TO BE………….

On the last day of August 1904, both of Montreal’s principal English-language dailies ran the lamentable story of a young Prescott, Ontario, woman who committed suicide in this city the previous day. The tale, tragic enough in itself, was further steeped in intrigue and incertitude, particularly with regard to the entanglement of a Montreal police detective, one Charles Côté.

Mary E. Lalonde, the daughter of a highly respected Prescott family living on Edward Street in that community, had, like many, come to Montreal only a couple of years  earlier, in all likelihood  in search of the big city and the inherent job opportunities to be found therein. From August 1902 to January 1904, the youthful Ontarian worked as a maid at the Western Hospital (today the Children’s) for the meagre salary of ten dollars a month. Nevertheless, she was at the time, according to newspaper reports following her death, “contented, industrious, honest, and apparently quite happy.”

MamieLalonde

In early 1904, she left the Western in order to work at a private facility – the Britannia Hospital – located at 156 Metcalfe Avenue in Westmount. It’s interesting to note that the building (which still stands today) is located right across the street from where the ghastly child-murder of little Eric Marrotte took place in the fall of 1901 (see Murder Most Foul on this website). She earned five dollars a month more working in Westmount than at the Atwater Street institution.

What she didn’t know at the time, however, was just how fateful her decision to work there would prove to be.

Miss Lalonde (whose nickname was Mamie, and whose family name in Prescott was written “Lalone”) was just twenty years of age when she left the Britannia on March 12 after only  a brief stint. A few months later, the young woman found employment at Scroggie’s Department store on St. Catherine Street. (The business stood on the same site where today is found the 1929 Eaton building.) Within a few weeks, she was suspected of pilfering money and goods from the outlet. Accordingly, the manager, Mr. John George Scroggie requested the intervention of the Montreal Police in the matter. Detective Charles Côté was dispatched around 5:00 P.M. to the shop to investigate. There, the two men confronted the employee about the issue and after “some sharp questioning,” Lalonde admitted to the larceny.

A short time later, Monday evening, August 29, both Mr. Scroggie and Detective Côté arrived at the boarding house of the young woman in question. It was situated at 239 St. Urbain, just south of Ontario Street. In her room, they found goods valued at $47.21 which were indeed the property of the department store. They also came upon $23.54 in cash – also believed to be that of the haberdasher.

PoliceOfficer

For one reason or another, Lalonde was not present during this initial visit (she stayed behind at the store) but she did accompany Côté and Scroggie on a second trek to her lodging later that evening. She was fully cooperative with the two gentlemen in question and again confessed immediately to the thievery. Nevertheless, Mr. Scroggie refused to have the girl arrested but suggested that she drop by the business the following morning at 11:00 to meet with management. At that very moment, according to the norms of the time, the involvement of Côté should have ceased.

But, as reported in the newspapers and Côté’s later testimony before the Police Commission, Miss Lalonde, ostensibly too embarrassed to remain any longer at her boarding house, followed Detective Côté out of the building and into the street. He asked her where she was going, to which she rejoined that she wasn’t tired and intended to “walk the streets all night.” As stated by Côté, the young woman volunteered that she had no family or friends in the city and that she was also without any money. Touched by the pathos of her situation, the forty-three year old, married investigator  informed the young Ontarian that he would procure a room for her at the Gervais Hotel on the east side of Place Jacques Cartier. (The building still stands today and was for the longest time in the latter half of the twentieth century known as the Hotel Nelson. Furthermore, according to a subsequent edition of The Star, the Gervais Hotel was raided by the Montreal police on February 23, 1905 and its owner charged for “keeping a disorderly house.”) It was just after nine when Côté and Lalonde set off south along St. Urbain Street.

Below, Gervais Hotel Building, pictured circa. 2006

NelsonHotel

Before heading to the inn, however, the pair dined together (the detective also picked up that bill) at the Little Windsor, a popular restaurant of the day located on St. Lawrence Street, just south of Lagauchetière, in what is today the heart of this city’s Chinatown. They arrived at the restaurant sometime around 9:15 that evening and chose to eat in a private room on the second floor near the top of the staircase of the building in question.

