Legends: The Cat Lizzie Killed & The Pinkerton Agent

25 Jul

(Recycled from June 15, 2008)

I’ve started a new Category, “Urban Legends in the Lizzie Borden Case” to question, debunk or add to those whacky and outrageous claims we find in books and old newspapers relative to this most compelling case.

Abby Whitehead Potter was the daughter of Sarah Whitehead, Abby Borden’s half sister who lived a couple blocks behind 92 Second Street on Fourth Street. Borden case scholars usually first hear of her in Judge Robert Sullivan’s book “Goodbye Lizzie Borden”, the Stephen Green Press, 1974. In that book, on page 7, he tells about meeting her in 1973 when she was 90 years old, and states she speaks of her knowledge of Lizzie of which facts have “never before been disclosed.”


Abby Whitehead Potter (AWP) actually gave a few newspaper interviews four years previous, when she was 86 years old. This one below from the Providence Evening Bulletin of January 17, 1969. Apparently AWP was so proud of this she cut it out and sent it to Florence Brigham of the Fall River Historical Society. Florence subsequently gave me a couple back in the late 1980’s when we discussed AWP. It should be noted that AWP initiated her eventual meeting with Judge Sullivan by writing a long letter to him introducing herself and connection with Lizzie Borden.

In another newspaper interview of 1969, AWP tells us of infamous story of Lizzie killing Abby’s cat. I think it was from this article that URBAN LEGEND took hold and was resurfaced in a number of subsequent books.

Orin M. Hanscom was a Pinkerton detective brought into the case early by Lizzie’s attorney, Andrew Jennings. His presence was to make sure there was no hanky-panky by the Fall River Police. Allegedly the superintendent of the Boston office of this prestigious investigative agency, it was O. M. Hanscom who asked Alice Russell if all of Lizzie’s dresses were accounted for and to which Alice replied with a “falsehood”. Alice lied. But she would tell the truth of Lizzie burning a dress nearly four months later in front of the Grand Jury in Taunton. A burning of a dress that happened just the day before Hanscom questioned her!

Jennings also sent the intrepid Orin off to Hastings, Iowa to look into the life of John Vinnicum Morse, Lizzie and Emma’s uncle on their mother’s side.

Now, wouldn’t you think that if Orin was head of the Pinkerton Office in Boston he would have filed a report? Wouldn’t you think a copy of that report would be filed with his boss at Headquarters in New York? Well, you’d think so. But from this letter in my collection we learn there is nothing. Or nothing was found at the time of it’s writing in 1967.


It is said that this Pinkerton detective Hanscom quickly came to suspect Lizzie in the double hatchet murders and, further, he was becoming far too chummy with the local reporters. Attorney Jennings, realizing his continued presence in Fall River would work to Lizzie’s detriment, had him hustled out of town – to Iowa – and then dropped his services altogether, but not after ensuring there was no written documentation of this Pinkerton’s suspicions.

Here is more information on Mr. Aime Plourde to whom the above letter was addressed.


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One response to “Legends: The Cat Lizzie Killed & The Pinkerton Agent

  1. jdc325

    July 5, 2008 at 8:18 AM

    Interesting stuff. I’ve recently read a couple of books that refer to the Borden murders and it’s good to see there is still interest in the case.



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