Category Archives: Legal & Forensics

Legal proceedings, physical evidence, The Lawyers.

The Fall River Tragedy – Rare Book FREE Online

(Recycled from March, 2009)

The first book to be published on the Lizzie Borden case was right after her Trial in 1893 by Edwin Porter, a reporter for the Fall River Globe and a chum of some of the police officers who provided some inside information.

BK-FRTragedy-multi pages

The first edition, the original, is not easily found and when it does appear, such as on eBay, usually sells for $300 or more.  Some antique book dealers list it as high as $2,000.  The book itself is really not all that rare.  I addressed this issue in detail in a previous blog which can be found by clicking HERE.

Lizzie’s lawyer, Andrew Jennings, on behalf of the Borden sisters and John Morse,  threatened Porter and the publisher with legal action if any pictures of “the family” appeared.  Well, pictures of the “dead family” appeared and no suit followed.

When the book was first published, it was sold on subscription, and one of the “Lizzie Legends” is that Lizzie bought out the printer and had the copies burned.  Not true.  A goodly number were purchased – and to some Fall River notables at that. The one found AT THIS SITE was owned by Charlotte Brayton and she donated it to the Harvard Library.   The Braytons were one of the prominent founding families of Fall River.

By clicking to advance the pages , you will immediately see the handwritten inscription on the inside cover:  “Israel Brayton”.  This particular Israel Brayton* was born in 1874 and died in 1961.  He married Ethel Moison Chace (1880-1960), and they had three children, including Charlotte Brayton (1913 to 1994).  Charlotte never married.  For whatever reasons, Charlotte preferred to donate her father’s copy of The Fall River Tragedy to Harvard rather than the Fall River Historical Society.  Lucky thing for us she did.

The book is rich in photos of key players not found in other books and includes the old “Ferry Street” homestead, the house Andrew deeded to the girls over the Whitehead fiasco.  Well, that house was practically a prototype of the home he purchased in 1872 at 92 Second Street.  Greek revival, two-family home.  Andrew was worth a small fortune by 1872 but he didn’t exactly move “up”.   Anyway, here’s a picture of both houses:



Virtually, the same house.  Two stories and an attic built for 2 families with identical floor plans on the first and second floors.   Lizzie was 12 when they moved and she could not have been too impressed.  The only difference was after a short while they had “the whole house”.  So that was different.



*Source: The Braytons of Somerset and Fall River by Roswell Brayton, page 34. (Note: Charlotte is pictured with several generations of Braytons in this book; also pictured are her father and mother.)


Andrew Borden and the Missing Prince Albert

(Recycled from March 2008)

James E. Windward, “funeral director to the stars” or at least to all the best Fall River families (translation: Bordens, Braytons, Durfees, Chaces, etc.) during Lizzie’s time, was at the Borden house with his assistant around 4:00 pm on August 4, 1892. As Doctor Dolan testified, it was Undertaker Winward who removed the money from Andrew’s clothing and gave it over to him.

Winward had to wait until the in-situ crime scene photographs were taken and preliminary autopsies were concluded before he could claim possession of the bodies for preparation for Saturday’s funeral services. Could it be that Lizzie told him directly or had it conveyed to him as a discreet request by another (Alice? Uncle John?) that she wished her father to be “laid out” in his Prince Albert coat because it was such a signature garment to all those that knew him? The same Prince Albert coat that was photographed crumbled up under his head on the sofa. The same Prince Albert coat that his usual custom was to hang on a hook when switching to his more comfortable coat in which he wore in death? The same Prince Albert coat that is not on the list of clothing buried nor presented at Trial. The same Prince Albert coat that magically disappears like socks in the dryer. The same Prince Albert coat that District Attorney Knowlton alluded to as a possible shield against the assailant’s own clothing during his Trial summation? The same coat that had it been laid out and studied would have had telling blood splatters and not just a large stain from the seeping wounds of the ten hatchet blows to his head.

Let us assume that the Prince Albert coat was indeed removed from the premises by Undertaker Winward at Lizzie’s request. Let us further assume it was subsequently cleaned, pressed and put back upon the corpse of Andrew Borden. It would seem such an appropriate thing to do that his open coffin next to Abby’s in the Sitting Room would warrant narry a comment pertaining to evidence. “How peaceful he looks with his head on the side, and isn’t it natural that he should be wearing that oh so familiar coat?”, one might have commented to another.

Fast Forward – Oak Grove Cemetery:

The mortal remains of Andrew Jackson Borden lay crushed from a collapsed coffin, wood fragments embedded in the decomposed and tattered fabric of a certain Prince Albert coat. A high school ring dangles from his skeletal finger and his skeletal foot stretches out to just inches above Lizzie’s head. Each day at the stroke of 11:00 am, he shoves his foot against her head and in a muffled but strident voice only the dead can hear he speaks out to her: “Bad girl, Lizzie. Bad, bad, girl.” Thus, every day throughout eternity she hears those words at the stroke of Eleven – Lizzie’s own hellish, eternal doom.

I’d be willing to bet if Andrew’s grave were dug up, the collapsed coffin opened, there we would find the mortal remains of Andrew Borden. His head would be detached and displaced but he’d be dressed in that Prince Albert coat.

Clever girl, Lizzie. Clever, clever girl.

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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Legal & Forensics, Oak Grove Cemetery


OJ Sheridan Tells Paranormal Investigator About The Day of the Murders

Really good job here by Oj Sheridan, tour guide at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. (Side note: The oldest child of Eliza Borden managed to escape her mother’s attempt to push her into the well and went on to live out a long life all in Fall River).

Lizzie Borden Investigation Part 1
Hunters of Ghosts, the HOGs crew get locked down to spend the night in the infamous Lizzie Borden House. We captured some amazing audio and visual

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Owning the Lizzie Borden Name

Image by

Image from Fall River Historical Society

Came across this article from 2009, but it’s worth showing again.

Note my comment at the end.    LINK

After three years, Fall River, under Mayor Will Flanagan, is finally beginning to embrace it’s #1 tourist attraction.

(Hatchet Logo Designed by Faye Musselman a ® Trademark of Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast / Museum)


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Lizzie Borden Ponderables

Have you ever wondered why:

Winnie French was so adamant to testify on behalf of Grace Howe & Helen Leighton at the Probate Hearing against Charles Cook’s claim of ownership of the Henry House?

Orrin Gardner had so little tribute in ink when he died, although it was highly deserved?

What specifically Bailey Borden sold of Lizzie & Emma’s possession in his Fall River store acquired from Hamilton Gardner?

Why there was so little reporting of Lizzie writing a blank check to Ernest Terry as she lay dying on her last day of life?  (All those people at the bank knew.)

Why Charles Cook parked his car in Lizzie’s garage and then charged the heating to her estate?

Why Ernest Terry went to work for Charles Cook after Lizzie died?

Why Grace Howe, with a keen eye for antiques, left so much of it?

Why so many of Lizzie’s good books ended up with Marian Reilly?

Well, I hope to have answers to some of this to post later.

Back home and much to catch up with.


Note:   Some people wonder the same thing as stated in this comment I received from “Norman Pound”:

“Inquisitive thirst comes on strong as I wait for your book and/or screenplay! This theatrical passage is evidence that it is impossible to endure another year without the pleasure of your literary talent and aptitude for investigation collected in manuscript form. Us Lizzie lovers await, chatting numerously, “When Phaye? When?””

