Another Side of Lizzie Borden

Slide Album: The Vestal Family
 
 

Laura Vestal

   Another Side of Lizzie Borden

   Article and photographs  by Jack Faria © 2010 All Rights Reserved

 The Vestals had a barn in the backyard at  263 Belmont Street.  In addition to the family business, T.R. Vestal Insurance, they raised cows for milk and chickens for eggs and meat which was sold to the local neighbors.  Lizzie Borden was one of the customers who bought her milk and eggs from the Vestals. It was Laura Vestal who, as a young girl, had to deliver it .

She said every time she went to Maplecroft, Lizzie Borden would greet her at the back door (the back door is located under the porch, off the kitchen, on the north side of Maplecroft) for the milk and eggs and always gave Laura homemade cookies.  Laura said she was so kind and gentle.  Laura also told that on occasion Lizzie would make homemade cookies for the kids in the neighborhood, but that a few of the neighborhood kids were afraid of Lizzie and would not approach her or go near her yard.  Laura Vestal said that she was the nicest woman and Lizzie would tell her to tell that to the kids- but they did not believe Laura.

Maplecroft

Laura said that Lizzie had a driver (Mr. Ernest Terry) and that she would be seen leaving her house and being driven around the neighborhood for rides and would also be seen being driven around the city. (* Mr. Terry was left Lizzie’s Buick in her willLizzie also had one of the first cars in Fall River).

When Laura was in high school  she had a job at W.D. Wilmot’s.  Lizzie would be dropped off at the front door and would go into Wilmot’s to buy needles for her record player.  She said all the help on the second floor would look over the balcony and just watch her until she left the store every time Lizzie came in to shop.

Laura remembered Lizzie as having beautiful eyes, beautiful hair and was always dressed in the nicest clothes.  Laura’s brother Merton was Lizzie’s paper boy and said she was a great “tipper”. Mert also said she was the nicest lady.  More stories from Mert’s granddaughter are forthcoming as Mert related them to her. 

Laura said her parents, Tilghman and Sarah did not want any of the Vestal children to talk about the murders of the Bordens.  Sarah said , “She is a nice woman and don’t talk about her!”

Laura married  Richard L. Wonson, whose family was from Gloucester, Massachusetts, part of the “Wonson’s Cove” family.  They owned Wonson’s Jewelers downtown Fall River and lived at 517 Hanover Street in the city.  Laura’s great-uncle owned the Luther Store , now the  Swansea Historical Society Museum in Swansea, Massachusetts. 

Laura worked for U.S. luggage as a buyer, which was located on Broadway.  Laura retired in 1978 at the age of 84.  The following year she took classes at Brown University. (*  She passed away at the age of 103 at Adams House on Highland Avenue and knew Marjorie Newell Robb, last Titanic First-Class survivor also at Adams House).

About the Vestal Family

Tilghman Ross Vestal was born on August 5, 1844 in Huntsville, North Carolina.  He grew up in Columbia, Tennessee and during the start of the Civil War.  “T.R.” as he was known, was a Quaker and refused to fight in the Civil War to drive the invading Yankees from southern soil.  T.R. Vestal was brutally tortured and imprisoned in a Salisbury prison.  He was eventually released thanks to his uncle Nerves Mendenhall who was an influential and prominent Quaker.

T.R was educated at the Friends School in New Garden, North Carolina.  After the Civil War he made his home in Fall River.  His first home was on Almy St. and he owned and operated T.R. Vestal Insurance Agency which was located at 31 Bedford St.  On November 12, 1876 he married Sarah Nelson Luther (1861-1955) then in 1884 he built his home at 43 Borland Street.  In 1887 T.R. renamed Borland Street, changing it to Belmont Street because he thought that the street was a “beautiful hill” which reminded him of South Carolina. 

In 1889 the number of the house was changed from 43 to 263.  T.R. Vestal and his wife Sarah raised twelve children :

  • Sara Rhoda b. 1878
  • Minnie Luther b. 1880
  • Cora Bernice b 1882
  • George Brightman b 1884
  • Edith Janet b. 1886
  • Fred Tilghman b. 1887
  • Royal Ross b. 1889
  • Laura Vestal b. 1894
  • Lloyd Mendenhal b. 1896
  • Eliot Nelson b. 1898
  • Merton Irving b. 1899
  • Barbara b. 1904

 In 1904 T.R. Vestal decided to move to Pocatello, Idaho to make his fortune in peaches.  His wife did not want to leave Fall River so she remained on Belmont Street with her children. Laura Vestal Wonson lived in the house with her mother Sarah and her son Richard after Laura’s husband, Richard L. Wonson died in the flu epidemic of 1918.  Laura died at the age of 103.

