Case Personalities

People and personalities in the case

  • D.R. Smith – The Man, Prussic Acid, Two Brides & a Scandal

    David R. Smith 1854-1923, Fall River Globe 1923

    by Shelley M. Dziedzic (all rights reserved)

    As all the eager researchers who take up the Lizzie Borden case will find, it does not take very long to run into the name of Eli Bence.  The earnest face of Bence, with his close-cropped hair and determined mouth, was the man who gave evidence right through the Borden case preliminary about the doings in the corner pharmacy on the day of August 3, 1892.  All who are familiar with the case know of his claim that Miss Borden came in Wednesday before noon and asked for ten cents’ worth of Prussic acid, a deadly poison.  The lady claimed she had purchased it before with no difficulty at this establishment and it was needed to remove moths from a set of sealskin furs. Without a prescription, the young woman walked away without the desired substance, the entire proceeding observed by two gentlemen in the drug store, Mr. Kilroy and Mr. Hart who claimed it was Andrew Borden’s daughter Lizzie .  

    Eli Bence

    After the murders the next day one can only speculate what Bence did next as news of the murder details emerged.  Most likely he told his employer, David R. Smith, owner of the pharmacy at the corner of South Main (#135) and Columbia St. about the encounter or possibly even his brother Peter Gaskell Bence, once a Fall River Police patrolman, and wondered what he should do next.  Bence did go to the police with his story and was taken to Second St. to identify Lizzie as she paced the kitchen at #92.  Bence looked down the long hall from the side door and identified Lizzie by voice and sight as the woman who had been in Smith’s the day before.  Luckily, for the defense, this testimony was not allowed at Lizzie’s trial in New Bedford in June of 1893 as it was deemed “too remote in time” from the grisly deeds. In addition no Prussic acid had been found in the stomachs of the victims or in the house on Second St.  Thus Eli Bence and his testimony faded away into the mists of time and history.   One can only wonder if his testimony might have made any difference in decision to acquit.  Lizzie would maintain that she was feeling ill, never left the house during the day until much later in early evening when she went to see Alice Russell, and was not acquainted with the location of D.R. Smith’s apothecary. 

    Corner of Columbia & South Main location. The building is not original to D.R. Smith Pharmacy days. Formerly Virginia Dare Ladies clothing, White’s Market and Copacabana Club (courtesy Fall River Historic Photos, Facebook)
    Building on the far left is Smith’s Pharmacy 1896, taken from a booklet about Fall River

    Human nature being what it is both now, and in 1892, no doubt D.R. Smith’s pharmacy was a place of curiosity once the news of the Prussic acid emerged.  It’s easy to imagine inquisitive shoppers walking by, peering in the window or even going in to make a purchase at the place where Lizzie Borden was said to have tried to buy Prussic acid!  David Smith and Eli Bence might have even been sought out to some degree.  Much has been written about Bence but who was his employer and what do we know about David R. Smith?

    David R. Smith was one of a large family whose parents had come over from Ireland in 1850.  His father, Samuel Smith was born in Guilford, Ireland on June 18, 1815, the day of the Battle of Waterloo.  His mother, Eliza A. McCleary stayed home to tend to a growing family including Mary, David, Eliza J., Sam Jr., Josephine, William, Hattie, and Margaret.  Sam worked as a machinist for the company of Kilburn and Lincoln, which made power looms and other mill equipment and machinery in the city since 1846.  The family home was at 683 Second Street.

    David knew from a fairly young age that apothecary work would be his career path.  He was very fortunate to have been childhood chums with Alice Whitaker whose father, Dr. John Whitaker, (born in England) and brother John Wesley Whitaker had an apothecary down on the corner of Ferry Street and Canal Street.  The Whitakers lived at  181 Second Street, and so when David was ready to begin work in earnest, he gained a position in the Whitaker Apothecary on Canal Street corner of Ferry Street., where Lizzie and her family lived until they moved to 92 Second St. in 1872.  David was a hard worker and by 1875 he was able to open his own pharmacy in Stafford Square. That business also being very successful, he then moved to 135 South Main at the corner of Columbia Street, a very desirable and high traffic address where he was able to take on assistants and a clerk in the person of Mr. Eli Bence. 

    In November of 1879 David Smith  married old Dr. Whitaker’s daughter Alice, who was a great asset to David’s career and business, and greatly admired in the neighborhood.  The couple were happily married for 22 years.  The last ten of those years Alice had suffered ill health and preferred to be a homebody at their house at 589 Second Street.  Paralytic shock is given as the cause of her death in August, 1902.  David, who had enjoyed a comfortable life with Alice, puttering about in his home laboratory inventing a cure for dyspepsia and managing his apothecary on South Main St. was devastated.  There were no children to soothe his lonely hours.  David had instead sponsored and supported a local baseball team of boys who had many wins on the baseball diamond.  Life had been very satisfactory for the Smiths in every way.   

