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The odd row of narrow duplexes and brick mixed-use buildings lining nearby side-streets are only shadows of what used to be a bustling, crowded, chaotic working-class, largely Irish neighbourhood that grew north of the Lachine canal in the 19th century. Griffintown was not an atypical 19th Century industrial slum. It was filled with warehouses, flour mills, smelting works, taverns and stables, and populated by a countless number of families, labourers, transients and prostitutes.
And none of them would go on to achieve more notoriety than Mary Gallagher, an aging drunken woman who would end up with her head in a bucket and her body in a wash of blood one June morning in The story of Mary's murder has long outlived both her and the neighbourhood in which she lived and died. It's unique in Montreal lore, a legend that grew out of all its component parts: the ghastly nature of the crime itself, the sensation it created at the time, the vividness with which the local Irish population recounted the story to new generations—all of these were the building blocks of an industrial-era folktale borne out of the streets.
The same streets Mary was said to prowl every seven years, searching for her missing head, if the ghost story is to be believed. The crime itself was unusual for several reasons, not least of which was its brutality. It was also rare: according to one authority on the case, the last murder committed in Montreal was committed in , two years prior.
Adding to the story's longevity is the identity of the murderer: not an outraged husband or lover, or a violent thief or john, but a friend and fellow prostitute named Susan Kennedy sometimes known as Susan Kennedy Mears or Myers with whom she'd spent the morning drinking whiskey. Modern day Montreal: graffiti in an alley near the area where Gallagher was murdered. Photo by Matt Joycey. Kennedy said the two had been drinking but didn't appear to be drunk.
Mary was in the habit of dropping in on the Mears', Kennedy would testify later, but rarely with company. Jacob Mears was said to be furious at her showing up with a man in tow and left, leaving Kennedy alone with Gallagher and Flanagan. Kennedy soon went out to procure a bottle of whiskey. The home was on the second floor of a two-storey building, and consisted of two rooms: a front bedroom facing William Street and a back room with chairs, table and slop bucket.