• 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

  • Amelia Dyer, Evilest Woman in England

      For many who study the Borden case, the first introduction to Lizzie comes by way of the famous ditty,

     Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks,   etc.  

    The jurors at the trial had a difficult time believing a lady could be capable of murdering her elderly father and stepmother.  The pages of true crime are filled with such ladylike criminals who committed heinous acts upon the sick, helpless, young, and infirm, while at the same time projecting the very image of genteel propriety to the public. England’s most famous baby-killer, Amelia Dyer, must surely go down in history as one of the most evil women who ever lived. As for Lizzie, a song was soon made up about the devious woman some thought might be “Jill the Ripper”.

    The old baby farmer, the wretched Miss Dyer
    At the Old Bailey her wages is paid.
    In times long ago, we’d ‘a’ made a big fy-er
    And roasted so nicely that wicked old jade

    Dyer, although raised in a comfortable middle-class home, was taxed with the care of an invalid mother who was the victim of severe mental illness. This and other factors set Amelia on a turbulent life path of destruction and violence and murder of young innocents and hapless women who found themselves pregnant and unwed. Dyer spawned a veritable cottage industry in “baby-farming.”  Most infants never lived to see their first birthday. There is no tally of the number of murders which could be laid at the door of Amelia Dyer, but her last, in 1896 resulted in being apprehended after a turn of bad luck, tried, and convicted in less than 5 minutes. Amelia was hanged on June 10, 1896, at 9 a.m. after filling notebooks with her confession. “I have nothing to say,” said Dyer, as the noose was tightened.  The scope of her crimes still boggles the mind.  It is entirely likely that Lizzie Borden knew about The Ogress of Reading as her killing spree was fodder for the press on both sides of the ocean.

    For more on Amelia Dyer, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=11443817

     

     

  • Get your Tickets Now !

     As posted yesterday, Miss Lizzie is coming home for two performances August 5th and 6th at the Nagle Auditorium at B.M.C. Durfee High School in a production by the Covey Theatre Company of Syracuse, N.Y., according to the Fall River Herald News http://www.heraldnews.com/entertainment/x2108626470/Latest-Lizzie-Borden-play-to-be-staged-Aug-5-6-in-Fall-River

    For reviews of the play and some color stills, visit this link http://www.thecoveytheatrecompany.com/production-archives.html

    Tickets may be purchased online at the link and word is out that this new treatment of the case promises to satisfy the most ardent Bordenite.  Snag a ticket early!

  • Another unsolved axe murder of five

     

    August must be a bad month for homicide.  Curiously enough, on August 3, 1877 the bodies of Mr. Lewis Spencer and his four children were found hacked to bits in the family home and barn.  The Clark County, Missouri killings apparently occured on August 2nd and the bodies found by a family relative on the 3rd.  Mr. Spencer was a deacon at the Bethlehem Baptist Church near Luray, Missouri, and was a tax collector.  He often kept a large amount of cash in the home which was found to be missing at the time of the murders.   It may have had something to do with the murders.  The Spencer family had suffered the loss of Mrs. Spencer and two other young children prior to the murders.  All are buried together in the family plot. 

    Two men were put on trial for the deed but were acquitted while another suspect from Keokuk was set upon by an angry mob and hanged for the killings even though there was no proof he did it.  One suspect was the brother of Mrs. Spencer. The murder weapon was found at the back of the house covered in blood and there was the appearance that more than one killer might be involved.   Each victim was hit one to three times in the head, a fact which contrasts widely to the 19 blows to Abby Borden and the 10-11 to Andrew Borden in the Lizzie Borden case.

