Investigating Suspects in the Death of Peter Verigin
Ages 16-18

MysteryQuest 12

Investigating Suspects in the Death of Peter Verigin

Author: Sheila Heatherington

Editors: Ruth Sandwell, Dick Holland

Series Editor: Roland Case

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18

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Late in the evening of October 28, 1924, Peter Verigin boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Brilliant, British Columbia, the headquarters of the Doukhobor community. About one in the morning a horrific explosion blew away the roof and sides of the coach. Verigin and eight others perished in the explosion, which investigators on the scene quickly concluded was no accident.

Known by the single name “Lordly,” Peter Verigin lived like royalty among a group of Russian immigrants to Canada, the Doukhobors, whose motto was “Toil and Peaceful Life.” The Doukhobors preached equality and rejected the authority of both Church and State. As a result, they were persecuted in Russia. In 1902, their leader, Peter Verigin, and many of his community came to Canada to take up a new life.

Who could have been responsible for the death of Peter Verigin? Although it may have been an unfortunate accident, at least five groups and individuals were identified as possible suspects in the murder of Verigin. You are invited to follow the evidence pointing to one of these suspects and decide to what degree this group/person deserves to be treated as a serious suspect in Verigin’s death.

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This MysteryQuest invites you to make a recommendation to cold case detectives who might want to reopen an investigation into Verigin’s death. Your task is to examine some of the evidence related to one of five groups or individuals who are identified as possible suspects.

You are to select one of these suspects and decide whether it would be worthwhile for the cold case crime unit to pursue further investigation of this person or group. Before preparing your recommendation, you will familiarize yourself with the historical context of the case and examine four documents pertaining to the suspect you have chosen to investigate. After identifying evidence for possible involvement in Verigin’s death, you are to indicate how seriously the crime unit should investigate this suspect.

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STEP 1: Learn about the historical context

Before examining documents from the time of the killing of Peter Verigin, it will be useful to learn more about the Doukhobors and their history before and after coming to Canada. Read the three documents in the “Secondary documents” section of Evidence in the Case. These selections, written by historians, explain the conflicts this group encountered and the sequence of events from the early history of the Doukhobors to the present day.

STEP 2: Investigate a suspect to investigate

Various theories have been offered as to who might have been responsible for the explosion that killed Verigin. The following are the most frequently mentioned suspects:

  • the Government of Canada or of British Columbia who might have wanted to be rid of someone they saw to be a troublemaker;
  • factions within the Doukhobor community who thought that Verigin had become a problem;
  • members of a racist group such as the Ku Klux Klan who wanted to stop the spread of this immigrant group;
  • the Soviet government who might have wanted to get back at a person who had embarrassed its regime;
  • or Verigin’s own son, Peter Petrovich Verigin, who was very bitter towards his father.

Select one of these suspects as the focus of your investigation.

STEP 3: Gather evidence about the suspect

Documents that might shed light on the possible guilt of the suspect you have chosen are found in the “Primary documents” section of Evidence in the Case. Select the group or person you wish to investigate and go to the appropriate link on the related Mysteries website. There you will find an introduction and a list of primary documents related to your suspect. Read the introduction and select only four of the documents that you will review for evidence.

In reviewing each document, look for three factors:

  • Motive: Is there evidence to suggest that the suspect had a strong motive for wanting to kill Verigin? For example, does it seem likely that the suspect’s feelings towards Verigin would be sufficiently strong to cause the person or group to risk everything to carry out the killing?
  • Opportunity or means: Is there evidence to suggest that the suspect had the ability and resources to arrange the explosion that killed Verigin? For example, is it likely the person had access to the explosives needed, knew how to construct a bomb, and would have been able to place the explosives under the train?
  • Reliability of evidence: Is there evidence to suggest whether the information in the documents is trustworthy and believable? For example, perhaps the person providing the information might have wanted to spread false rumours about the suspect.

As you read each of the four documents, record any evidence that is relevant to each of these three factors on the chart Suspect Investigation. After you have recorded this information, ask yourself whether there is reason to question or doubt whether the evidence points to the suspect. For example, the evidence might indicate that your suspect had access to explosives. You might raise several questions about this evidence. Is there an innocent explanation why the suspect might have had explosives? Perhaps they were miners. Were the explosives the same kind that were used to blow up the train? Is there any evidence that any of the explosives that the suspect had were missing? Record these questions or concerns in the right-hand column of the chart.

STEP 4: Prepare your recommendation

At this stage you should have reviewed four documents related to your chosen suspect and recorded on the chart all the relevant evidence and any possible questions about the conclusions to draw from each piece of evidence. You are now ready to make your recommendation to the cold case detectives on the value of further investigation of your suspect for the murder of Peter Verigin. Decide whether or not the evidence supports further investigation of your suspect. The more likely it seems that your suspect may be guilty, the more value there is in investigating the suspect further. Indicate your conclusion by selecting the appropriate option found on the chart Recommendation and provide a detailed explanation for your conclusion.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing Evidence and Recommendation may be used to assess how well you were able to meet the following criteria:

  • identify relevant and important evidence in the documents;
  • recognize possible weaknesses in this evidence;
  • and offer a plausible recommendation about the value of further investigation of the suspect.

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Examine additional evidence
Examine the evidence presented in the Inquest and use this evidence to confirm or revise your recommendation about the value of further investigation of your chosen suspect.

Investigate other suspects
Repeat the process you have just completed for one or more of the other suspects in Verigin’s death. After assessing several documents for each suspect, rank order the suspects in terms of the likeliness of their involvement in a murder plot.

Could it have been an accident?
It was never proven that Verigin was actually murdered. Some people suggest it may have been an accident. Review the documents found in the section called Accident and reach your own conclusion as to whether it is more likely that Verigin’s death was accidental or intentional.

Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to other MysteryQuests associated with the murder of Peter Verigin. MysteryQuest 8 invites you to try to understand the Doukhobors’ actions from their perspective and MysteryQuest 11 challenges you to reconstruct the crime scene of Peter Verigin’s death.

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Activity Sheet: Suspect Investigation

Activity Sheet: Recommendation

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Secondary documents


Doukhobor Culture and Migration to Canada


Primary documents

Doukhobor Factions

Government of Canada/British Columbia

Ku Klux Klan (KKK)

Soviet Government

Peter P. Verigin II (Verigin’s son)