Murder and sex, Canadian-style -

Murder and sex, Canadian-style

Headline murders tend to have a moral message as well as a sexual component

Murder and sex, Canadian-style

Ajax, Ont., teacher Paul Martin leaves a courthouse in Jamaica | Jamaica Observer

The first murderer in my life was John George Haigh, also known as the acid bath murderer. While in prison for some lesser crime, he dreamed up the idea of dissolving bodies in sulphuric acid until they were sludge. Which he did during the late 1940s in Britain, pouring loads of it down manholes. His last victim was a 69-year-old widow living at a hotel in Kensington. Haigh liked the Persian lamb coat she wore and it was the cleaning ticket for it that helped track him down.

The British papers were rapturous about Haigh. There are no subjects that people read about more eagerly and deny reading about more readily than murder and sex—preferably in combination. When someone speaks of reading such a story, they proffer the waiting-room defence. Perhaps you are reading this very column while waiting for your dental checkup.

The holidays are a lodestone for violence. An Alberta mother was charged with attempted murder and arson just before Christmas after allegedly setting fire to the family home—husband and kids inside. I expect a number of mums contemplate doing something similar around Christmas, and indeed the Edmonton Police Service weighed in to helpfully explain holidays can be a time of stress for families. They certainly were for the couple from Ajax, Ont., who were on a reconciliation holiday in Jamaica that went a bit wobbly when, according to police, on Dec. 23 the husband took a different route to the airport, drove to a secluded spot, where he allegedly slashed his wife’s throat and tossed her out of the car—one sure way to patch up a marriage. Fortunately, he appears to have been a bungler and the wife survived to tell the tale even while he was telling the police about the strange man who did it.

Most great literature and low entertainment have one thing in common: violent death. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment wouldn’t have worked half as well if Raskolnikov had only robbed the old woman pawnbroker rather than bashed in her head (though for me the truly awful murder in the novel is of the small sorrel mare, whipped to her knees by her sadistic owner before being pulverized to the cheers of peasant onlookers). Shakespeare is a literary serial killer. Ancient Greek vases most often depict the violent death of Priam on the altar of Jupiter, and where would Freud have been without Oedipus? The classic children’s fairy stories almost always had murder in them, probably with the idea that you can’t train children too early about the dangers of wicked old women who might bake them in an oven.

Murder is the crime we most easily say we would like to do and are the least likely to commit. When people irritate us the first words said are “I could kill him.” Everyone knows no one means it, but the language is a good indicator of how basic this is to our nature. We rarely think, “I could burgle or embezzle him.” Orwell thought murder gave some insight to national character. The ideal English newspaper murder, he wrote, should be about an ordinary bloke. He’d be a conservative and teetotaller (and recycling his garbage these days), the man living next door, preferably in a semi-detached house where strange noises coming through the walls could be heard by neighbours. He plans his wife’s murder with the utmost cunning but slips up over some small detail. The French pride themselves on the crime passionel. Americans seem to specialize in lunatic young men who go mad and shoot half the school. What then is the Canadian murder?

Our headline murder has to have a moral message as well as a sexual component. The frivolous murder is very un-Canadian. The Vancouver pig farmer targeted prostitutes. Quebec campus massacres sparked debates about gun control and apologies about cultural racism. Ontario’s murderer Paul Bernardo and serial rapist Karla Homolka had between them one dysfunctional home and two sets of misfiring hormones. The Canadian Forces colonel stole lingerie from homes before he raped and murdered. Making a fuss afterwards is very Canadian, too, with an immediate call for counselling for everyone. The colonel’s dressing up in missy’s underwear upset our warriors, whose training hadn’t prepared them for such horror. His uniform suffered its own auto-da-fé when ostentatiously burned together with his equipment and documentation. “There was no ceremony but it was formal,” a military spokesman told the press. Occasionally in Canada we have a “one-off” job, like the Chinese immigrant who decapitated a passenger on a Greyhound bus and was said to have then eaten bits of him.

