LITERARY LOCATION: North of Beaver Lake, Stanley Park

In 1953, the skeletons of two little boys were uncovered by a Vancouver Parks Board worker in the bushes of Stanley Park, not far from the entrance to Lions Gate Bridge. Both were likely killed about five years earlier. Eve Lazarus points out in her creepy, saddening and necessary book, Cold Case Vancouver: The City's Most Baffling Unsolved Murders, that they were slain around the time seven-year-old Roddy Moore was inexplicably beaten to death on his way to school in East Vancouver in 1947.

The good news in Eve Lazarus' Cold Case Vancouver (Arsenal Pulp)--if there can be any good news in a book about unsolved murders--is that the homicide rate has been falling in Canada. Near the outset of the 21st century, murder accounted for 0.1 percent of all police-reported violent crime.

Vancouver was becoming safer than ever, with one of the lowest murder rates in North America. In 1962, Vancouver had eighteen murders with a population of less than 400,000; by 2013, the city's population had more than doubled and yet there were only six murders.

That disparity can be partially explained by demographics. The percentage of the population comprised of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five-the demographic that commits seventy-five percent of homicides in most countries-had dropped considerably since the 1970s.

In 2015, the VPD had 337 unsolved murders on its books dating back to 1970. Police will not comment about these crimes on the record, but Eve Lazarus examined twenty-four of the city's most baffling unsolved murders between 1944 and 1996 for Cold Case Vancouver.

As a populist historian, Lazarus developed a lively but authoritative tone in three previous B.C. heritage titles. For Cold Case Vancouver, Lazarus was more like a respectful reporter, avoiding sensationalism, as she relates the facts, without lurid or rumoured conjectures, adding maps, archival photos and newspaper clippings.

There's the case of the young country singer Debbie Roe, just back from success in Nashville, who was sexually assaulted, beaten, strangled and left to drown in 1975 and also the first recorded gang murder in 1954 when Danny Brent was shot in the head, probably by hired killers from Montreal, and left on the tenth hole of the UBC golf course.

Sex rears its ugly head in numerous entries, including the case of an in-the-closet gay man, Robert Hopkins, who was found strangled and shot in the head in his home in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage area. We learn from BC Gay and Lesbian archivist Ron Dutton that if a crime against a gay person ever did make it to court up until the 1980s, the "homosexual panic defence" was a standard tactic for defence lawyers. A defendant could claim he was so horrified to be propositioned by a gay person that extreme retaliation could be deemed acceptable by the court.

Conversely, when a man attacked thirty women in the early 1950s, he was dubbed "the love bandit" by the press. In that era, domestic violence was largely ignored and women were chronically at-risk in their homes.

"Certainly in the Fifties," says Neil Boyd, Director of SFU's School of Criminology, "it was totally permissible for mother and fathers to whack their children in the grocery store. Teachers would hit children, and the notion that a man could 'correct' his spouse was seen as totally acceptable."

Lazarus has not merely regurgitated stories from the likes of retired Vancouver Police staff sergeant, Joe Swan, who operated the Vancouver Police Centennial Museum and wrote an historical crime column for the West Ender newspaper commencing in 1983. His accounts of murder cases were reprinted in A Century of Service: Vancouver Police 1886-1986 (Vancouver Police Historical Society, 1986) and Police Beat: 24 Vancouver Murders (Vancouver: Cosmopolitan Publishing, 1991).

Instead Lazarus has consulted a wide range of informants and undertaken some original research, most strikingly in her introductory story about the grisly fate of twenty-four-year-old Jennie Conroy whose body was found near the West Vancouver cemetery in 1944.

A disturbing percentage of victims in Cold Case Vancouver are female; and we learn we are most at-risk to be murdered if we are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four.

"The truly frightening thing is," Lazarus writes, "is that these killers might still walk around among us. As a forensic expert for the Vancouver Police Department said, even with DNA and all the scientific improvements, 'we don't catch the smart ones.'"

