As a result, Heyl had flown out of South Africa with a relatively small amount of the stolen money.

Capture and arrest

Being in this bind, Heyl took a risk. He began to try to associate with a criminal element and came across a man named Billy Williams. Unbeknownst to Heyl, Williams was a confidence man. Heyl unwisely hatched a plan with Williams, who was not running from the law at the moment, to recover Heyl's stash of valuables and bring them back to him, for which Heyl would compensate him. Unfortunately for Heyl, Williams double-crossed him. Heyl was able to go to Britain, but had to be very careful covert in his movements. Despite this, he did make the trip and even had a girlfriend. Williams' double-crossing of Heyl consisted of locating the stash, taking as much as he could find for himself, and then turning Heyl in to Scotland Yard for either a reward or to create goodwill for future use. He revealed to the detectives Heyl's new identity. Heyl was arrested in Surrey, England, while visiting his girlfriend at her mother's house.

Trials, extraditions, and sentences

Heyl was tried at Winchester Crown Court in the UK during May, 1985. He was found guilty of armed robbery and a firearms possession charge as well, for which he was sentenced to 9 years incarceration. Now that South African authorities knew his whereabouts and he was in custody, they began extradition proceedings; however, the proceedings were complicated by the lack of a formal extradition agreement between the United Kingdom and South Africa. The British kept Heyl in their jurisdiction and in their penal system until he served his sentence under British law, at which point he was turned over to the South African authorities.

Once in South Africa, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 33 years in prison on multiple armed robbery charges.

Release and post-prison activities

Allan Heyl was released from Krugersdorp Prison on May 18th, 2005. Including his time in Zonderwater before being broken out by Stander, and his time in prison in the UK, Heyl spent more than 27 years in captivity - more than half of his life at the time. On his release he said that studying philosophy, Greek and art had occupied most of his time, with the rest spent planning his post-release life.

Being the only surviving member of a gang that has taken on somewhat mythical proportions, even if the stories and reasons behind their popularity are somewhat apocryphal, Allen Heyl is a sought after individual for interviews about his time with the gang. His popularity has also facilitated a career as a motivational speaker in South Africa and internationally. His speeches are aimed at a wide variety of audiences, but they always offer advice for young people who are starting down the criminal path early in life. They also focus on his life of crime and how spending half of his life in prison affected him, how he overcame the challenge of never feeling like he "fit in" with the rest of society, and how his journey has ultimately led him to finally have a feeling of belonging and knowing how to function within mainstream society.

In the media

  • Allen Heyl is a major supporting character in the 2004 film Stander, staring Thomas Jane as Andre Stander and David O'Hara as Heyl. They film portrays Stander's beginnings in crime and the Stander Gang's run, although several facets of the film are highly fictional and speculative.

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