Poor Uncle John Morse- left out the movie yet again. Morse, the brother of Lizzie and Emma’s real mother, went missing in both made-for-TV movies. He had been invited to spend the night before the murders in the guest room where Abby would be murdered the next morning. Morse was an early suspect and was followed by an angry throng the night of the murders when he went to mail a letter. Morse had a very detailed and iron-clad alibi but many still think he knew something about the murders. An eccentric, and ill-clad old bachelor farmer and livestock dealer, he seemed on kindly terms with his niece Emma but not very close to Lizzie. He probably wished until his dying day that he had not stopped by the day before. He is buried in Iowa. Oh, and he once had training as a butcher.
One has to wonder if Eli Bence consulted his half-brother Peter Gaskell Bence in the matter of giving evidence to the Fall River Police Department regarding the attempt by the woman he identified as Lizzie to purchase prussic acid on August 3rd. Peter Bence had received a political appointment to the Fall River Police Department in 1878 and served as a patrolman until 1880. He is pictured above in his policeman’s uniform.
The Bences were a large and close-knit family. In 1892 Peter Bence, a widower, was preparing to marry again to Emma Macomber on August 25th. His first wife, Sarah Jane Ball Bence had died in childbirth at their home at 117 Bay Street in 1890. The house is still standing. The topic of the Borden case, Eli’s evidence, and trial must surely have been a hot topic of discussion within those walls. In 1893 Peter and his new wife moved into 56 Palmer Street, a duplex owned by the Harringtons, where they lived until after his second wife passed away. Peter died in 1919 in Newport where he had been spending his last days with his son.
After leaving the police force, Bence tried his hand at mill work as a weaver, many years as a carpenter and finally in later life, a janitor at the Mount Hope Elementary School. Carpentry was his first love and he did decorative interior woodworking at the B.M.C. Durfee High School and the Granite Block downtown. Boat building was a hobby.
Peter Bence, born in 1849, and his sister Ellen were born in Heaton Norris, Lancashire, England. Ellen died as an infant and Peter immigrated with his father William and stepmother Sarah in 1854. The family were living in Braintree when Eli Bence was born.
Peter and his wives are buried in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery, next to his parents. He does not have a marker.
*Photo above and some data courtesy of Ancestry.com and the Bence family descendants
Richard Behrens,author of Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective gave a reading at the Fall River Public Library on August 3rd. Some of the character actors from the Borden house museum’s Pear Essential Players came dressed 1892 style for the occasion.
This year’s cast featured Kathryn Woods as Nellie Drew, budding girl detective and fan of Miss Lizzie’s sleuthing adventures!
Abby Borden (Shelley Dziedzic) on the arm of
Uncle John V. Morse (Joe Radza) at the library (photos by Jack Faria)
click on link to view video : Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective
Those interested in the Borden Case will have a week ahead chock-full of things to see and do. It has been a long time since the conference at Bristol Community College and many who are fascinated with the case and needing a good dose of Bordenalia are heading to Fall River this week to take in as much as possible. Great weather is predicted!
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
1. The Fall River Public Library is hosting a book reading with author Richard Behrens, reading from his new book, Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 3rd. Costumed cast from the annual Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum August 4th performances, The Pear Essential Players, will attend in character with a few words to say about Wednesday, the 4th on Second Street.
2. The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast will have daytime tours on the hour from 11 a.m. -3 p.m. on August 3rd. Don’t miss the gift shop! Advance tickets are on sale for August 4th performances of CSI Lizzie Borden. Richard Behrens will also be autographing his book on the 4th in the gift shop. A drawing will be held at the end of the day for a night’s stay for two at the house. Program GPS devices for 230 Second Street or 230 2nd Street.
3. Oak Grove Cemetery has convenient black arrows on the pavement from the office gate to the Borden plot and is open from early morning until dark. Many other case personalities are buried in the historic Victorian cemetery.
4. The Fall River Historical Society will be open with a special augmented Borden exhibit, featuring some items which are generally not on display all the time This is a must-see on the list for visitors coming to Fall River for the day. The society can be found at the corner of Maple and Rock streets. There is also a great gift shop selling Lizzie Borden merchandise and books.
5. A little drive around the city in the late afternoon might be a great way to end the day. The Andrew Borden Building is still standing on the corner of Anawan St. and South Main, Lizzie’s little school can also be found in the South End on Morgan Street, and Maplecroft is convenient if you plan to see the cemetery as it is only a short drive from Prospect to French Street. There is much beautiful Victorian architecture to be seen on The Hill and some fantastic restaurants in which to sample the local cuisine for dinner at the end of your day.
Tuesday, August 3rd, 6:30-7:30pm
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Author Richard Behrens
will be presenting a reading from his latest book
Lizzie Borden: Girl Detective
PLUS: A visit from The Pear Essential Players
The reenactment group from the Lizzie Borden B&B including :
Marshal Hilliard, Miss Lizzie Borden, Mrs. Churchill, Alice Russell, Abby Borden, Uncle John Morse, Officer Phil Harrington and Miss Nellie Drew (Girl Detective Reporter for the Herald)
Fall River Public Library
104 North Main Street,
Fall River, MA
Main meeting room, basement
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. Lizzie, when Bowen came over, high-tailed it up the front stairs to her room. Andrew Borden did not wish to be examined and was not pleased his wife had incurred a bill for services rendered by Dr. Bowen. He dosed 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.