    Fall River Herald, August 29, 1902

    At the peak of his success, his brother Sam, also a thriving druggist with an apothecary on North Main, the Smith brothers were well-known and respected in the city.  With Alice no longer by his side, David surprisingly wasted little time in procuring the second Mrs. Smith.  Miss Ida A. Murphy, of 57 Whipple St. (also the street where Eli Bence lived in 1892) caught the attention of David Smith and according to Miss Murphy and her outspoken mother, started to pay serious court to her daughter with intent for the relationship to culminate in engagement and marriage.  Miss Ida, a clerk at the public library, is quoted in 1904 as saying David Smith had been ardently courting her for two years, which would put the time just after the death of his wife Alice, and that he had proposed no fewer than three times to her!  After putting David off twice, she had finally consented to become the second Mrs. Smith and had set the date for September, 7, 1904.  With her gown selected, her trousseau purchased and the announcement put in the city papers, Miss Ida Murphy was to very soon get the shock of her young life. 

    There, in black and white in the newspaper for July 12, 1904 was published the announcement of the marriage of David R. Smith to Miss Celia Gesner (twenty-one years his junior)!  Miss Gesner was a seamstress, born in Canada, who lived at 1380 Globe St., the daughter of Catherine and Jacob Gesner, her father being a carpenter. This would be Miss Gesner’s first marriage.  The ceremony took place at 268 Highland Avenue and was presided over by the Rev. W.J. Martin. 

    Ida, not believing her eyes must have run to inform her mother of the shocking news.  Mrs. Murphy, said to be of a charming disposition as a rule wasted no time in giving an interview to the Globe about the shameful occurrence.  Breach of promise was a real thing in 1904 and the Murphy ladies were quick to let the scandal out of the bag. Mrs. Murphy declared David had spent the two years  from 1902 – 1904 practically parked in her parlor, taking most of his meals at her table and suggesting perhaps he might board at the Murphy’s address.  As only a mother of a jilted bride-to-be could exclaim, Mrs. Murphy declared David Smith was in for a thrashing if she could just get her hands on him and promptly declared him a scoundrel in just those words! It would appear that scoundrel was the nicest word that she had to call him. The furious mother of the bride deemed him a nuisance who had haunted their home and that she had misgivings from the very start about Mr. Smith.  No time was wasted in engaging the services of John W. Cummings in drawing up papers for a suit to sue the romantic David Smith who had one bride too many, for breach of promise. 

    Ida, still in a daze , refused to believe the situation could be true unless she heard it from the marrying minister himself.  Revenge was in the air but David Smith went yet a step farther and settled all of his business concerns on his new bride immediately and thus Mrs. Celia Smith became the new owner of Smith’s Pharmacy.  David Smith himself maintained his total innocence in the whole affair, pitied poor Miss Murphy who was surely in error, and what with there being no proof of his promise to marry poor Ida, happily went off on his honeymoon with the comely Celia Gesner Smith, his new wife. 

    Fall River Globe July 12,1904

    It is presumed there was an end to it- the breach of promise suit pressed by Mrs. Murphy was dead in the water as Smith’s new wife held all of the Smith family property and assets and there was nothing financially to be gained. 

    David R. Smith died on December 2, 1923.  Lizzie Borden, who had made his pharmacy famous was alive at Maplecroft.  His second wife Celia died in 1966. He is buried between his two wives as is the custom, in Oak Grove Cemetery Plot OG1790.  But what happened to his spurned paramour Ida Murphy?  In 1925, two years after David’s death, Ida was still working at the library, now living in a nice neighborhood on Madison St. , her outraged mother having died in 1919, her father Jeremiah, a liquor dealer in the city, still living until 1928.  The Murphys are buried in Old North Cemetery on North Main St.  Ida never married.  So closes the curtain on D.R. Smith.

    Ida’s mother’s obituary, Fall River Globe Dec. 1, 1919
    Fall River Herald, Dec.3, 1923 (courtesy Newspaper
    (courtesy Find – a- Grave OG Plot 1790)
    Masonic membership record, Narragansett Lodge,
    Fall River City Directory listing second wife, Celia
    D.R. Smith’s father’s obituary, Fall River Globe 1901
  • Before the Hatchet Fell


    You have to admire the energy and endurance of those Victorian ladies.  Even in the sweltering heat of a July afternoon, corseted and wearing layers of clothing, they managed to look crisp and elegant. What’s more is that they managed also to have some fun while  looking so well turned out.

    It would be hard to believe that a person contemplating cold-blooded murder could have, a week before the crimes, presented such a fun-loving and carefree demeanor.  It was common to get out of the big cities in the heat of summer while the men stayed behind laboring and making more money.  Abby Borden herself had planned a little Swansea vacation with a lady friend to the Borden farm on Gardner’s Neck Road. If you have ever been, there is always a delightful breeze , good fishing, and beautiful scenery to be enjoyed.  Abby’s companion had to cancel and so she contemplated a sojourn with a relative in nearby Warren instead.


    Lizzie and Emma also decided to escape the city heat and take the train to New Bedford on July 21st. It must have been a great escape from the daily routine at #92 Second Street.  Emma hurried off to Fairhaven to enjoy the cool breezes of Fort Phoenix with its bandstand and shoreline attractions and a long visit to the Brownells on Green St. while Lizzie trotted off to see the Pooles, mother and daughter, at a boarding house on Madison Street.  Lizzie had thoughts of diversion in her mind:  pleasurable shopping jaunts, chatting with the Pooles who had known Lizzie since girlhood, and thoughts of Marion nearby with its enchantments of fishing piers, beautiful homes, boating and fishing and good friends .


