The Cable House Murders, July 20, 1892 : Poison!

The Cable House would burn in a fire on October 23, 1899 (author’s collection)

While Lizzie was having a sojourn in New Bedford with the Pooles and a day trip to Blakes’ Point in the week before the Borden tragedy, elsewhere, sudden death, poison and horrific suffering took place in Salisbury Beach. A small summer boarding house on the oceanfront called the Cable House would become the scene for a shocking loss of life, the cause of which would puzzle the police, consulting physicians, and the population for several days. After consuming an evening meal in the dining hall of the popular establishment, eleven of the diners became violently ill- some more affected than others. Over the course of 48 hours, five would die horribly and in agony with fever, chills, extreme nausea and delirium among the symptoms. There was a demand for an answer and answers came fast and furious as at first the well water was suspected of containing bacteria, possibly of cholera morbus . This theory soon gave way to tainted fish,, ptomaine poisoning, possibly insecticide in the form of a Paris Green preparation which may have been spread on vegetables, to “Summer Complaint” of spoiled milk. An old pepper box containing insect powder which was owned by the landlord of the establishment, Mr. Montgomery, came under suspicion but was soon ruled out. Was this an accidental poisoning due to a mishap in the kitchen with the pepper box? None other than William H. Moody was called in, and soon the pressure was on for an investigation including testing, autopsies and on September 2- an Inquest which would be held at the Cable House. Stomachs were removed from the first three victims right at the Cable House, reminiscent of the Borden affair. In short order, chemist tests revealed some dead bugs in the water, but nothing more sinister, and the cause of deliberate poisoning was deemed to be in the tea in the form of Paris Green powder. The story was a sensation and was front page every day until August 4th when the Borden tragedy knocked it off the front page. Samples were sent up to Harvard Medical School where Dr. Hill and Dr. Wood (later to assist with the Borden forensics) took charge.

Boston Globe

After the Borden tragedy and testimony, the topic of the elderly Bordens taking violently ill on August 2nd was discussed. They had a meal of swordfish that evening. Lizzie Borden would say she also was not well. On the day before the double murders, Mrs. Borden went across the street to the family doctor, Seabury Bowen, and exclaimed she thought they were poisoned, perhaps by the baker’s bread. She said she had heard of something like this in relation to cream cakes. Cream cakes were also mentioned by a doctor involved in the Cable House poisonings as well as fish. On the same day, a young pharmacist clerk at Smith’s pharmacy on South Main St., a block from the Borden house, claimed that Lizzie Borden had come in the store before noon, asking for Prussic acid to clean moths from a sealskin coat. It is something to think about, all of this talk of death and poison which flooded the papers and conversations during the days between July 20-August 4th. Did it give someone ideas? Is there a connection? Or is it one of Life’s coincidences?

Paris Green


  • Shelley

    Thank you. I have been mulling this Cable House poisoning thing over for many years and it seems, to me, more than a coincidence. The Bordens may well have vomited up the poison before it could be lethal.

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