• D.R. Smith – The Man, Prussic Acid, Two Brides & a Scandal

    David R. Smith 1854-1923, Fall River Globe 1923

    by Shelley M. Dziedzic (all rights reserved)

    As all the eager researchers who take up the Lizzie Borden case will find, it does not take very long to run into the name of Eli Bence.  The earnest face of Bence, with his close-cropped hair and determined mouth, was the man who gave evidence right through the Borden case preliminary about the doings in the corner pharmacy on the day of August 3, 1892.  All who are familiar with the case know of his claim that Miss Borden came in Wednesday before noon and asked for ten cents’ worth of Prussic acid, a deadly poison.  The lady claimed she had purchased it before with no difficulty at this establishment and it was needed to remove moths from a set of sealskin furs. Without a prescription, the young woman walked away without the desired substance, the entire proceeding observed by two gentlemen in the drug store, Mr. Kilroy and Mr. Hart who claimed it was Andrew Borden’s daughter Lizzie .  

    Eli Bence

    After the murders the next day one can only speculate what Bence did next as news of the murder details emerged.  Most likely he told his employer, David R. Smith, owner of the pharmacy at the corner of South Main (#135) and Columbia St. about the encounter or possibly even his brother Peter Gaskell Bence, once a Fall River Police patrolman, and wondered what he should do next.  Bence did go to the police with his story and was taken to Second St. to identify Lizzie as she paced the kitchen at #92.  Bence looked down the long hall from the side door and identified Lizzie by voice and sight as the woman who had been in Smith’s the day before.  Luckily, for the defense, this testimony was not allowed at Lizzie’s trial in New Bedford in June of 1893 as it was deemed “too remote in time” from the grisly deeds. In addition no Prussic acid had been found in the stomachs of the victims or in the house on Second St.  Thus Eli Bence and his testimony faded away into the mists of time and history.   One can only wonder if his testimony might have made any difference in decision to acquit.  Lizzie would maintain that she was feeling ill, never left the house during the day until much later in early evening when she went to see Alice Russell, and was not acquainted with the location of D.R. Smith’s apothecary. 

    Corner of Columbia & South Main location. The building is not original to D.R. Smith Pharmacy days. Formerly Virginia Dare Ladies clothing, White’s Market and Copacabana Club (courtesy Fall River Historic Photos, Facebook)

    Human nature being what it is both now, and in 1892, no doubt D.R. Smith’s pharmacy was a place of curiosity once the news of the Prussic acid emerged.  It’s easy to imagine inquisitive shoppers walking by, peering in the window or even going in to make a purchase at the place where Lizzie Borden was said to have tried to buy Prussic acid!  David Smith and Eli Bence might have even been sought out to some degree.  Much has been written about Bence but who was his employer and what do we know about David R. Smith?

    David R. Smith was one of a large family whose parents had come over from Ireland in 1850.  His father, Samuel Smith was born in Guilford, Ireland on June 18, 1815, the day of the Battle of Waterloo.  His mother, Eliza A. McCleary stayed home to tend to a growing family including Mary, David, Eliza J., Sam Jr., Josephine, William, Hattie, and Margaret.  Sam worked as a machinist for the company of Kilburn and Lincoln, which made power looms and other mill equipment and machinery in the city since 1846.  The family home was at 683 Second Street.

    David knew from a fairly young age that apothecary work would be his career path.  He was very fortunate to have been childhood chums with Alice Whitaker whose father, Dr. John Whitaker, (born in England) and brother John Wesley Whitaker had an apothecary down on the corner of Ferry Street and Canal Street.  The Whitakers lived at  181 Second Street, and so when David was ready to begin work in earnest, he gained a position in the Whitaker Apothecary on Canal Street corner of Ferry Street., where Lizzie and her family lived until they moved to 92 Second St. in 1872.  David was a hard worker and by 1875 he was able to open his own pharmacy in Stafford Square. That business also being very successful, he then moved to 135 South Main at the corner of Columbia Street, a very desirable and high traffic address where he was able to take on assistants and a clerk in the person of Mr. Eli Bence. 