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50616F63D5A127B93C7A91783D85F438784F9  Link to New York Times Article

    and an excellent detailed account of trials and crime scene here http://boards.ancestry.com/localities.northam.usa.states.missouri.counties.clark/793.1.1.1/mb.ashx

  • Author Rich Lindberg visits Fall River

     

    (Rich Lindberg with Ellen Smith and Jack Faria at the Fall River Art Association)

    Among the special guests at the recent Second Street Irregulars’ annual reunion was Chicago history writer Rich Lindberg.  Mr. Lindberg , a newcomer to the Borden case, has a new book coming out in May on serial killers in the heartland, notably the infamous black widow, Belle Gunness and Johann Hoch.  The “Muttoneaters” enjoyed an evening of hearing about the new book from the author and the author learned a lot about Lizzie Borden as he toured Fall River, Swansea, New Bedford, Marion and Fairhaven and stayed four days at #92 Second Street.  Mr. Lindberg will be bringing the Borden case to Chicago in a lecture format in the near future.  http://richardlindberg.net/index.htm

  • More Fireside Reading for Winter

    The Killer Book of Infamous Murders, by Tom Philpin and Michael Philpin will be published in February and available on Amazon March 1st.The book examines crimes recent and past, going as far back as the 1800s. The book includes the Lizzie Borden case, the horrifying murders that inspired Truman Capote’s novel, “In Cold Blood,” and the Dr. Sam Shepperd case, which inspired “The Fugitive” movie and TV series.

    This is a follow-up to The Killer Book of Serial Killers which was published January 2009 by the same authors.

  • W&W Top Ten Favorites

    With winter showing no signs of letting up in New England, seems a good time to stay inside by the fire with a few good blogs and web sites to read.  Here are some you may enjoy which include Victoriana, fictional and true crime. It’s hard to narrow it down to just ten, but here’s ten good ones you might have missed.  Hours of reading- pack a lunch!

      1. Murder by Gaslight  http://murderbygasslight.blogspot.com/

    2. Clews– historic true crime  http://laurajames.typepad.com/

    3. Anne Perry – Detective Pitt in Victorian England, and other great series  http://www.anneperry.net/

    4. 1893 Columbian Expo in Chicago  http://columbus.gl.iit.edu/

    5. Victorian Station– all things Victorian  http://www.victorianstation.com/home2.html

    6. Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH)  http://www.ash-nyc.com/AboutASH.htm

    7. Victoriana– free online magazine, great articles and links http://www.victoriana.com/site_map.htm

    8.  Historic New England Homes and events http://www.historicnewengland.org/

    9.  Victorian Society in America – lectures, events, tours, classes http://www.victoriansociety.org/

    10.  Jack the Ripper http://www.casebook.org/

  • Library of Congress Broadside

    Among the Library of Congress collection of unusual broadsides, (those prolific paper tributes written by budding writers about popular topics of the moment), rests this Lizzie Borden case effort by Mr. Beard of New Hampshire, who  gives his home address at the bottom of the page, no doubt in hopes of hearing from a publisher keen to publish his opus.

    Thanks to CLEWS crime blog for bringing this to our attention a few years ago. If you missed it then, here it is again.

  • The Story Behind Arsenic & Old Lace

      As the blizzard approaches, here’s a recent chilling release to curl up with detailing the real-life serial killer who inspired the well-loved Cary Grant feature, Arsenic and Old Lace.  The real saga, however, was not light-hearted and comic, but rather horrifying in its scope and as unbelievable as the carnage inflicted in Chicago by H.H. Holmes at his “Murder Castle” in the 1890’s. Whoever said a woman could not do such things never met Amy.  She makes the charges against Lizzie Borden pale in comparison.  The motive?  GREED.

    ” In 1911, Amy Archer-Gilligan was known to her neighbors in Windsor, Connecticut as “Sister Amy.” Seemingly a kind, devoutly Christian woman, she took the frail and elderly into her home to live out the rest of their days. In reality, “Sister Amy” was a calculating murderer who poisoned her residents (and two husbands) with a brew of lemonade and arsenic. She is believed to have murdered sixty-six residents during the early twentieth century. M. William Phelps details the story of Amy’s greed and deception, which led to her becoming America’s most deadly female serial killer. This shocking true tale inspired the play and film Arsenic and Old Lace. ”

