Friday, February 6, 2015

# 46 ~ The Massey Murder, Then and Now

THEN : Charles Albert "Bert" Massey, 1880 to 1915.

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 marks the centenary of what would become an iconic story in the annals of True Crime in Toronto.  One hundred years ago, on February 8th, 1915, Charles Albert "Bert" Massey was wandering up the street to his home at 169 Walmer Road.  Standing on his own door step, he was greeted by his 18 year old English maid, Carrie Davies, who lifted Massey's own revolver, and fired two shots.  The second bullet struck Massey in the chest, and within moments, he was dead.

For those of us who are interested in Toronto's history, the Massey family name is one that needs little introduction.  The legendary Hart Massey was considered to be the family's patriarch.  It was Hart Massey who built up his own father's family run blacksmith into the giant farm equipment company that would become the Massey Harris Manufacturing Company.  With Hart at the helm, the Massey family would eventually stand at the top of Toronto society, and in fact, as Bernard Sandwell, a noted Canadian editor, journalist and academic quipped : "Toronto has no social classes - only the Masseys and the masses."

THEN : Hart Almerrin Massey, 1823 to 1896.

Hart Massey's children and grandchildren would go on to build on Hart's own legacy, making "Massey" into a household name.  The family put their stamp on Toronto by building cultural institutions, like Massey Hall.

THEN : Massey Hall in 1925.  As Methodists, the more traditional members of the Massey clan were against both alcohol and stage plays.  These beliefs were held up within the walls of the Massey Music Hall.  Concerts and assemblies could be held in the hall, but any sort of play was forbidden.  If you look at the performance listings for Massey Hall today, this still holds true, though more by tradition than religious "law".  Similarly, when Massey Hall opened in 1894, there was a 99 year lease that prevented the sale or drinking of liquor on the premises.  The lease eventually expired of course, and when a basement was added as part of a restoration of the hall, a bar - dubbed "Centuries Bar" - was included.  One wonders what Hart Massey would have thought of audience members sipping on booze during the intermission of a performance by Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper.

NOW : Massey Hall today.

Both Massey College and Hart House, at the University of Toronto, were also part of the Massey family legacy.  

NOW : Massey College, University of Toronto.

NOW : Hart House, University of Toronto.

The family were members of Toronto's "Cathedral of Methodism", known today as the Metropolitan United Church.  The Massey family quietly exerted their influence, so the righteous, conservative moral tones of Methodism could be set forth from the pulpit and pews of this congregation, across the city.  

THEN : Metropolitan Methodist Church, as it was known, circa 1900 when this photograph was taken.

NOW : Metropolitan United Church, today.

Vincent and Raymond Massey were brothers to one another, and grandsons of Hart Massey.  Vincent was best known for his academic, political and diplomatic pursuits, which culminated in his term as Governor General of Canada, from 1952 until 1959.  Raymond Massey was a popular actor, appearing live on stage and in film and television productions.  Vincent and Raymond Massey represented one branch of the family that expanded on their grandfather's iconic and stolid reputation.  But there were other branches of the Massey family tree ... 

THEN : Vincent Massey, 1887 to 1967.

THEN : Raymond Massey (1896 to 1983)

Hart Massey had five children.  Vincent and Raymond were born to Hart Massey's second son, Chester Daniel Massey.  Hart's oldest son, Charles Albert Massey, had managed the family business through the 1870s.  His son, also called Charles Albert, but known more simply as "Bert" by most of the family, wasn't so highly regarded as his father, grandfather, or cousins, Vincent and Raymond.  Eschewing the family business, Bert took a job as a car salesman for York Motors.  The automobile industry was a booming and glamorous business, and Bert Massey seemed to be in love with sports cars and "fast" women.  The owners of the car dealership considered it a feather in their caps to have a Massey working for them, but Bert Massey's own family looked down their noses at Bert's choice of career.  Bert Massey soon found himself ostracized by people like his cousins, Vincent and Raymond.  Bert Massey had soon established himself as something of a cad and a "ne'er-do-well".

A century ago, in February of 1915, Bert Massey was living with his wife, Rhoda, and their 14 year old son, also named Charles Albert Massey, in a house at 169 Walmer Road.  The home was located in the western half of the Annex.  It wasn’t a run down neighbourhood, but was not considered as respectable as the grander mansions of families like the Gooderhams or the Eatons, which were located a few blocks east. 
Bert Massey’s home on Walmer Road certainly didn’t compare to his brother Arthur’s home at 165 Admiral Road, or the home that his cousin Vincent had, at 515 Jarvis Street.  At the time, an address on Jarvis Street was considered to mark one’s position at the pinnacle of society, and the most prominent members of the Massey family had their homes on that boulevard.

