Fall River Police Dept.
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 Ancestry.com and the Bence family descendants
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)
Lambie Awards for 2011
The Best Actor Award was a tie this year- for the first time. Will Clawson and Ray Mitchell, both employees of the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum are also Pear Essential Players and last August 4th, on the anniversary of the murders, took up the roles of Officer Harrington and City Marshal Rufus B. Hilliard. The Second Street Irregulars (the “Muttoneaters”), award the golden statuette yearly for best performance in a Borden case-related role.
Will Clawson as the popular and well-beloved Phil Harrington (the man who described Lizzie’s wrapper in such detail and died tragically on his honeymoon the year Lizzie was acquitted)
Ray Mitchell as City Marshal Rufus Hilliard
The best actress award this year went to Kristin Pepe for her sympathetic portrayal of long-time Borden friend, and former neighbor, Alice Russell. Kristin played the role of Bridget Sullivan in 2009 and 2010 was her first time in the role of the lady who saw Lizzie burn the dress in the woodstove and who was the recipient of the exciting news divulged by Lizzie on the night before the murders that “something is going to happen, Father has an enemy. . .” Kristin was also a Lens of Sherlock recipient several years ago when she tracked down Emma Borden’s alma mater, Wheaton Female Seminary. Congratulations, all!
Kristin (center) with Barbara Morrissey (Emma, on the left) and Lorraine Gregoire (Lizzie on the right) on August 4, 2011.
Feature on Fall River Police Department
Denise Noe has compiled a fascinating array of facts in this recently released online article for Men’s News Daily about the Fall River Police force, focusing on the men in charge during the 1892 Borden case. City Marshal Rufus Hilliard and Fleet are prominently featured. The article first appear in a 2009 issue of The Hatchet.
Getting #92 ready for her close-up
This year the house outside was pristine, having just had a new coat of paint. The tent was up for visitors to wait under , shielded from the hot sun, and lemonade and hatchet cookies were ready for refreshment. Thanks go out this year to Debbie, Anna and Walter for keeping everyone cool and refreshed!
Naturally any photographs on the wall inside which were not family photos were taken down. Several crime scene photos were shown to visitors as “just having been developed and sent over by Mr. Walsh who was hired by the police department to shoot the crime scenes.”
For the first time this year, inasmuch as “CSI” was in the title of this year’s adaptation, blood spatter was applied to the wall and doors in the sitting room. After trying several concoctions, cherry preserves was found to give the best effect. John Morse mentions about 60 drops on the door into the parlor. Emma Borden would wash these off later in the evening on the 4th. Spatter was also applied to the framed engraving over the black sofa. Most visitors made a note of this on their exit polls. (photos courtesy of Lee Ann Wilbur)
This year the bed in the guest room where Abby Borden was killed was moved in order to reproduce the photo of Abby taken from the door way. A blood-spattered coverlet and shams were on the bed as well as a tuft of hair. More blood was used than on the genuine article which was on display down at the historical society in a special Bordenalia exhibit.
It is remarkable that the crime scene still exists after so many years, so everyone who visits is very forgiving of modern conveniences such as electric sockets, lamps, refrigerators, etc, and turns a blind eye to these minor things which distract from time travel to 1892.
The dress worn by Elizabeth Montgomery in The Legend of Lizzie Borden, and other clothing items usually on display were put in the upstairs bathroom, which at one time was actually a dress closet. Down in the cellar, the search for hatchets and other possible weapons, conducted by Detective Seaver, gave a glimpse to visitors of just where these items were found, and offers a visit to the Borden cellar, always a place guests wish to see.
Using a detailed sketch of the rooms done by Kiernan in 1892 as reference, Lizzie’s fainting couch was placed where it had been, between the two windows. Lizzie lounged with her pink and white wrapper with cherry ribbons which Officer Harrington would later describe in such detail that it brought a smile from Lizzie in court.
With so many period antiques in place in the house, dressing the house for a performance is easy. The two crime scenes are particularly accurate in furnishings, and most guests take note of this as they examine the 1892 photographs. With just a little imagination, it is not hard to go back in time and visualize how the rooms must have looked. At 9:30 and 11 a.m., a hush always falls on the house as cast and guests recall what was happening so many years ago.
Who was new for August 4th ?
It was a big day at #92 for the cast of the Pear Essential Players as they turned in 10 performances of Lizzie Borden CSI. Tickets sold out and the gift shop was buzzing with activity from early morning until the end of the day when the evening check- ins arrived. All previous records were broken this year.
Rufus Hilliard Ray Mitchell
There were a few new faces this year in the cast including Ray Mitchell who portrayed city marshal Rufus Hilliard and bore an uncanny resemblance to his character! Michael Brooks took over the role of James Winward, Undertaker and was suitably grave and distinguished.
