Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

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Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Glen Livingstone » Thu Oct 18, 2018 8:09 pm

Did you hear about the B.C. radio disc jockey who murdered his wife and was given the death penalty?

It's true.

Rene Castellani had been a former nightclub owner, who tried to become an actor, and who had yet another career change when he was hired by New Westminster radio station CKNW in 1964 to do promotion.

Among other stunts, he dressed as a 'Mahorajah', and he and his entourage 'arrived' in Vancouver and began a series of high profile 'appearances' around town.

CKNW management then cast him as 'The Dizzy Dialer' at the radio station, where he would telephone unsuspecting 'victims' and make outlandish requests. Yes, old schtick now, and even then, as a lot of it was taken straight off the TV shows of the time, including I Love Lucy, and Steve Allen, but, that was a simpler time, and Rene was considered - by some - to be quite the comedian.

Friends and acquaintances had mixed opinions about Rene, though. Described as being talented, outgoing, and funny, some of his co-workers privately, and not so privately, thought he was weird and even crazy. A couple thought him warm and even lovable. One found him very 'lovable' indeed.

Rumors began circulating that the long-time married man Rene was having an affair with the station's all-night switchboard girl; "Lolly" Miller was a 22 year old widow with a young child and an insurance policy from her drowned husband. Rene who was much older, had not only a wife, but an 11 year old daughter. As Rene and Lolly didn't bother to hide their affair, people were naturally beginning to talk.

The situation escalated when Rene's long-suffering wife Esther became suspicious after finding a love letter from Lolly stuffed in her husband's coat pocket. The talk heated up. Both Rene and Lolly were asked to resign from the radio station.

Lolly quit CKNW then, but Rene refused to resign, playing the sympathy card, claiming that his wife was ill. They reluctantly let him stay, feeling it would be callous to let him go when he was looking after his 'sick' wife. Esther in fact began feeling unwell, so much so, that she was taken into hospital at VGH a few days afterward. Extensive medical tests were begun, and completed; there seemed to be nothing wrong with her. So why was she so sick, and, after she got into the hospital, why was she getting even sicker?

During this time Rene started one of his most elaborate, and most publicized, stunts. For days on end, he was, in effect, 'flagpole sitting'; supposedly 'staying' in a car 'parked' adjacent to the top of the ten story tall Bow Mac sign on West Broadway, while broadcasting regular live reports of the experience to his radio audience. As Esther grew ever more ill, some at CKNW grew ever more horrified by his callousness, and begged him to end the 'gag', to get down from there, and go look after his wife. Poor Esther's health was deteriorating daily, all the while Rene was supposedly, and publicly, 'away' from her.

Rene was, in fact, visiting his wife, coming down from the tower, and going to the hospital, hiding out in the hallways if her mother happened to be there, and waiting until she left, before bringing his wife her favorite flavor of milkshake to try to get her to 'keep her strength up'. She drank the milkshakes. But it wasn't working. She kept getting worse.

Rene thought the best thing he could do for his ailing wife would be to buy a house with Lolly. Rene and Lolly began the process, and applied for a mortgage while Esther still lay in hospital, still drinking the milkshakes that didn't seem to be making her any stronger. Days after the mortgage application, Esther died. Her death came under circumstances that still mystified the medical staff. She was only 40 years old.

After Esther was buried, Rene took his 11 year old daughter to Disneyland, days after the funeral of her mother. He also took Lolly, and her child, along for the ride. They drove down to California in style, in a borrowed CKNW cruiser - a marked car - the same one that Rene had left parked in plain view many nights outside Lolly's house, while Esther had been sitting at home waiting for him. But Esther was gone now - six feet under - although no-one knew quite why.

