The Story Of Montreal's "Machine Gun Molly" Is Heartbreaking And Horrifying At The Same Time

A single mother who provided for her children by robbing banks.
The Story Of Montreal's "Machine Gun Molly" Is Heartbreaking And Horrifying At The Same Time

An accomplished and successful woman can come in many forms.

A single mother who provides for her children in the face of adversity can easily be deemed accomplished. So could a woman who finds success in a male-dominate field. And you could say the same for a woman who never let her economic standing dictate her life's path.

Montrealer Monica Proietti was all that and more, and yet history doesn't really remember her as "accomplished" or "successful."

Why? Well, probably because she robbed banks.

A now infamous female bank robber who took Montreal by storm in the 1960s, Monica Proietti, better known to all as "Machine Gun Molly" or "Monica la Mitraille," was something of a local hero to Montrealers despite her criminal career.

And looking back on her story, it's not hard to see why.

Born to a rather large, poor family in February of 1939, Proietti's was arguably forced into a life of crime. Living with her eight sibling family on St. Dominique street in a lower class neighborhood in the east end of Montreal, Proietti was taught to steal to help her family make ends meet.

Learning the tricks of the trade from her grandmother, who ran a veritable school on stealing for impoverished children in the neighborhood, Proietti went on to become a working prostitute at the young age of 13. Her only motivation was to make enough money to help her mother support her large family.

But Proietti eventually took some time out of the underworld, becoming a stay at home mom when she was seventeen, having married Anthony Smith, a Scottish gangster.

The criminal pause didn't last long, however, as Proietti and her husband were arrested in 1962 for robbing Café Paloma. Smith was then deported, leaving Proietti virtually alone to care for her children, as her mother and three siblings had been killed in a gas leak-induced explosion only four years before.

Proietti would remarry soon after, meeting Viateur Tessier, a noted and experienced bank robber, whom she had another child with. It was Tessier who taught Proietti the tricks of the bank robbing trade, setting her on the path she would later become famous for.

With Tessier, Proietti played the role of the brains; while he would do most of the legwork, Proietti aided with the planning of the operations, a setup the two had until Tessier was caught and sent to jail for 15 years.

And so once more, Proietti found herself alone and needing to care for her three children. But rather than just give up and let the hardships of life overcome her, Proietti continued to do what she was good at to support her family, namely robbing banks.

Leaving her children with her sister, Proietti began her "solo" career in 1967. Much like any industry, Proietti started at the bottom, working as the getaway car driver and similarly smaller roles in several bank robberies.

It didn't take long for Proietti to rise through the ranks, however, as her male accomplices were instantly impressed with "how she could handle a machine gun" and her "ice nerve," as stated by Montreal Star Reporter Tim Burke. Nor did she need alcohol or drugs to gain the courage to get the job done, as many of Proietti's "co-workers" did.

During this two-year bank robbing spree, Proietti became something of a media darling. The French media called her Monica la Mitraille while the Anglophone papers coined her "Machine Gun Molly," even though the title was something of a misnomer. Proietti didn't actually own a gun, nor did anyone ever get shot nor was mortally wounded during one of her heists.

But the moniker had some merit, as Proietti was known to always be carrying a gold-plated M-1 semi-automatic rifle, a gift from one of her lovers.

Despite her infamy, Proietti actually managed to outwit the authorities for a full two years. This was mainly done through clever disguises, as Proietti would dress in masculine attire and wear wigs during heists, then changing into very feminine outfits at all other times.

During Proietti's tenure as one of the most famous and successful bank robbers in Montreal history, female or otherwise, she stole a total of $100,000 from twenty different financial institutions in the city. That amounts to over $650,000 in today's standards.

But by September, 1967, Proietti had grown tired of her criminal life, and she sought a way out. Planning out one last score, Proietti aimed to rob the Caisse Populaire in Montreal-Nord, and would then use the funds to start a new life for her and her family in Florida.

Fate, however, had a different plan.

Robbing the bank on September 19th, alongside the brotherly crime duo Gerard and Robert Lelièvre, Proietti carried out her plan to rob the Caisse Populaire, stealing a total of $3,000. Things went awry when the trio were making their escape, though, as the cops were able to identify their stolen getaway car.

Chased by the police on Pie XI Boulevard, Proietti tried to evade capture, only to crash right into a bus at an intersection. The Lelièvre quickly fled the crash site and into police custody, but Proietti wouldn't go down so easy.

Police officers on the scene stated that Proietti shot at incoming officers from the window of her totalled car, which forced the police to respond in kind. Proietti was then struck by a bullet in the chest, and was killed.

Something of a media storm followed, as Montreal lost one of its most noted criminal celebrities.  But Proietti's notoriety wouldn't soon die out, as this article is evidence of.

Truly a story that belongs in a movie (and it was, as Proietti's life inspired the film Monica la mitraille, along with a book and musical) Machine Gun Molly may not have been the most upstanding citizen of Montreal, but to say she wasn't accomplished in many respects would simply be false.

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