Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mystery or a Sugar High............whodunnit ?

A Montreal Murder Mystery

A Montreal Murder Mystery


On the morning of June 14 1901, Montrealers awoke to shocking news.

The night before, the sound of gunshots had disturbed the normal tranquility amongst the gracious mansions of the city's Square Mile. In the Redpath manor, servants rushed to the master bedroom to find their employer, Ada Redpath, the niece of powerful sugar baron Peter Redpath, shot dead. Her son was clingingto life on the floor beside her, with a gunshot wound to his head. He perished hours later.

Early newspaper accounts suggested that the troubled Ada had shot Clifford when he tried to stop her from committing suicide. The coroner, however, believed Clifford had killed his mother while in an epileptic fit. The newspapers reported two shots, yet three bullets were recovered from the bodies.

What really happened that night?

One hundred and six years later, architecture professor Annmarie Adams, BA'81, is turning that question over to the public.

"It's a real whodunit!" she declares. The cast of characters includes at least one fabled McGill professor. Thomas Roddick, MDCM1846, who introduced antiseptic practices to Montreal's hospitals, had been treating Ada for melancholia, prescribing her a bed rest that amounted to months of solitary confinement.

As part of a research team that prepared the case for the award-winning Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website, Adams unearthed some little-seen evidence for the benefit of history-minded sleuths, including diaries, photos, the coroner's report and condolence letters received by the Redpath family.

Users of the site can access these and other documents to explore the mystery.

Adams collaborated on the project with School of Architecture research associate David Theodore, BA'91, BSc(Arch)'94, BArch'96, MArch'01, McGill history student Brenton Nader and Concordia University adjunct history professor Mary Anne Poutanen, BA'83, MA'86.

"As a researcher I have always jumped at doing analysis and interpretation; this has been an eye-opener because in this project we leave that for students and site users," Adams says. They'll have some help, though. A number of experts — including McGill forensic psychiatrist Renée Fugère — contribute their thoughts on what happened that fateful night.

The award-winning Great Unsolved Mysteries site — launched in 1997 by one-time McGill professor Ruth Sandwell (now at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) and her colleague John Lutz from the University of Victoria — presents students with primary source documents connected to real-life mysteries. The site probes such puzzles as who wiped out Ontario's notorious "Black" Donnellys in 1880 and who really started the Klondike Gold Rush.

These often-sanguinary tales reveal much about the societies in which they occurred. Adams explains that the secrecy of the Redpath killings had a lot to do with class and the architecture of the scene of the crime. The very design of the Redpaths' mansion (and similar abodes) discouraged prying, with "filters" of an imposing portico, a large front lawn and a long front hall — a far cry from the street-level rowhouses of the working class.

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