Was the Redpath Verdict Plausible?
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 33

Was the Redpath Verdict Plausible?

Author: Catriona Misfeldt

Editors: Ilan Danjoux, Ruth Sandwell

Series Editor: Roland Case


A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14 to 16

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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.

Whenever a suspicious death occurs, it must be investigated in an inquest. The jurors at the Redpath inquest decided that Cliff shot his mother and then killed himself. They concluded that Cliff was unaware of his actions and temporarily insane at that moment of the killing due to an epileptic attack. News of this tragedy was widely published but reports of what happened varied greatly. Suspicions were heightened because the police were not involved, the inquest investigation was rushed and the family seemed very secretive. You are invited to decide for yourself whether the deaths were suspicious or if the evidence justified the jury's verdict.

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This MysteryQuest invites you to assess the reasonableness of the jury's verdict. You will offer an initial assessment after a quick review of a few documents. Then, you will examine additional documents regarding the events and the victims' medical conditions, and make a second assessment. Next, you will be introduced to the criteria for a sound verdict and offer a final assessment of the coronor's conclusions in the case.

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STEP 1: Learn about the victims' conditions

Medical conditions play a big role in this mystery. At the time, there were misunderstandings and negative attitudes attached to many medical problems. Ada suffered from sleeplessness, depression and nervousness. The condition, called "hysteria" at the time but now described more often as anxiety, was believed to produce drastic changes in behaviour. Amy Redpath, the eldest child, shouldered most of the responsibility for caring for her ailing mother. The eldest son, Peter, was very ill with tuberculosis. Consequently the managing of the family business and fortune fell to Cliff. But Cliff suffered from epilepsy - a physical condition that occurs when there is a sudden change in how the brain works resulting in unconsciousness and unusual behaviour for a short time. People with serious attacks were thought to be dangerous. Research has evolved since the early 20th century but physicians at the time had different understandings of causes, effects and cures.

Begin your investigation by reading the four brief documents in the Background to the case section of Evidence in the Case. Use the top of the sheet Was the Verdict Plausible? to record relevant facts from these documents about the evidence, the victims and their medical conditions that seem to support or challenge the jury's verdict.

STEP 2: Make an initial judgement

Based on what you have read thus far, offer an initial judgment about the reasonableness of the jury's verdict. Use the rating scale to record your assessment from "highly plausible" to "highly implausible" on Was the Verdict Plausible?. Include reasons for your conclusion.

STEP 3: Look for evidence

The jurors decided that although Cliff shot his mother and then turned the gun on himself, because of an epileptic attack, he was unconscious of his actions and temporarily insane. Keeping the verdict in mind, review the 14 documents in the Revealing information section of Evidence in the Case. Many of these documents are very short diary entries, letters and official forms. As you examine them, look for evidence that supports or contradicts the verdict. Record your findings on the chart Supporting and Contradictory Evidence. You many need to make several copies of this sheet to record all the relevant information. For each piece of evidence, indicate whether it supports or raises doubts about the verdict, and explain why.

STEP 4: Re-assess the jury's decision

After gathering this additional evidence, decide whether you are more or less likely to accept the jury's verdict than you were initially. Record your answer on the bottom of Was the Verdict Plausible? and provide reasons for your thinking.

STEP 5: Consider the criteria for a sound verdict

Your next step is to consider all the evidence in light of the following criteria for a plausible verdict:

  • Abundant information: Is there a lot of information available to allow us to reach a conclusion? Or do we know so little about the events that any conclusion is questionable?
  • Strong evidence: Does the evidence directly and clearly support the verdict? Or, do the facts only suggest or hint at the conclusion? Is there "hard" evidence that points to a single conclusion?
  • Consistent explanation: Is all the important evidence consistent with the same conclusion? Or, is there conflicting or contradictory evidence that can't easily be explained?

Use the chart My Final Assessment to rate the extent to which the evidence you have gathered meets each of these criteria. Provide reasons for each rating.

STEP 6: Explain your conclusion

You are now ready to make your final assessment. Indicate on the bottom of the activity sheet your conclusion about the reasonableness of the jury's verdict. Provide reasons for your final conclusion.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing the Evidence, Explanations and Conclusions may be used to assess how well you were able to identify relevant evidence from the historical documents, recognize new information from various sources, and rate the plausibility of the verdict.

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Activity sheet: Was the Verdict Plausible?

Activity sheet: Supporting and Contradictory Evidence

Activity sheet: My Final Assessment

Assessment rubric: Assessing the Evidence, Explanations and Conclusions

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Create a diary entry
Imagine you are Amy Redpath Roddick. Write 3-5 diary entries describing your personal reactions to the situation. Express your thoughts about the known health conditions of your mother and brother, their impact on your life, and your reactions to the outcome of the inquest.

Write an editorial
Write a persuasive editorial that identifies the reasons for and against the verdict. Ensure your editorial is historically accurate, includes relevant, specific evidence and presents a balanced look at evidence for and against the soundness of the verdict.

Create an alternative verdict
Based on your knowledge of the evidence and medical conditions of the victims, create an alternative verdict that you feel more fairly represents the cause of the murder. Consult other documents in Redpath Mansion Mystery for additional information.

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

  • MysteryQuest 31 invites you to decide who had the strongest motive for the murder.
  • 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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Background to the case

Article, Investigation

Article, Ada Maria Mills Redpath

Article, Jocelyn Clifford Redpath

Article, Healthy Spaces

Revealing information

News reports

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

Newspaper article: The Quebec Daily Mercury, June 14, 1901 [Headline: Redpath Tragedy in Montreal]

Newspaper article: The New York Times, June 14, 1901 [Headline: Tragedy in Montreal]

Medical conditions

Book: Osler, William. (1892). [Subject: Epilepsy]. The Principles and Practice of Medicine. New York: Appelton, pp.948-952.

Book: Blandford, Fielding. (1892). [Subject: Homicide]. Insanity and Its Treatment: Lectures on The Treatment, Medical and Legal of Insane Patients. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, pp. 198-199.

Journal article: Bancroft, Charles, P. [Subject: Subconscious Homicide]. American Journal of Insanity 55, October 31, 1989, p. 264 [Headline: Subconscious Homicide and Suicide; Their Physiological Psychology]

Legal documents

Coroner's Court, June 14, 1901, Ed McMahon, Cour du Coroner - Ada Maria Mills Redpath

Sources confirming deaths

Cemetery Registration Card, nd, Ada Marie Mills Redpath - Mount Royal Cemetery Registration Card

Cemetery Registration Card, nd, Jocelyn Clifford Redpath - Mount Royal Cemetery Registration Card

Miscellaneous family correspondence

Diary, Amy Redpath, January 5, 1898

Diary, Amy Redpath, August 11, 1898

Letter, nd, Letter from Ada Maria Mills Redpath

Letter, August 12, 1898, Letter from Ada Maria Mills Redpath to Clifford Jocelyn Redpath

Article, 2007, Amy Linda Redpath, Murder and Mystery in the Redpath Mansion