According to later testimony before the Coroner’s Inquest, both waitresses on duty that evening concurred that Miss Lalonde looked dazed and confused, even weak and ill, as if “the girl might have been taking drugs.” She, as stated by one of the two waitresses, “toyed with her food, and at last gave up the attempt.” The twosome was in the Little Windsor all of thirty minutes during which Lalonde wrote and sealed within an envelope at least one of her three suicide letters. Incredulously, this she did in the presence of the detective. She also placed one telephone call but it was never ascertained to whom.

Later that Monday night, by his own admission, Côté also accompanied the young woman to the hotel and acquired her accommodation. According to the night clerk, Phillippe Beaudin, the “couple” arrived at the Gervais about 10:00 P.M. (although the name of Mamie Lalonde is the first in the hotel register under the date of August 30, a Tuesday) and that Côté stayed in and around the hotel for about another four hours. To all appearances, the police detective loitered about the building because he wished to meet with its owner (whom he knew rather well) in order to obtain a better price for the room. In and out of her room, Côté easily observed Lalonde as she started writing her two  remaining suicide letters. Indeed, it was he who requested and collected for her the stationery from the hotel lobby.

Below, one of the suicide letters

GervaisHotel

Almost immediately thereafter, the young woman began to complain to Côté of a toothache. “If I only had some money I would go out and look for remedies.” For that reason, the obliging policeman sent one of the hotel bellboys, a young lad by the name of Wilbrod Jodoin, to the nearby Robert Pharmacy (corner Craig and St. Lawrence) to purchase an appropriate “remedy.” It was approximately 10:30 Monday evening. Regardless,  whatever Miss Lalonde had the bellboy request of the pharmacist that evening, it was refused and the youngster returned with a small bottle of medicine “but not the stuff she had asked for,” according to Côté. The young woman was adamant, however: she would return to the pharmacy herself in order to obtain that which she wanted.

That being the case, around 11:00 P.M. that night, Côté briefly accompanied the young woman to the nearby drugstore where Lalonde was sold, in the presence of the totally silent sleuth, a quarter of a gramme of collodion and an equal amount of laudanum, a solution prepared from opium. According to the deposition of the manager of the pharmacy, Edmond Vadeboncoeur, the dose was not in itself sufficient to cause death.

After the purchase, Coté escorted the susceptible young woman back  to the hotel where he continued to dally for another couple of hours before finally leaving. Later that morning, between seven and eight, Lalonde had breakfast, left the hotel alone, headed up Jacques Cartier Square to Notre Dame Street, walked west along that thoroughfare, and returned to the hotel some twenty  minutes later “with a small package in her hand.” Around 8:30, on her way back to her room, she asked Bertha Lasalle, a waitress in the facility, for a glass. She also informed her that she was not to be disturbed before 11:00 A.M.

A couple of hours later, she was found in her room by Côté who had returned to the hotel to accompany the troubled woman back to Scroggie’s department store to meet with management.  Suffering from the effects of having swallowed Paris Green (and perhaps not the poison which she had purchased only twelve hours earlier), Lalonde was rushed by cab (and not by ambulance as the case was first considered not to be grave) to the nearby Notre Dame Hospital. Emetics were administered immediately, and it was believed that there was some hope of saving her life. Nevertheless, around 3:30 P.M. August 30, despite a brief rally, Mamie Lalonde died suddenly, but not before telling the attending physician, Dr. Ferdinand Fleury, that she alone was responsible for having ingested the Paris Green. “There is no one to blame. Leave me alone.”

It was later discovered that the distraught young woman had left the following suicide missive which she had addressed to a friend of the family in Prescott:

“Dear Mr. Elliott,

You no doubt will be surprised to receive a note from me but you will have a heavy task to perform. No doubt my body will be there at home the same time as my note but it is you I know will be good and kind to my mother. Explain to her that I will be far happier where I am going than living. She has been a good mother to me. I can never explain my action. I am doing this in a very poor hotel so as not to disgrace my boarding house as any one else. Mr. Elliott, what I want you to do is – write down here to Mr.Goltman of the college. Some of his papers you will find in my trunk. Ask him to return the money Mother sent me. He will do it I am sure. I have never had a lesson yet. I pity poor Mother and Father and my only sister. God help them in this trouble. My trouble, no one knows about.