    With all of this in mind, you can make a good case that this seems unlikely behavior for a would-be-murderess.  Lizzie had a little shopping excursion on July 23rd,  perusing dress fabrics and patterns and enjoying the shops of New Bedford.  On July 25th a most amiable opportunity for a day trip to Marion presented itself.  Lizzie was in the very distinguished company of Rev. Buck’s daughter Alice, Anna and Mary Holmes, Mabel and Louise Remington, Isabelle Fraser, Louise Handy, Annie Bush, Elizabeth Johnson, Mrs. James and Miss Edith Jackson, and Jennie Stowell.

    (Converse Point, formerly Blakes Point)


    Marion was a little “Newport North”with moorings for yachts, celebrities and artists, politicians and lawyers, doctors and the upper crust of society longing to get away from the heat and crowded cities.  Charming cottages and stately waterfront homes dotted the shoreline.  Tree-lined streets, a chapel, art studios, delightful quaint eateries and a music hall provided entertainment for the lucky residents and distinguished guests.

    (Marion waterfront)

    Lizzie’s lady friends were busily playing house at Dr. Handy’s cottage and relaxing, Bohemian- style with back hair down and corsets loosened .  Lizzie was to join the band of merrymakers  on August 8th for jolly hours at the fishing hole and some slapdash housekeeping and high jinx with “the girls”.  Each lady had a little job to do which made the domestic chores seem so much more fun.  It is said that Lizzie was to tend to chopping kindling for the cook stove and that when told the kitchen kindling hatchet was a “dull thing” remarked that she had a sharp one she would bring that would be just the ticket.

     Dr. Handy’s cottage (original home photo courtesy of the Sippican Historical Society)

    On the 25th of July, Lizzie left the Pooles and was at Blakes Point, which is now Converse Point, for a day trip.  Over time, the name has changed to whoever lives on the point at the moment.  A very snappy yacht was at the moorings, the MABEL F. SWIFT.  She was a trim Fall River craft owned by Charles W. Anthony, and a familiar sight to the Newport Yachting community on regatta days.  The Honorable Simeon Borden, the Honorable James Jackson, Holder W. Durfee, William Winslow, and R.W. Bassett were the gentleman aboard.  Friends, fun and sun in the bloom of summer were the order of the day.


    The Mabel F. Swift (Courtesy Historic New England)

    The next day, Tuesday, July 26th, Lizzie would travel by carriage with Mrs. Poole and her daughter Carrie out to Westport to visit her old childhood friend Augusta Poole who had married and lived in a Victorian farmhouse with husband, Cyrus Tripp.  It was a bit of a journey out to the house by carriage and Lizzie spent most of the late morning and afternoon there visiting Augusta. The band of three ladies then departed for New Bedford where Lizzie parted company with the Pooles after a busy few days, taking the train to return home to Fall River.

    (The home of Mrs. Augusta Poole Tripp, Westport)


    It was probably a reluctant but dutiful Lizzie who decided to forsake the fun and friends to return home to obligations and household drudgery.  Mrs. Borden would want to be going to the farm for a break, and someone needed to be at home to look after Mr. Borden, oversee his meals and well-being.  There were minutes to take at one of her many charitable organization meetings and Lizzie was conscientious. But there was the happy prospect of returning soon to the cottage of Dr. Benjamin Handy and the vacationing ladies on a spree with fishing at the pier to come.  Dr. Handy was born in Marion and was a surgeon and physician. Later on, Dr. Handy would report a “wild-eyed” man in front of the Borden house on Second St. around 10:30 on the day of the murders.  His Marion cottage was much-desired by friends and family as a “getaway” in the summer months.

    Dr. Seabury Bowen

    Thus was the story of Lizzie’s week leading up to the murders.  On Tuesday night the Bordens would partake of swordfish steak for supper. The family was ill Tuesday night into the next day. Mrs. Borden was in no state of health to go visiting  anyone and on Wednesday morning she crossed the street to see Dr. Bowen and pronounced she was probably poisoned and Mr. Borden was taken sick too.   Later on, Dr. Bowen, much-concerned about his neighbors, crossed the street to call on the sickly Bordens only to be rebuffed by Andrew Borden for the house call and its possible expense. Lizzie, perhaps out of embarrassment at her father’s rude behavior, went promptly upstairs and Dr. Bowen went away.  Abby suspected there was something wrong with the family store-bought bread as once she heard of someone being taken ill from spoiled cream cakes.  Lizzie claimed to be ill herself that Wednesday, never leaving the house and resting in her room.  Soon Uncle John would arrive, enjoy a late lunch at the Borden table, rent a carriage and go over the river to Swansea.  The scene was set for the horrors to come the next day.  Did Lizzie go to Smith’s pharmacy to try to procure Prussic acid from Mr. Bence that day?  What was behind Lizzie’s proclamation to Alice Russell that Wednesday evening around 7 p.m. about “something is hanging over me. I am sleeping with one eye open”.  What happened to that carefree  young woman on vacation in Marion just a few days before?  Those are the questions that haunt us. Still.


    *References used in this article:  Lizzie Borden Past and Present, Leonard Rebello, Al-Zach Press, 1999.

    Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River, Michael Martins & Dennis Binette,  Fall River Historical Society, 2010.

    Photo credits: The Sippican Historical Society, Marion MA., Historic New England, Shelley M. Dziedzic (all rights reserved).