The answer is:  “I don’t do things in a hurry.”   ;)

There’s much to wonder about in the Lizzie Borden case, whether at its core or on the periphery.  Here’s just a few things:

Have you ever wondered if Lizzie knew Nance O’Neil had married Alfred Devereaux Hickman in 1916, becoming his second wife?   (A widower for only one year, his first wife died in 1915).

And, have you ever wondered if Lizzie went to any of those movies Nance O’Neil was in?  She certainly lived long enough to read, if not actually see, Nance’s transition from the theatre to the silent screen and then in speaking roles.

And – as to those movies – here’s an interesting tidbit:

John B. Colton (1889–1946),  was a New York dramatist whose plays include Nine Pine Street (1933), based on the Borden murder case.  (He also co-wrote Rain (1922), based on a Somerset Maugham story).   But here’s the thing – Colton co-wrote “Call of the Flesh”, a film featuring Nance O’Neil released August 16, 1930.  And less than 3 years later on April 27, 1933, Nine Pine Street premiered at the Longacre Theatre and starred Lillian Gish as “Effie Holden.”  It played for 28 performances and closed in mid May, 1933.  Do you wonder if  Colton spoke to Nance about Lizzie Borden and was thereby inspired to write Nine Pine Street?  Something to ponder.

Here’s what was going on around that time:

February 18, 1933 New York Magazine article on LMH “the mysterious alter ego of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
March 24, 1933 4th & Final Probate Court acctg. filed by Cook on Lizzie’s Will – period Nov. 28, 1932 thru March 3, 1933.
March 3, 1933 Grace Hartley Howe & Helen Leighton sign 4th & Final Account of Probate.
March 4, 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt is inaugurated as the 32nd U.S. president.
April 13, 1933 Emma’s estate sells Maplecroft.                                        (LR561)
April 27, 1933 The play: Nine Pine Street opens on Broadway at Longacre Theatre starring Lillian Gish as Lizzie Borden.

And here’s something else I have always wondered about:

Why didn’t Abby have Bridget fix eggs on that August 4, 1892 Thursday morning instead of the 5 day old cold mutton and mutton soup?  After all, Uncle John Morse had picked them up from Frederick Eddy at Andrew’s farm in Swansea just the evening before and brought them back per Andrew’s request.  Those eggs were most likely in the kitchen pantry Wednesday night and Thursday morning.  I wonder if Abby asked Andrew what he wanted for breakfast and suggested the eggs.  I wonder if Andrew, with both testeronic and assertive dominance said: “No.  I’ll be selling those eggs.  Serve the mutton.  Waste not, want not.”   If so, one cannot help but wince and sigh yet again for poor Abby.

Too bad Lizzie didn’t get up earlier.  Abby might have asked her what she wanted for BREAKFAST instead of (according to Lizzie’s Inquest Testimony) what she wanted for dinner, i.e., the noon day meal.  I wonder if Lizzie would have stomped her foot and said: “Mutton?!!  No!!! I want eggs!”

Just a few things to wonder about.  There’s more, but I’m out of time and American Idol is on with the results of the next four to get booted off.

Hmmm, something to ponder.



Lizzie Borden Past & Present plus The Knowlton Papers Available Here!

(Edited & Recycled post)



Have you been wanting affordable copies of Len Rebello’s Lizzie Borden Past & Present? And have you been on the hunt for the Fall River Historical Society’s The Knowlton Papers? Well, you’ve landed in the right place.

Now – Are you looking for these?

Well, I’ve got several of each and the prices will be the best you can get. You can purchase  one (or both).  Simply email me at

These are $250 each.  The Knowlton Papers are generally around $400 these days.  All have dust jackets.

Lizzie Borden Past & Present by Leonard Rebello are in vg condition with dust jackets.  Some of the Rebello’s are autographed by the author and come with mylar covers.  Again, only $250 each.

All 3 of these books are OOP and hard to find, especially at this price.

Be smart and buy one of each at $500.  Helleva deal – while it lasts.

And  remember – A Study in Conjecture ABSOLUTELY FREE!  If you’ve searched for this book or seen it on eBay you know it sells for several hundred dollars.  But I’m getting rid of much of my collection and throwing this in for FREE with a purchase of The Knowlton Papers or Rebello’s boo k indicated above.  So email me at

First person to email and send in payment, and payment clears, gets the books!   :)


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William H. Moody for the Prosecution of Lizzie Borden


The prosecution team in the matter of the Commonwealth vs. Lizzie Andrew Borden was led by 3 times Governor George D. Robinson but included the formidable William Henry Moody, whose stellar career surpassed all others associated with the case.  An extraordinarily handsome man, in my opinion, he remained a life-long bachelor.

If Lizzie continued her reading of Harper’s Weekly, she may have seen the December 29, 1906 issue below and its cartoon cover story on one of the men who played a part in a “most interesting occasion.”  Most all of the text which follows comes from that article.


William Henry Moody was born on December 23, 1853, in Newbury, Massachusetts, the son of farmers. He graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in 1872 and Harvard in 1876, leaving Harvard Law School after four months to read law under Richard Henry Dana. After admission to the state bar in 1878, Moody practiced law in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where he was elected city solicitor (1888-1889). In 1890, he was named the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Massachusetts.


In 1895, he was elected as a Republican to fill a vacant seat in Congress, and subsequently elected three more times. He impressed his congressional colleagues with his command of legislative details and debating skills, and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.


Theodore Roosevelt first met Moody in 1895 and quickly came to admire a man with a similar physical build, athletic interests, and a progressive Republican perspective. In 1902, Roosevelt appointed Moody as secretary of the navy.


Moody served in that capacity for two years, working to expand and improve the U.S. naval fleet, and reform the navy’s organization.


In June 1904, the president named him as the U.S. Attorney General. In his new position, Moody became a key advisor to the president and played a leading role in the prosecution of the administration’s antitrust lawsuits, successfully arguing Swift and Company v. United States (1905) before the U.S. Supreme Court. He agreed with Roosevelt’s distinction between “good” and “bad” trusts.

MoodNavyThe Justice Department under Moody negotiated agreements with large business corporations that it deemed were working in the public interest, such as International Harvester and U.S. Steel, but prosecuted Standard Oil because its economic power and business activities were considered contrary to the public interest. As attorney general, Moody took a case concerning peonage of blacks to the Supreme Court, and ordered contempt proceedings against a sheriff who allowed a black rape suspect to be lynched.

MoodycartoonHarper’s Weekly was concerned about the centralization of governmental power during the administration of Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), and in December 1906 criticized an address in which Secretary of State Elihu Root called for federal intervention in situations where the states failed to act. Root’s speech, which the newspaper assumed was actually written by President Roosevelt, is excerpted in the caption of the featured cartoon. The cartoon warns that William Moody, whom the president had recently named to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be a judicial tool by which Roosevelt can expand federal powers at the expense of state control through new “constructions of the Constitution.” On the right, Secretary of War William Howard Taft sits studying the “Simplified Constitution” while waiting his turn for the next appointment to the Supreme Court.


When Justice Henry Brown resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1906, President Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to convince Taft to take the position and then considered appointing a Southern Democrat. Finally, on December 12, 1906, the president announced the selection of Moody, emphasizing the attorney general’s nationalist philosophy by describing him as a follower of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, not states’ rights advocates Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun. The Senate approved the nomination on December 17.

