Food Poisoning-An Inspiration and Cover-Up?
Baker’s bread, fish and milk- tainted or tampered with?
On the morning of August 3rd , Abby Borden arose early as usual and breakfasted on pork steak. This seems an unusual choice for a woman who was suffering from nausea and extreme digestive disorder. The night before, Abby and Andrew Borden were up and down to their chamber pot experiencing all the symptoms of food poisoning. Lizzie would say that she too had suffered some discomfort. Fish had been on the menu Tuesday evening. Had the fish “gone off”?
As soon as Dr. Bowen’s office across the street opened, Abby dashed over to find relief. Dr. Bowen listened to her concerns about the “baker’s bread” perhaps being “poisoned”. That would seem to imply Abby was thinking along the lines of food poisoning. She had heard of a case before where cream cakes had gone bad and caused similar symptoms. Food spoilage with resulting salmonella, botulism and “Summer Complaint” were a day–to-day occurrence in the Victorian era. Bowen observed that if the baker’s bread from the market had indeed been spoiled, he would have had far more patients and inquiries, He prescribed castor oil as an emetic, and sent Abby home. Later he would remark that he had some fear she would be sick right in his office, and later crossed the street to check on her and Andrew. Andrew Borden did not wish to be examined and was not pleased his wife had incurred a bill for services rendered by Dr. Bowen and the possibility now of a house call bill. Lizzie was ashamed of his cheapness and went upstairs. Andrew opted to dose himself with Garfield tea.
During the same morning, pharmacist clerk Eli Bence would claim that Lizzie demanded of him 10 cents worth of Prussic acid with which to clean a sealskin fur, claiming she had bought it there at Smith’s before. Lizzie would deny even knowing where Smith’s was located, although it was but a block west and south of her home. The time is placed between 11-11:45 a.m., or about 3-3 1/2 hours after Abby’s dash across the street to Dr. Bowen’s. Is it possible that Abby’s “food-poisoning” might have served as the inspiration for the attempted purchase of Prussic acid only a few hours after Abby’s trip to the doctor? Abby’s subsequent death from deliberate poisoning might easily have been attributed to an acute case of food poisoning, and given Bowen’s testimony of the morning’s events, most likely an autopsy would not have been performed.
No one was able to confirm or witness the the claim that Lizzie herself was actually sick with the same complaint the elderly Bordens suffered. A poisoner is always prudent to say they have also been sick, even to the point of ingesting a minute amount of poison themselves to achieve a mild result.
A most intriguing follow-up to Wednesday’s events occured when Lizzie visited her longtime friend, Alice Russell, Wednesday evening and promoted the story that the family had all been sick, she had fears the milk was being tampered with, and something terrible could happen at any time. “I don’t know that they won’t burn the house down over our heads”. The seed that “father has an enemy” was firmly sown, and the notion of deliberate poisoning was tossed out as a possibility.
On the morning of August 4th, the maid, Bridget Sullivan herself was ill, vomiting in the back yard around 9 a.m. She ate the same food as the family, including the leftovers.
If one believes Lizzie to be guilty of the crimes, and that Eli Bence was telling the truth- her failure to procure the Prussic acid could have prompted another surefire method of disposal- a hatchet! Results guaranteed every time.