02 November 2011

A Bank Swindler Tries to Cash In

The Confessions of a Bank Swindler
Lucius A. Parmelee
Waterloo, QC: Duval, 1968

The author begins by boasting that a member of the Canadian Banking Assocation once suggested he be offered a pension as an inducement to retire, adding: "I achieved fame of a sort and did very well." These more modest words set the tone.

Born in 1889, Lucius Parmelee was blessed in being a member of family of affluence and influence. Newspaper editor and three-term Liberal member of parliament Charles Henry Parmelee – that's him on the right – was an uncle. Another uncle once served as Quebec's Minister of Protestant Education. The latter's good work is reflected in this, nephew Lucius' only book; until Conrad Black, The Confessions of a Bank Swindler was likely the best written work by a Canadian criminal. I provide as evidence this passage in which the author looks back to his earliest years in Waterloo, Quebec:
One must remember that in this day there was no auto, radio, TV, and the thousand and one distractions, which are today offered to gratify our jaded appetites. Nor were they distracted by the innumerable incidents of a bizarre, and even sinister nature, which is the record of our daily lives. I do not agree with the French philosopher Rousseau, that the solution to the world's ills consist of a return to a state of nature. I do feel that there have been times in the past history of mankind, when the clock of destiny could well have been arrested, for a temporary breathing space, at least. Our characteristically North American attitude of service to the Gods of progress, may well mean serving an illusion.
No common criminal.

As a young man , Parmelee set off down the straight and narrow as a bank clerk, only to develop a rooted resentment toward the very industry in which he was employed. The low pay, which our grand banks expected to be supplemented by clerks' families, led to his resignation. Parmelee tried his hand at a number of occupations, including farmhand and barkeep, but returned to the banks as an unwelcomed visitor during the Great War:
From a moral point of view I had no scruples whatever. They paid their employees atrocious wages. They offered very little in the way of a life career. They obtained subsidy from the general public, due to the fact that their employees must have help from their parents for a few years, and in the case of the institution in which I served they had no pension plan. All in all I considered them bigger, and more cowardly robbers than myself.

Make no mistake, Parmelee's crimes were not robberies; they were swindles carried out though study, impersonation and forgery. The author's criminal activity spanned three decades, interrupted by an ill-considered investment in a chicken ranch, work at a wartime munitions plant and time spent in San Quentin. His final foray into financial fraud, in 1947 Ottawa, was in his own words a "disaster". He hit the Royal Bank, the Bank of Toronto, the Bank of Montreal and the Dominion Bank, walking away with some $17,000... only to be arrested a few hours later at a railway station in Vars, Ontario. Contemporary crooks will learn no tips from The Confessions of a Bank Swindler; Parmelee's scams and schemes were dated well before his book was published. The world into which he was ultimately released, on 15 June 1955, was foreign. "Montreal proved a revelation to me", he writes, unable to reconcile the metropolis with the tranquil city of his youth. The Confessions of a Bank Swindler owes its existence to the late Weekend Magazine, which in 1956 published a rudimentary version of the memoir. I expect the reception wasn't quite what editorial director Craig Ballantyne had anticipated. Readers took considerable offence to Parmelee's unrepentant nature; the banks, it would seem, were unassailable. The swindler's memoir attracted no interest from McClelland and Stewart, Macmillan or Ryerson; it ended up being self-published through a little printer in the author's birthplace.* No fame followed. Having gone straight, the man was accorded no obituary. Crime pays.

Object: A trade-size paperback, my copy is signed and includes a Weekend Magazine clipping that appears to have been used for promotional purposes. The first edition, I think, the only other I've seen – also signed – was published in mass market by a short-lived Montreal house called Bodero.

Access: There are no copies of either edition listed for sale online; look instead to the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and the Toronto Public Library. Seven of our university libraries hold the book. Library and Archives Canada? Don't ask.

* This was the very same printer that two years earlier produced John Glassco's self-published Squire Hardman.

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  1. I still live in Vars where I grew up and where Mr. Parmelee got caught at the train station. In fact I now live in the old village bank, formerly the Traders Bank of Canada and consecutively the Royal Bank of Canada - Vars Branch. I found my own copy of this fascinating character's book from a used book store online within days after hearing about his story from a neighbour... Thanks for posting.

    1. I think 'character' is just the word to describe Lucius Parmalee. One never knows just how much to believe of his story; he was a swindler, after all. That said, the bare bones are certainly true - and my albeit limited fact-checking didn't catch anything untrue.

      The news that you found a copy online sent me scrambling. Alas, AddAll reveals no further copies for sale.

  2. I thought that his book was better written, and certainly less pompusly written, than anything by Conrad Black. Still the best work by a Canadian convicted criminal.

    1. I remember liking Duplessis, but that was written and read long before Conrad Black turned to crime - or so it would seem. That I think of The Confessions of a Bank Swindler as a favourite, but not Duplessis probably says something.

  3. I was born in Waterloo, Quebec, Canada where Christmas was also born. As a young boy I had heard of a Christmas Parmelee but it wasn`t until I asked my Dad and he handed me a signed copy from May 14, 1968 that Lucius had signed for my Dad who knew him very well and his multiple stories and local bars and such. Any way if you want to see the book in another angle, you should read the Ottawa Citizen newspaper from February 4th 1956 and subsequent weeks. Here is the link


    1. I imagine Parmalee was a local legend - something of a hero perhaps, given the way most of us think of banks.

      Thanks for the Ottawa Citizen link. That's the Weekend Magazine piece I describe as a rudimentary version of the memoir.

  4. He was a disgrace in the eyes of his family being a prominent name in the growth of Waterloo and looked upon in high esteem by all. Although, as you mentioned, he was somewhat of a local legend in a small town. A bigger than life character to those who where ready to lend an ear for a good story.

  5. Geraldine Leavitt03 February, 2018 23:28

    I knew him in approx 1973. I met him through an acquaintance at a bookstore on St. Catherine Street in Montreal near Atwater. He passed away shortly thereafter at the Reddy Memorial Hospital, a block or so away from the bookstore.

    He told me about being in jail in Kingston and he heard about men having sex with other men in that jail. He was quite adamant that didn't happen. As time went by, I saw him one day and he told me a documentary was going to be on tv on this subject but given he lived in a rooming house, he didn't have access to a tv. I invited him to watch it on mine. He came over and sat on a chair that he pulled right up to the tv. He left my home that evening shaking his head that there was no sex in prisons because he never witnessed it. I was sorry to learn of his passing.
    He did write another manuscript for a book but never got around to publishing it.

  6. I am a decendet of this man. I find it fascinating that he managed to swindle so many banks in his lifetime. Wish I could have met him. RIP