  • Down on the Farm at Tyngsborough with Nance O’Neil

    It was a perfect weekend to journey out to Tyngsborough to get a glimpse of what was left of the charm Nance O’Neil found at her farm. The town, which is nestled between the Merrimack River and Flint Pond is a sleepy little place, filled with quiet backroads and rustic appeal, meadows and wildlife. Nothing remains of Nance’s stately manse, called various names over time but Brinley Farm or Brinley Manse when Nance was there. She took up summer residency in May, 1904 but the name of Benjamin Levy was also on the deed. Between her manager, McKee Rankin’s mismanagement of Nance’s finances and Nance’s spendthrift ways, she declared bankruptcy by May 1906 and sold the property in 1907 to the Sisters of Notre Dame. The nuns erected a school on the property of 220 acres, still there today. The mansion burned to the ground in 1977 when it was owned by the Marist Catholic Brothers. It is said that a couple small outbuildings from the farm still exist from Nance’s time. Here are some views from the property and some town buildings still around that Lizzie and Nance would recognize.

  • LizClipz Coming Soon!

    Beginning on January 1st, W&W will begin featuring fascinating short clippings from the Fall River papers and other newspapers from 1892 through the present which concern Lizzie herself or the endless parade of personalities involved in the case. They will remain accessible here in a sort of clippings archive. There is much to be learned from these small snippets in print!

    Fall River Globe, June 1892

  • The Elegant Augusta Tripp

    Lizzie’s Old School Chum, Augusta Poole (Mrs. Cyrus Tripp)

    Shelley M. Dziedzic, October 2019 (all rights reserved)

    During the hot summer week of July 13, 1891, Mrs. Borden decided to spend the week at the Borden farm over the river in Swansea which always seemed to have a breeze on the warmest of days.  With Mrs. Borden out of the house, Lizzie and Emma invited Lizzie’s old school chum, Augusta Poole, whom she had known since 1875 to spend the week with them at the house on Second Street.  Bridget was there to cook for the young ladies and privacy was assured. Miss Poole was about to be married to Cyrus Tripp of Westport and one can only imagine the “girls” giggling and chattering about the upcoming nuptials, married life, the wedding, setting up house in Westport and all the things ladies of that era enjoyed discussing. It’s fun to imagine this side of Emma and Lizzie, perhaps sitting up in the guest room with Augusta in their night gowns having a good gossip.  One year later something terribly different and horrifying would transpire in that same room.

    The girls drifted apart over that year as Augusta, now Mrs. Cyrus Tripp, settled down to housekeeping in the Tripp homestead on Old County Road in Westport where her new husband was a sign, carriage and house painter.  His father, Preserved Tripp, had built the house in the eclectic Victorian style in 1874. The house and barn are still standing today.  Cyrus Tripp had been married before to the daughter of George  H. Gifford.

    The Cyrus W. Tripp house on Old County Road

    On July 21, 1892, Emma and Lizzie packed their traveling bags for an adventure and some fun away from the Second St. home.  Emma parted company from Lizzie in New Bedford and continued on to nearby Fairhaven to stay with Helen Brownell and her widowed mother on Green Street.  Lizzie split off to #20 Madison Street, which was a boarding house, to stay with Augusta’s mother and invalid sister, Carrie Poole.  During her stay with the Pooles, Lizzie went out with the family except for one morning, Saturday, July 23rdwhen Lizzie ventured out downtown to do some shopping all alone.  She was out for about an hour and a half and returned with a parcel of cheap yard goods to be made up into a house dress.

    On Tuesday, July 26th,  Mrs. Poole, Carrie Poole and Lizzie traveled out to Westport to visit Augusta at the Tripp farm.  The group enjoyed a happy visit together and Lizzie left in time, with Mrs. Poole and Carrie to catch a connecting train back to Fall River.  Later, Officer Medley of the Fall River Police Department would interview Augusta Tripp about the visit.

    On August 8, 1892, Augusta Poole Tripp would give her interview to Officer Medley remarking, ““Lizzie told me she thought her stepmother was deceitful, being one thing to her face, and another to her back.” Mrs. Tripp further went on to say that Lizzie  said that her stepmother claimed of having no influence over Mr. Borden, but Lizzie believed that Abby did or Mr. Borden would have never given Abby’s half-sister a large sum of money; Lizzie and her sister Emma did not know if they would get anything if Father should die. “ This conversation had been brought up on several occasions with the exception of the July 26, 1892, visit.

    More information about the Borden house family dynamics came out at the inquest as Augusta expanded her recollections:  “Testimony of Augusta D. Tripp My name is Augusta D. Tripp, and in 1875, when I was a little girl, I began to frequent the Borden home. Lizzie and I were schoolmates, but throughout the years, I had never really become acquainted with Mrs. Borden.

    By the summer of 1891, I had visited and slept over the Borden’s house during the week of Monday, July 13 thru Saturday, July 18. Now during the course of that week, Emma, Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan who they referred to as Maggie stayed with me. Mrs. Borden at that time was in Swanzey, and I did not see their Uncle Morse at the house. By the spring of 1892, I had spoken with Emma and Lizzie for about an hour; but since then, I became married and moved out of the city with having less contact with both girls.