It's common knowledge that Canuck Place in Shaughnessy was previously a mansion that served as the headquarters for a Vancouver chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, but there are many other addresses in the Lower Mainland with skeletons in their closets.

The Australian-born journalist and freelance writer Eve Lazarus of North Vancouver examined the social histories of heritage houses in Greater Vancouver for At Home with History: The Untold Secrets of Heritage Homes (Anvil 2007).

Lazarus followed with Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens: Tales from the Capital City (Anvil 2012). It received the 2015 City of Vancouver Heritage Award for a book that heightens awareness of the historic value of Vancouver's early neighbourhoods.

Lazarus returned to print with Sensational Vancouver (Anvil 2014). Including a walking tour map of Strathcona and Chinatown, Lazarus highlighted the famous and the infamous, particular the latter from the first half of the 20th century when 'Terminal City' was a hotbed for bookies, brothels and bootleggers. Lazarus makes the (disputed) claim that Canada's first female cop was Lurancy Harris who patrolled the houses of ill repute on Alexander Street. Opium dens and gambling joints were the purview of Detective Joe Ricci. Sensational Vancouver also celebrates remarkable women such as Elsie MacGill, Phyllis Munday, Nellie Yip Quong and Joy Kogawa-along with entertainers, artists and controversial characters.

Between 2004 and 2015, more than 10,000 demolition permits were issued for residential buildings in the city of Vancouver. As of 2015, an average of three houses a day were being torn down, many of them original homes built for the middle and working class in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Very few are deemed significant enough to merit heritage protection, but Caroline Adderson and other Vancouver writers--including Eve Lazarus--believed the demoliton of these dwellings amounted to an architectural loss. Adderson spearheaded Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival (Anvil 2015), co-authored with Eve Lazarus, John Atkin, Kerry Gold, Evelyn Lau, John Mackie, Elise & Stephen Partridge and Bren Simmers. The introduction is by heritage artist and activist Michael Kluckner--who had published a book called Vanishing Vancouver--and photographs are by Tracey Ayton and Adderson. Eve Lazarus "blogs obsessively about houses and their genealogies" at


Shorlisted for Bill Duthie booksellers' Choice Award in
2016 for Cold Case Vancouver: The City's Most Baffling Unsolved Murders

Heritage Award for Heritage Advocacy
2013 District of North Vancouver

City of Vancouver Book Award
2008 Finalist for At Home with History

Kenneth R. Wilson Awards
2007 Gold - best merchandizing/marketing article "Keep it Real," Marketing Magazine
2001 Gold - best merchandizing/marketing article "Sizing up the Sizzle," Marketing Magazine


Frommer's with Kids Vancouver (Toronto: CDG Books, 2001)

At Home with History: The Untold Secrets of Heritage Homes (Anvil, 2007) $20 1895636802

The Life & Art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman & LeRoy Jensen (Mother Tongue, 2009) $34.95 Co-authored by Claudia Cornwall and Wendy Newbold Patterson.

Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens (Anvil, 2012) $24 9781927380062

Sensational Vancouver (Anvil, 2014) $24 9781927380987

Cold Case Vancouver: The City's Most Baffling Unsolved Murders (Arsenal, 2015) $21.95 9781551526294

Blood, Sweat, and Fear (Arsenal, 2017) $21.95 9781551526850

Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer (Arsenal 2018) $21.95 9781551527468

Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City's Hidden History (Arsenal 2020) $32.95 9781551528298

Cold Case BC: The Stories Behind the Province’s Most Sensational Murder & Missing Persons Cases (Arsenal, 2022) $22.95 9781551529073

[BCBW 2023]


Blood, Sweat, and Fear: The Story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver's First Forensic


by Eve Lazarus

Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017.

$21.95 / 9781551526850

Reviewed by Bonnie Reilly Schmidt


In Blood, Sweat, and Fear: The Story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver's First Forensic Investigator Eve Lazarus rescues one of the most important actors in the history of forensic science in Canada from obscurity.