    In November of 1879 David Smith  married old Dr. Whitaker’s daughter Alice, who was a great asset to David’s career and business, and greatly admired in the neighborhood.  The couple were happily married for 22 years.  The last ten of those years Alice had suffered ill health and preferred to be a homebody at their house at 589 Second Street.  Paralytic shock is given as the cause of her death in August, 1902.  David, who had enjoyed a comfortable life with Alice, puttering about in his home laboratory inventing a cure for dyspepsia and managing his apothecary on South Main St. was devastated.  There were no children to soothe his lonely hours.  David had instead sponsored and supported a local baseball team of boys who had many wins on the baseball diamond.  Life had been very satisfactory for the Smiths in every way.   

    Fall River Herald, August 29, 1902

    At the peak of his success, his brother Sam, also a thriving druggist with an apothecary on North Main, the Smith brothers were well-known and respected in the city.  With Alice no longer by his side, David surprisingly wasted little time in procuring the second Mrs. Smith.  Miss Ida A. Murphy, of 57 Whipple St. (also the street where Eli Bence lived in 1892) caught the attention of David Smith and according to Miss Murphy and her outspoken mother, started to pay serious court to her daughter with intent for the relationship to culminate in engagement and marriage.  Miss Ida, a clerk at the public library, is quoted in 1904 as saying David Smith had been ardently courting her for two years, which would put the time just after the death of his wife Alice, and that he had proposed no fewer than three times to her!  After putting David off twice, she had finally consented to become the second Mrs. Smith and had set the date for September, 7, 1904.  With her gown selected, her trousseau purchased and the announcement put in the city papers, Miss Ida Murphy was to very soon get the shock of her young life. 

    There, in black and white in the newspaper for July 12, 1904 was published the announcement of the marriage of David R. Smith to Miss Celia Gesner (twenty-one years his junior)!  Miss Gesner was a seamstress, born in Canada, who lived at 1380 Globe St., the daughter of Catherine and Jacob Gesner, her father being a carpenter. This would be Miss Gesner’s first marriage.  The ceremony took place at 268 Highland Avenue and was presided over by the Rev. W.J. Martin. 

    Ida, not believing her eyes must have run to inform her mother of the shocking news.  Mrs. Murphy, said to be of a charming disposition as a rule wasted no time in giving an interview to the Globe about the shameful occurrence.  Breach of promise was a real thing in 1904 and the Murphy ladies were quick to let the scandal out of the bag. Mrs. Murphy declared David had spent the two years  from 1902 – 1904 practically parked in her parlor, taking most of his meals at her table and suggesting perhaps he might board at the Murphy’s address.  As only a mother of a jilted bride-to-be could exclaim, Mrs. Murphy declared David Smith was in for a thrashing if she could just get her hands on him and promptly declared him a scoundrel in just those words! It would appear that scoundrel was the nicest word that she had to call him. The furious mother of the bride deemed him a nuisance who had haunted their home and that she had misgivings from the very start about Mr. Smith.  No time was wasted in engaging the services of John W. Cummings in drawing up papers for a suit to sue the romantic David Smith who had one bride too many, for breach of promise. 

    Ida, still in a daze , refused to believe the situation could be true unless she heard it from the marrying minister himself.  Revenge was in the air but David Smith went yet a step farther and settled all of his business concerns on his new bride immediately and thus Mrs. Celia Smith became the new owner of Smith’s Pharmacy.  David Smith himself maintained his total innocence in the whole affair, pitied poor Miss Murphy who was surely in error, and what with there being no proof of his promise to marry poor Ida, happily went off on his honeymoon with the comely Celia Gesner Smith, his new wife. 

    Fall River Globe July 12,1904

    It is presumed there was an end to it- the breach of promise suit pressed by Mrs. Murphy was dead in the water as Smith’s new wife held all of the Smith family property and assets and there was nothing financially to be gained. 