Mamie Lalonde, Prescott”

(The reference was to a Mr. R. Goltman, and concerned money that the young woman’s mother had sent to her in Montreal in order for her daughter to take a typing course at Goltman’s Metropolitan Business College in King’s Hall, situated on St. Catherine Street between Drummond and Mountain.)

At the inquest which followed her suicide, Mr. J. G. Scroggie (owner of the department store) declared that after the goods had been recovered it was distinctly understood (as stated earlier) by Miss Lalonde and the detective that the young girl was not to be prosecuted. He swore that Detective Côté was well aware of that fact.  However, the disgraced employee was to return to the store in the morning to meet once again with Mr. Scroggie.

Mrs. Moses Lalonde (nee Mary Thompson) of Prescott, Ontario, mother of the unfortunate young woman, solemnly declared that she could not swear that the suicide letters were written by her daughter but some of them, especially the signatures, appeared to be her writing. She further stated that she had never heard her child speak of suicide. Indeed, she had only learned of her daughter’s death from Mr. Elliott.

Mrs. Alexander Wiggins (nee Annie Maher), 239 St. Urbain Street (where the deceased had her room), remarked before the panel that she had never told Miss Lalonde that she could not stay in the house that night because of the day’s events. She further declared that Miss Lalonde had been a boarder with her for about three weeks, the last three of the young woman’s life. Wiggins asserted unequivocally that Mamie Lalonde was of excellent character, “one of the quietest girls that I have ever had anything to do with. With the exception of the visits of the young man, who always remained outside, there was nothing unusual nor worthy of comment, in connection with her life at my home.”

For his part, Chief H. Sylas Carpenter of the Detective Branch of the  Montreal Police testified that Côté had been employed as an investigator in his department for some eight years. The only record the chief had of the whole Lalonde affair was when Côté filed his report about it that Tuesday morning. He regarded Côté as a trustworthy man who had always performed his work in a conscientious and thorough fashion.

Nevertheless, Carpenter also commented that the moment that Mr. Scoggie declared that he did not want the young woman prosecuted, the duty of the detective and the Detective Branch ended. He further stated that the police headquarters was the proper place to bring parties suspected of crime. No officer should bring any party in their charge to a hotel.

Further investigation revealed that the cause of death was obvious: The young woman had died from taking Paris Green. According to Doctor Fleury, the action of the Paris Green might have been assisted by the laudanum if it had been absorbed in the system. If the coroners’s jury thought that that was likely it would be their duty to ask for the adjournment so that the viscera could be analysed. It was for them to decide, said Coroner Edmund McMahon, whether any one had helped the girl to procure the means whereby she had ended her life. It was clear, he continued, that Côté had taken the young lady to the Robert Drugstore to buy poison. Côté, as a detective, should have known that a girl in that position might possibly contemplate suicide and should not have been a party to procuring for her poison which  could be used for that purpose. Côté was woefully lacking in judgement. He must have had, McMahon proffered, some suspicion of what might happen when he saw her writing so many letters and buying poison.

“I say squarely,” the Coroner said at the time, “no police officer should do as Côté has done. If the jury thinks Côté’s actions might have, in any way, contributed to the girl’s death, they should say so in their verdict.”

After only two minutes of deliberation, the panel returned a verdict of suicide and added that the reckless detective was not responsible for her death. Nevertheless, Chief McCaskill, “of the Provincial Detective Force,” was heard to quip that “if we find that a crime has been committed, we will take whatever action may be necessary at once.”