Moody-JusticeDuring Moody’s brief tenure on the Supreme Court, he wrote 67 opinions, including 5 dissents. His most famous dissent came in the Employers’ Liability Cases (1908) in which his minority opinion upheld the constitutionality of a congressional statute protecting employees involved in interstate commerce. The constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, he argued, included the authority to legislate labor-management relations. Despite his general support of enhanced federal powers, Moody’s most important majority opinion (later overturned) ruled that the federal constitutional provision in the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination did not apply in state courts (Twining v. State of New Jersey, 1908). Moody’s judicial career was cut short when he developed debilitating rheumatism in early 1909 and was increasingly forced to neglect his judicial responsibilities. In 1910, Congress passed legislation that permitted Moody to qualify for federal retirement benefits, and he retired from the Supreme Court.

A saddened President Roosevelt remarked, “there is not a public servant, at this particular time, that the public could so ill afford to lose.” Eventually incapable of moving his arms and legs, Moody lived seven more years with the painful disease, cared for by his sister until his death on July 2, 1917.


A Lizzie Borden “Who IS that guy?” Contest

UPDATE:  Read “E.J.’s” comments.  He shows he did some research and presents some of the same testimony that “Lori K” did.

Some excerpts from “Lori K’s” email (with permission):

“(Trial, pp557)
Q. Can you tell me about what time it was when your attention was called to the trouble on Second Street?
A. About twelve o’clock.

Q. By whom was it called?
A. A young man named Turner.

Q. After that what did you do?
A. I immediately put on my coat and hat and took a horse car.
Arrived 12:15-12:20

PH interviews LB but she says nothing of telling BS that Abby had a note and went out or that she ironed hankerchiefs.

Page 576 Trial
Q. You went later in the afternoon about what time?
A. I couldn’t say about what time, but I should think about half past two or three o’clock.

Q. How long did you stay then?
A. I stayed then until close to six.

Trial pg 577
Q. You advised her not to be interviewed any more that day, didn’t you?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did she know that you were one of the police?
A. I should think so. I was dressed in uniform.

Photographer Walsh took photos at 3:30.
Trial page 121
Q. Did you take some views soon after or upon the day of the homicide?
A. Yes, sir.”

Q. What time in the day was this taken?
A. Probably half past three.

Q. In the afternoon?
A. Yes, sir.

Page 123 / i144

Q. In who’s presence were these views taken?
A. There were several officers there and Dr. Dolan.

Q. Was Dr. Dolan present while each view which you have identified was taken?
A. I could not say that he was present at all of them; he was at some of them.

Trial pg 123 Walsh re the 2 Andrew Borden photos

Q. Do you remember what officer was present at all of them?
A. No, I could not say any officer was present at all,…going in and out of the room

Q. (By Mr. Robinson.) When were those last two taken?
A. They were taken probably at half past four that afternoon.
Q. Am I to understand that all five were taken the same afternoon?
A. Yes, sir.”

NEW ALERT:  This morning I received an email with a 2-page attachment outlining “Lori K’s” argument of why the picture is that of Officer Harrington.  It shows quite a bit of research and is very persuasive.  So as of now, Monday, May 9th, we have a new front runner:  “Lori K.”  I will try to post some of email later.   (Note:  This contest will end on Wednesday, May 11th.)

ALERT:  As of now, Friday, May 6th, “E.J.” is the front runner for the FREE Rebello book.  He presents a rather convincing argument in his comments below (scroll way down).

August 4, 1892 at 92 Second Street, Fall River.   It was a Thursday.  A very “busy” Thursday for the Fall River Police Department.  Photographs had to be taken as evidence and to be studied by the Coroner (Dr. Dolan) and the Marshall (Hilliard).  Lots of people were around.  Lizzie was upstairs in her room being attended to.  Emma was not back from Fairhaven just yet, and police had been swarming in, out and about since shortly after 11:15 a.m.

The crime scene was photographed by James A. Walsh around 3:00.  Subsequent to the in-situ photographs, the stomachs were removed by Dr. Dolan and more photos were taken.  But the below image has always perplexed me as to who that person is.  (Not Andrew, the other guy).

If you can definitively identify the man standing to the far right in this crime scene photo of the butchered Andrew Borden, you will receive a FREE copy of Leonard Rebello’s Lizzie Borden Past & Present. 

You don’t have to be right.  You just have to present the BEST argument.   :)

(Click on image for larger view)

Anyway, that person’s identity has been speculated upon many, many times.  Possibilities include – but are not limited – to those below. One has to really scrutinize who was  present in the house when the pictures were taken.

Assistant Marshal Fleet

  Officer Philip Harrington

Officer William Medley

Officer Patrick Doherty

Dr. William “I boiled the heads” Dolan

Officer Desmond

Officer Mullaly

Officer Francis Edson

Seriously – the Rebello book.  FREE.   All you gotta do is convince me who that guy is.  Not Andrew.  The other one.


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Helen Leighton and Her Sister, Mary

In her Will, Lizzie Borden left much of her estate to her cousin, Grace Hartley Howe and her closest friend, Helen Leighton. But there are 21 other specifically named individuals to whom she left other real estate, personal property, jewelery, and/or money.  It’s always a rewarding challenge to find out more about who the lesser known recipients were.

Xerox copy of Lizzie Borden’s actual Will (Right click for larger image)

Helen Leighton was born 16 Jun 1866 in Columbia (near Millbridge), ME.


Helen’s parents were John Calvin Leighton and Susanna T. Jacobs who were married on March 10, 1865 in Milbridge, ME. (about 10 miles from Columbia). Her father went by his middle name, “Calvin”.   (Susanna may also have been known as Lucy Therese Jacobs but she was named Susanna on their marriage license.)


John Calvin Leighton was born at Columbia, ME, about 10 miles from Milbridge.  At age 94, his father Harrison Thatcher was interviewed by the Boston Sunday Globe 8 Dec 1895 concerning his recollections of day-to-day life in the past.


When Helen was  5 years old, her mother, Susanna, died at age 32 in Portland, ME. Three years later, Helen’s father married Hannah D. Robbins at Portland, ME on 8 July 8, 1874.  So, Helen also had a stepmother by the time she was 9 years old.  Then, two years after this second marriage when Helen was a month shy of her 11th birthday, her father and stepmother had a little girl, Mary Woodbury Leighton, born May 14, 1876.  From all accounts it appears Helen and her younger sister were close and remained close for most of their lives.


In May of 1893, at the time Lizzie Borden was languishing in the Taunton jail awaiting her role in the Trial of the Century, Helen, about to turn 27 years old, was just graduating from the Fall River Nursing Training School. And on Sept 9, 1904, Helen’s stepsister, Mary W. Leighton married Henry L. Orters.

Thus, she became Mary Orters. For a few years their household included Helen.

As close as Lizzie Borden and Helen Leighton were, Lizzie undoubtedly met Helen’s younger sister and her husband Henry.  She must have been fond of both of them, or at least Mary (perhaps being told by Helen:  “Be good to her, she’s rich!”) endeared herself to Lizzie, because this Mary – Helen Leighton’s sister, is the subject of bequest #12 in Lizzie’s Will:

12. To Mrs. Mary L. Orters of Sharon, Massachusetts, the sum of five thousand dollars; if she shall not be living at my decease I give the same to her husband, Henry L. Orters.

