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

20 Dec

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.”



Tags: , , , ,

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

  1. Rachel

    January 29, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    Hi! I’m playing Alice in the rock musical based on the murders! I’ve loved browsing your blog! I emailed you sometime recently, and was sad not to hear back from you!

    Do you know if there might be any photos of Alice around the time of the murder?

    Do you have any little know insights about her?


    • amaykate2015

      January 27, 2016 at 7:33 PM

      Awesome!! I know this is an old comment but that is my favorite musical of all time and Alice is my favorite character! Well, her and Lizzie. I bet you killed it!! (Forgive the pun…)

  2. Harry Kuhn

    June 23, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    As Alice was on the faculty of Durfee FR High School, possibly there may be a yearbook picture of her as late as the 1913 edition.

    • phayemuss

      June 27, 2015 at 11:37 AM

      She was a sewing teacher. I’ve not come across any photo of her in the Durfee year books.

  3. maisie

    September 26, 2015 at 5:21 AM

    I am doing a diary entery of Alice for my school work!
    i am just wondering if there is any detailed info about her…
    age full name e.g

    • phayemuss

      October 1, 2015 at 11:54 AM

      Yes, old newspaper accounts, as well as the Fall River Historical Society. Call them. Ask for Dennis. Tell him Faye sent you 🙂

  4. phayemuss

    March 31, 2017 at 3:20 AM


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: