Lizzie Goes Shopping in New Bedford


Lizzie and Emma had left Fall River on a hot summer’s vacation to visit friends in New Bedford and Fairhaven on July 21st. The sisters split up in New Bedford as Emma went across the bridge to Fairhaven to stay for an extended visit with Helen Brownell and her widowed mother on Green Street.  Lizzie stayed in New Bedford and called upon Mrs. Poole and her invalid daughter, Carrie Poole. Lizzie had been close chums with Carrie’s sister, Augusta- now Mrs. Cyrus Tripp.  The Pooles lived in a rooming house at 20 Madison Street in the city, not too far from the commercial section.

On July 23rd, Lizzie went on a short shopping expedition alone to the shops not far from the boarding house on Madison Street. There she purchased some cheap day dress fabric and pattern to be made up by her seamstress back in Fall River. She did not shop very long, then returned to the Pooles.

In her inquest statement, Lizzie is asked about the last time she was away from home. Interestingly, she overestimates how long ago her trip to the Pooles was:

Q. When was the last time when you have been away for more than a night or two before this affair?

A. I don’t think I have been away to stay more than a night or two since I came from abroad, except about three or four weeks ago I was in New Bedford for three or four days.

Q. Where at New Bedford?

A. At 20 Madison Street

Lizzie was asked about the dress goods and pattern she bought on the 23rd.

“Q. Did you buy a dress pattern in New Bedford?
A. A dress pattern?
Q. Yes.
A. I think I did.
Q. Where is it?
A. It is at home.
Q. Where?
A. Where at home?
Q. Please.
A. It is in a trunk.
Q. In your room?
A. No, sir; in the attic.
Q. Not made up?
A. O, no, sir.
Q. Where did you buy it?
A. I don’t know the name of the store.
Q. On the principal street there?
A. I think it was on the street that Hutchinson’s book store is on. I am not positive.
Q. What kind of a one was it, please?
A. It was a pink stripe and a white stripe, and a blue stripe corded gingham.”

The police made a bad show of things when they revealed  on the stand that there was confusion about who searched the attic trunk, when, etc. and not recalling finding a dress pattern and cloth goods. In other words, it was a very unprofessional evidence-gathering  effort which cast an unflattering light on the men in blue. It was thought Officer Medley led the first attic search, then Assistant Marshal Fleet. Marshal Hilliard and Officer Desmond were also up in the attic as part of the search which was woefully uncoordinated.  The missing articles were finally produced very late in the process. Knowlton was satisfied with his examination of the materials but a lingering doubt continued as to whether or not a substitution could have been made.  It was not the first time the police had botched something concerning the search of the Borden house. 

Much was made about this dress yard goods and pattern. Did Lizzie somehow have the  dress made up, worn it during the double homicides, burn it and then her defense arrange to have duplicate fabric “found” later?  A local newspaper speculated on this scenario.

From the Evening Standard,  Fall River, Sept. 3, 1892 – Was It Possible For Defense to Have Duplicated the Goods? “The day after the Borden murder City Marshal Hilliard put two New Bedford officers at work in that city with orders to trace Lizzie Borden’s actions during the two weeks previous. They found that she had purchased a dress pattern of cheap material in a dry goods store in that city, and it was to this pattern that reference was made at the trial. Some importance was attached to the matter at the time of the discovery of the purchase. The police failed to find the dress pattern or any dress of it in their search at the Borden house. They made demand on the members of the family to produce the piece of goods or the made-up dress. If they could not do this the police wanted to know what had become of it. The family refused to move in the matter and the police at New Bedford searched the store to get a sample of the goods bought by Lizzie.

The last day of the trial the defense surrendered the piece of dress goods which Lizzie had purchased and it was still intact. The question has arisen in the minds of some people who believe as the prosecution does whether or not it was possible for the friends of the prisoner to have duplicated the dress pattern and surrendered the last purchased instead of the first, and that the first one might have been made-up and used by Lizzie Borden at the time of the murder and afterwards destroyed or put out of the way.”

It is, at the least, a very curious business. Lizzie, on the day of the murders, rested in her room dressed in a pink and white striped wrapper. Coincidence- or something else?


  • Kate Lavender

    As you said in the post, the dress in question was not turned in until the last day of the trial which gave Emma ten months to duplicate it in the upstairs guest room. In my opinion, Lizzie used the material to make an apron which she wore during Abby’s murder but she bought the dress pattern to make it look as though she was going to make a dress. The bloody apron was then disposed of into the pile of autopsy clothes when Lizzie came down to the cellar on the night of the murders outside of the view of the officers. I have a different scenario for Andrew’s murder. Anyway, great article, Miss Shelley! Much love to you.

    • Shelley

      If you check the date on the newspaper article, it is actually referring not to the 1893 trial but the Preliminary Hearing which went from August 25- Sept. 1, 1892.

      • Kate Lavender

        Ahhhh….yes you’re right. The article was dated September 3, 1892. Thanks for setting me straight. I am trying to pick up every stitch. Thanks, love.

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