THEN : Before it became perhaps the most well known location in the "Keg Steakhouse" franchise, the building at the northwest corner of Wellesley and Jarvis streets served as home to the more refined members of the Massey family.  The greenhouse to the right was, sadly, lost, and a gas station now stands on that part of the property.

Bert Massey was wandering home from work on the evening of Monday, February 8, 1915.  As he approached the front door of his house on Walmer Road, his young English servant, Carrie Davies, burst out of the front door, surprising Massey on the front step.  Brandishing Massey’s own revolver, the young woman was said to exclaim “You ruined my life”.  She raised the weapon and fired.  Her first shot went wild, but her second shot struck Massey in the chest. Attempting to flee, he stumbled to the sidewalk, falling as neighbours, who’d heard the gunfire, rushed to give assistance. Within minutes, he was dead.
THEN : Carrie Davies, the woman who shot Bert Massey.  Did she do wrong, or was she wrong done by?  She made a full confession, and let the courts decide.

A young newspaper delivery boy named Ernest Pelletier was said to have been a witness to the murder.   He and others raised the alarm.  When police constables arrived, they found the 18-year-old maid in her attic quarters.   She claimed to be getting properly dressed so she could set off for the nearest police station to confess her crime. She admitted her actions, alleging that her wealthy employer had attempted to rape her the day before.
THEN : The murder of Bert Massey made headlines in the Evening Telegram, on February 9, 1915.  Every Toronto newspaper ran with the story, of course, and headlines that screamed of the murder of Bert Massey were front page news, along with those telling of the fighting that Canadian soldiers faced overseas during the Great War, which had started the previous summer.  Thousands of soldiers from the Toronto area would die in the First World War, but in the second week of February, 1915, it was the death of one man, Bert  Massey, that captured the city's attention.

The irresistible storyline of a poor but virtuous maiden defending herself from disgrace made the ensuing trial a sensational affair, attracting reams of newspaper coverage and packing the courtroom with blue-collar workers and society matrons alike.

THEN : Images of Carrie Davies, Bert Massey, his son Charles Albert Massey, and the family home at 169 Walmer Road were repeated again and again in Toronto's newspapers, as the news of Massey's murder broke, and the city waited for Davies to go to trial.

Young Carrie Davies had been born in impoverished conditions in Bedfordshire, England.  Her father, a Boer War veteran, had died when she was 16.  She had arrived in Toronto at a time when the Canadian government was recruiting young, respectable, trustworthy, and chaste unmarried working-class women to work in Canada.  These women helped to fill the shortage of domestic servants.  She rarely went out or socialized, and spent little of her wages on herself, in order to send $5 or $10 from her pay back to her partly-blind mother and three younger sisters. It was supposed to be more respectable work for women than that found in public locations like factories, shops, or hotel bars.

Davies was brought to trial for the shooting later that same month, before Chief Justice William Mulock.  Among the usual assortment of prostitutes, drunks, and vagrants in the women’s court, Davies stood out, looking “like a mild and gentle Sunday school pupil,” in the words of the Telegram.
To begin the trial, the prosecuting attorney, E.E.A. Du Vernet, argued - incredibly - that because Massey had not succeeded in his assault, his murder was not justified.  Du Vernet implored the jury to find her guilty of manslaughter.
Davies’ own lawyer, Hartley Dewart, did not dispute the prosecution’s factual reconstruction of the killing, but begged for mercy. He emphasized her modesty and virtuous reputation.  Dewart even established Davies’ virginity, according to the standards of the day, by calling to the stand a doctor who had examined her physically.
She was from a respectable working-class family, he argued, and had been instilled with wholesome British values. Davies was an innocent, vulnerable young woman, who fell prey to a wealthy but dishonourable brute, who nearly succeeded in ruining her. “We have placed upon ourselves as Canadians the duties of trustees and guardians for girls who come from homes such as this to Canada,” he told the all-male jury, calling upon their sense of chivalry, fatherly instincts, and British gentlemanly values.

THEN : Toronto Star coverage of the Davies trial, February, 1915. 