    David R. Smith died on December 2, 1923.  Lizzie Borden, who had made his pharmacy famous was alive at Maplecroft.  His second wife Celia died in 1966. He is buried between his two wives as is the custom, in Oak Grove Cemetery Plot OG1790.  But what happened to his spurned paramour Ida Murphy?  In 1925, two years after David’s death, Ida was still working at the library, now living in a nice neighborhood on Madison St. , her outraged mother having died in 1919, her father Jeremiah, a liquor dealer in the city, still living until 1928.  The Murphys are buried in Old North Cemetery on North Main St.  Ida never married.  So closes the curtain on D.R. Smith.

    Ida’s mother’s obituary, Fall River Globe Dec. 1, 1919
    Fall River Herald, Dec.3, 1923 (courtesy Newspaper Archives.com)
    (courtesy Find – a- Grave OG Plot 1790)
    Masonic membership record, Narragansett Lodge, Ancestry.com
    Fall River City Directory listing second wife, Celia
    D.R. Smith’s father’s obituary, Fall River Globe 1901
  • February Tea & Murder Podcast

    Kimbra and I are delighted to be chatting with Keith Morrison of Lions Den Theatre on Sunday, February 20th at 7 p.m. Lots to talk about this time out from the release of The Jennings Journals from the Fall River Historical Society to whether Lizzie had any real-life Valentines and most importantly, a special interview with Keith all about how the Lizzie Trial Audio project got started and the approach to capturing the personalities from the proceedings for posterity. While you are waiting for the podcast, you will want to listen to the fascinating hours already recorded on the Lions Den YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/c/LionsDenAudioTheatre The link to join the podcast LIVE will be posted here and on W&W Facebook page as well as Lizbeth Facebook group. Also streaming LIVE on YouTube. Links will be posted the day before the podcast.

  • A Halloween Anniversary

    Halloween is always a busy time at the Borden House on Second St. but it also marks the anniversary of a couple, important in the story of the happenings on August 4th- the Bowens. Phoebe and Seabury Bowen were married on Halloween day, 1871. Lizzie was eleven.

    There is a mistake on the certificate, probably poor handwriting on the original- Loutheur should be Southard Miller. Bowen’s mother was Leafa Claffin Bowen, not Sofie, once again, handwriting was deplorable.

    Young Seabury Bowen

    For more about the life and career of Dr. Bowen visit this link here on the website. https://lizziebordenwarpsandwefts.com/2996-2/?fbclid=IwAR3RZHUqKvrV4Wi_2ZjKjKGqZudKPYEjli9y6rfldK_JPGv2EceYjCj4-wo

  • Ken DeCosta Joins Us for Halloween Tea & Murder! Oct. 17th at 7 p.m.

    It’s almost Halloween Tea & Murder time! Don’t forget to join us this time NEXT Sunday evening, October 17th at 7 p.m. when Rhode Island paranormal investigator, Ken DeCosta, will be joining us to talk about his experiences at Maplecroft and Second St. Questions, oh, so many questions to ask!! 👻 Livestream on Facebook and Youtube!

  • Buttonwoods Museum- William H. Moody Room

    I am very grateful to the staff of Buttonwoods Museum in Haverhill, MA. for allowing this photography of the Moody Room for Warps & Wefts and for arranging a special guide Saturday afternoon. The museum is a must-see and these photos do not do the real objects justice. If you find yourself in Haverhill please stop by not only to see the amazing Moody display but many other items and the historic house. 

    There’s nothing like seeing objects owned by a person to reveal a lot about who they are and their place in history. William H. Moody was indeed a match for defense attorney George Dexter Robinson in the Borden case, and went on to have an unbelievable career cut short by extreme rheumatoid arthritis which compelled Justice Moody to step down from the bench at a young age. The first thing one notices in the Moody Room is the impressive portrait hanging over the mantle and the round gaming table in the center of the room which was made to accommodate his wheel chair. The top of this mahogany table flips over to a solid top. One can imagine games played at this table with gentleman visitors. Moody was a rampant Red Sox supporter and took a keen interest in baseball as did defense attorney Andrew Jennings, himself a pitcher for the Fall River baseball team TROY. One wonders if the two men ever discussed baseball during the trial.