(photo courtesy of Lee Ann Wilber)
For the first time, the bed in the guest room was moved in order to reproduce a lesser-known photo of Abby Borden.
With a nod to Richard’s Behren’s new book, Lizzie Borden: Girl Detective, Kathryn Woods played Miss Nellie Drew, girl detective and interviewed Uncle John Morse.
Molly O’Brien took over as Miss Manning from the Fall River Herald and also had a few things to ask Uncle John.
photo courtesy of Lee Ann Wilber
The men in blue were out in force this year with Ben Rose reprising Detective Seaver, and new B&B museum employees Justin Dunne and Will Clawson playing Medley and Harrington. Mustaches were a key element in bringing the characters to life with Hilliard’s famous walrus mustache and Harrington’s “handlebar” stash adding much to the characterization.
Will Clawson Phil Harrington
Justin Dunne played a young officer William Medley. Medley would become Fall River’s first Chief of Police.
Justin Dunne Chief Medley
Many actors have played Andrew Borden over the years and this year B&B employee Logan Livesey had the tough task of staying perfectly still under the sheet.
Tomorrow: Set dressing the house, our cast regulars, and the cast trip to Maplecroft!
Cast for Annual Presentation at Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum
Some of the cast will be appearing at the Fall River Public Library on Tuesday, August 3rd at 6:30 for a special reading by Richard Behrens from the new Lizzie Borden: Girl Detective! Tickets are presently on sale at the museum 508-675-7333. Advanced ticket purchase is suggested to avoid disappointment on the 4th. Tickets are usually sold out by noon. First performance at 10: 30 a.m.
Cast interviews and photos may be found at http://pearessentialproductions.org/
Lizzie Borden: Lorraine Gregoire
Detective Seaver Ben Rose
Abby Borden: Shelley Dziedzic
Andrew Borden: Logan Livesey
Bridget Sullivan Kathleen Troost-Cramer
Emma Borden: Barbara Morrissey
Addie Churchill: JoAnne Giovino
Alice Russell: Kristin Pepe
Uncle John: Joe Radza
Officer Medley: Justin Dunne
Miss Manning from the Herald: Molly O’Brien
“Cub reporter and Girl Detective” from the Herald, and Miss Manning’s assistant: Kathryn Woods
The Distinguished Undertaker Winward: Michael Brooks
Officer Harrington: Will Clawson
Marshal Hilliard; Ray Mitchell
It’s Hot, It’s Summer, It’s Time Again
With the arrival of scorching temps and high humidity, the cast of the Pear Essential Players (P.E.P.) layer on the petticoats, corsets and false beards in preparation for the August 4th re-enactment at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. Rehearsals will begin in two weeks, and this year the script is new. Written every year by night tour innkeeper Shelley Dziedzic, this year’s script will harness the flavor of popular CSI programs. Here is what the B&B website has to say about the annual event:
“Thirty minutes have passed since Abby Borden’s body has been found upstairs in the guest room. #92 has become a beehive of activity with Fall River’s Men in Blue flocking to the crime scene. Doctors, bystanders, policemen, newspaper reporters, neighbors and friends are all converging on the little drab house on Second St. Inside on the Second Floor, Miss Lizzie Andrew Borden is reclining on her fainting couch, medicated with bromo caffeine. Uncle John has wandered bewildered into the dining room, trying to make sense of what he has just heard. Bridget Sullivan is frightened in the parlor, already planning to pack and flee that very afternoon. The lifeless bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are covered with bloody sheets, awaiting procedures and the ministrations of the undertaker. Sister Emma is rushing back home on her way from Fairhaven. Helpful neighbors mill around looking for answers and trying to be useful in comforting Lizzie and assisting the police. Meanwhile, the police begin the questioning and searching. Our visitors will be “deputized” as they begin their tour of the crime scene, and will be encouraged to “assist” the police with their photographic equipment and by carefully surveying the crime scenes. They may even be motivated to ask a question themselves and to be on the lookout for CLUES! By means of the police questioning, the visitors to the house will hear the story as it happened, unfolding through the answers of the family members. As the tour of the premises ends, visitors will be asked to cast a vote on the GUILTY PARTY, based on what they have seen and heard during their inspection of the scene of the crime. ”There will be a few new faces in the cast this year and a few new characters from out of the past. Information on ticket sales, parking and times will be posted here and on the B&B site soon. The first performance will be at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, August 4th. This will be the fourteenth year that the house on Second Street has reproduced the historic details of the famous case in an entertaining and educational way.
Remembering John Fleet
Died May 10, 1916 (photo courtesy FRPD)
On May 10, 1916, John Fleet, former city marshal died of heart failure following several months of poor health. On May 9th he had been well enough to visit his daughter Harriet Isherwood and showed no signs at that time that death was imminent. He was stricken after midnight at his home at 85 Park St. and succumbed quickly. He was 69 years old.