Now, besides this stepsister thing, Helen can trace her ancestors to Thomas Leighton born about 1604 and died at Dover, NH 22 Jan 1672.  Thomas was among the planters of Dover (then known as Northam) with significant land holdings in the area.  A monument was erected to him along the west side of Back River Road in Dover. So Helen’s ancestor, Samuel Leighton, was the pioneer founder of Columbia, ME.  In 1763, and was active during the Revolutionary War defending the coast against the British.

Gee, fellow historians, is this ringing any bells about Lizzie Borden’s ancestors?   Can one imagine Lizzie and Helen conversing of what they had in common beyond the love of animals?  For example, much like Lizzie, I’m sure Helen was very much aware of her own roots.  Perhaps SHE had her own sense of entitlement.

Helen certainly came out ahead financially from being a nursing companion to one Borden (Eudora Borden Dean), being a close friend to another (Lizzie), and companion to a long time friend (Gertrude Baker).

It’s nice to know Helen – having prior experience – was savvy enough to see to it her stepsister got a “piece of Lizzie” (estate) as well.  :)




  • Leighton Genealogy, CD, 2001 pg. 501


  • Genealogical Record 9 [1898]:86-9, 221-3, Autobiography of Levi Leighton [Portland, 1890], 9-11; and in


  • Levi’s Centennial Historical Sketch of the Town of Columbia, 1796-1896 (Machias, 1896].



  • Julia Cornman and Perley M., A Leighton Genealogy, Descendants of Thomas Leighton of Dover, NH, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2 Vols., Boston, 1989.
  • Leonard Rebello, Lizzie Borden Past & Present, Alzack press. 1999. pp330-332.
  • Conversations/emails with Mary Leighton Proebstle.







Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Legal & Forensics, Maplecroft


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Alice Russell – Lizzie Borden’s “Turncoat” Friend.

Alice Russell as depicted in newspaper sketches – 1893


Alice Russell at the Old Folks Home – 1931

The photo of Alice in old age is the only known photograph of her to date.  Here’s hoping Parallel Lives will have more.  The below article is from the Fall River Historical Society’s website, taken from their Summer 2002 newsletter, also posted online.  They are all worth reading so check them out.

“Lizzie’s Turncoat Friend”

“Frank B. Hadley has recently donated a rare and important photograph of Miss Alice M. Russell to the Fall River Historical Society. It is the only photograph of Miss Russell known to exist, depicting the subject as an elderly woman. Miss Russell was the first cousin of the donor’s grandmother, Ida Russell.

Ida’s husband, Dwight Minor, took the photograph at 3:46 pm on September 4, 1931, with the subject sitting in her comfortably furnished room at the Home for Aged People in Fall River.  In the mirror of the ornate Victorian bureau can be seen the image of the photographer, standing before a window.

The photograph was found by the donor among a collection of family photographs enclosed in an envelope inscribed “Alice Russell Lizzie’s Turncoat Friend” in the hand of Mr. Minor. The reverse of the photograph is inscribed “Alice Maria Russell, Fall River, Sept. 4, 1931.” in an unidentified hand. It is interesting to note that the middle name, as it appears on the photograph, is Maria, as it was previously believed that the initial “M” stood for Manley, the maiden surname of her mother.

Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1852, Alice was the daughter of Frederick W. and Judith (Manley) Russell. She was employed as a clerk for several years in Fall River and later taught sewing in the public school system. In 1908, she was promoted to the position of supervisor of sewing, remaining in that capacity until her retirement five years later. A Fall River resident for most of her life, she spent several years living next door to the Borden family on Second Street.  In 1930, Miss Russell moved into the Home for Aged People on Highland Avenue, remaining in residence there until her death on January 21, 1941.

A friend of both the Misses Borden, Alice Russell was among the first summoned to 92 Second Street following the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, remaining there until the following Monday as company to the sisters. She testified at the inquest and preliminary hearing, but it was not until the grand jury hearing that she revealed her “burning of the dress” testimony.  She was also a witness at the trial of Miss Lizzie A. Borden in June of 1893. While on the stand describing the events which occurred in the kitchen of the Borden house on Sunday, August 7, 1892, Miss Russell was instructed to make a series of marks on the floorplans of the house drawn by architect Thomas Kieran.

An unusual legacy, the cross where she was standing, the outline of the stove in the Borden kitchen and the round mark illustrating where the burned dress was stored in the clothes press can still be seen on these trial exhibits in the Historical Society’s archive. Following the trial and its aftermath, she ceased to be on friendly terms with the Misses Borden, living a life that can best be described as quiet and genteel.  Mrs. Florence Cook Brigham, to whom she taught sewing, fondly remembered her as “a gentle person” with “lovely white hair” and believed that she “would not have told the story about the burning of the dress if her conscience hadn’t bothered her.”

Alice Russell rarely spoke of the events of August 1892 and their aftermath; few who knew her in later life had any knowledge of her close association and involvement in the case.  On the rare occasions when Miss Russell discussed the case with her cousin Ida, the latter woman’s young daughter Mildred was asked to leave the room, the conversation not being considered proper for a young girl to hear. Alice told her cousin that she thought Lizzie Borden was innocent of the murders of Mr. & Mrs. Borden until August 7, 1892, when she saw her burn the dress in the kitchen stove. From the day of that observation until she breathed her last, she was convinced of Lizzie Borden’s guilt. There is little doubt that Miss Russell knew much about the goings-on in the Borden residence during the days following the discovery of the bodies, taking most of that information undisclosed to her grave. Always the lady and true to her Yankee heritage, she believed, as did many closely associated with the Borden case, that certain things were “not discussed.” For that conviction, she deserves our admiration and respect.”



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Arthur Sherman Phillips – Lizzie Didn’t Do It

(Recycled post from June 2008)

Arthur Sherman Phillips wrote the impressive 3-Volume History of Fall River and was a junior attorney assisting on Lizzie’s defense team. The case haunted him all his life and he never gave up on the belief that she was innocent.

As late as June 3, 1939, he wrote to Homans Robinson (1894-1973) of the Robinson-Donovan law firm. He was the son of 3-times Governor George Robinson, Lizzie’s lead attorney at her Trial.   In his 3-page letter shown below, Phillips cites so many of the sources of speculative theories surrounding this case and ones that surface repeatedly in books, articles, and arguments towards her innocence.

It is not known if Homans Robinson, a 1916 graduate of Amherst college, replied to this letter. Surely if he had complied with Phillips request for a copy of the questions Attorney George Robinson presented to Lizzie, along with her answers, something would have been published in that regard by now.

Clearly, that document still resides in the private files on the case with this law firm, still in existence in Springfield, MA.

Note that in the second paragraph of the third page, Phillips tells of someone speaking to Uncle John Morse the morning of the murder as he was walking up Pleasant Street towards Flint Village. Morse did, in fact, visit his relatives at the Emerys on Weybosset Street in Flint Village, about a mile from the Borden home.



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The Skulls of Andrew & Abby Borden

DrDolanPhoto Dr. William Andrew Dolan

The autopsies of Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother were conducted one week after the murders – August 11, 1892, in the “ladies waiting room” at Oak Grove Cemetery.  It is the structure to the left in this picture postcard below.


Here is a more contemporary view:oakgrovevault1The little building is now used to house gardening tools and supplies and also serves as a break room for the grounds-keepers.



Upon the instruction of District Attorney Hosea Knowlton, the heads of Andrew and Abby were severed and taken home by Dr. Dolan.    They were unceremoniously boiled of their flesh on his kitchen stove (much to the fright of his two young sons), and maintained in his home until presented in court at the Preliminary Hearing.   The sisters were not informed, nor the media – one of the better kept secrets of the prosecution’s case. 

