The Castleton Massacre

Survivors’ Stories of the Killins Femicide

Reviewed by Nelle Oosterom

Posted May 10, 2023

On May 2, 1963, Robert Killins, a former United Church minister, slaughtered four female members of his family. The meticulously planned massacre happened in the small community of Castleton, Ontario, and made headlines across the continent. As time passed, the horrific crime was forgotten by most, save for the families of the victims and perpetrator — including two children who survived the bloodbath.

The authors of The Castleton Massacre have lived with the aftermath of the grisly killings for most of their lives. Sharon Cook is the niece of the killer; Margaret Carson was twelve when the man she called “Dad” shot her mother and her half-sister, both of whom were pregnant, as well as her aunt and her six-year-old sister. Margaret and her younger brother escaped the murderous rampage and were taken in by the caring family of the murderer’s brother, Harold Killins. Thus, Sharon and Margaret became sisters.

The book is both a family memoir and a commentary on domestic violence. We learn about the background of the killer — brilliant but angry — as well as Florence Fraser — a vivacious, intelligent woman who married the then-respectable older minister when she was just eighteen and hoping to escape poverty. She spent the next twenty-five years of her life in a state of domestic terror.

Robert Killins collected grievances as well as guns. He followed his wife across the country when she tried to escape. He repeatedly assaulted her and her children, threatening to kill them. Florence had few resources. In 1963 there were no women’s shelters, no domestic-violence laws, and society in general turned a blind eye.

This is a gripping read, well written, well illustrated, and achingly relevant today, when incidents of familicide continue to occur.

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This article originally appeared in the June-July 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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