VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It has all the elements of a good detective novel, except it’s 100 per cent true. Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer is the latest book from Vancouver historian Eve Lazarus.
“I think people are still fascinated with it because it was such a bold crime,” she explains. “I wrote about it first in At Home With History back in 2007. At that time I was writing about the murder through the house where it took place in Kerrisdale.”
Murder by Milkshake is the true story of a Vancouver radio personality who poisons his wife to death so he can marry his mistress. “In 1965, Rene Castellani was a CKNW broadcaster and promoter. He was married to Esther and had been for about 20 years and fell in love with [Lolly] a 25 year old radio receptionist.”
So he set out to poison his wife by lacing her food, mainly milkshakes, with arsenic. Castellani nearly got away with it, if not for some keen forensics work by Esther’s doctor. “It turns out that arsenic, when administered, mimics natural causes, like influenza, or gastric enteritis,” Lazarus says. “When he realized that it could be arsenic, he had her body exhumed and found more than 1,500 times the normal amount of arsenic than you’d find in the human body.”
However, as Lazarus explains in the book, Rene would be out on day parole within a couple of years of being convicted. “It really seems like he was convicted for his infidelity rather than for anything else, which I found quite fascinating.”
Lazarus revisited the case in a blog post last year and got the idea to do the book when a reader contacted her out of the blue. “A woman called Debbie Miller wrote to me and just said, ‘Look, you’ve made a mistake. You’ve said that Lolly, that was the mistress in this murder, had a daughter, and she didn’t. She had a son. That’s my husband Don. And he’s been looking for Janine, the Castellani daughter for about 50 years. Do you know where she is?'”
Janine tracked down Lazarus at a book launch last year and the pair was soon reunited. “When you’re doing these true crime cases, we get a bit taken away with the actual nature of the crime,” she admits. “I always have to remember that there are real people involved and their lives have been turned upside down by something like this.”
Murder by Milkshake is published by Arsenal Pulp Press.
A book launch event is planned for Tuesday November 6th at 7:00 p.m. at the Patricia Hotel on Hastings Street in Vancouver.