 

30 thoughts on “Another Side of Lizzie Borden”

  1. Lori Ann Carson said:

    I wonder if she was ever truly happy….. anyway really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I am going to research the Doctor. Didn’t know anything about him…and as one person said earlier there were many people involved and yes…the anger came through in the actual death. But someone said she tried to poison them?? So I was wondering if the parents were sick or already dead then she bludgeoned them too death??

    • Andrew and Abby were most certainly ALIVE when they were attacked. No poison was found in the hair or stomachs of the victims. Lizzie denied trying to buy prussic acid the day before the murders. The pharmacy clerk demanded a prescription for it, and later identified Lizzie as the woman who tried to procur it. The jury did not get to hear this testimony as it was judged “too remote in time” from the murders although it was just the day before.

  2. I always thought that my cousin Lizzie would always be friendly and generous around the children, especially for the fact that she was a
    Sunday school teacher. She’s innocent in many ways ( by the way, the stepmother made Bridget wash the windows, not Lizzie) from the proofs I’ve mentioned in the other post, the one with the ten myths debunked. People needed to move on and accept her, unlike her neighbours after the trial.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think Lizzie’s post-murder behavior can exonerate her or condemn her, but my father grew up across the street from Maplecroft on Belmont Street and met Lizzie. He too was offered cookies and kindness by Ms. Borden. My grandmother found her to be an unassuming and gracious person. My father, as a little boy, was fascinated by her chauffeured trips around the neighborhood in what he reported to be an electric car. My grandmother later hired a maid who had worked for Lizzie and that maid found Lizzie to be a generous and kind employer. Interestingly, my father had a box of old keys which he claimed he had removed from the interior doors of Maplecroft after Lizzie had passed away.

  4. 2 women were in that house that day & 2 women came out of it alive while some mysterious killer went to work on 2 other innocent lives it’s not hard to figure out they did it together not planned of course it was too sloppy for that my guess it all started over those darn windows & got out of control I mean what kind of an employer asks the maid to clean the windows on the hottest day of the year ?… anybody ? a very particular & demanding employer

    • It’s was not the hottest day of the year. It was proven that that was an exaggeration of the prosecutors to make Lizzie’s aliby sound unlikely.

  5. Constantine said:

    I am reminded of a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s play Heartbreak House: “People don’t have their vices and virtues in sets, . . . they have them anyhow, all mixed.”

  6. After reading everything I could find on the case, this is my theory.
    Now if I am mistaken on anything below as far as facts, someone let me know.

    So I think this was planned.
    I think Lizzie was the master mind and that she had help from Dr. Bowen (yes, the good Dr) and it was for the motive of money. So far I have read other comments questioning Dr. Bowen’s actions and claiming he may have help cover due to his closeness with the family…. but I think he was full on involved. In more ways than one. I think him and Lizzie were having an affair. I also think Emma may have been aware and open to have the parents gone….but was unable to stomach the deed herself so had her alibi by being out of town. Or maybe Lizzie knew she could not handle it and so maybe encouraged her to visit friends in order to do the deed while she was gone.