Below is the link to the letter from Dr. Dolan’s grandson, Donald Dolan, to Robert Flynn dated March 6, 1992.   (Don Dolan was a teacher, and a Presenter at the 1992 Lizzie Borden Centennial.  He passed away May 15, 2002 and is buried at Rutland Town Cemetery in Mass.  His widow, Joyce, still resides in the same home they shared for 50 years).


A thorough reading of the actual typed autopsy reports, including hand written notes, is available from the images below.

(Right click on the text below for larger view).




The Preliminary Hearing commenced on August 25, 1892 and once the revelation of the heads being severed hit the papers, it brought forth the indignation and revulsion of some readers.   As an example, also in my collection is this letter from one John E. Gray written to Dr. Dolan, referring to him as a “vile wretch”.  First is an image of the actual letter and then a translation done by his grandson, Don, to Bob Flynn:  brutal

It wasn’t until after the Trial in July of 1893, when Hosea Knowlton wrote to Dr. Dolan stating that Lizzie and Emma’s legal counsel, Andrew Jennings, wanted the skulls returned.   Click to see returnskulls.

Another letter in this collection remembers this occurrence as conveyed by Dolan’s grandson to Bob Flynn.   He also mentions visiting his Aunt Ellen who lives near Oak Grove Cemetery.      Porter-Skulls

The skulls were subsequently buried in boxes about 3 feet below ground.  Placement was a “guestimate”.

Note1:  Robert Flynn is a publisher, author and former bookseller.

Note 2:  Joyce Dolan told me Don Dolan remembered his father (Dr. Dolan’s son)  telling him of seeing Abby’s hair switch in the attic of their home where other “evidence” was kept.

Note 3:  Dr. William A. Dolan had 4 children; 2 sons (Tom and William A. Dolan, Jr. – Don’s father) and 2 daughters (Ellen, called “Nellie” and Mary – both were spinster school teachers in Fall River).




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Nance O’Neil Interviews Lizzie Borden


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 10:43 pm Post subject: Reply with quote
That has been my theory for a number of years. I posted this in January 2008:

“I stand by my posts of June 2006 regarding the gilt. This copy of them includes some highlighted comments.

“The gilt found on Abby’s skull is not mentioned until it is discovered by Dr. Draper (assisted by Dr. Cheever) in a letter to Mr. Knowlton, dated May 31, 1893. This is some 9 months after the crime.

To quote Draper’s letter (HK203, page 211, Knowlton papers):

“… Perhaps this is not new information either to you or Dr. Dolan; it was new to me and seemed important enough to justify immediate conveyance to you. The shining deposit can be seen with the naked eye; it is plainly visible with the use of a lens, when once its situation is indicated.”

According to the Evening Standard of Aug. 27, 1892, Dr. Dolan had the flesh removed from the skulls by boiling. So any doctor who examined the skulls from that time forward had the opportunity to notice the gilt.

Could someone else have experimented with Abby’s skull during this long period by trying to fit different size hatchet blades into the cuts? If so they could have inadvertently left a trace of gilt.

In that same thread:

“Dr. Draper is questioned at the trial, vol. II, page 1048+:

“Q. Are you able to say whether that hatchet head (showing witness handleless hatchet head) is capable of making those wounds?
A. I believe it is.
Q. Have you attempted to fit that in the wounds?
A. I have seen the attempt made.”

It would seem very logical to me that if they tried fitting the HH blade they tried others as well. They were after all trying to determine the size of the blade of the weapon used.

In any case the value of the gilt is compromised as evidence since it wasn’t found earlier. It doesn’t mean that it has no value but it does mean that another explanation can be offered for the presence of the gilt.

Nine months and nobody saw what Dr. Draper said could be seen with the naked eye? More than likely, at least to me, it wasn’t there during this time. The whole thread is at:


The Fitch Report

has a wonderful article about the Nance O’Neil-Lizzie Borden connection.  The writer is quite right in stating that Nance’s name recognition by contemporary crime enthusiasts is largely due to that connection.

The contrived interview is very well written and has the content and tone I believe is just how Nance might have formulated and posed those questions to Lizzie.  Be sure to read it.

Totally unrelated but I post here to make a point that will not be missed by the party to whom it’s intended.

The so called handleless hatchet presented at Trial is depicted below (as posted by “Harry” on the LB Forum today).  These are the best images you will see of it.  Frankly, I don’t believe it was the murder weapon.

This has been on display at the FRHS for years.  I even had ocassion to take it outside in the light of day and hold it through the good graces of past Curator Emeritus, the late Florence Brigham.

The connundrum in concluding if this was the murder weapon includes the fact that gold gilt was found in the wounds of Abby, the kind of gold gilt from engravings on new hatchets.   “Steve S.” of the LB Forum astutely posted today:

Posted: Wed Sep 01, 2010 12:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If this was THE hatchet DJ, it wouldn’t expalin the gold gild in Abby’s skull.

And so the mystery continues. :)


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I’m traveling in upstate New York (Hyde Park & Albany) doing some research…no time for blogging.

But I’d like all my readers to check out Shelley Dziedzic’s blog for an excellent article on the guy I think Lizzie Borden had a crush on.

Als0 a new pic of Dr. SEABURY BOWEN! Click HERE.

Great sleuthing by all involved. Worthy of publication in a widely read magazine.


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Lizzie Borden & Emma Borden – Handwriting Analysis

(Recycled Post)

It’s curious to note that the sisters signed the below Deed on the very same day, January 31st, 1910, although they had been separated for well over 4 years.  Emma had packed her belongings and moved out of their French Street house, “Maplecroft”, in late May of 1905.  If they both appeared before Charles C. Cook, long time property manager, at the same time (perhaps in his offices in the A.J. Borden Building) then the legend that once Emma moved out the sisters never spoke or saw each other again – can be debunked.  On the other hand, if the riff between the sisters still had salty wounds, they may have appeared before Charles at different times during that day.  Imagine if Charles screwed up and scheduled them for the same time.  Oh dear.

Anyway, Francis and Chester Gardner, sons of Leander Gardner, were farmers and it can be read about HERE.

In March of 1989, Frances Allbright, graphics evaluator, submitted her solicited evaluation of the personalities of Lizzie Borden and Emma Borden from an analysis of their handwriting to Florence Brigham of the Fall River Historical Society.

I dug up from my files this Swansea farm deed and post it here because it shows both their signatures (along with their business/real estate manager Charles Cook) from 1910, when they were older.

It is my recollection that Mrs. Brigham provided Allbright this document as well as a letter written by Lizzie, and Emma Borden’s postcard from Scotland written to Mrs. Brigham’s mother-in-law, Mary Brigham, a friend and witness for the Defense at Lizzie’s trial. It’s my recollection from a conversation but I am not certain these were the documents.

You can find out who Francis and Chester Gardner were and their lives by reading HERE.

Mrs. Allbright’s cover letter to Florence and her “profiles” of the sisters can be seen below. Personally, I tend to put more validity in such interpretations when the “evaluator” has no knowledge of the person doing the writing. It should be mentioned that these are not the only handwriting analyses of the Borden sisters that have been done, but you can draw your own conclusions with this particular evaulator.


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Fall River Police Chief John M. Souza

On the wall of the Administrative offices at the Fall River Police Department are these photographs of the past City Marshal’s and Police Chiefs.