    When Emma, Lizzie, and Abby were together in the same room, Lizzie would speak to Abby more than Emma. I did notice that the relationship between them was not agreeable, but they always ate together at the dining room table. Throughout the years though, I had never heard Mrs. Borden say anything about the girls. Well! I do remember some years ago when Lizzie had made a couple of remarks to me regarding her stepmother, Abby. First of all, Lizzie never liked someone who was a two-faced liar, and secondly, she assumed that I was convinced by her into believing that she had sustained a higher level of influence over her own father, influence that her stepmother, Abby, did not possess. Even though, at one time, her stepmother had convinced Mr. Borden into purchasing property for Abby’s stepsister, Mrs. Bertie Whitehead; Lizzie’s feelings, I believe, remained the same.

    When I think about the remarks that Lizzie had stated, it is my opinion, those remarks were targeted toward Mrs. Borden only, which has led me to believe that Lizzie was not overly fond about her stepmother, revealing an appearance of an unfriendly nature toward her. Now, if you do not mind, I just want to say a   little something about what I had heard from my invalid sister and, of course, what I stated to Officer Medley when he had questioned me. When I do speak of Officer Medley’s interview, I can only say that I did answer several of his questions, but I do not remember all that was said or the answers that I had given him at that time. I know that I did tell him that I would try to the best of my ability to recollect such past events that I thought would never resurface again. It was with much difficulty for me to search my memory and to try to recall these events that I believed to be nothing more than just talk among us women.

    As for my invalid sister who is a feeble woman, Miss Carrie M. Poole of Madison Street in New Bedford , she had made a statement regarding Lizzie as saying something in the order of what may happen to her father’s estate if he were to die. Now, I cannot say for sure if Miss Poole actually heard that remark from Lizzie, it is only something that I am assuming was said. “

    The portrait of Augusta Tripp was taken at Jamieson Studios at 173 Tremont Boston and was sent Christmas 1913 to someone who had been in her Sunday School class.  The back of the photograph gives this date and the inscription “Mrs. Cyrus W. Tripp, my Sunday School Teacher”.  It is in the online photo collection of the Westport Historical Society and may be seen at this link in higher resolution.

    Thanks and appreciation go to the Westport Public Library and the Westport Historical Society for their assistance in research materials for this article.

    One has to wonder if Lizzie and Augusta kept up their friendship after Lizzie was acquitted.  Augusta was a very elegant and distinguished-looking lady in 1913.

    The Tripp headstone, Linden Cemetery, Westport, Massachusetts

  • Finding Mr. Moody- A Muttoneater Quest

    By Jo Anne Giovino with photography and research by Barbara Morrissey and Kristin Pepe *(All rights reserved, August 2019)

    Although it was a dark and stormy night, the Intrepid Trio, Jo Anne Giovino, Kristin Pepe and Barbara Morrissey was dauntless in their pursuit of Lizzie A. Borden.  This mission took us to Haverhill, Massachusetts, a city about forty minutes from our home base, Billerica, MA. Destination:  Buttonwoods Museum, for a presentation on Lizzie Borden. After a brief stop for sustenance and pumpkin ale at the Barking Dog, we arrived at our appointed time. Unfortunately, the talk was a bust – but do not despair! The effort was not in vain.

    While Barbara was conversing with a newly-found distant cousin, Kristin and JoAnne spotted a lighted display cabinet in the rear of the room and went to investigate.  What we saw left us bewildered and amazed.   In the cabinet was an original full set of the transcripts of the case, “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Lizzie A. Borden”.  Printed on the display card was “From the collection of William H. Moody”. Obviosuly it never occurred to us that there would be a privately –owned copy of the transcripts outside of Fall River or New Bedford.

    This discovery begged the question, “Why were the transcripts here and how is Moody connected to Haverhill?”


    Thus began our journey of Finding Moody.

    As we know, Wm. H. Moody was one of the prosecutors for the Commonwealth in the Borden case.  He was appointed by Massachusetts Attorney General Pillsbury to assist the District Attorney of the Southern District of Massachusetts, Hosea Knowlton.  Mr. Moody gave the opening statement to the jury which concisely and cogently laid out a strong case against Lizzie A. Borden.  Moody was praised for his effort and many believed Lizzie to be doomed. As a peripheral character in the case, our personal knowledge of Mr. Moody was limited.  But, as Charter Members of The Second Street Irregulars (Muttoneaters) , we knew there had to be more to Wm. H. Moody than this.  As we have learned from other personalities in the case, no person is a one-dimensional individual.  There was a rumor after the trial that Lizzie sent a packet of newspaper clippings and photos to Moody with a note that read, “ As a memento of an interesting occasion.”  Was that true?  Will the Intrepid Trio discover the truth?  There was only one way to find out.  Channeling Sherlock Holmes, our investigation began.


