Georges Lemay

Georges Lemay, criminal (born 25 January 1925 in Shawinigan, QC; died December 2006 in Montréal, QC). Lemay was the mastermind behind one of the biggest bank robberies in Canadian history – the Bank of Nova Scotia heist in Montréal in 1961.

Georges Lemay, criminal (born 25 January 1925 in Shawinigan, QC; died December 2006 in Montréal, QC). Lemay was the mastermind behind one of the biggest bank robberies in Canadian history – the Bank of Nova Scotia heist in Montréal in 1961. He was the first Canadian criminal fugitive to be apprehended through satellite technology.

Early Life

Georges Lemay was born to a respectable family and received a good education. After completing school, he worked as a sales agent in his mother’s real estate business. The need to finance an extravagant lifestyle led him to crime. On several occasions as a young man, Lemay was charged with burglary and receiving stolen goods, but was not convicted.

On 19 May 1951, Lemay married Huguette Daoust, a 21-year-old aspiring actress who came from a prominent Montréal family. Daoust's family, particularly her brother Raymond a noted criminal attorney did not approve of Lemay.

Huguette Lemay Mystery

Lemay's relationship with his wife was stormy, and the couple quarreled frequently. Seven months after the wedding, Lemay took Huguette to Florida for a Christmas vacation. On 4 January 1952, Lemay reported his wife missing to police in Key West. He claimed they had been fishing from a bridge on the Overseas Highway, when Huguette went to their car to get a sweater. She didn’t return, and Lemay said he feared she had been kidnapped.

A massive police search turned up no trace of Huguette. No ransom demand was ever made by kidnappers. The police and Raymond Daoust found Lemay’s story and behaviour suspect, but there was no evidence on which to charge him with foul play. Lemay returned to Canada without appearing at a hearing for which he’d received an official summons. American immigration authorities banned him from entering the United States again.

Twelve years later, remains identified as those of Huguette Lemay were found in the waters of the Florida Keys. The circumstances of her death remain a mystery.

Bank of Nova Scotia Robbery

Over the next few years, Lemay became a well-known figure in the Montréal underworld. He was associated with the notorious West End Gang and the drug-and-gun runner Lucien Rivard. Lemay was a suspect in numerous crimes, including the 1957 burglary of a Montréal branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, and the subsequent murder of a local hoodlum. He escaped prosecution due to a lack of evidence.

On the Dominion Day (now Canada Day) long weekend in July 1961, Lemay’s gang broke into the vault of the Bank of Nova Scotia at St. Catherine Street W. and St. Alexandre Street in Montréal, and pillaged safety deposit boxes of cash, bonds and jewellery. Exactly how much was taken has never been confirmed estimates of the loot have ranged from $600,000 to $4-million.

The heist required professional planning, timing and execution, and the digging of a tunnel beneath the bank building. Police had no idea who the perpetrators were until January 1962, when one of them was arrested on an unrelated charge. In return for leniency, he informed on the rest, naming Lemay as the leader. The other gang members were arrested, but Lemay disappeared. The RCMP put his name on the list of Canada’s most wanted criminals.

"Early Bird" Satellite

For almost four years, Lemay remained at large. Not even the posting of a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest produced any results. Then on 2 March 1965, Lucien Rivard escaped from Montréal’s Bordeaux jail where he was being held for extradition to the United States on narcotics charges. When conventional police investigations failed to locate Rivard, Canadian authorities tried their luck with a new television program that broadcast, via satellite, images of "most wanted" fugitives in Canada, the United States and Britain. Using the newly launched Intelsat I or "Early Bird" – the world's first communications satellite to be placed in orbit around the earth Rivard's photo would be seen on television by viewers all over North America.

However, at the moment of broadcast, Lemay’s picture was shown on the program instead of Rivard’s. A man at a marina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Lemay kept a yacht, recognized the face on TV and contacted police. On 6 May 1965, Lemay was arrested. When told how he had been found, Lemay said, “Well, isn’t that something! It took a satellite to catch me.”

While awaiting deportation to Canada, Lemay escaped from jail in Miami. FBI agents finally recaptured him in Las Vegas on 19 August 1966. Lemay was sent back to Montréal, where he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He served only eight years, on top of the time he'd already been detained.

Later Life and Death

Lemay was released in 1977. In 1983, he was implicated in the murder of a Montréal drug dealer but was acquitted. He lived his last years in obscurity and died from natural causes shortly before turning 82. Most of the loot from the Bank of Nova Scotia robbery was never recovered.

Further Reading

  • D’Arcy and Miranda O’Connor, Montreal’s Irish Mafia (2011).

  • Georges Lemay, Je Suis Coupable (1952).