A Feature Article by Sara Serravalle
For Prof. D’Arcy O’Connor’s Feature Writing class
Machine Gun Molly
“If Al Capone had had a daughter, he would have wanted her to be Monique Proietti.” – La Petit Journal
Monica Proietti, better known as ‘Machine Gun Molly’ or ‘Monica la Mitraille’, was a famous female bank robber throughout the 1960s. She is suspected of masterminding at least 20 bank robberies during her short life span. She was born February 25th , 1939 into a Montreal family with eight other siblings. She was raised in a house on St. Dominique St. in a poor neighborhood in Montreal’s east-end. Proietti did not have many luxuries in her childhood, and was quick to learn how to commit petty crimes to get what she wanted.
Besides the influence of her impoverished neighborhood, Proietti’s grandmother was the one to teach her how to commit petty crimes from a young age. Former police officer Roch Dal’Aniello stated: “Monica’s grandmother was a Fagin, a woman who taught kids how to steal and gave them a cut of the take. There was no place for the kids to play in that district. They roamed the streets begging and stealing. Nobody cared about them.”
Proietti dropped out of school in grade five, which marks the beginning of her crime history. At the age of 13, she was arrested by police for prostitution. She began working as a prostitute in order to help her mother pay for the financial needs of her siblings.
In 1956, when Proietti was 17 years old, she married a man named Anthony Smith. Smith was a 33-year-old gangster from Scotland. The couple had two children together, Ginnette and Anthony. Proietti spent the next few years being a devoted, stay-at-home mother, while she relied on Smith to provide financially. However, her simple life as a wife and mother would not last. Several events happened which changed the course of her life.
In 1958, Proietti’s pregnant mother and three siblings were killed in an explosion in their tenement, which was caused by a gas leak. Proietti tried to save as many of her siblings as she could from the fire, but was unsuccessful. She believed that the explosion was no accident, yet when she confronted the police about it, they did nothing. Then, in 1962, Smith and Proietti were caught robbing Café Paloma. As a result, Smith was deported to Scotland for four years as an undesirable. Proietti was left to care and support for her two young children all by herself. Due to her lack of education and work experience, Proietti was unable to hold a legitimate job. She struggled to provide financially for herself and her family.
In the years to come, Proietti met a new man named Viateur Tessier. She had one child with him named Gilles. She started a new life in a house on Repentigny with her new man and three children. Tessier was an avid bank robber, and played a major role in teaching Proietti how to rob banks. She helped plan robberies with him until 1966, when he was imprisoned and sentenced 15 years for armed robbery. Once again, she was left all alone to care for her children.
In the summer of 1967, Proietti resorted to supporting herself by robbing banks. She left her three children in the care of her sister, and started her new life as a bank robber. During the course of the next two years, Proietti robbed a total of $100,000 from 20 different banks and credit unions in Montreal. During her first few times crimes, she played a smaller role before becoming the true mastermind. Tim Burke, Montreal Star Reporter, wrote: “In her first few jobs, she was just the driver of the getaway car. But when the boys saw how she could handle a machine gun and what icy nerve she had, they promoted her.”
To that, Burke added: “And, unlike a lot of her male cohorts, she didn’t need goofballs or booze before going out on a job.” She made sure to stay away from drug and alcohol use in order to stay focused on the job at hand.
It was uncommon to see a woman robbing banks, which is why Proietti quickly became famous. Her story was unlike any other, and she became like a folk hero to the people of Montreal. Police detectives soon started calling her “Machine Gun Molly”, despite the fact that she never owned a machine gun. French newspapers had their own name for Proietti; “Monica la Mitraille”.
The name was derived from the weapon she always armed herself with. To every robbery, she brought her gold-plated semi-automatic M-1 rifle. It was a gift from one of her boyfriends, Gerald Lelievre. He bought it for her after she was dubbed “Machine Gun Molly”.
In order to get what she wanted, Proietti took an aggressive approach when she robbed banks. She would fire rounds of bullets into the ceiling, intimidating those around her. Though her signature gun was always with her, no one was ever harmed or killed during her heists.
She used different techniques to ensure her that she could not be traced. She always dressed like a man and used different wigs and clothing to disguise her true identity. In her daily life, she dressed completely opposite, so as to not raise the police’s suspicion. Despite her efforts to stay hidden, her success would soon come to a halt.
On the morning of September 19th, 1967, Proietti and two accomplices, brothers Gerard and Robert Lelièvre, robbed the Caisse Populaire at 11000 St.Vital Blvd in Montreal North. They robbed an estimated $3,000. Her two accomplices were quick to leave the scene, but Proietti was not so lucky.
After the robbery, Proietti and the accomplices sped off in their ‘67 Chrysler. Then, they hijacked a ’66 Plymouth and headed down Pie XI Blvd. to make their getaway. The police were able to identify the stolen car, and they were hot on Proietti’s trail. With Proietti behind the wheel, they she was driving at 180 km/h to avoid an arrest. When they reached the intersection of Pie XI Blvd. and Dickens St., Proietti slammed the vehicle into a bus.
Her two accomplices were quick to escape from the scene, but Proietti was not as lucky. Already injured from the car crash, Proietti knew her chances of escaping the police were slim. According to police, she stuck her revolver out the window and fired at the police.
As a result, they fired back at her, shooting her in the chest and killing her instantly. The funds from this robbery were meant to pay for her escape to Florida. She was hoping to start a new life there with her family. Though this was the end of the famous Machine Gun Molly’s life, her legend was carried on. Several magazine articles were published about “Machine Gun Molly”. A television documentary, movie and musical were all created and inspired by her life as a Montreal’s infamous female gangster.
HUSTAK, ALAN. “Machine Gun Molly; TWENTY-FIVE YEARS BEFORE THELMA AND LOUISE, MONTREAL HAD ITS OWN REAL-LIFE FEMALE GANGSTER.” The Gazette: 0. Sep 01 1991. Montreal Gazette. Web. 20 Nov. 2012 .
HUSTAK, ALAN. “Montreal Spawns Lawless Legends: Machine-Gun Molly, Santa-Clad Bandits Series: TOP TEN: MONTREAL’S CRIMES OF THE CENTURY.” The Gazette: 0. Oct 17 1999. Montreal Gazette. Web. 20 Nov. 2012 .
HUSTAK, ALAN. “Real Life of a Criminal Legend:” The Gazette: 0. Apr 30 2004. Montreal Gazette. Web. 20 Nov. 2012 .
Germain, Georges-Hébert. Souvenirs De Monica. Montréal: Libre Expression, 1997. Print.
O’Connor, D’Arcy, and Miranda O’Connor. Montreal‘s Irish Mafia: The True Story of the Infamous West End Gang. Etobicoke, Ont.: John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2011. Print.