This book features the work of John F.C.B. Vance, a chemist originally hired as a city analyst for the City of Vancouver in 1907, who eventually achieved the rank of honorary police inspector as a forensic investigator with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

For forty-two years, Vance was on the cutting edge of some of the most innovative advances in police forensics in North America, earning him headlines and an international reputation. His exceptional work went beyond blood type analysis; it extended to the examination of fingerprints, glass, gravel, clothing, guns, tire tracks, and even shoe polish from crime scenes resulting in the conviction, or exoneration, of hundreds of accused in criminal cases.

This book is not, however, a biography of Vance, a fact that Lazarus is up front about in her introduction. Readers may be disappointed with this approach, especially since Lazarus had access to Vance's family and their personal papers. We anticipate hearing more about J.F.C.B., as he was called by the family, particularly when we read that Lazarus discovered envelopes of police evidence such as hair samples, autopsy reports, and crime scene photographs in a box in the garage of one of Vance's grandchildren.

We do learn that Vance was a workaholic who rarely took vacations or spent weekends away from the office. He was also obsessed with inventing a machine that gave "human odour a physical form,"; much like a fingerprint, to "detect, capture, and record individual human smells"; from a crime scene. But little else is known about him as a person.

Instead, Vance's career serves as the backdrop in the book for the crimes he investigated. Lazarus adroitly selects some of Vancouver's most infamous crimes to highlight Vance's forensic abilities, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s, arguably the apex of his career.
In addition to the materials provided by the Vance family, Lazarus relies on accounts from newspapers, the City of Vancouver archives, and the Vancouver Police Department's annual reports as her primary sources.

Lazarus writes in a highly readable style, demonstrating an ability to distill what was probably a tremendous amount of archival information into a narrative that does not overwhelm the reader with excessive detail. Her research is complimented by a number of interesting photographs, most contributed by the Vance family.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the description of the corruption that characterized the culture of the VPD during the last century. In some ways, the VPD was a progressive police force: it hired the first female police officers in Canada in 1912 and later Vance as a forensic scientist in 1914.

In other ways, the VPD was associated with corrupt police practices. In 1934, several attempts were made on Vance's life over a seven-month period. Although some of these attempts were thought to have been perpetrated by accused criminals trying to prevent Vance from testifying against them, his notebooks reveal that he also suspected jealous colleagues. Vance wrote that "the chief was behind the attacks . . . or at the very least knew who was,"; an important piece of Vancouver police history that would remain hidden if not for Lazarus's research.

By the time Vance retired in 1949, he had outlasted thirteen police chiefs and sixteen mayors. When he left his office for the last time, Vance took the files of two unsolved murders and his notebooks with him.

He also took the box of evidence that eventually made it into his grandchild's garage and Lazarus's hands, an act that proved pivotal in resurrecting Vance as one of Vancouver's most famous and accomplished civil servants.


Bonnie Reilly Schmidt worked as a police officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police between 1977 and 1987.



Murder by Milkshake: An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer

by Eve Lazarus

Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018

$21.95 / 9781551527468

Reviewed by Larry Hannant


True crime "may be the dominant genre of our time," according to Globe and Mail media writer Simon Houpt. And little wonder. It's got much going for it. The inherent mystery of a fictive whodunit is bolstered by a factual foundation that gives both writer and reader plenty of detail to sink their teeth into.

Still, true crime puts a writer to the test. Since the events actually happened, an internet search will quickly yield the conclusion that the foul deed was done by the Plutocrat in the White House with a Tweet. Case closed.

So the true crime writer can't entice the reader down dead-end paths, dangle false clues, or introduce clearly-guilty suspects who turn out to be innocent.

So how's the beleaguered writer to hold the reader's attention?