Fleet was born at Ashton-Under-Lyne in Lancashire, England March 29, 1848. He had been in America for over 50 years at the time of his death, and had begun his working career in the American Linen mills. At the age of 16 in 1864 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served until the end of the Civil War, taking part in many engagements under Admiral Farragut including the siege of Mobile and the battle against a Spanish fort. Fleet sustained a fractured arm on the same day Lincoln was assassinated when Fleet’s ship was blown up.
Returning to Fall River after the war, Fleet, who was rated as a “landsman” in the Navy, went back to work in the mills. He worked at the Fall River Boiler Company on Water St., then began a new career direction as a house painter and decorator until he was appointed to the police force on February 27, 1877 at the age of 29. His career would maintain a steady rise in this line of work, being promoted to sergeant on March 2, 1883, assistant city marshal on December 22, 1886 and city marshal on November 8, 1909. He retired on half pay May 31, 1915, when Medley, another officer involved in the Borden case became Fall River’s first Chief of Police, replacing the title City Marshal held by Fleet at retirement.
John Fleet was known as an efficient officer and was held in high esteem by fellow officers and citizens alike. He was the husband of Lydia Wallace Fleet, the father of four sons and a daughter and was also survived by two brothers and two sisters. His daughter was Harriet Isherwood, and sons were John W. of Seattle, Frank W., the manager of the Westport telephone exchange, Walter R., assistant superintendent of Borden City mills, and Arthur J., a designer. Surviving brothers and sisters were Richard and Samuel Fleet, Mrs. Fannie Lewis and Mrs. Ann Thackery. A third sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Meyers predeceased her brother a month before in Providence.
Fleet was a member of Richard Borden Post 46 G.A.R. , Mt. Hope Lodge of Masons, Odd Fellows and Puritan Lodge, K.P.
Chief Medley ordered the flag at half-mast at all stations and sent the following statement:
“ . . . His record shows clearly to the members of this department what can be accomplished by persistent effort and fidelity to duty. In his death the department loses a friend and the community a valued citizen. The funeral will take place Saturday afternoon, at which time I trust that as many members as can possibly make it convenient will attend. I have this day forwarded to Mrs. Fleet and members of the family a message of condolence from the department. As a token of respect the department will forward a floral emblem. “ W. H. Medley, Chief of Police
The funeral service was conducted from the home at 85 Park St. at 1:30 and was conducted by the Rev. Albert R. Parker of St. John’s Episcopal Church for immediate family and friends. The body was taken to St. John’s where Fleet had been a member for many years. The traditional Episcopal requiem was conducted and “Lead Kindly Light”, “Nearer My God to Thee”, and “Heart Be Still”were among the musical selections. A large number of police officers were in attendance including Chief Medley and Captain Dennis Desmond who had worked with Fleet on the Borden case in 1892. Following the service, interment took place at Oak Grove where at the grave the ritual for Grand Army members was carried out by Post 46. The Massachusetts Police Association sent a large floral tribute in the form of a policeman’s badge. R.I.P.
(sources: Fall River Evening News May 13, 1916, Fall River Globe May 10, 1916)
Second Street Irregulars Visit the FRPD
The annual Mutton Eaters weekend in Fall River 2010 is now just a good memory. The armchair sleuth group had a jam-packed weekend visiting Lizzie Borden-related sites for three days, beginning with a stop early Friday morning at the Fall River Police Department on Pleasant Street. Deputy Chief Moniz greeted the group in the entry foyer and took them to the second floor to meet the new Chief of Police, Chief Racine who recently took over the position from Chief Souza. Chief Racine knew his Bordenia, and solemnly (with a twinkle) swore in 18 new recruits as “official deputies” on the Borden case. The group enjoyed a great ten minutes chatting with the busy Chief, who mentioned there was a $200 reward on the “tip hot line” for any clue which would assist in solving a case. After reflecting on the FRPD and their involvement in the Borden case, the “Mutton Eaters” were treated, as a special surprise, to a complete tour of the entire facility from the booking room to the dispatch and receivng room to the holding cells. The Wall of Chiefs, which included Medley, Hilliard and Fleet was a big hit as well as the arrest book showing Lizzie Borden’s name. They learned that chief and deputy chief badges are turned in when the officer retires, and that the three numbers which appear over the badge are numbers of fallen policemen, killed in the line of duty. Currently three numbers appear although the force has actually lost more. The badge has not changed style since the era of Lizzie Borden as witnessed by the badge of Chief Medley, Fall River’s first titled Chief of Police. It was learned that the crime scene camera in the archive was not the one used by Mr. Walsh to photograph the Borden house, but was dated slightly after 1892.