    The Game’s Afoot”

    Finding Mr. Moody proved to be quite an endeavor.  After searching the Internet and making numerous phone calls, we got some leads. Our first stop, the Haverhill Public Library, was a treasure trove of information.  The Special Collections Department had newspaper clippings, scrap books kept by Moody and his sister, letters, photographs, and most impressively, the trial transcripts.  Next, we went to the Buttonwoods Museum located in historic Duncan House, which is the home of the Haverhill Historical Society.  The museum has a room dedicated to Wm. H. Moody with furnishings and personal belongings donated by his sister after his death.  The staff and volunteers were very generous with their time and opened the room to us despite the museum being closed to the public at that time. Seeing these tangible objects and knowing that they belonged to Mr. Moody was very poignant. One realizes that he was an individual with a life, friends, and family and not simply a footnote from some celebrated case. In searching census records we were able to discover an address for Moody’s residence.  Not knowing for sure if the house was still standing, we went in search of the home.  With the assistance of GPS, we were successful in finding his home.  Mr. Moody owned a large, beautiful Federal style house in a very prestigious section of Haverhill, akin to Lizzie’s house on the hill, Maplecroft.  Luckily it is still standing and we were able to take pictures and envision how it must have looked in its heyday.   Our final stop was definitely the most time-consuming in research, but the most rewarding – locating Moody’s final resting place.  Contrary to what one may think, this distinguished gentleman is interred in a small family plot in a rural cemetery in Byfield, Massachusettts, a village north of Haverill.  He lies with his mother, father, brother and sister.  As with Lizzie and Emma, none of the children ever married.

    We are appreciative of those who graciously assisted us in our research.  The following is the pertinent information we found about William H. Moody.

    William Henry Moody was born to Henry Lord Moody and Melissa Augusta Emerson ( a distant relative of the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson) on February 23, 1853 in Newbury, Massachusetts, a small fishing village outside of Haverhill.  His father was a farmer and came from agrarian stock.   Similar to the Borden family, the Moody family settled in America sometime in the 1600s.  At this time we did not determine from which country the family emigrated. William was one of three children.

    When William was quite young, his father, valuing the importance of education, moved the family to Haverhill.  He attended the prestigious boys school, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts where he graduated with a diploma in 1872.  After graduation he attended Harvard University and graduated in 1876. While attending Harvard, William became acquainted with an underclassman, Theodore Roosevelt. Although Teddy was a few years below William, they had outdoorsmanship, sports, and friends in common.  This developed into a life-long friendship which would prove to be quite valuable to William’s future.  Moody was an excellent baseball player and was captain of the Harvard baseball team.  He was also an avid debater on the Harvard debate team.  After graduation he attended Harvard School of Law.  However, he chose to leave school and practice law under the guidance of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.  William successfully passed the bar and became a lawyer.

    Being a very prominent lawyer and politician, in 1888 he gained his first elected position, Solicitor for Haverill, Massachusetts.  Later he was appointed U.S. Attorney for Eastern Massachusetts (1890-1895).  It is during this time Bordenphiles are introduced to Mr. Moody.  In 1893 he was chosen by Attorney General Pillsbury to be associate prosecutor in the Borden trial.  This was his first murder trial.   Although the Commonwealth did not prevail in the Borden case, Moody continued on with a distinguished career. By 1895 Mr. Moody was elected federal representative of Massachusetts (1895-1902).  By this time his old Harvard classmate was elected President of the United States. President Roosevelt called upon Moody to be his Secretary of the Navy (1902-1904), U.S. Attorney General (1904-1906), and the ultimate achievement, Justice of the Supreme Court (1906-1910), serving until the severe rheumatism forced Justice Moody to retire from the bench. William returned home to Haverhill where he stayed active in politics and renewed friendships until his death on July 2, 1917,  President Roosevelt attended his friend’s burial.

    William H. Moody was a beloved resident of Haverhill.  Over his lifetime he was feted for his many accomplishments by his fellow townsmen with parades and dinners held in his honor.  In 1919 the U.S.S. Moody, a destroyer, was commissioned in his honor. His sister, Mary, christened the ship which was built at the Squantum Victory Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts.


    He served our country with distinction and was a valued and dedicated public servant.

    Sometimes life takes us on unexpected journeys and this is one of them.  We have been fortunate to make Lizzie Borden-related discoveries in “our neck of the woods”.  I say fortunate because these adventures allow us all to gain knowledge and realization that those we read about from the case are more than a name on a page or a mere character cast in a murder mystery.


    By the way, we did not find that letter and packet from Lizzie to William – at least not yet.


    Sources:  Buttonwoods Museum, Haverhill, MA

    Haverhill Public Library, Haverhill

    Lizzie Borden Past and Present, Leonard Rebello, Al-Zach Press, 1999.

    Various Internet articles and newspapers





  • Dr. Kelly and Family resurface

    KellyfamilyDr. Kelly, the Irish pediatrician who lived with his family in the house next door to the Bordens, has been discussed here many times, with an article about him to be found above (see header). This year the Pear Essential Players who perform once a year at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast debuted a new role, that of Caroline Cantwell Kelly, Dr. Kelly’s wife who was probably the last, except for the killer to see Mr. Borden alive as she hurried down the street to a dentist appointment around 10:45 on the morning of the murders. Caroline, (called Carrie by family) and her mother, Mrs. Cantwell spent the afternoon of August 4th behind locked doors as policemen flooded the neighborhood looking for clues. Dr. Kelly was away and the ladies were terrified.

    Today Warps and Wefts is happy to finally obtain a photo of Mrs. Kelly, courtesy of the Cantwell family and an article detailing her wedding at St. Mary’s church which is located just across the street from the Borden house. She is shown here with her family members: Dr. Michael Kelly is in the center with Caroline in front of him, and their two daughters, Eva and Philomena.


  • Coming Soon! Lizzie Borden Returns to Fall River!