Bees do it, some birds do it, only human beings go at it with such cold-blooded deliberation and planning. But it has its place in the world: without murder, Christians would still be Jews and God only knows what Jews would be. In the beginning Cain bumped off Abel, marking foreheads forever, and from that time on life has been bloody murder.


Murder and sex, Canadian-style

  1. "Making a fuss afterwards is very Canadian, too, with an immediate call for counseling for everyone" Thanks Barbara, that brought a smile to my face. A very Canadian Attitude to be so worred about others.

    Also, I seem to remember a number of people (Media or commenter's, don't really remember which) asking that high level officials be monitored or examined by other professionals to make sure they were in a good state of mind – what a logistical nightmare!

  2. Good take on us Canucks.

    Bit O/T but Col. Williams is the only one that admitted to everything right away and even tried to take his own life. Makes you wonder if there will be any further investigation into his long-term use of Prednisone.

  3. The first Macleans issue of 2011 and our only national magazine has, with unwavering consistency, proven itself to love having its face deep in the derrière of the good ol' USA.
    The Letter from the Editor is quick to get on board. The Good News/Bad News page maintains the kowtowing by having a full seven out of the eight pieces be about them Yanks (three mentioned Canada). Half of the Newsmakers items held their lusty gazes south o'the border, again, more times than here. I'm already bracing myself for the drivvelous Back Pages.
    And with this tiresome start to the year's news, I turn the page to Amiel's article. Normally her writing is nothing more than a promotional essay for life in LA or some other banal U.S. American centre. Or is about Canada only if it mentions how we somehow failed her husband above all. But this article was not only about the TNS&F, she even talks about cities and provinces as if Canada were a real place where real people live! Not some ethereal homogenous undefinable otherness that is bothersome to talk about when it is so much more exciting and easy to repeat the tales and trappings of the glory of the United States!! No, not this time, folks. Canada was in Barb's hooks. Of course the States were mentioned once. I mean what sort of Canadian journalist could get through an ENTIRE editorial without SOME sort of tie in or comparison to the US? That would be ridiculous. But to have multiple references to our own country in the first major opinion commentary of Macleans?!? Why, I almost for a second believed this could be a national magazine that represents my nationality.

  4. Don't buy the mag

  5. The real story about this is yet to be published. Given the publication ban ordered by the Crown Attorney, Marion Boyd, will it ever see the light of day? But thousands already know that Bernardo was the biological son of the former premier, who would still like to become the Prime Minister one day. So the police ignored Bernardo's earlier crimes in Scarborough and arrested a couple of 'patsies' instead. And they went to prison. Later Bernardo went to the penitentiary where his true story was safe from reporters. And his accomplice Karla was eventually set free…the Crown made a deal.
    Remarkably, no one asked if it might be more than a coincidence that Bernardo's former school chum Russell Williams also went on a crime spree, years later. Were they victims of a mind-control experiment?

  6. I think Barbara Amiel should be fired and devoid of all properties and cash except what she has earned at MacLean's magazine. I would throw her in jail as well since for many years has benefitted from her husbands illegal activity.
    I would enjoy seeing her begging for spare change on the street. Then, and ony then I would be interested in her point of view. Someone who sits in an ivory tower having lost all contact with the average man (sounds like monarchists) can no longer relate to her/him. Her point of view si devoid of all compassion, honesty and sincerity. I believe the average canadian is a pretty decent person. Barbara Amiel, Conrad Black (thow in Andrew Coyen and Don Cherry) no longer represents the average person. Thanks be to God. Let's ship em all to a right-wing state where they really belong.
    P.S Was it not another right'wing guy (Mulroney) who let some of Canada's largest companies move their head offices offshore so they would not have to pay corporate taxes. The Toronto elite (read monarchists). Don't you just love 'em.

  7. After reading this I feel like I need to shower.