The Massey Murder: 100 years later, the tabloid tale still fascinates

It was Canada's trial of the century.

It all began 100 years ago, on Feb. 8, 1915, when Carrie Davies shot Charles Bert Massey to death.

That killing on a quiet residential street in Toronto quickly became a sensation. The story appeared in newspapers from New York to London.

At the time, the Masseys were one of the most powerful families in Canada. The name is still famous in Toronto a century later, tied as it is to Massey Ferguson farm equipment, the concert venue Massey Hall and Massey College, which is part of the University of Toronto campus.

Carrie Davies was Bert Massey's 18-year-old British maid, and she said she shot him because she was afraid he wanted to sexually assault her.

It was her word against his reputation. But when the trial was over, she was found not guilty.

'She got away with it'

To this day, the verdict doesn't sit right with some members of the Massey family.

“Charles Bertie made a pass at a maid and she said no, and he said OK, no means no. And next day, premeditated murder, she shot him," says Rosemarie Tovell, Charles Bert Massey’s first cousin, three times removed.

"I was just surprised she got away with it, frankly."

But relatives of Carrie Davies, who died in 1961, take a very different view.

"I think she was a really brave woman to carry out what she did. At that time, anyone else would have been probably hung," says granddaughter Marylou Brown.

Davies's other granddaughter, Margaret Grainger, adds, "You try to put yourself in her position, that’s what I did. You are working for this family, and this was going on, what would I have done? Well, yeah, by all means, Grandma, do that. I’m right behind you."

Sympathy for Davies

The not guilty verdict came in no small part because of the highly sympathetic portrait Davies's lawyer, as well as some members of the press, painted of the teenage immigrant.

Davies was described as a powerless young woman protecting her virtue, her virginity, against the unwanted advances of a privileged man with wandering hands.

CBC reporter Reg Sherren spoke to surviving family members and historians about the Massey Murder, and what it says about life in Toronto in 1915.