Who Had the Strongest Motive for Murder?
Ages 11-14

MysteryQuest 31

Who Had the Strongest Motive for Murder?

Author: Catriona Misfeldt

Editors: Ilan Danjoux, Ruth Sandwell

Series Editor: Roland Case


A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 11 to 14

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Ada Redpath, a 59 year-old widow, and her 24 year-old son, Clifford were members of one of Canada's wealthiest families. On the evening of June 13, 1901 both were shot to death in Ada's bedroom in the Redpath mansion in Montreal. Mrs. Redpath's eldest son, Peter, and her servants rushed to help. A family physician was called to the scene. A coroner's inquest was held in the mansion the following day. Two days later, the bodies were buried in the Redpath family grave.

The investigation of the deaths was hasty. The jurors at the inquest decided that Cliff shot his mother and then killed himself. They concluded that Cliff was unaware of his actions and temporarily insane at the moment of the killing due to an epileptic attack. This verdict was based on little "hard" evidence. Curiously, the police were not involved. Might there have been a cover-up? Was the case as "open and shut" as the coroner suggested? Did the coroner consider the possibility of other suspects? Who else might have wanted the mother or son killed? There are clues in the surviving documents.

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This MysteryQuest invites you to become a detective, and review four other suspects in the case: Amy Redpath, Peter Redpath, Dr. Roddick and Rose Shallow. You will investigate who among them might have had the strongest motive for killing Ada and Cliff. You will begin by learning more about the Redpath family and these suspects, and then you will offer an initial suggestion as to possible motives for each suspect. You will look for additional evidence in various documents. Finally, you will assess the strength of the motives to determine who among the four is the prime suspect - who had the most to gain from the Redpath deaths.

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STEP 1: Learn about the Redpath family

From all accounts, the Redpath's were a close family. The children had married into wealthy Montreal families. Some members lived in the family mansion; others were involved in the family business. Much of their life centered on the health problems of Mrs. Redpath and her son, Peter, who suffered from tuberculosis. Amy Redpath was responsible for running the household and looking after her sickly mother.

Begin your investigation by reading the two brief documents in the Secondary sources section of Evidence in the Case These selections written by historians describe the history of the Redpath family and explain the significance of family connections among the wealthy elite.

STEP 2: Investigate the suspects

Although the inquest concluded that Cliff killed his mother and himself, there are various theories as to who else might have wanted them dead. Several relatives and people closely connected to the family were potential suspects:

  • Amy Redpath, the eldest daughter of Ada;
  • Peter Redpath, the eldest son of Ada;
  • Dr. Thomas Roddick, the husband of Amy;
  • Rose Shallow, maid in the Redpath household and companion to Amy.
  • Each suspect had potential motives for murder.

Gather information by reading one document about each suspect in the Biographies section of Evidence in the Case. As you read, record relevant biographical details (name, occupation, personal history) and facts about their relationship to the victims and to each other on the chart Suspects and Motives

STEP 3: Consider possible motives

There are many motives for committing murder. These include the desire to:

  • acquire wealth or advantage;
  • revenge a wrong;
  • cover up theft;
  • gain independence from a troublesome person;
  • hide a secret;
  • protect oneself or others from harm;
  • hurt someone because of hatred or jealousy.

Based on what you learned thus far, suggest possible motives that each suspect might have for killing Ada or Cliff. Record your initial thoughts in the right-hand column of the Suspects and Motives chart

STEP 4: Explore the basis for establishing motive

Soon you will examine more documents and look for clues about the strength of each suspect's motives. There are three factors to consider when examining motives:

  • Amount of perceived gain: How much might the suspect actually have gained - or believed he would gain - from the deaths? For example, a suspect who believes he will inherit a great deal of money has a stronger motive than a person likely to inherent very little.
  • Expressed eagerness to benefit: How keen or desperate is the suspect to get these gains? To what extent has the person communicated an interest in achieving the personal gains that might follow from the deaths? For example, a suspect desperate to change her circumstances might have a stronger motive than someone who accepts her situation.
  • Flawed character: A suspect's character - whether he was untrustworthy, overly ambitious, had a horrible temper or was cruel - could influence strength of motive. For example, a suspect who is generous and kind is less likely to want to kill others than a highly jealous person with a bad temper.

STEP 5: Look for evidence

Working on your own or with a partner, examine the sources found in the Suspects' supporting documents section Evidence in the Case. For each suspect, there are between three and six short documents and photographs. Look for clues in each of these sources that help to establish or refute possible motives.

