The Massey Murder electrified Toronto’s newspaper industry in the early 1900s. “Set against the backdrop of the Great War in Europe and the changing face of the nation”, the “brute slaughter” captivated Torontonians.

On February 8, 1915, a maid named Carrie Davies murdered her boss Bert Massey on his veranda by gunshot. Bert Massey was a member of the prominent Toronto Massey family, who made their wealth selling farming equipment. However, little known to the public, Bert Massey was largely cut out of the inheritance.

Immediately after her boss was murdered, the maid was taken into custody. She was questioned without a lawyer and sent the next day to attend a bail hearing. Bail was denied.

Following her bail hearing, there was a coroner’s inquest into the murder. The inquest consisted of a jury of 12 laymen. These men had to determine how, where, and when Mr. Massey died. Their findings would determine Carrie’s journey through the legal system.

During the inquest, evidence was led regarding her mental state. The Masseys proclaimed that the maid suffered from mental illness and killed Mr. Massey during a “fit”. Carrie accused Mr. Massey of attempting to rape her the day before she murdered him.

The jurors on the coroner’s inquest found that Bert Massey “came to his death on February 8, 1915, as a result of a pistol shot which, we the jury, believe was fired by Carrie Davies, and… Carrie Davies did feloniously and with malice aforethought kill and slay [Bert] Massey.”

Subsequently, Carrie was formally charged with murder and only a few days after that, on February 26, 1915, began the two-day murder trial. The events unfolded at a speed unheard of today.

In Carrie’s defence, her lawyer harnessed the resentment, rage, and indignation of the jurors:

“Was her life to be ruined by a married man who was her master? Was she to bring disgrace into a family that never knew a stain of such a kind? Her safety lay in self-defence. She was no match for him, and she took the pistol to intimate to him that he could not pursue his course with impunity… If she did not defend herself against this man she would have been a fallen woman, outcast, one more sacrifice to brutish lust… Let that sink into your mind. It was not manslaughter, it was brute slaughter…she was defending herself against a man in whom all the principles of decency were dead as far as she was concerned.”

Her lawyer perfectly captured the hearts of the jurors in his closing address.

Carrie was acquitted of murder.

(To learn more, read The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and The Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray. The book also offers insights into the women’s movement during the early 1900s.)