The question was answered in 1752 by the great French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire: "My secret is to force the reader to wonder: Will Philip V ascend the throne?" As it turned out, Philip would, even if the prospect of a member of the French royal family taking power in Spain would provoke the War of the Spanish Succession that raged through Europe and spread carnage even into the Americas from 1700 to 1713. Consumed by suspense as they undoubtedly were, Voltaire's readers already knew the answer to the dilemma he posed.

Eve Lazarus. Photo by Rebecca Blissett

Thus advised, successful true crime writers since the 18th century have crafted their words to make the inevitable seem uncertain.

Eve Lazarus takes on this task in Murder by Milkshake, an examination not just of a bizarre case of poisoning in mid-1960s Vancouver, but also of the gawky city in which it took place. The Vancouver Lazarus sketches was an unsophisticated adolescent whose beauty had not yet become iconic and for whom culture was still dangerous terrain. In 1962, for instance, the edgy U.S. comedian-social commentator Lenny Bruce performed once at Isy’s Supper Club. The redoubtable journalist Jack Wasserman attacked the show, and the city's licensing boss threatened to close the club. Bruce was sent packing.

Vancouver College graduate Rene Castellani and Esther Luond were married in 1946 at Holy Rosary Cathedral, Vancouver

High culture in 1960s Vancouver: Rene Castellani as the Maharaja of Aleebaba. Vancouver Public Library photo

Lazarus deftly weaves her main characters into this still-conservative social milieu. Rene Castellani was an ambitious radio personality with a flair for self-promotion who had reached the cusp of success after a chequered career repairing washing machines and managing out-of-the-way hotels. He was riding high in what was the heyday of the radio boom of the early 1960s at CKNW, which a news reporter described as "the most promotion-minded station you could imagine." He excelled at inventing on-air and street-level personas like Klatu from Outer Space and the Maharaja of Aleebaba who had credulous Vancouverites believing in alien invasions and Indian potentates intent on buying up British Columbia.

Esther Castellani worked at Cordell women's wear in the 1950s

Esther Castellani, married to Rene since 1946, worked part time at a children's store, assumed most of the tasks to raise their young daughter, Jeannine, loved nothing more than a White Spot meal of a burger, fries and a milkshake, and repented for days on failed diets of cottage cheese.

Lolly Miller was a widow fifteen years younger than Esther who worked as a receptionist at CKNW. Her birth name was Adelaide, but "Lolly the Dolly" was the name that stuck at the radio station.

By 1964, rumours of an adulterous affair between the ebullient Rene and Lolly were rife, such that CKNW management warned them about the controversy. In May 1965, Lolly was fired over the issue, despite being the sole parent for her six-year-old son. Rene was spared, in part because his wife was already seriously ill, suffering a combination of ailments that baffled doctors.

Before the wide-ranging 1969 reform of the divorce, abortion, and birth control laws that gave Pierre Trudeau an early reputation as a progressive, the only grounds for divorce in Canada was adultery, and the divorce itself had to be by mutual consent. That agreement was not likely to occur between Rene and Esther.

The Castellanis, circa 1964: Esther, Cocoa, Rene, Jeannine

Bring on more milkshakes, laced, as it turned out, with arsenic. But no one suspected that on 11 July 1965, when Esther died after more than six agonizing weeks at Vancouver General Hospital. Three days later, one day after Esther's funeral, Rene, Lolly and their two children drove off in the CKNW car for a holiday in Disneyland.

What killed the perfect crime was the dogged determination of Dr. Bernard Moscovitch, the internist who had cared for Esther. His persistence, augmented by two astute forensic specialists and diligent work by two Vancouver police detectives, produced the cause of death and, still under the kitchen sink at the Castellani home, the source of the arsenic, weed killer.

Rene was arrested, charged and convicted of murder. Sentenced to death, his punishment was commuted to life in prison less than two weeks before he was due to hang.