Most of the evidence you gather in this challenge will not directly indicate a motive. You will have to draw inferences about possible motives. For example, one of Amy's diary entries outlines her household responsibilities. This offers evidence that Amy was doing much for her sickly mother, and that she would benefit by having more time for herself if she no longer had to do this. The fact that Amy writes about her duties in her diary also suggests an interest in being relieved of this burden.

Write each suspect's name and possible motive(s) for committing murder at the top of a separate copy of Rating the Strength of Motives. Complete the charts by recording relevant information drawn from all the suggested documents about each suspect's potential gains, eagerness to benefit and flawed character traits.

STEP 6: Rate the strength of motives

When you have recorded the evidence, rate the strength of each motivating factor using the scale (from 0-3). For example, you might decide that the clues regarding Amy Redpath's desire for more freedom suggest "considerable interest" - a "2" rating - in killing her mother.

After assessing each factor, ask yourself whether there are reasons to doubt the assigned rating. For example, Amy might benefit from her mother's death by not having so many responsibilities. But we might wonder whether Amy could pass along some of these responsibilities to the servants if she wanted more time for herself. Record your questions or concerns about each rating on the chart.

STEP 7: Identify the prime suspect

After assessing the factors affecting the strength of motive of each suspect, reach a conclusion about the prime suspect in the killing of Ada and Cliff Redpath. Use Identifying the Prime Suspect to identify and explain who had the strongest motive and why it was strongest.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing Evidence and Conclusions may be used to assess how well you were able to identify relevant evidence from the documents and draw plausible conclusions about strength of various motives.

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Activity Sheet: Suspects and Motives

Activity Sheet: Rating the Strength of Motives

Activity Sheet: Identifying the Prime Suspect

Assessment rubric: Assessing the Evidence and Conclusions

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Examine additional evidence
Locate other historical documents in Redpath Mansion Mystery that provide more complete evidence as to the motives of the four lead suspects in the Redpath murders. Does this additional evidence change your conclusions?

Investigate other suspects
Investigate other suspects in the Redpath murders: examine several documents for each suspect, assess the strength of their motives and rank order their likelihood of involvement in the murder.

Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to a related mystery associated with the Redpath murders:

  • MysteryQuest 30 invites you to assess the strength of the jury's verdict and the supporting evidence.
  • MysteryQuest 32 challenges you to identify how physical environment, material possessions and social capital shaped the privileged life of wealthy people at the time.

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Secondary Sources

Newspaper article: The Globe, June 14, 1901 [Headline: Mother and Son Dead]

Newspaper article: The Montreal Daily Star, June 14, 1901 [Headline: Sad Occurrence]

Article: Blood ties

Article: The Redpaths


Biography, Amy Redpath Roddick

Biography, Peter Whiteford Redpath

Obituary, The Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1923: 296 "Sir Thomas George Roddick"

Biography, Mary Rose Shallow

Suspects' supporting documents

Amy Redpath

Photograph, Amy's marriage to Dr. Roddick at Chislehurst, England, 1906

Last Will and Testament, Dame Ada M. Mills, widow of the late John J. Redpath, Esq., 1897

Poem, Amy Redpath, nd, "Perfect in thy Promise - To J.C.R."

Diary, Amy Redpath Roddick, April 29, 1897

Diary, Amy Redpath Roddick, July 29, 1897

Diary, Amy Redpath Roddick, August 11, 1898

Diary, Amy Redpath Roddick, February 7, 1899

Peter Redpath

Examination of chest, Dr. H.A. Lafleur, November 16, 1899

Coroner's Court, Ed McMahon, June 14, 1901

Letter, from Peter Redpath to Peter Whiteford Redpath, June 22, 1884

Letter from Jocelyn Clifford Redpath to Peter Redpath, April 22, 1901

Dr. Thomas George Roddick

Photograph, Amy's marriage to Dr. Roddick at Chislehurst, England, 1906

Coroner's report, Ed McMahon, June 14, 1901

Newspaper article: The Montreal Daily Star, June 14, 1901 [Headline: Sad Occurrence]

Photograph, nd, The Roddick Gates

Rose Shallow

Last will and testament, Amy Redpath Roddick, January 20, 1925

Photograph, ca 1930, Rose Shallow and Amy Redpath Roddick in wheeled chair

Photograph, nd, Rose Shallow and Amy Roddick in Egypt

Inscription, nd, Inscription on Rose Shallow's Grave

Coroner's report, Ed McMahon, June 14, 1901