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The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and…

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country

by Charlotte Gray

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This is a story about a murder and trial that occurred here in Toronto in 1915. An 18-year-old British maid shot and killed her employer, because he had been sexually harassing her (though that language wasn't yet coined back then). Bert Massey was from a famous and wealthy Canadian family, and this should have and could have been an easy open-and-shut case. But it wasn't. It was a highly sensational trial and there were many sub-plots behind it. But almost as soon as it was over, Carrie Davies was quickly forgotten and faded into obscurity as the war took over the headlines. I thought it was very poignant that when a Toronto Star journalist, Frank Jones (I recognized his name!) went looking to speak to Carrie's daughter, in the 1980s, decades after Carrie's death, he was astounded to discover that she knew nothing of her mother's past. Carrie had never told her family about it.

In the preface, author Charlotte Gray wrote, referencing her previous books:

"I was able to understand my subjects from the inside, because he or she had left personal papers in which I could read what they thought and hear their voice. Yet after finishing each one of these books, I found myself wondering about forgotten lives, the long-dead individuals who left no record behind them. What happens to anonymous, powerless individuals who are swept up by events and currents completely beyond their control?"

Gray also listed the sources she used to reconstruct this story since Carrie herself left nothing, no letters, journals or diaries. ( )
  jessibud2 | Feb 12, 2019 |
The Massey murdered in this book was Charles Albert "Bert" Massey, cousin to future governor general Vincent Massey. In February 1915, Bert was shot by his maid, Carrie Davies, as he was about to enter the house. Carrie stated that she had killed him in self-defence, that he had been preparing to ruin her. Thus, when she came to trial, she pled not guilty -- that her act had been excusable homicide.

In this book, Gray tells the story of the death, the trial, and the aftermath, as well as the social and political upheaval that was going on in Toronto and internationally at the time of the trial. Her research, as always, is impeccable, and her writing is so effortless that I was able to gulp down 10 chapters in a single sitting. Carrie's case is an interesting one for the environment in which it was taking place, with influences such as the war overseas, the beginnings of Canada as an autonomous nation on the world stage, and the fight for women's rights, among others. The biggest challenge with this book was finding Carrie's own voice, because she did not keep a diary and most of the action surrounding her happened to her without her input or consent. The aftermath section of this book makes particularly interesting reading as Gray examines the impact of the case decades down the road.

If you like true crime and/or Canadian history, this may be of interest to you. ( )
2 vote rabbitprincess | Dec 23, 2018 |
good story of ww1 Canada. ( )
  mahallett | Apr 28, 2018 |
I expected to enjoy this book because I truly admire Charlotte Gray's writings and I was not disappointed. This is the true story of the murder of a prominent Torontonian (Bert Massey) by his 18 year old servant , Carrie Davies. Ms. Gray has told the story of the murder in the context of its time, with World War One underway, women fighting for the vote and the social mores of the time. Entirely engrossing, I was fascinated at how the legal system worked at the time. It seems Carrie had little (i.e., none) input into her defense, journalists and lawyers worked together and the jury was able to vote with their emotions and not just with regard to the actual law. Well worth reading for a sense of Canadian history, women's issues and a true-crime page-turner. ( )
  LynnB | Mar 17, 2017 |
I am not a great reader of non-fiction, but books by Charlotte Gray always tempt me and this one was chosen by both Amazon.ca and The Globe and Mail as a top 100 book of the year and was a finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize. Gray does not disappoint.

Charles “Bert” Massey, grandson of the Massey agricultural-machinery empire, was shot by the family maid, 18-year-old Carrie Davies, on Feb. 8, 1915, when he arrived home at the end of the workday. She claimed to be afraid of further sexual advances by her employer. The crime and subsequent trial made headline news.

In the preface, Gray states, “This book is a story about Toronto in the early twentieth century, a fast-changing and divided community in the process of reinvention, and about Canada as it embarked on a century of dramatic evolution” and her description is certainly accurate. It portrays life in Toronto during the first years of WWI, Canadian jurisprudence and politics, the sexual mores and class divisions of the era, the conditions under which domestic servants lived, the emergence of organizations fighting for women’s rights, and the wars between newspapers.

Many times, the murder case takes a back seat to the study of society, so the title is actually misleading. Gray sometimes does not meet the challenge of “prevent[ing] the layers of circumstantial detail from overshadowing the story.” Gray describes Carrie as “a cork floating on powerful cross-currents of assumptions about class, race and gender” and Gray meticulously researched these cross-currents to explain the reason for the eventual verdict.

As in Gray’s other books, the portraits of participants are vivid. Hartley Dewart, Carrie’s defense lawyer; Chief Justice Sir William Mulock, the presiding judge; John Ross Robertson, owner of the Evening Telegram; and Mary Ethel Massey, the victim’s sister-in-law, are especially memorable.

This is an excellent example of narrative non-fiction. It is a wonderful chronicle of life in Toronto one hundred years ago and it shows how the turmoil of that time decided the fate of a lowly domestic servant.

Please check out my reader’s blog: http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/ ( )
  Schatje | Sep 10, 2015 |
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In Europe, a bloodbath had begun six months earlier. (Preface)
In the early twentieth century, most women and men believed that while men committed crime, women committed sins. -- pg. 21
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A scandalous crime, a sensational trial, a surprise verdict—the true story of Carrie Davies, the maid who shot a Massey
In February 1915, a member of one of Canada’s wealthiest families was shot and killed on the front porch of his home in Toronto as he was returning from work. Carrie Davies, an 18-year-old domestic servant, quickly confessed. But who was the victim here? Charles “Bert” Massey, a scion of a famous family, or the frightened, perhaps mentally unstable Carrie, a penniless British immigrant? When the brilliant lawyer Hartley Dewart, QC, took on her case, his grudge against the powerful Masseys would fuel a dramatic trial that pitted the old order against the new, wealth and privilege against virtue and honest hard work. Set against a backdrop of the Great War in Europe and the changing faceof a nation, this sensational crime is brought to vivid life for the first time.

As in her previous bestselling book, Gold Diggers—now in production as a Discovery Television miniseries—multi-award-winning historian and biographer Charlotte Gray has created a captivating narrative rich in detail and brimming with larger-than-life personalities, as she shines alight on a central moment in our past.
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Explores the 1915 murder of Charles "Bert" Massey, a member of one of Canada's wealthiest families and the trial of Carrie Davies, an eighteen-year-old penniless domestic servant who quickly confessed to the crime.

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