Century-old crime illustrates class conflict
begins in the middle of Carrie Davies’ story — the day she killed her employer, Charles Albert (Bert) Massey, grandson of the founder of the prominent farm equipment manufacturer and a cousin of future governor general Vincent Massey.
The 18-year-old domestic servant from Britain accused Bert of making improper sexual advances. She confessed to the crime at the scene and was taken into police custody.
Gray had to rely on the report of the coroner’s inquest and newspaper coverage of the shooting and trial as the basis for the book. Further, in-depth research enables her to use Davies’ story to paint a picture of life in Toronto in 1915.
She describes buildings and neighbourhoods to set the scene, but she also touches on the tone of Toronto’s newspapers, the workings of the court system and the social stratifications of city life.
As well, she provides some national and global context of the era. She highlights the new feminist thinking on maternal issues, for example fresh milk for children and better working conditions for servants (rather than wage parity and equality).
Gray writes clearly, with a seemingly effortless flow as she moves from writing about Carrie and a description of the notoriously terrible women’s jail, to some background on Charles Massey and the ongoing Toronto newspaper war that made the crime notorious.
Gray also links the story to issues and concerns around immigration, nationalism and the Great War, which was then in its second year.
Rather than becoming confusing, each shift is done smoothly and shares information that deepens the reader’s understanding of the murder itself as well as the issues of the day.
Gray moves through all the technical details of the case without losing the reader’s interest, including the coroner’s inquest, the hearing and the arraignment before getting to the meat of the story — the trial.
The courtroom was packed and the revelations from Davies’ testimony elicited gasps from onlookers, but the verdict itself caused the biggest reaction from the citizens of Toronto.
A special touch is the chapter that focuses on what happened to the key players in the story, bringing a sense of closure to the tale.
In The Massey Murder, Gray shows real kindness and compassion, bringing a sense of humanity to a once-lurid tale from the tabloids.