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Revisiting the Milkshake Murder

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

A newspaper headline about the infamous Milkshake Murder in Vancouver.

* This is a repost of a popular blog about the Milkshake Murder presentation by Robert Noon for our 2015 Speaker Series. Eve Lazarus has just released her highly anticipated book “Murder by Milkshake” and we are thrilled to be featured in her thrilling narrative. Learn more about her book here.

Written by Sheena Koo

On a clear, unseasonably cold day in June 1965, Esther Castellani, a middle-aged Italian housewife died of heart failure at Vancouver General Hospital. To most, her passing garnered no suspicion, gossip or notoriety, but one young doctor, Dr. Barney Moscovich, felt something about the woman’s long, undeterminable illness and eventual death just wasn’t right. With nothing more than a hunch, Moscovich and a determined team of detectives launched an in-depth investigation into her life and unfurled one of the most salacious murder mysteries in Vancouver’s history.

With all the makings of a true-crime thriller, the Vancouver Police Museum’s first presentation of its ‘Murder, Mystery & Intrigue’ series last Thursday was a complete sellout–and for good reason. The five-part speaker series kicked off when Museum Director Robert Noon told the tale of intrigue, betrayal and mystery in the 1960s with his thrilling account of the city’s infamous “Milkshake Murder.”

Picture this: An innocent, 40-year-old woman, Esther Castellani, declining in health at Vancouver General Hospital with no known cause or cure in sight. Meanwhile, her husband, outlandish radio personality Rene Castellani and his young secretary-mistress Lolly, philander around town in search of a new home. At the hospital, a trail of witnesses tries to understand Rene’s strange preoccupation with his sick wife’s food. They can’t figure it out and think nothing of the arsenic-laced, vanilla White Spot milkshakes that Rene delivers to Esther, day after day, in a bid to quench her insatiable, burning thirst.

A newspaper clipping showing Lolly Miller on a rainy Day.

Agatha Christie herself could not weave a better narrative.

Held at the Vancouver Police Museum, Noon gave enthralled audience members a look inside the captivating 1965 murder, complete with photos, diagrams and investigative interviews. The packed house heard about Esther and Rene’s troubled marriage, Rene’s affair with his young, widowed secretary, and the eventual uncovering of Esther’s murder from arsenic poisoning–courtesy of her husband’s hand-delivered, frosty milkshakes filled with Ortho Triox weed killer.

Real evidence from the Milkshake Murder investigation. The artefact shows the arsenic concentrations in Esther’s body and was a key piece of evidence that eventually put her husband behind bars.

Noon’s step-by-step description of the true story brought those in attendance back to Vancouver’s bustling sixties, a time without advanced technology, cellular phones or video surveillance footage. It was a bygone era that relied heavily on the cunning intuition and attention to detail of all the doctors and investigators involved–each of whom had a deep connection with our museum as well.

For those of you who don’t know, the Vancouver Police Museum, located on Cordova and East Hastings, played a large role in the Milkshake Murder investigation. The museum is the former home of the city’s coroner services, analyst lab, courtroom and morgue, making it the perfect, chilling location for a breathtaking account of the homicide.

Those who bought tickets heard about the scandalous crime, got to ask questions and then were invited to tour the museum which contains the original morgue, autopsy room and tables where Esther’s exhumed remains were examined. Similarly, Noon’s presentation took place in the very same room where witnesses, jurors and lawyers interrogated and convicted Rene Castellani. Guests were also treated to free coffee and got full access to the museum’s other exhibits which include a confiscated weapons room and more.

Curious about Vancouver’s other infamous crimes? It’s all here at The Vancouver Police Museum in our True Crime exhibit. Learn about the Milkshake Murder and many other Vancouver crimes and cold cases that have captivated audiences for decades. The exhibit features real evidence, photos and artefacts and takes place in the former city morgue for an experience unlike any other. Buy your tickets here.

Want to know more about our Speaker Series? Every year we host one of the city’s most captivating events covering the history of the city and its people. These presentations feature talks by renowned authors, historians, investigators and more. We will announce our theme and speakers for 2019 soon, so sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know!


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