Trains, Planes and… Credit Unions? A Look at 3 of Canada’s Best-Known Heists
Baby Face Nelson, The Boyd Gang, Jesse James—the ingenuity, recklessness, and moral abandon of these famous criminals captures the imagination. Often, robbers like these leave a lasting legacy of fear, reluctant interest, and increased security.
In this blog, we take a look at three of the most infamous heists in Canadian history.
Great Train Robbery – Mission, BC, 1904
Only two confirmed train robberies ever occurred in Canada—both were the doing of American criminal, Bill Miner. Before coming to British Columbia, Miner served three prison sentences for stagecoach robbery. His polite demeanor during his crimes earned him the nicknames “Gentleman Robber” and “Gentleman Bandit.”
He purportedly conducted the first ever train robbery in Canada on September 10, 1904 near Mission, BC. Miner made off with $7,000—worth about $170,000 today!
But Miner’s luck didn’t last. In 1906, Miner and his two accomplices, Shorty Dunn and Louis Colquhoun, stopped another train near Kamloops. But the CPR train wasn’t the intended target (it contained a total of $15). During the robbery, Miner accidentally knocked off his mask and revealed his face to one of the train’s guards. After a 50-mile horse pursuit, a posse captured the trio.
In Kamloops, no one could believe the mild-mannered Miner was a bandit and the jury reached no verdict. However, the second time a jury considered the case, they sent Miner to the BC Penitentiary for life. Miner later escaped and returned to the Southern United States, where he committed several more robberies and served further prison time.
The Great Gold Heist - Winnipeg, MB, 1966
Sixty years later another “Gentleman Bandit” made a record—this time for the largest gold theft to date. Ken Leishman, a Manitoba native, worked in multiple industries, including as a pilot, before his first robbery in 1957.
In his first heist, Leishman got away with $10,000 from Toronto-Dominion Bank. Three months later, he made a second attempt at CIBC Bank. However, an unnamed female bank customer foiled Leishman’s plan by tripping him, allowing a bank teller to tackle him.
A court sentenced him to twelve years in prison, but allowed parole in 1961. On parole, Leishman worked as a door-to-door salesman. His salary, however, was not sufficient to provide for his seven children.
So on March 1, 1966, Leishman and several accomplices posed as Air Canada employees and diverted a shipment of gold bullion. The worth of the haul? About $35,000 at the time, which translates to over $2.5 million today.
A court imprisoned Leishman for the heist, but he later escaped and stole a plane in Steinbach, Manitoba, solidifying his reputation as the Flying Bandit.
Machine Gun Molly’s Last Stand - Montreal, QC, 1967
Unlike the two previous entries, our third criminal made her reputation through behaving badly. Monica Proietti, a Montreal native, masterminded an estimated 20 bank robberies in the sixties—an impressive figure considering Proietti turned 21 in 1960.
Proietti came from an impoverished neighbourhood. Her family subsisted through theft and other petty crime—Proietti learned this family business from her grandmother. Proietti left school at age 5 and experienced her first arrest at age 13.
Proietti married Scottish gangster Anthony Smith at age 17 (Smith was 33 at the time), and both committed several robberies together. But in 1962, immigration officials deported Smith after police caught the couple robbing Café Paloma. Like Leishman, Proietti struggled to provide for her two children after her husband’s deportment.
Though she eventually remarried, Proietti supported herself through bank robbery. Her nickname, Machine Gun Molly, is actually a misnomer. Proietti carried a gold-plated semi-automatic M-1 rifle (given to her by a previous boyfriend) to each bank she robbed, but the rifle was not technically a “machine gun.”
Proietti’s gender and violent modus operandi garnered much notoriety. While she never harmed or killed while on a heist, Proietti fired rounds into bank roofs to intimidate the employees and patrons. During her criminal career, Proietti stole an estimated $100,000.
Her career came to a sudden stop on September 19, 1967, when Proietti was 27. Proietti and two accomplices, Gerard and Robert Leliévre, stole about $3,000 from the Caisse Populaire Credit Union in Montreal.
They fled in a getaway car, which then broke down. The trio hijacked another car, which Proietti reportedly drove 180 km/h to evade capture. At this speed, Proietti had little control of the vehicle, which crashed into a bus at an intersection. The Leliévre brothers escaped the scene, but Proietti’s injuries were severe.
Instead of submitting, she stuck a gun out of the car window and fired on police. They returned fire, fatally shooting her.
Ways to Prevent Future Heists
While past robbery methods may not pose much of a threat anymore, you have to protect your home and business from theft. Can you imagine being the manager of Caisse Populaire on that fateful September day? Or the train conductor on the payroll train targeted in 1906? Not only would you have a huge loss to deal with, you would have to suffer through a vast change in public opinion about your company.
If you worry about your business’ vulnerability, use our tips for safeguarding your business. Affordable Lock provides locksmith services to Aurora, Newmarket, North York, Markham and surrounding areas.
For information on improving home and business security, maintaining keys and locks, and keeping your valuables safe from the Bill Miners and Monica Proiettis of today, read our other blogs.
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