  • Rufus B Hillard – City Marshal – 1886-1909 (top left)

  • John Fleet – City Marshal – 1909-1915 (bottom left)

  • (Change from City Marshal to Chief of Police)

  • William Medley – Chief of Police – 1915-1917 (center)

  • Martin Feeney – Chief of Police – 1917-1931 (top right)

  • Abel Violette – Chief of Police – 1931-1946 (bottom right)

Four of the five were involved in the Lizzie Borden case and had been in her house. Lizzie damn near outlived them all.

On November 14, 2000, through the courtesy of then Lt. Charles Cullen of the Fall River Police Department, I was allowed access to the police records books of the mid 1880′s through the early 1900′s. They were under the control and possession of Administration Lt. (now Deputy Chief) Cathleen Moniz.

When I arrived she had them laid out on her desk along with “all the remaining documents we have on the Lizzie Borden case”, which was miniscule at best. She was kind enough to let me handle, research and photograph these important ledger books. Lt. Cullen had also arranged for me a tour of the new police facilities (completed in March of 1997) which included their huge evidence room. High on a shelf was the camera long thought to have been “the” camera which photographer James Walsh took of Andrew and Abby – the crime scene photos – both just prior to and after the initial autopsies done at 92 Second Street around 4:00 pm, August 4, 1892. As has been learned, while the camera in possession of the FRPD is indeed a police photographer’s camera very similar to that one used on August 4th, it is not the camera, but one donated by a family member of a deceased police photographer.

In March of 2007, I contacted Deputy Chief Moniz once again and asked if she could arrange for the Arrest Record Book be brought out again so as to show to my friend, Shelley Dziedzic. Again, Deputy Chief Moniz had them laid out and allowed us to take pictures. She even gratiously took a photo of Shelley and me with the book.

Unexpectedly, having heard of our visit and plans to do a Lizzie Borden Conference, Police Chief John M. Souza, Fall River Police Chief since 2000, came into the room and spent an hour discussing the Borden case with us as well as other high profile murder cases. We delighted in his conversation regarding police forensic investigations as contrasted in the Borden case of 1892, to modern police forensic techniques used today. He instructed Deputy Chief Moniz to take us down to the “vault” where “historical” police records are stored. (For security reasons, I’ll refrain from describing the room or it’s safeguards.) While there it was interesting to learn that most all of the historic police files were lost in flood damage and, where the Borden case is concerned, also due to pilferage decades ago. Now the Department has rigid policies and procedures to protect and preserve case documents.

Lizzie’s arrest entry

Subsequent to the Preliminary Hearing of probable guilt, the entry of “Prob.” was handwritten over the standard “Guilty” column.

Jose Corriero murdered Bertha Manchester in Fall River with an axe on May 30, 1893. The papers reported this other hatchet murder the following day prior to the Borden Trial jury being sequestered. On June 3rd, 19 year old Jose was arrested and booked. (Note different spellings of his name. I took note of the fact he was born on January 8th, same as me.) The year of his birth is recorded as 1874, which would make him 19 on June 3, 1893, but the ledger shows age 18.

That a suspect was in custody was not known to the jury as they had been sequestered by the time it was reported in the papers, which they were not allowed to read. Thus, in the minds of these mostly farmer jurors, a hatchet yielding maniac was still on the loose and could have been – by golly – the same one that murdered old Andrew and Abby.

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Lizzie Borden Preliminary Hearing – FREE

UPDATE (August 4, 2009)

“Stop and go no further!” cried the spinster.

“But I am for Truth, Justice & the American way!” bellowed the blogger. (LMAO)


By clicking the “Preliminary Hearing” page above, you can read the entire transcript of this proceeding in the Lizzie Borden case, absolutely FREE. You can also cut and paste the entire text into Word and save it to your hard drive for later printing if you wish.


The Preliminary Hearing in the Lizzie Borden case was held August 25, 1892 through September 1, 1892.  It was near enough to the murders that memories were sharper than when shared by the same witnesses at the Trial ten months later.

(Click on all images for larger view)


The first hard copy availability of this primary source document was made over 15 years ago through the Fall River Historical Society.  They received Defense Attorney Andrew Jenning’s copy, with his handwritten notes, and sold copies through their gift shop



At the time of the Hearing, newspapers reported on the daily testimony but it was the New Bedford Evening Standard that printed all of the Preliminary Hearing after the Trial -  including Lizzie’s Inquest testimony – which had been read into the record.



The book above contains the full transcript and although it is in very small print, it has wonderful illustrations.


I made copies of the original source document from the FRHS and bound them as shown in the first image above and sold them on eBay over a decade ago.  In 2000, I began transcribing the document in Word format and put them on CD’s as a Research and Reference source into this case.

LBCD-ResRefThe above image gives a description of the content of those CD’s, inclusive of my own transcription of the Preliminary Hearing.

I sold the CD’s for many years in different formats beginning in 2001.





Often times I sold the CD with other Lizzie collectibles.






The CD, with my own Word transcription has been copyrighted for years.

PrelimI also made a hard copy of my transcribed document from 2001 as seen above and this, as well as the CD’s have been sold or given away for years, including sold at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, MA.


Harry Widdows, Stefani Koorey and Kat Koorey edited their own version of a transcribed Preliminary Hearing and sell it through LuLu Press and the FRHS for around $40!

Now you can read this most interesting document absolutely FREE, cut and paste the text into MS Word and have it on your hard drive.  You can even do word searches.

Again, just click on the “Preliminary Hearing” page to this blog at the top and Enjoy!


CASE SETTLED! Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast/Museum vs. Salem’s “True Story” of Lizzie Borden Exhibit

For those who have been following the litigation between Donald Woods, co-owner of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast/Museum in Fall River, MA, and Leonard Pickel, operator of the recently opened “True Story of Lizzie Borden” exhibit in Salem, MA, – the case is expected to be settled out of court today. This result was what a few of us knew would be the probable outcome.

However, this AP first reporting was actually premature as the ink has not yet been applied to the Agreement papers as of noon Eastern time.  Mr. Pickel, no doubt in his excited relief, rushed to speak to the AP Reporter.  You can read the AP’s first and premature reporting of the settlement HERE.

At issue was Mr. Pickel’s use of the word “museum” in both his website URL and contact email address wherein Mr. Woods claimed copyright to the word when attached to “Lizzie Borden” as that was cause for confusion and adversarial to his (Woods) business.

For the next several days there will be the usual flurry of newspaper and t.v. reporting following up on the AP wire story.  All of which is good for both businesses.  We wish them well.  :)

And – unrelated to the case but for anyone interested, this next article associates Sarah Palin with Lizzie Borden.  Read it HERE.


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Bathsheba Spooner, Hannah Piggen, and Rachel Wall

At the time of the Lizzie Borden case it was speculated that a jury would not convict because of the abysmal result of the last female hanged for murder – one Bathsheba Spooner. But Spooner was N0T the last female executed in Massachusetts prior to the Borden case.

While much is often made of Bathesheba Spooner, who was executed in 1778, as being the last female to have been executed in the State of Massachusetts prior to the Lizzie Borden case, the below list tells us something quite different. In fact, it shows the last two women executed by hanging were in 1789, both in Suffolk County, MA., and a mere 104 years before Lizzie was charged and tried for the murders of her father and stepmother.

