Tag Archives: Helen Leighton

Helen Leighton’s Trunk for Sale on eBay

Well, here we go again.  An outrageous price for something Lizzie Borden “may have touched the hand that touched….”.     But what I found really interesting about  this item is the write up by the seller.


I swear most of it came from a post I originally made in 2009 and then re-posted in April of 2011.  View the item description then read my post HERE  Note that I listed my sources.

Tell me the Seller wasn’t inspired!  Inspired, hell.  Much of the wording is verbatim!   LOL!

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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Collectibles, Fall River, MA


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The Benefactors’ Edition of Parallel Lives-A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River

It’s a beautiful thing.  Check it out:

The holding sleeve has a leather/felt-like interior.

The sleeve has the staged photo of Lizzie in her senior years on the back porch of Maplecroft.

The woman that is pictured in the edition already opened (the one I read in Hawaii) is Anne Lindsey, sister of Mary Brigham.  What a Dame!

The marbleized end pages are taken from a book in Lizzie’s library

Note the edged gold “gilt” on the pages.

The “Presentation” page.  Click for larger image.

Yep.  She’s a beaut all right.  🙂


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Lizzie Borden’s Dying Act of Kindness

(Originally published in June 1st, 2010)

Lizzie Borden died 84 years ago today.  She died at 8:30 pm on June 1, 1927  (a Wednesday) in her home in Fall River, MA.  She had been lingering all day, surrounded by her chauffeur and two servants:  Ernest Terry, Ellen Miller, and Florence Pemberton.  There were others who came to the house as well.

The Reverend Cleveland from the nearby Church of Ascension – a few doors down from Central Congregational  Church on Rock Street – would execute the wishes Lizzie had written out on March 31, 1919.   Vida Turner would come in and be instructed to sing “My Ain’ Country”, tell no one she had been there and then leave immediately.

The reporting a few days later of Lizzie’s Will was regional front page news and appeared in many newspapers across the country recounting the horrific hatchet murders of August 4, 1892, and Lizzie’s subsequent arrest, trial and acquittal.

Her Will was probated for 6 years with four separate Probate Court Accountings submitted by the executor of her estate, Charles Clarke Cook (as shown below from Men in Progress-1896):

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Probate of Lizzie’s Will.

Proceeding Inclusive Dates Held
1st Accounting June 24, 1927 – May 1, 1929 October 2, 1931(Fall River)
2nd Accounting May 2, 1929 – Jan. 1, 1932 February 17, 1933(Taunton)
3rd (Substituted)Accounting Jan.1, 1932 – Nov. 28, 1932 February 17, 1933(Taunton)
4th FinalAccounting Nov. 28, 1932 – March 3, 1933 March 24, 1933(Attleboro)

The primary reason for the long probate was Mr. Cook’s failure to include the house/property at 328 French Street known as the “Henry House” which was situated directly east of “Maplecroft”.

Mr. Cook claimed the house was his as a gift from Lizzie.   However, Grace Hartley Howe and Helen Leighton, the two major legatees in Lizzie’s Will, were having none of it.  They claimed fraud and the matter went to court – Probate Court – in several sessions.   The testimony in those proceedings are rich in insight into Lizzie’s character as gleamed from those who testified, including Winifred F. French, who was to receive $5,000 as a bequest from Lizzie.  What the witnesses on behalf of Grace & Helen had to say was insightful, but the most provacative was this:

So here we have Lizzie dying and she knows she is about to die but what is on her mind?  She is remembering her promise to Ernest Terry to pay for his house repairs and tells him to write a blank check, which she signs and which he takes to the bank.  She may or may not have remembered she left him and his wife money in her will, but she wanted this to be extra.   A blank check – reluctantly approved by Cook, but cashed at the bank.    And Cook, dear man, tried to convince Mr. Terry that that check of $2,500 was to be considered part of the $3,000 cash bequest from Lizzie.  What a guy.

Ultimately the court ruled in favor of Helen & Grace and the proceeds from the sale of the property was considered a part of Lizzie’s estate.  Although he was judged not guilty of fraud or had bad faith in carrying out the terms of the Will, Judge Mayhew R. Hitch of the Probate Court made Cook accountable for that $10,000 (which was the amount he had sold it for but not yet pocketed) plus interest.   Cook made this right in the Final Accounting.  I find it amusing that he also included the cost of services from the attorney who represented him, Arthur E. Seagrave.  The court approved it.  His submittal of the heating bill for the Maplecroft garage where he parked his car, however, was not approved.  (Good try but too bad, Charlie).

So as she lay dying on this day 83 years ago, Lizzie Andrew Borden made no deathbed confession (and had she, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog) but she was focused on a potential financial hardship to her faithful driver and friend, Ernest Terry.   Her last documented act was to issue a blank check.

Yes, there were many acts of kindness that Lizzie Borden did throughout her life, particularly the second half of her life when she had the money to use as she wanted.  We will most likely read more about them in Parallel Lives and perhaps finally see a photograph of Ernest Terry (I’ve never seen one and the book is to have well over 500 photographs – yep, you read that right).

I would like say, on this day:  “Rest in peace, Lizzie Borden.”

But we all know that ain’t gonna happen.

Here is a link to a follow-up post showing the full article above as well as one of Cook being found Not Guilty of Fraud.


