One very good reason the Borden case has made such a long-lasting impression in the public consciousness for so many decades must surely be the unforgettable crime scene photos of Abby and Andrew Borden. For these we have James A. Walsh to thank for forever capturing the brutal wounds inflicted upon the elderly couple.. Even in black and white, the victims and the grisly scenarios which unfolded that day in 1892 still fascinate and horrify today.
James Walsh was a portrait photographer- one of many with shops on North and South Main Street in the 1890s. It was fashionable to have photographs taken of all family members, individual portraits, groups, youngsters and even infants. Post mortem photographs were also commonly done to preserve one last glimpse of a precious family member recently- departed.
It is unknown just who on the police force decided the Borden homicides were important enough to be carefully photographed but Mr. Walsh and his camera were sent for on the afternoon of August 4th. His home was on nearby Rodman Street and the studio was at 66 South Main, neither very far from the Borden residence on Second Street. The police departments in most cities did not include a crime scene photographer on their payroll. It is doubtful Mr. Walsh could ever imagine that so many years later, those memorable photos would still be carefully studied by so many interested in the case.
The prints online of the crime scenes, interiors and exteriors of #92 Second Street do not do justice to the original prints held in the Fall River Historical Society archives where the details are much clearer and sharper. Unfortunately, by the time Mr. Walsh arrived late in the afternoon, the bodies of both victims had been examined and moved and so the positions seen in the photographs were not exactly as they were following the attacks. Mrs. Borden had been turned over and back at least once, and Mr. Borden’s pockets had been gone through to see if burglary had been a motive. It is even likely that he was arranged in a more decorous manner on the sofa for the photo, befitting his stature in the city. His arm is clearly propped up with a pillow and it is likely his slip-on Congress boots were put back on his feet. It is hard to imagine police forensic work today without the all-important crime scene photos. During the Jack the Ripper investigation, one policeman suggested photographing the victim’s eyes as the last thing seen would still be imprinted on the retina! Those photos have also immortalized the Ripper case.
Cartes de visites (CDVs) or cabinet photos by Walsh are fairly common on Ebay in the 4-5 dollar range and are fun to collect. Often the back of the card is as interesting as the front; Walsh’s were very elegant. Who knows- more photos of the Borden family might still be out there! (scans below W&W archive with thanks to Joseph Soares)