Vancouver Feature: The Milkshake Murder

The Bowmac sign on Broadway was the largest freestanding electric sign in the world. It could be seen all the way from Burnaby, miles away. For a short while in 1965 it also helped a promoter hide the slow murder of his wife by arsenic-laced milkshakes.

Rene Castellani was a radio promoter with grand schemes. One of them was to perch himself on a platform atop the giant Bowmac sign, announcing that he would stay until all the cars on the lot were sold. For seven days, his stunt received nation-wide attention.

What wasn’t being noticed was that while Castellani was sign-sitting, his wife was dying of arsenic poisoning. For months, Rene had been picking up her favourite White Spot vanilla milkshakes every day and adding a small dose of weed killer. He planned to marry his mistress, the car lot’s switchboard operator, once the missus was safely under ground.

When Mrs. Castellani finally went to the hospital, her husband continued to provide her deadly treat. But when she died, in August 1965, a suspicious intern took a hair sample, which not only showed the presence of arsenic but a remarkable lack of the poison for the seven days that Rene had sat atop the Bowmac sign. 

While Rene was mourning in Disneyland with his mistress, the coroner exhumed his late wife’s body to confirm the poisoning. Police discovered the weed killer under the sink, with just the right amount missing to seal the case. Castellani had a rude welcome when he returned home. He was ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Bowmac sign lives on, in an odd way. Deemed a Vancouver landmark, it is preserved as the support for the Toys ‘R Us sign over the former car dealership.