Those not familiar with the Bathsheba Spooner case, here is a recap:

“In March 1778, Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer in Brookfield, was beaten to death and his body stuffed down a well. Four people were hanged for the crime: two British soldiers, a young Continental soldier, and Spooner’s wife, Bathsheba, who was charged with instigating the murder. She was thirty-two years old and five months pregnant when executed. Newspapers described the case as “the most extraordinary crime ever perpetrated in New England.”Bathsheba was the mother of three young children and in her own words felt “an utter aversion” for her husband, who was known to be an abusive drunk.

A year before the murder, she took in and nursed a sixteen-year-old Continental soldier who was returning from a year’s enlistment under George Washington. The two became lovers and conceived a child.

Divorces were all but impossible for women at that time and adulteresses were stripped to the waist and publicly whipped. Bathsheba’s pregnancy occasioned a series of desperate plots to murder her husband, finally brought to fruition with the aid of two British deserters from General Burgoyne’s defeated army.”

As the daughter of the state’s most prominent and despised Loyalist, Bathsheba bore the brunt of the political, cultural, and gender prejudices of her day. When she sought a stay of execution to deliver her baby, the Massachusetts Council rejected her petition, and she was promptly hanged before a crowd of 5,000 spectators.” -Murdered by His Wife, Deborah Navas, University of Mass. Press, 1999.

For additional information, see also Laura James True Crime Blog entry.

But in going over the list, I was struck by the name “Hannah Piggen”. (Some things you just can’t make up.) In 1785, Hannah Piggen, unknown age (#120 on list here) was executed in Middleton, MA. While little can be found about her, she has the distinction of being the last female to be executed for concealing birth. Not suprisingly, this “crime” was gender specific, i.e., any “concealment” by the biological father was not an issue. Had the unfortunate Hannah lived today she could have dropped the baby off at the nearest fire station and skulked away in the dark of night, to name but one option.

Also of interest to me was the other “Hannah” behind Ms. Piggen. This girl (nay, child) was a Native American girl, #121 on the list, and was only 12 years old. She was hanged for murder. Wonder who she murdered? Someone who raped her?


I think we can put to rest the notion that Bathsheba Spooner was the last female to be put to death by hanging in the State of Mass. prior to the Lizzie Borden case, as is so frequently mentioned in books about Lizzie.


Posted by on August 11, 2008 in Legal & Forensics


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Note:  See comment by “Fiz” below.

“Did Lizzie Borden Dispose of the Murder Weapon By Dropping it in the Privy of the Borden Barn?”


Faye Musselman

“I am not at all satisfied that any such search has been made for the weapon as absolutely to exclude the presence of it somewhere on the premises. But to make an absolutely thorough search for it might involve the total destruction of the buildings; and this, doubtless, is not worthwhile, especially as the weapon when found cannot absolutely settle the identify (sic) of the murderer.”

-Knowlton Papers, pgs. 61-62. Final paragraph of a letter written by Attorney General Pillsbury to District Attorney Hosea Knowlton, dated 9/3/1892

The most puzzling and compelling case in the annals of American murder mysteries is the Lizzie Borden case of 1892, Fall River, Massachusetts. Less challenging to the vox populi mind of “Did She or Didn’t She?” is the challenge of figuring out what happened to the murder weapon. No weapon was ever found, though it is documented the house was searched “from top to bottom”, as was the barn.

Lizzie stated to investigating police officers that she was in the barn. She testified at the Coroner’s Inquest that she was in the barn.

She was allegedly seen coming from the barn walking towards the side door by 19 year old (and, amazingly, a future renter of 92 Second Street) ice cream peddler, Hyman Lubinsky. (Trial testimony)

The murder weapon has never been found. The “handlless hatchet” found in the cellar in a box on a high shelf covered in ash was presented at Trial as a possible weapon. Governor Robinson, Lizzie’s primary defense attorney, quotes prosecuting attorney William Moody’s opening remarks: “The government does not insist that these homicides were committed by this handleless hatchet: it may have been the weapon.” (Trial Transcript, Vol II).

So if we presume the handless hatchet is NOT the murder weapon – then what happened to it? And, presuming Lizzie’s guilt, what did she do with it?

Primary source document testimony that the barn privy was searched reveals no conclusive, let alone convincing, evidence that the privy was searched thoroughly, i.e., the “muck and guck”, so to speak.

The barn contained an old fashioned privy – an indoor outhouse if you will. Unlike the two privies in the Borden house basement which had a flushing capacity, the barn privy did not. It had a sink hole. It was used as we have testimony that Mrs. Borden used it occasionally, so we know it was not sealed up.

In this view we see the barn door and a little further east (darker shape) the privy door.

In the late 1920’s the Borden barn was dismantled and the local papers covered the event. While an old carpenters hammer, something like a hatchet, was found between beams on the inside wall, it clearly was not the murder weapon. For one thing, the length of the blade was too long, and the City of Fall River paid $200 to have it tested for blood. The results were negative. The writer has been unable to find any newspaper record stating the privy itself was drained or searched. The “muck and guck” would have been dissolved and absorbed into the earth, and most likely the wooden hatchet handle itself, but the metal hatchet head would not have disintegrated. It would still be there. However, it does not appear the “sink hole” was searched.

When the Leary Press was constructed, the area of the privy was cemented over with the new structure. Now, after decades, the Leary Press is to be demolished. This affords a prime opportunity – perhaps the last opportunity – to resolve the question once and for all: “Did Lizzie Borden drop the murder weapon in the barn privy?” If a hatchet head is found and it dates to the period of 1892 (and we know it was a NEW hatchet from The Knowlton Papers), then one can safely assume Lizzie did, indeed, murder her father and stepmother and dropped the hatchet into that muck and guck at the bottom of the sink hole of the barn privy, knowing no one would ever dig into it. If this is the case, no wonder our enigmatic Miss Lizzie expressed little anxiety about the searches throughout the house and “inside” the barn.

(Right click for better image)

If Lizzie disposed of the murder weapon in such a manner, why would she place herself out in the yard and in the barn? Why not simply say she was “down cellar” looking for something or in the privy there? She could not possibly say that. She had been seen coming back from the barn moments before giving the alarm: “Bridget come down! Someone’s killed father!” She had been seen by Hyman Lubinsky and she knew she had been seen. She could not lie. That was too easy a lie to get caught in. Better to admit she was outside, not just in the barn, but up in the loft – up in the loft for 20 minutes – eating pears – adjusting a curtain. Anything but in the privy, which would have had an innocent use unless already visited with a guilty purpose.

The first words out of a guilty person’s mouth immediately after completing a crime are often telling towards their guilt. Lizzie’s first response to the question: “Miss Lizzie, where was you?” (Bridget) was: “I was out in the yard and heard a distressing noise and rushed in and the screen door was wide open.” She had to be out in the yard. She had been seen. And what about the “distressing noise?” Did the dropping of the hatchet make a clanging noise as it bumped against the splash board? Distressing indeed. But Lizzie doesn’t place herself inside the barn until she realizes if she had been in the yard for more than a few minutes she surely would have seen the fleeing assailant. And so she begins weaving that tangled web of being IN the barn, UP in the loft of the barn. (Fish hooks, and sinkers and pears! Oh my!)

If Lizzie did drop the murder weapon down the privy, why didn’t the police find it? Let us address just what is on record regarding the search for the missing weapon as it pertains to the possibility of being in the privy.

