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6th Annual
Secrets of The City
by Shawn Blore
illustrations by Tomio Nitto

(First published in Vancouver, November 1998)

Infamous Visitors

Moving Violations

Bad Addresses


Tunnel Visions

Screen Gems

Quiz: Welcome to Genericville

Hideous crimes, even murder, are part of the equation at most of these spots. The other one sells cigars.

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.

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 president."

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.

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.

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.

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 murder.

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.

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.