    William Moody never married, nor did his sister Mary who kept house for him and was a dedicated hostess throughout his career- and what a career it was! The top photo is Moody’s mother, the middle photo is a young Mary, also with a wealth of fair hair like her brother. Mary was asked to christen the U.S.S. Moody (which was sunk purposely in the making of a Hollywood film). The photo shows Mary with a huge bouquet on launch day and the trimmings from the bottle of champagne used to christen the new ship is shown in its original box with red, white and blue ribbons.

    The little Klipper desk was used by William H. Moody in the House of Representatives. Klipper desks were used in the House Chamber from 1873 until 1901 The little hole in the front right used to contain a button to summon a page. Before the button, representatives had to clap to summon a page. The two Cabinet chairs are Moody’s as Secretary of the Navy and Attorney General. They were made by A.H. Davenport and Co. of Boston.

    The Elizabethan sideboard was purchased by Mary Moody in England for their Haverhill home. The bottom shelf is made of an old door. Apparently it was the thing to have a statue of Daniel Webster in every attorney’s office and Moody was no exception. The photo at the top of the frame is Moody’s father.

    Not all objects in the Moody Collection are on display but among those I particularly liked seeing are very personal ones, Moody’s cigar case, ink stand of Benjamin Franklin with a quill pen, and his official document case – which as you can see, is weathered from use in service. A cigar smoker! What a surprise, but then most men smoked socially in that era.

    The Moody home at 38 Saltonstall Rd. is currently for sale. While in Haverhill, drive by for a look at the home of the Moodys. There are many interior views of the house on the realtor’s page https://www.coldwellbankerhomes.com/ma/haverhill/38-saltonstall-rd/pid_41517790/?fbclid=IwAR1R71QHEQwuhdRFTbxBvoIM78zzBrx-jHCSHjRXSfxBNcpkIj0p9Yr1s9U

    For more about the Buttonwoods Museum, visiting times, and special events, visit http://www.buttonwoods.org To seee the Moody Papers, which includes the majority of the Borden Trial transcript, visit the Haverhill Public Library. https://haverhillpl.org/app/uploads/2020/08/William-H-Moody-papers-31479006368590.pdf

  • Imagining Miss Lizzie Borden

    I’m long overdue in publicly thanking my daughter for many years of making graphics for W&W and so I have compiled most of the published ones in a little video at the link below which I hope you may enjoy. A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say- and it helps to have an image to aid our imagination in how Lizzie might have looked at different stages in her life. Lizzie was a very complex personality, and I believe, a very pretty lady. Thanks, Hollz- Momma couldn’t do it without you.

  • Nance O’Neil’s Ghostly Guest

    The Tyngsboro Colonial mansion where Lizzie Borden was entertained

    It is know that on at least one occasion, Lizzie Borden was part of a house party thrown by her new friend Nance O’Neil which went on for a full week.  Most likely Lizzie was told all about the ghost which frequented the halls of Nance’s estate.  This article mentions that Nance sold the estate because it was haunted.  It is more likely that she sold it because she lived quite above her income and was forever plagued by creditors- but the ghost story is a good one for this time of the year.

    The Lowell Sun, February, 1907- Excerpts

    “Only a few days ago the spook appeared before Nance O’Neil, the actress, who was on a visit to her old home, Tyngsboro Manor, before leaving for Europe.  The sudden appearance of the ghost drove Miss O’Neil into such a state of excitement that she fled from the house.

    Miss O’Neil lived in Tyngsboro Manor three years.  During this time she asserts that she saw the ghost twice, that it touched her and brushed past her at least five times, and that she was frequently awakened from her sleep by raps upon the walls of her chamber and the head of her bed, or by the attempts of unseen hands to remove the coverings of the bed.