But Côté was not yet out in the clear. Some two weeks later, on the evening of Tuesday, September 13, the Police Committee met to deliberate on the detective’s future, if any, with the force. There was such great interest that night in the committee’s work  on this matter that the chairman, Alderman St. Denis, decided to hold the session in the Recorder’s Court (Municipal Court) which had a much larger seating capacity than where the Police Committee normally met. Such was the curiosity that at one time no less than 160 people were jammed into the judicial chamber, half of whom were smoking. “The atmosphere was so dense,” reported The Star, “that the commissioners could hardly tell who was speaking when aldermen arose and asked leave to put a few questions.”

The investigation conducted by the Police Committee was, in many ways, quite similar to the Coroner’s Enquiry.   Indeed,  Coroner McMahon himself appeared before Police Committee and declared that, “his opinion of the case was that a great deal of noise had been made for nothing,” a statement for which the well-known official was roundly applauded. Later, however, McMahon startled committee members with the acerbic assertion that Charles Côté lacked the necessary “smartness” to be a detective. Under questioning, the coroner further stated that he did not know one detective in the Province of Quebec worthy of the title. “I may say that in my opinion all the detectives that we have in the entire province, and a little beyond, are not detectives.”  Later, under scathing questioning, McMahon wisely withdrew the comment, at least in so far as it may have applied to the head of the detective branch, Chief Carpenter !                                                                                                    

According to The Gazette over a dozen witnesses, including Côté, testified before the Police Commission. They were essentially the same individuals who appeared before the Coroner’s Enquiry. Little new was added.

In the end, Detective Charles Côté, who had been suspended ever since the Lalonde affair, was demoted by the Police Committee to the rank of constable for his myopic behaviour that tragic evening. From that moment on, however, his career with the police detachment took on the air of a dreadful farce. Later that fall, Côté was reassigned to the detective branch of the force only to shortly thereafter embroil himself in another controversy when he was found inebriated  in a saloon using vile language in the direction of a waitress. As a result of this somewhat embarrassing tangle, Côté resigned from the corps only to be re-instated once again just before Christmas. It seems that many at City Hall deplored the thought of the married father of nine finding himself unemployed during the holiday season. 

By New Years’ Day 1905, the Mamie Lalonde matter seemed to be fading into an uncaring history. However, one very important detail of the affair had been almost totally ignored by the very prudish media of the time.

OR NOT TO BE………..

Almost immediately after declaring the young woman dead on that bleak day in August of 1904, Dr. Ferdinand Fleury proceeded to perform the requisite autopsy, the results of which provided some considerable surprise.

In so far as Lalonde’s digestive system was concerned, there was little that was unforeseen in that Paris Green was found throughout the tract. Considerable astonishment was created, however, when the good doctor examined the uterus; it revealed that the young woman was three months pregnant at the moment of her desperate act. It’s interesting to note that for all its rather extensive coverage (including two editorials) of her suicide and its dramatic aftermath, The Montreal Star never once mentioned the fact that she was pregnant at the time of her death. The Gazette did mention it, but only once. La Presse gave the entire story very little coverage.

Nevertheless, after her death, both English-language dailies – especially The Star – reported extensively on the young woman’s private life in Montreal.

Rumour had it that during her very brief stay at the Britannia Hospital she made the acquaintance of an American patient by the family name of Curtis who was under the care of Dr. Austin D. Irvine. Little is known of their comings and goings within this city beyond the unquestionable fact that Mamie came to be deeply in love. “She went to the hospital (Britannia) about the middle of January. All went well for about two weeks, then Mrs. Pearce (the matron) noticed that Curtis began following the girl around. He was always at her shoulder. At first, Mamie seemed to resent this. Then, gradually he won her around and she presently seemed to become infatuated with him. Mrs. Pearce at once warned both of them that there must be no intimacy. Mamie was the paid servant of the hospital. Curtis was a patient.”

Despite Pearce’s warnings, Curtis became a somewhat attractive mystery for the smitten young woman. Hailing from Hartford, Connecticut, she knew he was married and apparently the son of a very well-to-do family yet he  later worked as a salesman in the Boston Shoe Store on St. Catherine Street at the corner of Mansfield. He promised her that he would seek a divorce and then they could be married in this city. She believed him, and when he subsequently informed her that his divorce had “come through,” she agreed to marry him. She later insisted to many that she was married to Curtis, and several even spotted her wearing her “wedding” ring.