    I do think the family was all sick because she did try to kill them via poison… I think she then tried to obtain more to finish the job but was denied by that clerk. I think she then had to make other plans quickly. I also think she “faked” being sick herself to make it look like someone was trying to poison them all. And then not eating breakfast that morning and being out the night before, she could have claimed they had 2 more meals at home exposing them to more poison. That is why they died yet she was just sick. Now they did state that no poison was found in the stomach upon an autopsy, but my question then for that time would be…. If it had been a coupled days (since she was not able to get more and that was a couple days before the murder) would it still be present. Would there be any poisons that would not be detectable back in the late 1800’s and was it possibly another drug that Dr. Bowen gave her that he knew was rare or new enough that the examiner would not find or know to look for leaving that conclusion that there was no evidence of poison.
    So then on to the murder with the hachet.
    Lizzie was not freaked. I don’t care who you are, especially in that time, when crime was even more rare… that not just a murder, but a murder of such extreme violence would have freaked anyone out. Yes it was later stated she was given drugs to calm her, but when it first happened she was not drugged up.
    Lizzie didn’t run from the house. And when she had the maid and Alice with her, she sent them both away leaving her alone in the house…. Sorry, not buying it. If I found someone murdered in my home, even if it was someone I hated, I would be running from that house for fear that the murdered may still be there. Especially since this would have “just happened”. The fact that she sent them away and remained inside the house. She was not scared for her own safety. There’s only one reason why that would be. I get people go into shock, but from others statements, that was not the case. She was very clear headed.
    Dr Bowen was seen riding extremely fast and appeared stressed at around 10 till 11. So he had not yet gotten the news. Since he was not even home yet….. I think he was part of it. And, I think he took the murder weapon and disposed of it and was hurrying back to be available as planned. I just think the timing is just too close for it to just be a coincidence. Planned!
    Lizzie stated she watched her dad remove his shoes and offered to open the window for him. From everything I have read about her, she was not that attentive mean, she even said most of the time when she came and went she entered and went right to her room. I think she was trying to look like a caring daughter and the statement was a flat out lie to sway the juror
    The idea that this murder killed Abby, then waited an hour and killed Andrew. Who does that when there are 2 other people in the house.
    Dr Bowen burning those papers. A police officer stated that he saw the name Emma written on something before it was burned. I almost wonder if it was Andrews new will? Either way, the fact that anything was burned at that point in time makes me very suspicious.
    Dr Bowen and Lizzie both seemed to avoid answering specific questions about the dress she was wearing at the time when everyone was arriving at the house. I think that dress is a sensitive subject. There is a reason. Otherwise someone would simply state I think it was blue. But they both run around in circles in their statements. I study statement analysis, and that’s one thing they always state. Simple questions get simple answers. “What color was her dress”. Either “I didn’t notice” or “It was blue”. Neither could answer this way and proceeded to avoid a direct answer. Statement analysis says that its stressful to lie (especially would be true on trial) and so people will avoid a direct lie. This is a great example. That takes me to my next thought about that dress.

    Below is Lizzies testimony during court about that dress. She is here directly asked if she burned it because the dress is stained with their blood. Statement analysis says, honest people can answer “No, I did not murder my parents” but when you are lying, you try to avoid the stress by avoiding a direct answer. Notice how many times they tried to get an answer and failed every time. Think of Michael Jackson. Question: Did you molest those children?”. His answer: “I would never hurt a child”. Now while some see this as a direct denial, it is not. No where did he say “I did not molest those children”. And if in his mind, he does not consider that hurting the child, but love, then he would not even be to himself, lying. Think about how you would answer. Statement analysis has been proven time again. Lizzie is avoiding answering for a reason. I believe that dress had their blood on it. I have more on the dress later.
    Statement from court transcripts. The questions were being addressed to Lizzie.
    Q: Miss Borden, did you burn the dress in question because you murdered your stepmother, then your father, and the dress was stained with their blood, following your assault?
    A: Are you accusing me of murdering Father and Mrs. Borden?
    Q: That would be correct.
    A: Do you realize how insulting that is?
    Q: Miss Borden, you do realize you are present at this proceeding as a suspect in these crimes?
    A: Yes, and I believe you are wasting your time, laboring under said delusion.
    Q: Miss Borden, did you or did you not burn the dress because it was stained with the victims’ blood?
    A: I’ve told you, it was stained with paint.
    Q: Were there any blood stains on the dress?
    A: It would depend on your definition of “stains.”
    Q: As in, visible to the naked eye.
    A: Mr. Knowlton, had I known you would be so interested in that paint-stained dress, I never would have burned it.

    Lizzie was wealthy. If someone was murdered in my house, I would NEVER stay there that night and I doubt I would live there ever again. Again, it’s not even like she had no choice. Like being so poor with no where else to go. She was wealthy. They could have stayed at a hotel, at a friends. Anywhere but there. Police said Alice appeared horrified being there. But that Lizzie was calm as could be with her parents bodies just below. And while not much is mentioned about Emma, she too stayed in the home. I find that just too weird.
    So back on the dress. Police were patrolling the house after the murders. The very NIGHT of the murders, while her dad and step moms dead bodies were laying on the kitchen table Lizzie went to the cellar with Alice and then returned shortly after alone. Mind you, they had no electricity so the cellar would have been very dark. I have seen video of part of that cellar but with many areas completed where at that time, was all just dirt. A very scary place to be anytime. Add in no lights, a murder just took place, and you have dead bodies upstairs. They said Alice appeared beyond freaked, yet Lizzie appeared calm. Now go back alone, to me that just adds to the creepy/scariness of that cellar and she then was crouched down for a good 15 minutes. They could not see what she was doing. What I think she was doing was working on that dress. Some of you may not know, but Hydrogen peroxide will on some fabric, takes out blood stains, yet in others will just discolor the fabric in those spots. Well, I think she was trying to clean the blood stains from that dress. I think she hid it and waited for night to avoid being seen. That if she had used that, it turned the blood stains another color instead of removing them all together. I think she then seeing that the stains were just a different color, she then tried to claim it was paint. But if she was thinking at all, she would have to know they may have looked for paint at or around the home that color and so decided it was best to immediately burn it. But figured she would try to be non chalant about it and state it was just “stained with paint”. And if she was on drugs that helped her relax, that could also add to why she did that in front of others with out fear.