    This ghost, according to those who claim to have seen it, has the form and nature of a beautiful young woman.  She is described as wearing the garb of a century ago, her dress being pure white. Her face is pale, her features regular, and her raven black hair flows unbraided below her shoulders. Sometimes she is surrounded by a phosphorescent glow, while at other times she appears as an ordinary human being.

    Not only is it declared that she appeared before people, but several residents of the town state that she spoke to strangers, and upon one occasion took in a belated woman traveller who was caught in a storm, provided supper for her, showed her the bed chamber, and then went outside and put up the horse, after which she disappeared.

    Then came Nance O’Neil’s experience with the ghost. In 1904 the actress bought the 150 acre estate and its three-storey colonial house, barn, farmhouse and other buildings.  This house was built by the husband of Jonathan Tyng’s granddaughter.

    The first time she entered it she felt a draft of air and a chill pierced her like a knife.

    “From the moment I started to live in at the manor I was uncomfortable,” says Miss O’Neil in telling of her experience.  “I felt oppressed and could not explain what the matter was, I was in good health.”

    “I began to hear strange knocks and then groans and other weird noises.  At night the walls of my bedroom and the head of my bed resounded with unexplainable rappings. I became convinced that the place was haunted.”

    “Finally came my most terrible experience. I saw the ghost.  Coming out of one of the rooms on the first floor, I turned to ascend the stairway.  Looking up, I saw at the top the figure of a young woman with long, unbraided glossy hair.  The sight froze me in my tracks.  I tried to shout but could not. Overcome with weakness, I sank on the stairway.  When I looked up the figure was gone.”

    Guests of Miss O’Neil frequently complained of strange noises in their rooms.  Several of them claim to have seen the white-draped wraith and Miss O’Neil became so nervous that she sold the place.  Returning to it the other day to sort out business affairs with townspeople, she claims that the figure appeared to her again. She is said to have become hysterical and to have fled from the house. At present the house is untenanted but it will be occupied soon by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Lowell, who are planning to build a school upon the estate.”

    Who was the raven-haired Woman in White?
  • Back to Jail

    September 1, 1892- the preliminary hearing ends and Lizzie is sent back to Taunton Jail to await trial

    The Preliminary is over and Judge Blaisdell makes his finding: “The long examination is now concluded, and there remains but for the magistrate to perform what he believes to be his duty. It would be a pleasure for him, and he would doubtless receive much sympathy if he could say ‘Lizzie, I judge you probably not guilty. You may go home.’ But upon the character of the evidence presented through the witnesses who have been so closely and thoroughly examined, there is but one thing to be done. Suppose for a single moment a man was standing there. He was found close by that guest chamber which, to Mrs. Borden, was a chamber of death. Suppose a man had been found in the vicinity of Mr. Borden; was the first to find the body, and the only account he could give of himself was the unreasonable one that he was out in the barn looking for sinkers; then he was out in the yard; then he was out for something else; would there be any question in the minds of men what should be done with such a man?” So there is only one thing to do, painful as it may be—the judgment of the Court is that you are probably guilty, and you are ordered committed to await the action of the Superior Court.”

  • Lizzie is Arrested

    In late afternoon on August 11, 1892 Lizzie heard the news that she would be heading to Taunton Jail. The newspapers reported that she became nauseous and was sick when she realized how her life would change forever. For a little time police officials were worried that Lizzie had provided herself with a possible way out in a desperate attempt at suicide, unable to face what was ahead. Having heard the testimony about Prussic acid, instantly there was a fear Lizzie herself had “taken something”. As it turns out, the shock and anguish set off a normal reaction. Lizzie was searched by Matron Russell later. What a horrific night of stress Lizzie had ahead. Meanwhile, in the holding tomb at Oak Grove, the headless bodies of Abby and Andrew Borden lay after the autopsy that morning.

    “Nature could stand no more. She was seized with a violent attack of nausea. The kindly matrons were quick to do all possible for her relief but the sudden illness so alarmed them that they sent word to the marshal. The thought of poison flashed instantly in their minds. They knew of the story of Lizzie’s attempts to buy a deadly drug and of the theory that she desired it for suicidal purposes in case of her arrest. They feared that she had accomplished her purpose, but it is thought impossible that such an attempt will be made. Nature had given way, that was all.”