Original blue lantern from the old FRPD building at Bedford and High Streets.
The facilty was impressive, with the 24 hour dispatch and call -in room a state-of-the art- facility. The night before the visit, Fall River sustained a large fire in a private residence, with the loss of one four year old child. The dispatcher took the group through the procedure of how the calls were received, and how the response teams were sent out. Also on the tour were the booking desk and a tour of the lock-up where sliding doors have replaced bars. Male and female detainees are separated from each other in different sections of the building.
During the visit a review of a recent incident involving the discharging of an officer’s gun during a chase was being conducted, which is general procedure. The briefing room was included and looked exactly like those seen on so many popular television programs. The white board showed ongoing activity around the city, using the historic terminology for the sections of the city like Corky Row, Flint, Globe, etc.
The visit was a highlight of the weekend for the group, and the viewing of the arrest book a special memory along with the great kindness and hospitality of the officers and employees.
Harrington makes Lizzie Smile
Officer Harrington of the Fall River Police Department had some serious doubts about Lizzie Borden from the very hour after Andrew Borden’s death. Called to give testimony on a number of observations he had made on August 4th- none brought so much reaction from Lizzie as Harrington’s precise description of what she was wearing when she changed her clothing up in her room shortly after the body of Abby Borden had been found in the guest room by neighbor, Addie Churchill.
“It was a house wrap, striped with pink and light stripes, alternately. Pink was the predominate color. In the light stripe was a diagonal formed by lighter stripes, some parallel and others bias. It was fitted to the form in a tailor-made manner. It had a standing collar. It was closely shirred, gathered closely at the front. From the waist to the neck it was puffed with a number of folds. On either side, directly over the hips, was a narrow red ribbon. This was brought around in front and tied in a bowknot. It was cut with a demi-train or bell skirt which the ladies were in the habit of wearing last year.”
Newspapers reported that Lizzie smiled broadly at this unusually detailed report issuing from a male, and actually laughed softly and turned around in her seat to see what the crowd which was packed into the small courtroom thought about it all.
Trial Testimony of Officer Phillip Harrington, June 8, 1893.
Phillip Harrington was born on April 17, 1859, making him just one year older than Lizzie Borden. The son of Irish immigrants, James and Mary Harrington, Phillip was one of four children born to the couple in Fall River. He was appointed to the police force on March 2, 1883. He was well-liked by his associates and very popular in Irish and Catholic social circles in the city. On February 10, 1893 he was appointed Captain and went on to duty at the central station first as a night officer, then on to daytime duty. His marriage to Kate Connell, daughter of John Connell, ticket taker for Old Colony Steamboat Company, was quite an event in fashionable Catholic circles and was performed at St. Mary’s , right across the street from the Borden house. Capt. Harrington had not been well for some time but was feeling better the day of his nuptials. Stopping off in Newport before taking the night boat to New York to commence his honeymoon, Harrington was taken violently ill and could not continue. He lingered some days in excruciating pain, nursed faithfully by his bride. He passed away on October 28th at the home of Councilman McCormack, who had been one of the wedding ushers. The wake held on Whipple Street continued right up until the hour of the Requiem Mass- 6,000 passed by the coffin. The funeral on Halloween was one of the largest seen at St. Mary’s, with the city marshal, police force and friends packing the church to capacity. A thousand more stood outside the church and joined in the procession to St. Mary’s Cemetery on Amity St. Harrington lived long enough to see Lizzie Borden acquitted. He was 34 at the time of death. As far as his knowledge of ladies’ clothing- he had lived with his sister Mary before his marriage, and no doubt learned much about the topic from her.
On his birthday Saturday, April 17th, the Second Street Irregulars will be visiting the grave of Capt. Harrington to leave a pillow of white carnations, the floral tribute given by his bride.
Fall River Globe, Oct. 31, 1893
The Mutton Eaters Online
Warps & Wefts is pleased to announce a new feature for this site. Beginning this month, articles and photos of the exploits of the Second Street Irregulars will appear. The S.S.I. or “”Mutton Eaters” is an informal group of armchair sleuths from all over America who like to go “On the Road” whenever possible to chivvy out obscure and fascinating facts about the many individuals involved in the Lizzie Borden case. When the game’s a’foot there’s no telling what will happen or what they may find-and getting there is half the fun. This month the spotlight is on William Medley, one of the observant policemen on the scene of the crime August 4th. Our articles will remain for six months and are for private use only. To access this month’s feature, click on the tab Mutton Eaters Online Article above or this link http://lizziebordenwarpsandwefts.com/january-mutton-eaters-online-article/ You will feel as if you were riding right alongside!
For more about the Second Street Irregulars visit http://secondstreetirregulars.org/