Welcome to Genericville
Hideous crimes, even murder, are part of
the equation at most of these spots. The
other one sells cigars.
SIGN HERE, MURDERER TOO
1154 W. Broadway
Though almost obscured by the Toys ‘R' Us
banner stapled on as part of a recent heritage
compromise, the BowMac sign was once a wonder
to behold. Erected in 1959 on the site of
the Bowell Maclean car lot, the red and blue
sign stood 10 stories tall and could be seen
from Burnaby, several miles away. It was,
in fact, the world's largest free-standing
electrical sign - and the only one ever to
harbour a murderer.
In July 1965, a radio promotions manager
named Rene Castellani climbed onto a small
platform atop the sign and vowed to stay
there until all the cars on the lot were
sold. But while Castellani was attracting
national attention with his sales gimmick,
he was also killing his wife: poisoning her
so slowly that no one - not the cops, not
her family, not the strawberry blonde switchboard
girl he planned to marry after his wife was
safely in the ground - would suspect a thing.
Everyday the doting husband had been making
his wife her favourite treat: a vanilla milkshake,
spiked with arsenic. As her health failed
and she was hospitalized, her doting hubby
kept bringing in that daily dose of vanilla.
By August, she was dead.
Unfortunately for Castellani, a puzzled intern
ordered some post-mortem tests, which turned
up the arsenic. A search of Castellani's
home revealed the poison stashed beneath
the sink. Suspicions were confirmed by a
lab analysis of the dead woman's hair. Lengths
that had grown during the seven days husband
Rene was up selling cars atop the BowMac
sign were remarkably free of arsenic. Castellani
was convicted and sentenced to death, later
commuted to life in prison.
ALSO SUITABLE FOR SMOKING
12 Water St.
"He touched her genitals, both through
her underwear and directly, bringing her
to orgasm on two occasions. On one occasion
___ inserted a cigar into her vagina."
Whoaa! We're as shocked as you are to find
this passage in a family magazine - and you
can be sure it wouldn't be here (or in all
those other publications) if it weren't an
excerpt from U.S. special prosecutor Kenneth
Starr's official report. The words that go
in the blank space, of course, are "the
In any case, perhaps you were wondering where
Clinton got those cigars, which, if Cuban,
cannot be legally imported into the U.S.
Well, it's a well-documented fact that one
of the many presents Bill gave Monica - a
little marble bear's head - came from Hill's
Indian Crafts on Water Street. Clinton picked
it up himself during his APEC stopover. According
to many reports, the President also took
advantage of our Cuban connections and sent
the secret-service boys out to pick up some
primo Havanas. The most likely spots? Pacific
Cigar is in the Waterfront Centre, right
next to the Waterfront Hotel, where Clinton
was staying. But perhaps an even better bet
is Cigar Connoisseurs, at 12 Water Street,
just down the street from Hill's.
Also suitable for smoking.
ON SECOND THOUGHT, JAIL 'EM
522 E. Georgia St.
Nothing ever changes, right? For the sake
of Vancouver police chief Bruce Chambers
let's hope the old adage is at least partly
wrong. On the subject of hard drugs, Chambers
has taken the sensible position that more
money should be made available for treatment
centres. In December 1916, then Chief Malcolm
MacLennan wrote a report proposing that rather
than arresting drug addicts, "some asylum
should be provided for them…where they could
be held until they had recovered from their
desire for drugs." Three months later,
answering a call at this Strathcona house,
MacLennan was shot dead - by a drug addict.
ON THIRD THOUGHT, MAKE 'EM PAY
312 Main St.
While we're at it, let's hope chief Chambers
neglects to follow in the footsteps of another
predecessor, chief Walter Mulligan, who was
appointed in 1947 to stamp out corruption,
but instead, rather like the bent cop in
the movie L.A. Confidential, set about shutting
down half the pimps and bookmakers while
ensuring that the other half channelled a
healthy chunk of their proceeds to him. This
went on for nearly a decade, turning police
headquarters on Main Street into the centre
of criminal activity in Vancouver.
Several times the Province came across evidence
of corruption, but always the paper backed
away from publishing. Finally, in 1955, an
upstart rag called Flash published a major
exposé alleging that chief Mulligan was on
the take. Reading the paper's charges in
the police station, Mulligan's chief henchman,
Detective Sergeant Len Cuthbert, pulled out
his .38 service revolver and put a bullet
through his chest. Miraculously, he lived.
After the province finally launched a probe
into Mulligan's activities, another senior
cop, Superintendent Harry Whelen, put a bullet
through his chest. He died. In the end, the
commission found extensive evidence of police
corruption. Before any charges could be laid,
though, Mulligan fled to California. The
exercise was not a total loss, however. Covering
it made the career of a young newspaperman-turned-radio
reporter by the name of Jack Webster.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
3543 W. 25th Ave.
3851 Osler Street, the Shaughnessy mansion
that was the scene of the original crime,
is the address most often associated with
the Janet Smith murder, which scandalized
B.C. in the 1920s. But it was at a little
house near Dunbar Street that police officers
held a Chinese houseboy they'd kidnapped
in the hopes of scapegoating him for the
Ultimately the houseboy beat the trumped-up
charges and wisely escaped to China. Less
propitiously, four members of the Point Grey
police department (it was then a separate
municipality), including its chief, also
escaped conviction for their parts in the
houseboy's kidnapping and forcible confinement.
So did the province's attorney-general, who
probably played a role in shielding from
investigation the prominent Shaughnessy socialite
(and, shades of the '80s, one-time cocaine
dealer) whom many feel was the real killer.
Still, it was a close call, and after the
trial a determined effort was made to put
the entire affair behind. The house was demolished.
A new house was built, and its street number
changed. Some years later, the city even
changed the street name, from West 25th Avenue
to King Edward Avenue.
WHAT'S THIS ONE ABOUT? GUESS.
1253 Johnstone St.
The old Pelican Bay pub has since been replaced
by a popular brew-pub and restaurant known
as The Creek, but surely there's room for
a commemorative plaque somewhere. After all,
it was here, on the night of November 3,
1995, that near-definitive proof was obtained
of an event that in nearly 1,000 years of
jurisprudence had never previously occurred
in all the common-law countries of the world.
Had an innocent bystander walked in that
evening, he or she might have been puzzled
by the vast number of heavy-set men with
furry little mustaches salted around the
place singly or in groups of two, trying
for all the world not to look like cops.
Trying and, as far as at least one couple
present that night was concerned, actually
succeeding. For it was here that police saw
in the hugs and nuzzles and squeezes and
otherwise embarrassing signs of affection
lavished by a frowzy 40ish blonde on a younger,
darkly handsome man that the suspicions they
harboured were true. One Gillian Guess, juror,
was indeed carrying on with Peter Gill, a
man she herself had only one day previously
helped acquit of murder.