Murder and Mystery in the Redpath Mansion

By Amy Linda Redpath

What really happened on Thursday June 13, 1901? Based on the available evidence, I contend that Clifford, in an agitated state, confronted his mother, shot her in the back of the head, and then turned the gun on himself in a murder-suicide. Clifford’s motives, however, remain a mystery.

In this discussion of the deaths of Ada and Clifford, I hope to provide plausible insight into this tragic event. It is a case where the wonders and complexities of human nature confront each other.

Within the Redpath family, there was little speculation, just an impenetrable wall of silence, broken only by an anonymous description:

Clifford burst into the house and rushed up the stairway into his mother's bedroom. In so doing he passed Amy and Peter, who were in the parlour, without greeting them. There was heard a loud exchange of words between Clifford and Ada. Two shots were heard. Peter, followed by Rosa Shallow, a servant, climbed the stairs to find his mother and brother lying mortally wounded on the floor a few feet from each other. (Anonymous family member, 1970s, based on an earlier conversation with Amy Redpath)

The Redpath family did not seek a high social profile nor did they like publicity. Personal issues, feelings, and moods were never addressed, as they may have been in other social or economic circumstances. Family problems were never openly discussed.

Nevertheless, Amy and her brothers were open and warm within the family circle. Amy, the eldest and only daughter, took her responsibilities to heart. Her mother, Ada, had been in ill health for many years, so Amy assumed care of the household: hiring maids and providing financial advice for her younger brothers. The exception was Harold. In 1901 there was much family pride and concern for Reggie, who in 1900 had joined the Mounted Rifles in Alberta, and travelled to South Africa with his regiment and horses to support British forces in the Boer War. Peter's efforts to control his tuberculosis occupied most of his energy in the last few years of his life.

While all five children supported and helped their mother, Peter, Reggie and Harold were otherwise occupied. Ada grew to rely heavily on Amy and especially Clifford, who had a close relationship with his mother. Ada's ill health began long before widowhood. In a letter of 1880 written from New York to his children, John James Redpath, Ada’s husband, refers to his wife’s need to spend a day recovering from a carriage ride around the park. There was no clear diagnosis for Ada, but based on her symptoms she may have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis or some other autoimmune disease. There are many references to her poor eyesight, pain, and neuralgia in her letters to Clifford, Amy, Reggie, and Peter, now in my possession (some are reproduced on this website).

Family rumours suggested that Clifford had an affair with one of the family’s maids. Even though affairs of this kind were commonplace in that era, an affair could have threatened Ada’s emotional status quo. Family members also suggested that Clifford had purchased two guns in town, contrary to the Coroner’s report that stated no gun had been seen in the bedroom. Perhaps Clifford’s state of mind was so agitated that he was unaware of his actions.

What was the extent of Ada’s influence on Clifford? Clifford’s cousin, Helen Redpath, who had joined The Order of St Bridget of Sweden in England, wrote a heartfelt remembrance of Clifford which hung under his portrait in Syon Abbey, Devonshire. (The portrait disappeared after Helen’s death.) There was no such honour for Ada there, or any other known memorial.

Ada’s and Clifford’s funerals were private events. There is some evidence that letters of bereavement may have been destroyed. Amy states in a letter two months after the deaths, for example, that she is busy tearing up old letters. Of the letters addressing the tragedy that remain, there are few, if any, references to Ada. By contrast, there is immense sympathy and various eulogies for Clifford. Even if Clifford did pull the trigger, did Amy and her brothers silently blame Ada? Did they see her expectations of Clifford and her need for his attention as a justification for his actions?

Source: Amy Linda Redpath, Murder and Mystery in the Redpath Mansion, 2007

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