Esther's family doctor was stumped. He couldn't get it out of his mind. He began reviewing her case, going back through all the files. The only possible conclusion he could come to was a suspected poisoning. The symptoms, if added up altogether, suggested an old-fashioned poison that had been out of 'fashion' since Victorian times: arsenic. Other officials couldn't see it, and thought it too outlandish; some hadn't seen an arsenic poisoning in their careers, as that sort of thing had seemed to have largely fallen off some fifty years before. But Esther's doctor requested that the coroner exhume her body to test it to find out if his theory of the mystery was correct. It was. The coroner needed the permission of the dead woman's husband to dig up the body, but Rene refused to give it. The unsuspecting legendary radio personality Jack Webster had been a friend of Rene's, and he said he talked Rene into changing his mind and letting the exhumation take place; he told Rene it would look suspicious if he continued to refuse, so, in the end, Rene gave in.

Poor Esther didn't rest in peace for long. She was dug up, and her body tested for arsenic. It tested positive. There was so much in her poor body, they could tell she'd been fed that poison for many months prior to her death. The amount of arsenic her body had been given had not fallen during her hospital stay; it had risen, and risen dramatically, during that time. Milkshakes! The coroner called for an inquest. The jury sat through 4 days of evidence, and brought in the verdict: death was "unnatural, a homicide". It may be true that dead men tell no tales, but it is also true that women like having the last word. Esther had pointed a finger straight at Rene from beyond the grave.

Rene and Esther's house was searched by authorities. They found an arsenic-based weed killer down the basement. The bottle had several ounces gone out of it; enough to kill Esther several times over.

Rene thought the best thing he could do for his dead wife was to immediately marry the young Lolly. He got the marriage license, but before he could take himself a new wife, he was arrested for the murder of his last one.

Rene Castellani was found guilty. The death penalty was still in effect in British Columbia. Rene had a date with the hangman.

In desperation, his lawyers appealed, and a new trial was begun. He was found guilty again. This time he went to prison, his last stop on the way to the gallows. But Rene cheated the hangman after all; the death penalty was abolished, and everyone on death row had his sentence commuted - Rene included. He would stay in prison for 12 years, but he wouldn't be hanged.

After he got out of prison he went back to the radio station and wanted CKNW to give him his job back. Strangely enough, CKNW had never admitted that Rene, who had been very high-profile, had ever worked for their own station during their coverage of his trials; they were understandably not anxious to have him back. Grim laughter greeted his request, as he was told to just walk away Rene ... and don't let the door handle hit you on your way out past the new receptionist. He never did marry Lolly. She got married to someone else while he was still doing time. Rene died relatively young not too many years later, after briefly reviving his 'career' in radio at a station on Vancouver Island.

Well, anyway, that's the way I've always heard it. Mercifully, I never met Rene. I went to work for 'NW around five years after Rene went to prison, and he never darkened the doors there again after he got out.

But I've heard other pieces of the puzzle down through the years.

Did someone lie for Rene at his trial? If so, it hadn't seemed to have done him any good. Since Rene had been nabbed by the police just before he could actually marry Lolly, she could have been forced to testify against him - did she? And who started the dark and whispered suggestion about the girlfriend's dead husband, or was that all just an ugly rumor?

A New York city tabloid printed the story about Rene, as they knew it, a few years back. Are there still unanswered questions? We're all about to find out.

A new book is coming out about the case of the infamous Rene. Vancouver writer Eve Lazurus has penned her latest, called : " Murder by Milkshake : An Astonishing True Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and a Charismatic Killer ". It is coming out this week, published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Although I am dubious about the word 'charismatic' in the title, I am definitely going to read it.

~ by Glen Livingstone
( with a little help from his friends )
{ In the photo below, Rene seems uncharacteristically shy about showing off his new bracelets as he is led away. }

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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Neumann Sennheiser » Fri Oct 19, 2018 8:41 am

A 2015 piece in the New York Daily News offers pretty much the same story but includes a few more pictures of the involved individuals. You had to be curious about the femme fatale that was Lolly Miller, right?

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/r ... -1.2249428

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"You don't know man! I was in radio man! I've seen things you wouldn't believe!"
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Russ_Byth » Fri Oct 19, 2018 9:26 am

What a great story Glen!
Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby cart_machine » Sat Oct 20, 2018 1:24 pm

Rene was head of promotions at CFVR in Abbotsford after he got out.