    Lizzie was searched by Mrs. Russell to make sure there was no poison concealed on her person with which she might end her own life.

    A pathetic scene is described as Lizzie realized to the full extent what will happen to her life going forward. In this newspaper description, she presents a sympathetic figure in the black lace dress she had worn to the funeral only a few days before..

  • Farewell to the Morgan St. School

    The N. B. Borden School was built in 1868 and on August 5, 2021, it fell victim to the wrecker’s ball. Many people tried to save the graceful old structure. Built on a granite foundation and made to last, it served Fall River’s children for so many decades- but the efforts to rescue the school were all in vain. The character of the city of Fall River has taken another hit as one by one, the architecture and tradition of the city’s history crumbles. Not all buildings should be saved. Not all can be saved. This one was an exception. Lizzie Borden was a student here once. There were so many possibilities for re-purposing the building. Now it will become a restaurant parking lot. It was gone from sight and history in eight hours.

  • What Lizzie Borden Wore

    This video will give you a good idea of how Lizzie got dressed every morning. We know a great deal about her clothing right down to her black tie Oxford shoes. This video shows the lady in a combination undergarment which turned the chemise and drawers into something like a “onesie” that babies wear today. There were still women who preferred their crotchless knickers and long chemise with corset over it and then a corset cover on top of that. The little “bum pad” was not meant to be a bustle- by 1892, the second bustle period which was ridiculous to the point of a small dog being able to perch on one’s backside was long gone. This bum pad was to smooth out and support the line and back weight of a demi train or heavy fabric. Actually this young lady in the video does not put on a corset cover which is why you see a ridge of the corset top under her blouse. Picture Lizzie doing this every day in summer! In winter there were even more warm knitted garments to put on.

    In the Legend of Lizzie Borden, Elizabeth committed the murders in the nude. Considering all the clothing shown in this video which a lady of 1892 would have worn, it is hard for us today to imagine oneself having the flexibility of movement to have carried out a crime in such an outfit. One saving grace was the wide-bottomed skirt, sometimes called a “morning glory” as it had anywhere from 3 to 7 gores allowing for a wide, roomy expanse at the bottom of the skirt for walking and running and movement in general. The dress Lizzie would burn in the stove was actually a blouse (basque or waist) and a skirt made of the same fabric, giving it the appearance of a dress. The famous blue bengaline which Lizzie handed over to the police as the dress she wore on the day of the murders was actually a Navy blue blouse and silk Bengaline skirt. These she handed over with a petticoat, black stockings and tie Oxford shoes. She said she had washed the stockings. There are many interesting facts to consider when examining all of the textiles in this case. If only a skirt and blouse needs to be removed and replaced with a different skirt and blouse, it can be done in about two minutes.

  • The Rocky Point FRPD Excursion

    Boat landing
    FRPD circa 1900 courtesy of FRPD (History) website

    Imagine just how much the officers at the Fall River Police Department were looking forward to their annual picnic and excursion to Rocky Point on August 4th. Some of the men took shifts so the fellows with children could make a day of it. What a good thing Marshal Hilliard decided to stay down at the station! These are a few postcards of old Rocky Point from the early 1910s – and the YouTube documentary below is the award-winning history video of Rhode Island’s famous amusement park. The early history through the 1890s is covered from mark 4:00 to mark 19:00 but the entire video is fascinating. The park closed November 7, 1994.

  • Lizzie comes home

    Home from New Bedford

    July 26, 1892 – Lizzie has had a busy vacation visiting the Pooles, going on a day trip to Marion, shopping in New Bedford, but now duty calls and she must return to Fall River on the late afternoon train. There are obligations to meet, minutes to take at the upcoming meeting, and Emma is still in Fairhaven and will be no help at home. So back to the steamy city she goes, thinking wistfully of the good times, social chitchat and cool breezes she has left behind her. The next time she gets on and off a train- it will be to Taunton Jail!