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The milkshake murder’s Trail connection

Several of bestselling BC crime historian Eve Lazarus’ books have West Kootenay connections. I’ve discussed one before, how Canada’s Sherlock Holmes, Insp. John F.C.B. Vance, once worked at as assistant chemist in Trail.

In a later post, I’ll detail a case she wrote about in Sensational Vancouver, about how a man wanted for murder in the US was caught in Yahk and then deported to face execution.

Lazarus’ latest book, Murder by Milkshake, recounts the story of Rene Castellani, a Vancouver radio promotions man convicted in the 1960s of fatally poisoning his wife Esther. On page 21, Lazarus reveals:

Rene went to Vancouver College until he was 16 and then moved with his parents to Trail in 1941. He helped out with the cooking in his parents’ concession and got his first job in the lead burner section at the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company …

On the following page, Castellani’s CM&S ID is reproduced, an item his daughter saved. It’s stamped “Secret Service” twice on the front and once on the back. Does this indicate he was involved with the Project 9 tower that produced heavy water for the Manhattan Project?

The back of the ID card says Castellani was transferred to Vancouver on Jan. 2, 1943. He joined the merchant navy later that year. His parents, Rene Sr. and Marie, lived in Trail for a few more years before moving back to the Lower Mainland.

I went through the civic directories for Trail and found the following, which revealed a chaotic first few years, with the Castellanis changing business locations and homes constantly.

1939: No listing
1940: Castellani Rene fish, chips and delicatessen 869 Farwell r 1104 Cedar
1941: Castellani Rene prop Rene’s Delicatessen r 878 Rossland
Rene’s Delicatessen (R. Castellani) 1561 Bay
1942: Castellani Rene prop Rene’s Delicatessen r 1825 Riverside
Rene’s Delicatessen (R. Castellani) 1561 Bay
1943-47: Castellani Rene (Marie) caterer h 840 Helena
1948: No listing

Most of the addresses above don’t exist anymore.

• 869 Farwell doesn’t show up in the 1953 directory and isn’t there today. But it might have been in the stylish building seen below, which is now 857 Farwell. For decades it was Sandy’s Music and Record Store. It’s since been home to several different businesses, including a lotto store, the Yoggy Shop and I Got Juiced.

(Google Street View)

• 1104 Cedar doesn’t exist anymore. It would have been behind the soon-to-be-demolished Union Hotel. It doesn’t show up in the 1953 directory either, which shows the hotel at 1102 Cedar and Union Cigar at 1108.

• 878 Rossland Ave. doesn’t exist either. It was the home of Mrs. D. Priore in 1953. 876 Rossland is the former Amore’s Ristorante, built in 1950. Next door at 880 Rossland Ave. is a house built in 1935

• 1561 Bay Ave. was J. Korbin men’s wear and Weston Fur as of 1953. The address doesn’t exist today but Thrifty Treasures thrift store is closest 1565 Bay.

• 1825 Riverside no longer exists, but there’s a house at 1815 Riverside, built in 1926.

• 840 Helena, the Castellanis’ last residence, does still stand. It was built in 1934.

A final, chilling note: Lazarus writes that when police started investigating Castellani for murder, “The fact that Rene had experience in metals and poisons from his time at the Trail smelter made him an even more viable suspect in the eyes of the detectives.”

At trial, prosecutor Samuel Toy raised the subject with Castellani on the witness stand:

To try to establish his knowledge of science and poison, Toy questioned him closely about his education. Rene left school after Grade 10, he told him, and his first job was at a smelter in Trail. “That was in the acid plant, was it not?” asked Toy. “Yes, in the lead burner section,” answered Rene.

Castellani was convicted and sentenced to hang, but his punishment was later commuted to life in prison.

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