    The temperature is rising, the pears are getting ripe and attention turns once again to the doings of August 4. 1892 in Little Old Fall River.  The Pear Essential (PEP-PY) Players welcome two new members this year in the roles of Alice Russell, the Borden sisters’ bosom friend, and Dr. Dolan, medical examiner, played by husband and wife team of Ted and Loretta Sisco. The couple have been vistors at the house for several years and will take the plunge this year on August 4th!  The Usual Suspects will be making a return this year in the old familiar roles and a few undertaking new character roles.  Advance tickets may be reserved beginning on July 5th for the Monday, August 4th schedule of eight performances at 10:30, 11, 11:30, 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3.  Call the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum at 508-675-7333 to reserve tickets.  Reservations are recommended as performances sell out early every year.   Miss Carol Ann Simone will reprise her role as Miss Lizzie for her third year running.  Did she do it?  You decide!!



    CAST FOR 2014

    Miss Porter/FR Herald JoAnne Giovino
    Abby Borden Robin Bertoldo/Shelley Dziedzic
    Andrew Borden  
    Emma Borden Danielle Cabral
    Lizzie Borden Carol Ann Simone
    Dr. Dolan, M.E. Ted Sisco
     Mrs. Bowen  Ellen Borden
     Mrs. Kelly  Kat Woods
    Mrs. Burt/Nosey Neighbor Shelley Dziedzic
    Officer Harrington Rick Bertoldo
    Marshal Hilliard Ray Mitchell
    Miss Manning/FR Globe Barbara Morrissey
    John Morse Joe Radza
    Alice Russell Loretta S. Sisco
    Detective Seaver Michael Shogi
    Bridget Sullivan Suzann Rogers
    Undertaker Winward Jerry Pacheco
  • Officer Peter Gaskell Bence

    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 and the Bence family descendants

  • Bence in later years

    As mentioned in an earlier article on Warps and Wefts,, Eli Bence and his testimony about Lizzie Borden coming into the pharmacy where he was a counter clerk on the day before the murders was bombshell testimony.  Although allowed through the Preliminary, Bence’s important revelations did not make it into the 1893 trial, being ruled as “too far remote in time” from the actual killings.  No prussic acid was found in the bodies of either Borden, not surprising as the lady who inquired for the deadly poison could not obtain it without a prescription.  Perhaps Bence’s and the testimony of the dress burning incident by Alice Russell might have turned the tide for Lizzie, had either been allowed.

    Bence moved to New Bedford and set up his own drug store by 1894, then after the death of his wife, remarried a Fairhaven girl, Annie Coggshell Maxfield, whose father ran a successful plumbing concern on Bridge St.  Bence eventually moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts with son Roy by his first wife Sarah Hayhurst, and his son Maxfield by his second wife Annie.  They also had a little girl Priscilla who died very young. Bence died at his Pittsfield home after suffering a stroke while riding in a car returning from the Berkshires with his son and daughter in law and wife on May 4, 1915.  He is buried in Fairhaven by the side of his wife Annie and their daughter Priscilla.

    The only photograph we have seen of Bence until now has been of the earnest, 27 year old who tried to give his testimony at Lizzie’s trial.

    Thanks to the Barrett Family and, an older Eli is shown below, photo taken in New Bedford, year unknown.

    Bence’s parents, William and Sarah are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River.

    William Bence, Eli’s father who was active in Globe area politics.

    A medicine dispensing bottle from the Bence Pharmacy in New Bedford.

  • August 4th is Coming Soon !

    The Pear Essential Players Present

    A Dramatization of August 4th on Second Street 

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    Reserved Tickets are Now On sale at

    The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum

    Turn back the clock to the morning of August 4, 1892.  The bodies of Abby and Andrew Borden have been discovered cruelly murdered at their home on Second Street.  The friends and neighbors have gathered around daughters Emma and Lizzie as the police and doctors collect evidence and question the inhabitants of #92.  Can you help the police solve the mystery?  Who could have committed such a grisly deed? 

    A drawing for the day’s tour visitors will be held after the last performance for a Gift Certificate for Two for a night at the Bed & Breakfast.  The Drawing is at 4:15 p.m. Follow the Pear Essential Players on Facebook and at 

    Abby Borden- Shelley Dziedzic

    Andrew Borden- Don Sykes

    Lizzie Borden- Carol Ann Simone

    Emma Borden- Barbara Morrissey

    Uncle John Morse- Joe Radza

    Bridget Sullivan- Suzann Rogers

    Marshal Hilliard- Ray Mitchell

    Officer Phil Harrington- Mark Lomastro

    Dr. Bowen- Jack Sheridan

    Mrs. Phebe Bowen- Ellen Borden

    Addie Churchill- JoAnne Giovino

    Dr. Dolan- Michael Shogi

    Miss Manning- Eliza Marks

    Nellie Bly, Intrepid Globe-Spanning Reporter- Katrina Shogi

    Undertaker Winward- Jerry Pacheco

    Alice Russell- Kristin Pepe

    A new Miss Lizzie is making her debut!  Tickets go on sale July 15th! Call 508-675-7333 to reserve.

  • Send for Mr. Walsh!