    Dr. Bowen refusing to let the police in her room immediately afterwards. They should have checked that whole house first. She was left alone in her room. That was not smart. But that was a very different time.
    Dr Bowen staying in her room alone for some time with the door shut. I think they were having a follow up to the murder and comforting themselves for what THEY just did.

    All in all, I think that the lack of forensics and lack of training and experience with the police lead to her being acquitted. That today, if that house was locked down and searched properly.. I think they would have found evidence to convict her. And possibly link her secret lover Dr. Bowen. In fact, I bet had they searched his carriage or re-traced where he had really been (I don’t believe he was doing rounds and have not read anywhere that it was confirmed), there may have been the murder weapon… I almost think she killed Abby, cleaned up in the cellar and it was not rags due to her time of the month, and he then did Andrew, cleaned up in the cellar himself while she called for help if you will, and send people away from the home giving him time…. He then possibly ran down the road, and then came riding back in…
    Oh I would love to know the truth.

    • Sheila Westbrook said:

      I really enjoyed reading this it kept me mentally involved, I had never heard about the closeness between Lizzy and the Dr? But it makes so much sense, I don’t know if you do this for a living but I’m here in Nebraska and just next to us in Iowa there was a murder of 8 people in 1912 6 were children. They were axed to death the house is still there. They have never found who did this, there is so little to go on it would be interesting if you could read about it and make your theory?! I’d love to read that.
      Thank you
      Sheila in Nebraska
      I do plan to take a trip to Fall River Mass. To see the Borden house some day!

  7. Elnora Jones Lawson Croft said:

    Growing up as a child I was told we were related to Lizzy Borden. Well it turns out that Lizzy and my great great Grandma Flora Borden was lizzy’s 6th cousin on the maternal side. our connection is through John Borden 1640.I am having second thoughts about the guilt of Lizzy.Come to find out Emma despised Abby while lizzy at a young tender age of 5 loved her. Growing up Emma made that perfectly clear to Lizzy that Abby was not mother….She in my feeling’s had a major part in the killing and Lizzy took the blame…..

    • The Borden’s and the Durfee’s had inter-married for generations.Both those families settled in Riverton,Rhode Island.Fishing and oysters were plentiful.Later,they spread out,throughout the North-East coast.Andrew Borden may have been pressed into marrying Sarah Morse.Perhaps Andrew’s fellow peers thought that he should not marry a ‘Durfee’.Andrew bought the 92 second street property,next to a family relation,who had drowned his two children.People may have whispered about the in-breeding and the family’s odd resistance to change.At any rate,Lizzie was family proud.Once she boasted,’The Borden’s built Fall River’. I think Lizzie was pressed into killing her father and blood-related stepmother.The Uncle John Morse had long set up the murder scheme.Morse probably had Billy Borden write Andrew a threatening note,known as the ‘Albany letter’.This letter would cast a shadow of guilt,over Andrew’s illegitimate son.Emma seemed to emotional and Bridget Sullivan to weak.Lizzie was stone-cold and wanted to expell any ill-omens haunting her family.Incest was and is a voo-doo topic.Lizzie never could explain her story.Nor did she want her family’s name besmirched,so don’t expect to find a hidden diary.

    • Misty Knapp said:

      Elnora Jones Lawson Croft:

      Did your great great grandmother keep journals of her childhood? Did she hang out with Lizzie as a child or adult? I’m researching people who knew Lizzie as an adult and after she bought Maplecroft.

  8. I read “Parallel Lives” and did not draw conclussions of her innocence based on her kindness to friends , no longer wearing black , staying in town , or her love for children & animals. On the contrary I began to wonder about her behaviors after the murders such as her mysterious falling out with sister Emma and in house parties with theatre actors. Most of all I cannot stop thinking about how she named her new Fall River home “Maplecroft”. It seemed to me money & status were important to her which perhaps was the motive for murder. There may not have been much evidence in this murder case but I always felt there were many motives.

    • I too read Parallel Lives. Great book full of history. I believe the authors did their best NOT to draw in conclusions to the case. The history of Lizzie’s life, along with the great history of Fall River was amazing to me. To FINALLY know what happened to Lizzie in the remainder of her life was thrilling.