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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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Lizzie Borden’s Will and Who Got the Cars


Lizzie Borden died on June 1, 1927.  Her highly publicized Will was probated for six years.  We learn much from those probate proceedings.  For example, Undertaker Winward charged $696.70 for her funeral arrangements.  We learn that Lizzie’s two cars, which were not listed among her bequests, were subsequently given away to her chauffeur, Ernest A. Terry,  and business manager, Charles C. Cook as assigned assets disposed of in the 4th and Final Probate Accounting.



Conformed Copy of the original of Lizzie Borden’s Last Will and Testament.

(Right click images for better viewing)


There were 4 Probate Hearings as follows:


Proceeding Inclusive Dates Held
1st Accounting June 24, 1927 – 

May 1, 1929

October 2, 1931 

(Fall River)

2nd Accounting May 2, 1929 – 

Jan. 1, 1932

February 17, 1933 


3rd (Substituted) 


Jan.1, 1932 – 

Nov. 28, 1932

February 17, 1933 


4th Final 


Nov. 28, 1932 – 

March 3, 1933

March 24, 1933 


Conformed Copy of the original probate documents as filed with the probate court in Fall River.

As executor of Lizzie’s Will, Charles C. Cook had listed his services at $10,000.  That was reduced to $5,000.  There was also the initially unreported sale of the Henry house (for $10,000 on April 14, 1928) adjacent to Lizzie’s that was contested by the primary “human” heirs, Grace Hartley Howe and Helen Leighton.   As if the money and the “so called Baker lot” were not enough, Mr. Cook ended up with the car below.   He had served Andrew Borden in his business interests and then Lizzie and her sister for the past 35 years.   He had earned Lizzie’s respect and gratitude for his loyalty and discretions.  Perhaps, like Lizzie, Charles had his own sense of entitlement.

The vehicles pictured below are for illustrative purposes and not the actual cars.



1923 Lincoln Sedan went to Charles C. Cook.

Charles C. Cook was born March 28, 1854, and died on  September 28, 1934, only 18 months after the final probating of Lizzie’s Will.



1924 Buick Sedan went to Ernest A. Terry

Ernest A. Terry was born January 26, 1886,  and died October 11, 1955.

Both these cars would have been garaged in the special structure Lizzie had built for her first automobile in 1913.  It still stands on French Street but is used for storage.  Robert Dube, owner of “Maplecroft” tells me that when originally constructed there was only the center doors.  The doors on both ends were added years later.  Dube showed me the original drawings.


Rear of Maplecroft showing the area behind the Swift residence to the right.  This shows the pathway on which Lizzie wanted to have a driveway built to her garage with it facing towards Belmont Street.  Due to restrictions set forth in the sale at the time, she was not able to build where she wanted.



Besides Ernest and Charles and the cars – both Grace and Helen gained from the “residuals” of the estate.  In addition to the furniture, carpets, books, jewelry, silver, glassware, etc., they were given cash payouts earned from interest on properties and stock dividends earned since Lizzie’s death to the final accounting – a period of 6 years. Grace was in Fall River on March 3, 1933 to sign (along with Helen Leighton)  the Fourth and Final Accounting of the Probate of Lizzie’s Will, wherein they both received $6,000.  That was a chunk of change to receive in the middle of the Depression.

The very next day Grace Hartley Howe, cousin to Lizzie Borden and wife of the private secretary and chief political strategist to Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  was in Washington, D.C. for the inauguaration of the President of the United States of America.  She and Hartley took the train.

Why she and Helen chose not to keep these cars is a puzzlement to me.


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More on Lizzie Borden Special Probate Hearing

I’ve changed the “Theme” – partially because it shows “Comments” better, and mostly because I like it.  🙂

I’ve been asked to post the entire news article from my previous post regarding Lizzie Borden’s last documented act of kindness as she lay dying.

From that same article we learn that this special hearing might have been held at Winnie French’s home at 409 Prospect Street. Perhaps it was one of Winnie’s antecedents for which the street was named that Lizzie lived on.

In any case, here’s the full article as well as the follow up explaining Charles Cook being exonerated of any fraud in that pesky purchase and sale of the Henry House next door to Maplecroft.  (Catherine MacFarland, btw, mentioned in this article, was also a beneficiary in Lizzie’s Will.)


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Red Acre Farm & Lizzie’s Horses

Red Acre Farm near Boston (Stow) was founded in 1903.

Their  “Our History” page – about their first 100 years – reveals the following:

“One note of general historical interest was the presence in one of Red Acre’s barns of two brass plaques, memorials to two horses named Malcolm and Kenneth. The horses had belonged to Lizzie Borden. Lizzie was born in 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts and in June, 1893 she was tried for the ax murder of her father and step-mother. The jury found her not guilty, but the murder and trial attracted national attention. She died in 1927. In an article that appeared in The Boston Globe on July 22, 1958, Ted Ashby quoted Miss Bird as saying, “They were Lizzie Borden’s horses…though they never were stabled here. But she wanted the plaques installed in their memory”.

It’s a fair assumption to state Lizzie was granted the mounting of the plaques in consideration of her prior cash donations to the Farm.   Her good friend, Helen Leighton, was head of the Boston Animal Rescue League located nearby.  Helen probably told Lizzie of this horse  farm.  I find it a tad amusing that Lizzie, so fond of Scottish novels and having given her canine pets Scottish names, did the same with her horses.


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