    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)


  • What is a Home Without a Father

    Chances are that if you were to Google or Bing “Andrew Borden,” most of the photos under IMAGES will be of Lizzie Borden.  The accused is more famous than the victim.  Andrew Borden has taken a pretty hard rap over the decades, and has been charged with some foul things from incest to extreme frugality.  A visitor to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum once declared, “He deserved what he got!”  Sadly, very little of what is commonly bandied about as the truth about Andrew Borden and his family relations is true. People will believe what they want to believe or what they see on television “reality shows” which are made purely to titillate and entertain, but seldom educate.

    Thanks to PARALLEL LIVES, we now know that there existed a warm and affectionate feeling between Lizzie and her father.  We have known for many years that he died with Lizzie’s little gold ring on his hand.  We also know that to placate his daughters after the real estate transaction deeding the Fourth Street house over to Abby Borden, Andrew settled the Ferry Street house on Emma and Lizzie and what’s more, he bought it back from them for cash in July 1892 when it became too much for them to manage.

    The house on Second Street had city water, central heating, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a toilet in the cellar.  Things were not so bleak and dreadful as many have promoted over the years and were a lot more luxurious than many in the city lived in 1892- and Andrew Borden was not the monster so many have portrayed.

    Father’s Day did not become an official U.S. holiday until 1972 although the idea was tried out in 1910 without much success. Andrew never celebrated Father’s Day, nor did Lizzie and Emma make little cards and gifts on the third Sunday in June.  But fathers in Victorian times, as the cross stitch sampler above will testify, were venerated at the hearth as head of the family and the final arbiter in all matters.  There is little doubt Lizzie and Emma had a great respect for their father. Parenting is the hardest job of all.

    And, if you believe Lizzie was guilty of the crime- well, Andrew Borden probably should have spent more time inspecting that window for Mr. Clegg and should have arrived home MUCH later- it might have all had a different ending. . . .

    Happy Father’s Day Andrew Borden- wherever you may be.

  • Legal Documents of Borden Case Personalities

    So much can be learned about individuals by studying the wills, birth, marriage and death documents. Wills are particularly revealing in listing specific bequests to certain beneficiaries- and in some cases in what is not left to others. Below are thumbnails of some of the Borden case personalities’ documents. Click on thumbnail to enlarge and use ZOOM detail.

    Bridget Sullivan                    Emma Borden                    Lizzie Borden

    Sarah Morse Borden   Nance O’Neil          Edwin Porter

    Last Will & Testament of Bridget Sullivan

  • Bridget Sullivan in Later Years

    Perhaps the most thrilling photo from Parallel Lives was that of Lizzie on her veranda at Maplecroft with her little dog. Now we have two photos of the Borden maid around the same age. Whereas Lizzie looks rested, prosperous and content in her photo, Bridget has a stern and careworn visage. Two elderly ladies- worlds apart in many ways, but sharing one extraordinary day in common- August 4, 1892.

    Photo of Lizzie and her dog courtesy of the Fall River Herald News Online as seen in Parallel Lives by Michael Martins and Dennis Binette.

    Photos reproduced here courtesy of Diana Porter, a relative of John Sullivan

    Photo of Bridget Sullivan courtesy of Diana Porter attributed as coming from the Barbara Knightly Hockaway Collection

    Marriage license courtesy of Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum

  • Bridget Sullivan – “Stern, Humorless- and mean”?

    The promised article is finally available via the Fall River Herald news

    and contains the very interesting comment pertaining to Sullivan’s personality as being humorless, stern, and even “mean.” Reading Bridget’s testimony and statements made in 1892-1893, she gives the impression of being careful with her statements, and not just a little bit nervous and afraid to say anything negative about Lizzie or the family, so this new revelation causes one to wonder if Bridget developed the stern, mean and humorless traits after the trial or did she always have such a personality?

    For decades the story has been widely circulated that Bridget had something to “get off her chest” and either died without telling “something about that Fall River business” – or else confessed it to a priest with her dying breath.  What the something was, or even if all or a part of this story is true yet remains to be proven without a doubt. People have speculated what the something could be: she knew the dress Lizzie gave to the police was not the dress Lizzie had on that morning of the murders, Bridget helped clean up blood or other evidence, she knew Lizzie was guilty but protected the family in return for a favor, etc. The list of possibilities is endless. The notion that Bridget knew something but would never tell is, however, provocative and the recent disclosure of the photos and comments by a great niece of Bridget’s husband, John Sullivan, Diana Porter, only add even more flavor to conjectures about Bridget and what she knew. No single person was in a better position to know the daily workings of the Borden household better than Bridget, and so anything about her or anything which will emerge in the future promises to be greeted with eager eyes and ears.

    Copies of the two photos will be added to Warps and Wefts as soon as the proper permissions have been granted.

  • Bridget Sullivan is news in Fall River- again

    When the phone rang at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast several months ago, the voice at the end of the line wishing to book a room was none other than the great niece of John and Bridget Sullivan.  For years, the only photo known of the Borden’s Irish maid was the one taken at an unknown date shown below.  The relative will be a guest, in Bridget’s room of course, this summer and will be giving an interview to Borden house co-owner, Lee Ann Wilber.  There are plenty of questions to ask! Employees at the house have been excited about the photos and news for many weeks and have a list prepared. Will we now find out just where Bridget was from 1893 until she showed up in Montana in 1896?  The story will be featured in the newspaper tomorrow but has a live interview at the link below with Lee Ann and reporter Deb Allard recorded early today.