As an in-depth and harrowing exploration of a little-known Canadian crime, The Castleton Massacre: Survivors’ Stories of the Killins Femicide by Sharon Anne Cook and Margaret Carson is one of the best true crime texts published this year and is not to be missed by readers.
Authored by Margaret Carson, who miraculously survived the Castleton massacre, and her first cousin, Sharon, The Castleton Massacre provides a first-hand account of the crimes, and is part family history, memoir, and social critique. The book recounts the history of the Killins family, a history that leads to the events of May 2, 1963, when Robert Killins, a Queen’s University alumni and former United Church minister, went on a killing spree on the property that housed all of his family members. Over the course of one night, Killins killed every woman in his family but one, and unsuccessfully attempted to kill the men in his family as well. Margaret, the one female survivor, and her brother Brian, lived to recount the details of that terrible night, and to speculate as to why a man who was once so revered in his community began to terrorize and stalk the women in his family before murdering them one by one.
This book was a fascinating example of Canadian true crime. Cook and Carson weave a narrative around this crime that takes into account the family history of the Killins, as well as the social implications around trauma and domestic violence that both led to this crime and the emotional turmoil in the aftermath of such violence. Rather than beginning on the night of the massacre, the book rewinds, beginning in the nineteenth century and recounting the family histories of those involved in the crime. Margaret herself, who is not the child of Robert Killins but rather the child of his ex-wife Florence, murdered on the night of the attack, carefully emphasises the many different threads that brought the people on the property together that night. More than the biography of one single killer, the book is a family history and a memoir designed to highlight the important lives of every victim in the killing.
In addition to the book’s enormously detailed historical research, The Castleton Massacre also grounds its narrative in contemporary discourses around domestic violence and trauma, including psychological and medical language, statistics, and linguistic definitions that contextualize the crime for contemporary readers. Furthermore, the authors frame the crime alongside similar Canadian crimes that have galvanized the public and revealed a great deal about gender and social relations in this country, as well as the lack of resources for victims of domestic abuse and trauma.
Finally, this book taught me a lot about a crime I had never heard of. When The Castleton Massacre does narrate the events of the killings, the account is truly harrowing. Pieced together from survivors’ memories of that night and other oral histories/archival records, Cook and Carson carefully reconstruct the events of that night and it is truly rare to read such a terrible tale of violence. I was absolutely enraptured by the structure of this novel and the writing demonstrated a careful attention to detail and a strong narrative voice.
I highly recommend The Castleton Massacre to readers interested in Canadian true crime and history. This book was truly excellent.
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About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.