      I agree, she did it, (or at least helped planned it) for the money. Having had the pleasure to tour Maplecroft last month also proves her extravagant ways. The house is absolutely gorgeous!!! In Lizzie’s parts any way. Emma’s room was plain and simple. The woodwork in Lizzie’s rooms, the fireplace mantels and every thing about it was breath taking. But, then again, Emma’s was just crazy different and totally plain. Lizzie flaunted the money!!!

      But honestly, the house made me very very sad. There were window seats in the most of the upstairs room. Seats where Lizzie would sit and watch the world pass her by. She could see clearly up and down every street just watching the rich people around her live the life that she wanted but could not have. The house holds sadness.
      All in all, I truly believe the Lizzie had a beautiful loving heart when it came to friends and animals. Yea, she’s a murderess, but I felt sad for her.

  9. If you look at the circumstances, I believe it is very likely that Lizzie either committed the crime or was involved somehow in its commission. Even cold-blooded killers can love animals and children. Whether she did it or not, she paid for it through her isolation and ostracization. Money cannot buy happiness, especially in her case. I have to admit that I do feel somewhat sorry for her.

    • cathie avery said:

      no she was not any way shape or form involved in any way at all she was ostracization only because to many people mistakenly thought that she was guilty she was not even remotely a coldblooded killer at all and she knew that money could not buy happiness every year on thanksgiving and christmas she would make the homeless people a huge holiday dinner and she was a christian woman and was a sunday school teacher and she would buy books and give them to the poor people so they could get a college education and she donated to animal rescue and left all of her money to animal rescue and she loved giving gifts to her friends but she hated getting gifts from her gifts from her friends she loved to be the giver

      • Anonymous said:

        as earlier posted, it does not mean that because she did good natured things for friends etc,that she did not commit the murders. As with most murderers (especially women) in history these same behaviors are often seen. However from what we know of the crime today, it was personal and not random and therefore i don’t think she would of ever been a real danger to society…..just her parents.

        • I agree with the thinking that one can murder, then go on to be perfectly respectable and passive for the rest of their life. Once the obstacle is removed no need to kill again. The fact that Lizzie was a charming old lady has never swayed my thinking that she was guilty of the August 4th murders. In fact, I have never believed she intended to kill her father- that was a killing of dire necessity in my opinion.

          • You may be right that killing the father was necessary.A medium who claimed to contact Lizzie said Lizzie admitted she killed her father and step mother.She killed the step mother after an argument and had to kill the father to avoid getting caught. Seems to me she could have just killed the step mother and gotten away with it.Was she afraid her father would accuse her of murdering his wife? Or did she have hatred against her father in addition to hating Abby? One thing is clear, she hated both due to the number of times both were struck.A few strikes would have been enough but with so many strikes, Lizzie released her pent up anger.

          • Lizzie HAD to kill Abby first if she had killed papa first Abby’s relatives could have inherited everything , then she had to kill Papa because he wouldnt have allowed her to get by with it , plus she wanted the status and money that being a wealthy Borden afforded her , Andrew was said to be stingy with his money , so I’m thinking he would have been miserly with the girls .
            I only agree Bowen was involved to the extent of keeping Lizzy tranquilized .

  10. Well this pretty much made my day!

  11. Dennis O'Connell said:

    I stumbled across this post. My grandfather, Everett W. Borden, did errands for Lizzie (they were 3rd cousins, 2X removed — or something like that). This would have been in the early 1900’s. When asked, all my grandfather would say was; “She was a nice lady and didn’t do it”. Mind you, Everett was a ‘Borden’ with their no nonsense, quick, sharp answers. Interesting though, my g-grandmother told Everett to; “never step foot inside that house”.

    • cathie avery said:

      i never ever knew her personally or anything but i agree she was a nice lady and did not do it she could never ever hurt anyone and she loved animals anyone who ever met lizzie or was even related to her is so lucky i think of her as my best friend and my sister even though she is no longer with us she is in spirit and in our hearts

  12. Kristin Pepe said:

    The wisest thing my college adviser ever said to me was: “You have to remember that people are complex.” I never forgot that, and this tidbit has helped me throughout the years when I have been utterly perplexed by people’s behavior. I’d say that this little kernel of wisdom is true about Miss Lizzie as well!

  13. I can say only one word: “Wow!”

  14. Jo Anne Giovino said:

    I want to thank John Faria for sharing this new information. It is so nice to hear of the ” other ” side of Lizzie. We don’t know that much about her after her move to Maplecroft. We know about the infamous stories but so little of the day-today Lizzie. It is often said that “no one is all bad or all good”. I’m sure there still are other intimate stories of Lizzie out there just waiting to be told. These little snippets make her more three dimensional , a real person , someone with feelings and hopes and dreams. Thanks Shelley for again writing a wonderful story.

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