Finally, as proceedings wore on Davies took the stand herself, marking the culmination of the already dramatic trial as she recounted the circumstances leading up to the crime.
On Sunday, the night before the murder, Massey’s 14-year-old son went out after supper. Massey’s wife, Rhoda, was away visiting her family in Connecticut. This left Davies alone in the house with her 34-year-old employer, who, just days earlier, had drunkenly made lewd comments to her.
Seemingly intoxicated again, Massey now excitedly but awkwardly tried to offer her a ring in appreciation of her services. “Then,” Davies testified, “he caught me round the waist and kissed me twice, and said he ‘liked little girls.’”  Resisting, she managed to escape. Not long after, Massey called her to his bedroom to make his bed.  When she complied, Davies said, Massey grabbed her and threw her onto the bed. He tried to force himself on her until she wrestled free and escaped to her own room.
Davies managed to slip out of the house, and made her way across town to Cabbagetown, where her sister—her only relation in Canada—lived, and told her sister and brother-in-law of the incident. They advised her to return to work and fulfill her duties as employee. While they told her to be careful, they did not encourage Davies to report the attack to the police. The three knew intuitively that a servant girl had little chance of courtroom success against the scion of the powerful and wealthy Massey family. Between 1880 and 1930, not a single Toronto domestic who laid a complaint of indecent assault against her master saw him punished.
For Davies, therefore, the stakes were high if she didn’t return to work. So, divided between her sense of duty to her employer and her fear that she would be ruined if he succeeded in his advances, Davies arrived back at the Massey household at 11:20 p.m. on Sunday night.
The next morning she prepared breakfast for her attempted assailant, then hid in the cellar until Massey had left for work. “I was alone in the house all day Monday,” Davies testified, “and was worrying about what had happened on Sunday, and was not able to do all my work. Being my master, I thought it was a disgrace for him to kiss me.”
“When I saw Mr. Massey coming down the road I lost all control of myself,” she testified. “Everything became misty before me,” she continued. “I only thought of his doing me harm, and knew I would have to defend myself in some way or other. I could only think of the revolver ...” She continued: “He started to run and I kept on pulling the revolver, but the trigger did not seem to work. I could only think of his doing me harm.”
“The attack gave the girl only one alternative,” Dewart argued in his closing statement. “If she did not defend herself against this man she would have been a fallen woman, an outcast, one more sacrifice. Let that sink into your mind. It was not manslaughter. It was brute-slaughter.
Du Vernet countered in the prosecution’s closing argument that, by slaying her unarmed employer without his having a chance to give his side of the story in court, Davies had issued a death sentence. It was a penalty, he noted, that was out of balance with Massey’s alleged crime.
Carrie Davies would be tried in a special court for women that had been established (prior to the Massey murder) in Toronto.  However, women themselves were not able to sit on a jury at this time.  The jury was comprised solely of men.  Staggering debates over the role of women were being heard in 1915, in public forums, government councils, and family homes.  Often, those who opposed gender equality expressed a paternalistic view that women were "delicate creatures" who needed to be "sheltered".  If any of these men felt that women needed to be protected, well, Carrie Davies and her nearly ruined reputation certainly had the capacity to appeal to them.
THEN : One of the courtrooms at Toronto's 1899 City Hall, where the trial of Carrie Davies took place.  Toronto's "Old" City Hall is used for Provincial Court Cases today, but it has had a longstanding participation in the city's legal history.

The jury arrived at their decision in under half an hour of deliberation. Verdict: not guilty.  The crowd in the court-room was jubilant. The elderly judge had tears in his eyes as the admitted killer was pronounced innocent. “Thank you, Judge,” Carrie Davies responded, “and thank you gentlemen of the jury.” She had played the part of the deferential maiden perfectly.

THEN : Toronto Star coverage of the verdict.

Upon her acquittal, Davies received numerous offers of employment. She turned them down, refusing to accept work in any private home, ever again.  Decades later, author and journalist Frank Jones tracked down Davies’ daughter and uncovered what happened next to the once-famous defendant. Davies married Charles Brown, an older English farmer based in the Brampton region.  Moving from farm to farm in Ontario, Davies and her family lived at the edge of poverty.  Davies spent much of her time on charitable work, volunteering at church and dedicating her time to children’s charities. She never told her two children of her notorious crime and trial before her death in October 1961.

NOW : The murder scene at 169 Walmer Road as it looks a century later.  Today, the house has been subdivided into a number of smaller apartments.  One wonders as to whether or not the current inhabitants have any knowledge of the infamous history that took place on their doorstep.


The notorious case of Bert Massey and Carrie Davies was re-introduced into mainstream knowledge with the publication of Charlotte Gray's book "The Massey Murder" (published in 2013).  The book has been exceptionally well reviewed - I read it myself and like everyone else who has done so, I found it compelling.  The book weaves in other things that were going on at the time, including the quest for gender equality in Canada, and Canadian participation in the First World War.

I mean no copyright infringement in referencing the book, or posting an image of it - in fact, I highly recommend purchasing your own copy!