“Todd Lunday” Unveiled

13 Oct

Note:  The inspiration for “The Mystery Unveiled”, and certainly the foundation for its premise, lies with Edwin Porter’s The Fall River Tragedy,  beginning on page 6 which can be found by clicking HERE.

Mr. Porter was a police reporter for the Fall River Globe.  Keep that in mind.  His book, also published in 1893, was released BEFORE The Mystery Unveiled. Mr. Porter sets forth each and every particular of what the “assassin” (as he calls the killer) must encounter, confront, avoid, and/or deal with as does Todd Lunday when describing what “Villain” must encounter, confront, avoid and/or deal with.   Indeed, it is quite possible “Todd Lunday” read what Porter wrote,  and flashed upon the concept of another book to unveil the mystery in this confounding case.

Let us now examine just who “Todd Lunday” may be:

One of the many by-product mysteries in the Lizzie Borden case is the identity of “Todd Lunday”, a fictitious or non de plume for the actual writer of The Mystery Unveiled: The Truth about the Borden Tragedy: Fresh Light That Must Be Convincing to The Reader. This is a 56-page pamphlet published by J. A. & R. A. Reid immediately after the Trial in 1893. The content is rich with tongue-in-cheek satire, and ultimately concludes that since Lizzie was acquitted and no one else charged or suspected, nobody committed the murder – a conclusion meant to illustrate how preposterous that Lizzie was acquitted in the first place. He writes:

“Any revelations that would lead to correct opinions relative to the perpetrator of the crime would not fail of favor with all lovers of justice, and it is the object of this book to make such revelations in hard and fast facts.”

In other words, if not Lizzie, who? And by extended logic: No one else could have done it, ergo, she did it.

He takes us step by step through both murders and presents the obstacles “Villain” must surpass in order to complete the dastardly deeds, such as access into the house, hiding between murders, moving from upstairs to downstairs unseen, dealing with locked doors, escaping unseen, having a plan executable even without knowing whether Lizzie and Bridget would be inside or outside, what they would be doing, etc. He finely details the boatload of improbabilities an intruder would encounter, and the absurdity of an intruder being a viable suspect by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, an absurdity which came to mind of the police within the early hours of investigation and promptly reported by the local press, particularly the biased, Catholic-owned Fall River Globe.

There is no more obvious sarcasm in The Mystery Unveiled than the last paragraph of the pamphlet, quoted here exactly as it appears:

“Now what are we to say of the case? This: At a recent court convened according to the laws of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the first party of the only two who could have committed the deed, the Party of unhindered opportunity was declared not guilty, AND I HAVE DEMONSTRATED IN THE PAGES OF THIS VOLUME THE ABSOLUTE AND ENTIRE INNOCENCE OF THE SECOND PARTY, LEAVING NO GROUNDS FOR ANY DOUBT. IT, THEREFORE, FOLLOWS THAT NO MURDER WAS COMMITTED. O LAND OF THE FREE IN WHICH THE FOULEST OF CRIMES MAY BE COMMITTED IN THE QUIET OF THE HOME, EVEN IN THE OPEN BLAZE OF MIDDAY, AND YET NOBODY THE DOER!

So just who was “Todd Lunday”? Borden enthusiasts and scholars have been trying to figure it out for years. Some play the anagram game with the letters, i.e., “Dolan”. Others have thought it was written by Marshall Rufus Hilliard (don’t even try it – the letters won’t fit). For some years now, I have held the belief it is: (drum roll) …………………….

(from Images of America – Fall River)

………James Dennan O’Neil, Irish Catholic, managing editor of the Daily Globe. The paper was Catholic owned and the favored publication of the mill workers. It was O’Neil who wrote the editorials every year on the anniversary of the Borden murders with each article pounding the point that the murderer still walked free or that “no murders happened”. The articles usually appeared on page one of The Globe and they became progressively more assertive in pointing the finger at Lizzie. Always contraversial, often cruel.

I have all 23 of those anniversary articles and it was after years of reading and re-reading them and contrasting the phrasing, sentence structure, vocabulary, wit, and general degree of callousness that appears in The Mystery Unveiled that I reached my conclusion. I ruled out Marshall Hilliard. I don’t think he would have risked exposure. Interestingly enough and something of a coincidence, in 2006 while doing research on James O’Neil in the Fall River Room of the FR Library, a newly donated original Lunday had arrived that day. Inscribed inside was “property of Rufus B. Hilliard.”

So…… If I were an Irish Catholic, editor of the FR Globe, and I had a fairly high profile in the City of Fall River, meaning lots of people knew me….and I decided to write a book anonymously, tongue in cheek but based on facts, and I knew the facts pretty damn well because:

1. Hell, I’m a newspaper editor.

2. Lots of the cops were Irish Catholics that investigated the case throughout and gave me an earfull because we were ethnically and culturally sympatico regarding the people of Fall River above and below The Hill.

3. My key reporter, Edwin Porter, was right there on the scene every step of the way and had the inside track to the police department and officers.  Edwin wrote The Fall River Tragedy and I was inspired by it.

And further:

4. I wanted to disguise my writing style, but couldn’t quite keep it exactly disguised.

5. I wanted to pick an author’s name that sounded sooooooooooooo not Irish and sooooooooooo not Catholic….rather more English Protestant.

The anniversary editorials were very popular among The Globe readers. Each year that editiorial was looked forward to with high expectation by their readership. Indeed, O’Neil would get letters as the August 4th date approached asking “what’s the next anniversary editorial going to tell us?” People were excited and in anticipation of it so O’Neil relished in that. And sales spiked on August 4th. Did it continue so long because It was more about sales than sticking it to Lizzie? In any event, they finally ended after 23 years. According to Victoria Lincoln, it was Monsignor Cassidy who convinced The Globe to put those articles to an end. (A Private Disgrace, pg. 303). Perhaps it did take a high ranking Catholic to persuade a Catholic newspaper to “knock it off.”

Here are some samplings of those articles. At the 5 year mark take note of the last sentence in the left column. The way its worded makes me wonder if by then so many had read the “Lunday” pamphlet that it may have been rumored the true author was O’Neil and he was making a “veiled” attempt at re-directing local suspicion.

In 1906, it was back on page 1 of The Globe. The article continued with mention of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. True enough, Pinkerton Detective Hanscom, hired by Lizzie’s attorney Andrew Jennings, lasted only 2 days before whatever conclusions he drew was enough for Jennings to scurry him out of town.

August 4, 1914 was the last appearance of the anniversary articles and it appeared on page 5.

Long blog, I know. But I type fast. On a final note, the FRHS will publish Parallel Lives in December (postponed from this summer) and it should be revealed then who “Todd Lunday” really was. Meanwhile, IMHO, the real author of The Mystery Unveiled is James O’Neil.


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One response to ““Todd Lunday” Unveiled

  1. Mary O'Neil

    November 12, 2009 at 9:36 AM

    I was searching for my brothers recent accomplishment on Google and this was the first search that popped up, and I’m finding all this facinating. Both my father and brother were named for Uncle James Dennan O’Neil, and we grew up with all the Lizzie stories. As we have dispersed around the country, we tell new folks the legends and the part my uncle had in reporting it. My family still has the ties to Fall River, and my father, who passed in 1994, was the last of the O’Neil’s to share the first hand stories.


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