Adelaide (Lolly) Miller after the inquest into the death of Esther Castellani. Photo by Dan Scott, Vancouver Sun

An experienced crime writer, Lazarus lays out the case in a capable fashion, although two lengthy chapters of background mean that the story doesn't begin to get some wind until page 40. And considering her list of five previous books of true crime and historical mysteries, her account of the trial of Rene comes across as lacking the element of suspense that Voltaire argued was essential. In a single paragraph of 75 words, for instance, she skims over the defence attorney's plea for acquittal, the jury's deliberations and guilty verdict, and the judge's imposition of the death penalty. What might have been played for drama comes across as matter of fact.

Having passed over the trial, Lazarus follows up with an extended assessment of the impact of the trauma on Jeannine Castellani, the couple's daughter. Understandably troubled by the loss of her mother and the realization of her father's crime and his ruthless manipulation of her, Jeannine struggled for years to address the carnage that consumed her youth.

This focus on the living victim could be especially appealing to women readers, who, again according to the Globe and Mail's Simon Houpt, make up 80 percent of the true crime audience. The focus on Jeannine also reveals a laudable effort to minimize the sense of exploitation that is felt by some survivors of actual crimes who are featured later in books and films.

As a social history, Murder by Milkshake gives us a portrait of a city still on the brink of finding itself, far from today's shimmering metropolis that's consistently among the top ten of the world's most livable cities. That snapshot of a city populated by ambitious, struggling people gives the book special merit.


Larry Hannant

A history professor and an award-winning book author and website contributor, Larry Hannant presents history in a variety of formats. He's the author or editor of three books, including The Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune's Writing and Art (1998), which won the Robert S. Kenny Prize in Left/Labour Studies. His forthcoming book is an edited collection titled Bucking Conservatism: Alternative Stories of Alberta in the 1960s and 1970s (2019). The award-winning website Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History includes two sections from him. In addition to non-fiction, he's published poetry, creative non-fiction, short stories, and articles in a number of magazines and newspapers. He's an adjunct associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Victoria.


Other reviews of the author's work by BC studies:
Sensational Victoria: Bright Lights, Red Lights, Murders, Ghosts & Gardens
Sensational Vancouver
Cold Case Vancouver: The City's Most Baffling Unsolved Murders


Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City’s Hidden History by Eve Lazarus (Arsenal Pulp $32.95)

Chuck Davis would have loved and devoured Eve LazarusVancouver Exposed: Searching for the City’s Hidden History.

This is not another predictable re-hash of stories and anecdotes gleaned from Davis, the city’s master gatherer who gave us The Vancouver Book (1976) and The Greater Vancouver Book (1997). Instead Lazarus has done her own sleuthing, aided and abetted by internet informants and generous peers such as John Atkin, Michael Kluckner and John Carter.

The result is a potpourri of forgotten art works, eccentric museums, oddball houses, dismantled architectural gems, and a belly-flop contest, as Lazarus explores Vancouver’s neighbourhoods with equal measures of humour and pathos.

Highlights include: Vancouver’s first horse race was held on a downtown street in 1887; Vancouverites drove on the left-hand side of the road until January 1, 1922—one of the last areas in Canada to change over; the rundown Regent Hotel in the Downtown Eastside was a ritzy place when it opened a century ago; Vancouver’s first hospital was located on West Pender Street between Cambie and Beatty; Canada’s first gas station opened at the corner of Cambie and Smithe in 1907 (when there were only 2,131 cars registered in the entire country); the VanTan Nudist Club, founded in 1939, is still operational; and stonemason Jimmy Cunningham who devoted 32 years of his life building the seawall, didn’t live to see it finished when he died in 1963.

Yes, there is, arguably, some filler material, and  well-known figures like Trinidad-born Joe Fortes, Vancouver’s first official lifeguard. But even long-time Vancouver history buffs cannot fail to be impressed by Lazarus’ blend of the bizarre, the hidden, the destroyed and the over-looked.

Vancouver Exposed is exemplary popular history, so much so that it succeeds in being disturbing. It’s more proof that Vancouver, as captured by photographer Fred Herzog and celebrated by Chuck Davis, has always been an interesting place.