Concerning the Unfortunate Events of June 13, 1901

By Peter F. McNally

Concerning the unfortunate events of June 13, 1901, a nagging sense persists that there is more to the story than meets the eye. The contradictions, lack of firm evidence, and inability of family and staff, particularly those in the house at the time of the shooting, to account for such details as the presence of revolvers, all suggest a lack of frankness if not outright deception. Failure to inform the police of the event, who learned of it indirectly many hours later, contributes to this sense of pertinent information being withheld. Although the coroner’s report assigns responsibility to Clifford, its lack of detail contributed to the veil of suspicion that emerged at the time and continues to the present.

Skepticism of the official coroner’s account, blaming Clifford, is evident in newspaper phrases such as: “in the absence of eye-witnesses it cannot be said whether the first shot was or was not accidental.” “The cause of the fatal shooting in each case is still a mystery, for no one seems to be living who could reveal the true origin of the double crime, matricide and suicide.”

The obvious question in any murder, but particularly one where significant facts are unknown or unclear, is motivation. Why commit the crime? Two possible motives suggest themselves immediately, one financial the other psychological.

Concerning financial motive, a basic question must surely be who benefits from a death. In the case of Clifford and his mother dying simultaneously, the beneficiaries were the four surviving siblings: Amy, Peter, John, and Harold. In the first instance, they benefited immediately through an inheritance, and reduction from five to four of the number of heirs sharing equally in their mother’s estate. In addition, they would benefit further when six years later on the same day — January 30, 1907 — two competitive women in their nineties, each vying to outlive the other, passed away: their grandfather John’s second wife, Jane Drummond and their doting aunt, and widow of their uncle Peter, Grace Wood. Death of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, separated in age by only one year, permitted dispersal of their husbands’ estates — by far the largest in the Redpath family. Of John Redpath’s estate, the surviving children of Ada Maria received in equal portion the amount that their father John James was bequeathed. Of the Grace Wood Redpath estate, John James’s children as descendants of the now senior male Redpath line, received large individual bequests in addition to being residual legatees – thereby receiving whatever remained after other legatees received their bequests. In all her inheritances, it was stipulated that Amy was to be treated as single and to have complete control over her own money.

In light of this strong financial motive, it would be gratifying to assign responsibility to the four siblings except that no evidence of guilt or complicity links them to the deaths. In fact the death from natural causes a year after those of his mother and brother of one of the siblings, Peter Whiteford, militates strongly against such an interpretation. Given his own precarious health why would he plot the deaths of others; why wouldn’t Clifford’s siblings have simply waited for Peter’s passing rather than gone to the trouble of murdering another brother? As well, their mother’s precarious health suggested that she would probably not be living much longer, even had there been no shooting.

If one accepts, therefore, that the deaths of Ada Maria and Jocelyn Clifford were – as outlined in the coroner’s report – a murder/suicide without intervention of a third party, another explanation must be sought. Pathological mental illness is the likely explanation. The events in question occurred just six years after Dr. Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Austria, began publishing the results of his famous studies of the psychosexual world of repression and the unconscious that resulted in people seeing themselves and others in a radically different light. These studies would propel him into becoming the acknowledged founder of psychoanalysis. That the household of the invalided Ada Marie Redpath — and her fatherless family of one girl and four boys — would have proven a rich case-study for Freud, seems most likely. Also likely is that he would have diagnosed the very strange relationship between Clifford and his mother that resulted in their dying together in such a bizarre manner. An acute psychological investigation of this tragedy is needed to clarify the Redpath murder mystery.

Peter F. McNally
Professor, School of Information Studies
Director, History of McGill Project
McGill University
October 13, 2007

Source: Peter F. McNally, Concerning the Unfortunate Events of June 13, 1901, 2007

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