I performed “word searches” on each of the primary documents and several books on the Borden case, as follows:

“privy”, “privvy”, “privie”, “privvie”, “barn”, and “vault”

The word “privy” or any variation of the word, appears only rarely in these documents, and only in the context that it “was searched”, period. No details as to how thoroughly it was searched, only “searched”. Over the years, the phrase “the privy was searched” has come to be accepted on face value that it was searched and no weapon was found because no weapon was there because it was searched.

Let us consider for a moment that several police officers searched the dress closet on the second floor of the Borden house and examined all her dresses “one by one” per testimony. Yet, they found no “paint stained dress” – a dress which was burned the Sunday following the murders. Yet, that “closet was searched.” Yes, “the privy was searched” – and no weapon was found.

Amazingly, there is virtually little to no use of the word “privy” in any of these sources. References to searches in the barn most always dealt with “up in the loft” and only skirted reference to the privy itself. There was extensive testimony about searching the barn loft for footprints (Medley’s “cake walk”), turning over the hay, and people in and out of the barn before and after the police entered, Lizzie coming from the barn, the location of woodpiles and boxes and workbenches. In fact, in hunting for statements specific to searches of the privy itself, the privy seemed almost an invisible component of the barn. Dismissive. Of lesser importance. And yet, and yet WHAT BETTER PLACE TO DITCH A HATCHET?!

The following references are in sequence as to proceedings or publication:



August 8, 1892 – Officer D. Desmond

“Mr. Jennings was there at, the time. Emma spoke about a “lumber pile in the yard”, and thought it would be a good place to search. Mr. Bryant, and myself went into the cellar; and it was thoroughly searched by Edson, Conners, Quigley and Desmond. From there, we went and searched be barn, lumber pile, yard, privy vault and well, also John Crowe’s yard which is on south side of Borden house. The search I am satisfied was a good one; but we failed to find anything.”


Lizzie’s inquest testimony: “privy” or any variation not used.


– “privy” or any variation is not mentioned in any testimony.

“barn” = Churchill – in context of what Lizzie told her she was doing in the barn.


Pg 33 Bridget testimony

“Q. That privy out behind the barn, was that used by any member of the family, was that in use?

A. Mr. Borden used it.

Q. Did anybody else besides him?

A. Mrs. Borden sometimes.

Q. Did you ever know the girls to use it?

A. No Sir.”

Pg 247 Morse testimony:

Q. Is there a privy vault here at the east end of the barn?

A. Yes sir.

Q. At the south east end of the barn?

A. Yes sir.

Pg 350 Officer Michael Mullaly testimony

A. No. I believe I went from there, and went out and searched the barn and the yard.

Q. The whole barn?

A. That is, I searched downstairs and up.

Q. In the barn?

A. Yes.

Q. With the same object in view, for the man or the weapon?

A. The same object in view.

Q. Did you disturb the pile of boards, or did anybody?

A. I do not know as I disturbed anything.

Pg 360 – Mullaly:

Q. You searched the cellar again, and the barn?

A. I did not.

Q. It was searched, was not it?

A. Not at that time.

Q. Did you search the vault, and everything else?

A. I searched it on the first day.

Q. You went through such things as band boxes and barrels and all those things on this Saturday search, and bundles, undid bundles?

A. We went through everything.

Q. Things done up in bundles, you went through those, and untied them?

A. Yes sir, furs and capes &c.

Pg 416 Marshall Hilliard

A. Well, I presume part of it; the other part is Dr. Kelley’s I presume. From there we went, or I went to the well, or what was the well, but it has been filled up. From there I went to the rear end of the barn, and looked into a vault that was there. From that I went into the barn, up where they were overhauling the hay. I looked around there, and came down stairs, and helped in the search of the carriage house and the carriages and barrels.

Q. That is in the lower part of the barn?

A. Yes Sir, on the west end.

(Mr. Knowlton) Not a separate building?

(Mr. Jennings) No.

A. It is that part of the barn where the carriages are, and it is on the west end of the barn, down stairs. We searched in the stalls that are on the north of the barn, and also under the stairway that is there; in fact, all that was down stairs.

Q. You made a thorough search of the whole premises?

A. Yes Sir. When we got through there, I came up and told the officers that—- Well, I sent them to search the other yards around.


Contains more testimony concerning those being “up in the barn” (the barn loft) rather than the yard level of the barn where the privies were.

Pg21 (Vol I) Bridget’s testimony:

“Q. You do not mean the front door, the carriage door?

A. No, sir.

Q. But the door which is just this side of the privy door?

A. Yes, sir. (Photograph shown witness). Yes, sir, the door where the water is,—the water inside the door.


Pg1391 (Vol. II) Walter Stevens testimony:

A. I stepped down from the fence and walked up to the barn.

Q. Didn’t go into the barn?

A. Not at that time.

Q. What were you doing there?

A. Well, we looked into the filled-in well. We looked there.

Q. That is in front of the barn?

A. In front of the barn.

Q. Did you also look in the vault behind the barn?

A. Looked into it.

Q. Before you came to the barn?

A. Yes.”



(search “barn”) “privy” or any variation not used in entire book.


“All through that eventful day the police searched the house, cellar, yard and barn but found nothing to confirm any suspicions which they might have entertained as to who was guilty of the crimes.”


“From cellar to attic the police and physicians delved into every nook and corner; every particle of hay in the barn loft and every blade of grass in the yard was turned over; and when the day was done the harvest had been nothing, except the discovery of the double murder of a peaceful old man and his harmless wife, struck down in their home like an ox in the stall.”


The word “privy” or any derivation thereof is not used throughout the entire book. The word “vault” is used only in reference to the bodies of Andrew and Abby being placed in a receiving “vault” at Oak Grove Cemetery.


Same as above.


Pg 34

“But the house had a back lot deep enough to accommodate to the left a small stable—

“the barn,” as the Bordens called it—and a disused privy tucked behind it and the back fence, and to the right a woodpile, a grape arbor, and two or three pear trees. “

(Word “vault” used in context with Oak Grove Cemetery).


Pg 61

“Pearson was a friend of Knowlton’s son and thus became privy to some of the District Attorney’s correspondence years after the trial had ended.”

(No other mention of “privy” or variations thereof; reference to vault w/Oak Grove).

Faye Musselman

January 26, 2005

Update: May. 2005

The current owners/operators of the Lizzie Borden B&B did not engage any professional assistance to determine if there was a metal hatchet head (or any metal) in the “vault” area when demolition of the abutting structure (formerly the” barn”) was bulldozed down. Some pottery, china, bottles, a porcelain doll, etc. were found by the manager through cursory digging. It is quite possible any evidence of a hatchet having been discarded in the privy vault was obliterated or scooped up by the bulldozer. Thus, speculation as to Lizzie disposing of the murder weapon in this manner will forever remain an unsolved mystery.

Note: March 10, 2008

Three years later I am still not 100% convinced the hatchet was dropped in the privy. Neither am I 100% convinced the actual murder weapon was that which was found on Crowe’s barn roof just prior to the start of the Trial in 1893. In addition, I continue to ponder the possibility the hatchet is still INSIDE THE HOUSE – MOST LIKELY HIDDEN INSIDE THE CELLAR OR CELLAR WALLS. The cellar would seem an obvious place for Lizzie to say she was when the murder of her father took place and yet it is the one place she removes herself furthest from. But it is still her calm demeanor in her replies regarding searches that lead me to think she had no worry of them finding the murder weapon in that muck and guck WHICH WAS NEVER THOROUGHLY SEARCHED OR DRAINED!!!


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