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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby jon » Sat Oct 20, 2018 6:24 pm

Gord Lansdell's research indicates that Rene ended his career as Promotions Manager at CKEG Nanaimo, after leaving CFVR.
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Jim Walters » Sat Oct 20, 2018 6:53 pm

Behind Lolly is a CKWX bus board for Tom Peacock. More ironic would have been a CKNW bus board from the early 70s.
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Richard Skelly » Sun Oct 21, 2018 4:34 am

Good chronicling of events by Glen. I'm surprised that the ever-creative Rene didn't claim it was all the doing of a one-armed man (younger RadioWesters may need to search The Fugitive to get that reference.

Eve Lazarus will likely do a very good job with her forthcoming book. She worked for many years at The Vancouver Sun. And writes a weekly blog highlighting an event or building from Vancouver's past.

Coincidentally, Coast To Coast guest host Richard Syrett had an author on Saturday's program who's written a book positing that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died from arsenic poisoning administered by either Nazis or political foes. Just like Rene's unfortunate wife, FDR weakened noticeably after meals, claims Steve Ubaney. His previous book Who Killed Elvis? hypothesized that The King was whacked.
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby slowhand » Sun Oct 21, 2018 7:27 am

Richard Skelly wrote:I'm surprised that the ever-creative Rene didn't claim it was all the doing of a one-armed man

My thinking took me in a different direction. That maybe Rene's death was actually murder.

Looking further, it appears that cancer was the cause, which makes murder very unlikely, though not impossible, I suppose.
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Richard Skelly » Sun Oct 21, 2018 8:09 pm

Unless very forgiving, Esther's next of kin probably hoped that Rene suffered during his bout with cancer. Or at least regarded his early demise as a karmic turn of events.

Wonder if Lolly's subsequent husband knew of her past? And how life has unfolded for her? Questions that may be answered in the forthcoming Eve Lazarus book.
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Jack Bennest » Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:38 pm

Love to see anyone on here interested in history radio - news and entertainment - gone but not forgotten.

http://www.bcradiohistory.com

Thank you radiofan for keeping it up

Most of us have difficulty with that lol :violent1:

BTW to all my many fans out there in radio land

Jack is alive,well and kickin in Oliver just celebrated my 35 birthday.....again. :occasion7:


Almost ten years of commercial success in local "web" media http://www.oliverdailynews.com

Good morning to Frosty da Forst!! :glasses7:
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Bill Nelson » Sun Nov 04, 2018 3:18 pm

Thanks for the story Glen.
While Rene was never in charge of promotions at CFVR, he was the traffic reporter on my morning show on CFVR (calling himself Rene The Roadrunner) until his departure to establish CKEG in Nanaimo where he expired from cancer. (He also did a version of the 'Dizzy Dialer' prank phone calls on CFVR.)
Ted Schellenberg, Chris Marcellus and Bob Singleton and I were his pall bearers from CFVR.
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Tom Jeffries » Sun Nov 04, 2018 5:12 pm

Great story.....I had no idea.......
Well done, Glen!
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby Richard Skelly » Sun Nov 04, 2018 9:29 pm

A few days ago, Drex devoted a couple of segments for Eve Lazarus to talk about her book. She interviewed Rene and Esther's daughter for the project.

Eve also said every colleague of Rene's that she interviewed spoke well of him professionally. To a person, however, they all were certain "he did it."
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Re: Remember CKNW's Rene Castellani?

Postby cart_machine » Mon Nov 05, 2018 1:35 pm

Bill Nelson wrote:Thanks for the story Glen.
While Rene was never in charge of promotions at CFVR, he was the traffic reporter on my morning show on CFVR (calling himself Rene The Roadrunner) until his departure to establish CKEG in Nanaimo where he expired from cancer. (He also did a version of the 'Dizzy Dialer' prank phone calls on CFVR.)
Ted Schellenberg, Chris Marcellus and Bob Singleton and I were his pall bearers from CFVR.


Thanks for the correction, Bill. Nice to see you're still around.
I haven't thought about Chris Marcellus for years.

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