However, after her death, the authorities looked “high and low” for the registration of their marriage in Montreal. They had narrowed down the event to March 12 or March 13 of 1904. All church records in the city were examined in order to find their marriage certificate, but to no avail. Neither was any document found in that regard in her personal belongings which were eventually packaged and forwarded on to her family in Prescott. Nor could Curtis be found, and he did not show up for the Coroner’s Inquest into her death in September of that same year.

According to his employer, Mr. Frank (with whom Curtis was also sharing a room at 29 McGill College Avenue at the time), his enigmatic employee left town late in the summer of the year in question in order to take “a better position” elsewhere. Frank insisted that he was not privy to Curtis’ private affairs and, therefore, could not add more.

However, earlier that same year, Curtis and Lalonde had lived together as “husband and wife” in a boarding house on St. Mark Street. The landlady of the establishment in question remembered the couple well and recounted their story months later in the September 9, 1904 edition of The Montreal Star:

“They seemed greatly attached to each other and made no secret of the fact that they had been lately married. Mrs. Curtis stated that the marriage had to kept secret from her people as she was not yet of age. It would be made public the following September. Curtis seemed to have plenty of money. He was not engaged in any business. Each week there came a cheque for him which he stated came from his mother. They lived thus for about a month.”

Eventually, Mamie Lalonde informed the landlady that she was leaving for Prescott, Ontario, in order to spend some time with her family. She further informed her that her husband would be staying on, alone in their room while she was away. This he did for  about one month when he as well left – never to be seen again at the rooming house on St. Mark Street.

“I said at the time that I thought Mr. Curtis had perhaps married a little beneath him, but that was none of my affairs,” the landlady remarked to The Star reporter. She further commented that it was  obvious that Mamie Lalonde came from quite a different walk of life than that of her husband.

Lalonde returned to Montreal from Prescott on May 17 of that same year, ostensibly because she had received a telegram from Curtis. “Come at once, I have a good position for you,” it read. Lalonde showed the missive to her younger, married  sister Haqel Easter who had herself given birth just shortly before her sister’s arrival in Prescott earlier that spring. “Don’t go, Mamie. We are so happy together here.”

Little is known of the period following the young woman’s return to Montreal in May. She was not employed (despite Curtis’ claim in his telegram) and there is no record of where she may have lived (with or without her husband) when she first returned to Montreal.

She was, however, seen in late July working in the whitewear department at Scroggie’s Department store by a nurse who worked at the Western Hospital and knew Lalonde from that  time.

“The girl was looking wretchedly ill and on being questioned seemed eager to tell her story. She admitted she was ill, and also that she was doctoring herself. She was most communicative on the subject of her marriage. She mentioned her husband’s name and his nationality, described his personal appearance, and mentioned incidentally that he was employed as a clerk in a St. Catherine street boot and shoe store. She told where they were living on an uptown cross street, and where they took their meals in the neighbourhood of the Academy of Music.” (The Academy of Music was located on Victoria Street, just north of St. Catherine.)

Nonetheless, in virtually the same breath, she confessed that she was not happy and wanted to work in order that she not be alone while Curtis was about his business during the daytime. That very day, according to Lalonde, her husband dropped by Scroggie’s with his mother and sister. “I almost dropped dead this morning when he brought his mother and sister in to see me. The mother was beautifully dressed and wore a taffeta coat.”

The Star report continued: “A little later, when describing her meeting with her new relations, Mamie said her husband had told her that his mother was the sister of a very prominent American millionaire  and mentioned his name (J. Pierpont Morgan). The fact of her repeating the story, proves her to have been either very unsophisticated or else to have had great faith in the word of the man she regarded as her husband.”

So that is the tale of the sad death of young Mamie Lalonde and the woeful morass of a Montreal detective. In so far as her ‘husband’ is concerned, the young woman may have answered our question herself: all three of her suicide letters were signed simply “Mamie Lalonde” and one, in fact, revealingly read Miss Mamie Lalonde.

Requiescant in pace.

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