MASSEY MURDER revisited, Charlotte Gray

 The butler didn’t do it…


It was the maid !

The maid, the master – and murder

City captivated in 1915 by servant who killed her master, a member of the Massey family.

Carola Vyhnak
Toronto Star

Carrie Davies was still holding the gun when police arrived at 169 Walmer Rd. where she worked as a live-in domestic servant.

“I shot him,” she told them as she handed over the .32-calibre revolver.

Next door, where neighbours had carried him, Bert Massey lay dead. Shot through the heart.

Biggest news story since the WWI outbreak
It was a sensational crime, committed in cold blood as Massey arrived home for his evening meal on Monday, Feb. 8, 1915.

For the next two and half weeks — the wheels of justice turned quickly back then — Toronto the staid was captivated by a titillating tale of sex and power, of fear and virtue.

As the Great War raged, newspaper reports on the carnage and toll on Canadian soldiers overseas jostled for front-page space with the local drama of a vulnerable young worker who dared to fight back against her sexually aggressive employer. It was clear from the start the city was on Carrie Davies’ side.

The 18-year-old had arrived from England two years earlier to earn money for her struggling widowed mother and siblings back home. She was, by all accounts, a well-raised, principled young woman of impeccable character. It was a reputation she desperately wanted to preserve.

Victim not part of the Massey fortune
But her patron had other ideas. Charles Albert Massey, known as “Bert,” was something of a cad despite his status as a married man, father of a 14-year-old boy and member of the wealthy and prominent Massey clan.

Bert, apparently not blessed with the riches of his relatives residing in stately mansions around town, lived in a modest two-storey brick house and worked as a car salesman.

That February his wife Rhoda was away visiting family, leaving him to his own devices, which extended to making lewd remarks and taking liberties with the hired help, according to Davies.

On Sunday, the day before the shooting, he “had caught her and kissed her twice” before she fled to the safety of her room, the Toronto Daily Star reported.

That night when Massey asked her to make his bed, he tried to force himself on her, she told police. Again, she escaped, this time travelling across town to tell her sister and brother-in-law what had happened. They advised her to go back but be careful.

All the next day while Massey was at work, Davies fretted, fearing what might come next, she said in her police statement.

In women’s court the next morning, news of the murder had attracted large crowds and a swarm of reporters.

An innocent young girl
“She has soft, fair hair, blue eyes, and the pink and white skin of the English girl,” a Star scribe told readers. As the charge of murder was formally read out, Davies “collapsed sobbing convulsively.”

At the next court appearance, the scene at City Hall was described as a “circus,” with spectators who ran the gamut of society from street urchins to “expensively gowned matrons.” The women told reporters they came because they were “so sorry for the poor girl.”

Court heard that as Davies watched Massey approaching the house around 6:15 p.m. that fateful day, “I seemed to lose control of myself and ran upstairs and got the revolver.” She said she shot him in self-defence.

“I only thought of his doing me harm,” she recalled. “He ruined my character.”

As the impoverished servant awaited trial in jail, letters of sympathy and donations poured in from around the province and within days, $1,100 (about $23,000 today) had been raised to pay for the services of a high-profile lawyer named Hartley Dewart.

Davies’ brief trial took place on Feb. 26 before an all-male jury in a packed courtroom.

While Crown prosecutor E.E. DuVernet questioned her credibility, and reminded court that Massey wasn’t around to give his side of the story, Dewart focused on her virtue and solid British values, even having a doctor vouch for her virginity.

“Her only motive was the defence of her honour against a treacherous assailant,” he told the jury. “The hotbed of murderous intent found no place in her character.”

The teens stress and anxiety grow again
The inexperienced teenager “felt the full weight of the attack that was made upon her,” he said in his closing arguments.

“You can well conceive the torture she went through” worrying about future abuse, Dewart told the jury. “How that thought echoed in the woman’s brain!”

The shooting was a sudden, impulsive act to protect her from becoming a “fallen woman,” he said, playing on the jurors’ paternal emotions.

“She is a heroine,” Dewart declared. “A woman of strong character, of stamina, of strong principles.”

The verdict is in
It took the jury just 30 minutes to find her not guilty, unleashing “pandemonium” as jubilant cheers from the throngs rang through the courthouse.

“They found that when you killed Mr. Massey you lost self-control of yourself and at that moment had no murderous intent,” Chief Justice Sir William Mulock told Davies, who wept as she thanked him and the jury.

“You were between two forces — your promise to Mrs. Massey that you would not leave and your fear of Mr. Massey,” the judge sympathized.

Davies quietly faded from the spotlight, later marrying a farmer and having two children, according to author and former Toronto Star journalist Frank Jones.

In his 1985 book Master and Maid, he reveals she died, still poor, in 1961 at the age of 64. She had devoted much of her life to doing charitable work and helping others.

“Doing penance,” Jones told a CBC interviewer.


The Petticoat Creek Book Club read a Canadian author’s novel about the murder:

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Nation
by Charlotte Gray

Read Richard’s review: MASSEY MURDER

Have you read any books about Toronto or local history which you thought were good reading? Let us know below:

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