  • Remembering Sarah

    The December 20th anniversary date of mill worker, Sarah Cornell is usually forgotten in the bustle of the holiday preparations.  The tragic story of a young girl found hanging near a haystack on Mr. Durfee’s farm has been the inspiration for several books, and much sympathy over the decades since the deed.  Sarah indicated in a note that if she were to go missing, the Rev. Ephraim Avery would be the man to find.  The pregnant girl’s message from beyond the grave and the circumstances surrounding her demise convinced authorities to bring in the minister for questioning and ultimately for trial.  Aided by his standing in the Methodist church and the influence of important people, Avery was aquitted. He then fled to Ohio and led an uneventful life. Sarah’s thin and worn gravestone in Oak Grove Cemetery still stands as a reminder of the pitiful tale of Justice unserved.  The costs for her burial and stone were undertaken by the Fall River Congregationalists when the Methodist congregations of which she had been a member declined the responsibility.  Sarah was laid to rest on Christmas Eve.  For more on the story http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Maria_Cornell

    (photo January 9, 2011)

  • W&W’s Top 10 Borden Case Errors

     

    Axe or hatchet?  –  Most likely a hatchet or a short-handled axe.

    Top Ten List of Most Often-Quoted  Borden Case Errors

     

     1. Lizzie was found guilty by jury of the murders of her mother and father.

    Actually Lizzie was acquitted on all three counts, the murder of her father, her stepmother and both at the trial in New Bedford, June 1893.

     2. Lizzie Borden was a redhead.

    According to her passport she had light brown hair.

     3.  Lizzie’s father cut off the heads of  Lizzie’s pet pigeons with a hatchet.

    Andrew Borden did kill the pigeons, but by wringing their necks, according to Lizzie’s inquest statement.

     4.  Lizzie decapitated Abby Borden’s tabby kitten.

    We have only the interview of Abby Borden’s niece, Abbie Whitehead Potter stating that Lizzie killed a kitten. The Whitehead family, with reason, had very little sympathy towards Lizzie, and this tale cannot be validated.

     5.  Lizzie Borden was a big, mannish woman.

    Lizzie was 5 ft. 3 inches tall according to her passport, average for the times.  She had put on weight during the ten months she was incarcerated in Taunton jail. Her face did have a heavy lower jaw and was described by one newspaper as a face with attributes very common to the region.

     6.  Lizzie and her sister sold the house where the murders took place on Second Street after Lizzie was acquitted in 1893.

    The sisters held on to the property until 1918.

     7. Lizzie was a kleptomaniac.

     Legend has it that she shoplifted at local Main St. stores and that the bill for what she had pilfered would be sent to her father to pay.  Shoplifting was surprisingly not uncommon among ladies of the period. There is no documentation at present in existence  that Lizzie was a kleptomaniac and that Andrew paid the bills.  The only corroborating bit of evidence is of a documented thievery of a porcelain wall ornament which went “missing” from the Tilden and Thurber jewelry  store in Providence.  When the item was taken back to the store for a repair, the owner was questioned about its provenance only to be told Lizzie Borden had been the gift giver. This matter was eventually settled privately. It is possible that Lizzie was a shoplifter in younger years, but not proven so.

     8. Andrew Borden was a mortician.

     Andrew Borden was trained as a carpenter and then went into business as a furniture and household goods retailer.  He invested wisely in real estate, including two small farms, all of which would bring him a good financial return, and as a sideline, he was an undertaker.  Undertaker in 1890 parlance meant a person who would supply items needed for a funeral.  He was neither a funeral director, embalmer, nor mortician. An invoice has been found for his services and for a casket, signed by Borden.  It was not uncommon for furniture retailers to supply wooden coffins and caskets and have a showroom or warehouse facility containing these items.

     9. Lizzie committed the two murders in the nude. 

     Thanks to the 1975 film starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie, the nude murderess scenario has its supporters.  In 1890, the thought was put forth that the killer must be saturated with blood, and it should have been impossible to hide or escape without the telltale blood evidence being detected.  In fact, the killer need not have been covered from head to toe with blood, or could have worn, then later destroyed a protective covering garment. It would be unusual for a lady  in the era of corsets and petticoats to have stripped bare twice on a sunny morning and walked around the house in broad daylight , then to clean up in between in a large tin basin in the cellar. Not impossible- just unlikely.

    10. Lizzie Borden killed her stepmother and father.

    So often assumed as fact ,  –  in fact, nobody will ever have the final answer to this one. Based on the evidence given to the jury then, and in re-examinations of the trial evidence now, Lizzie is acquitted. Her inquest testimony, prussic acid evidence, and dress-burning evidence were not allowed at the trial.  The fact that a side door remained open for almost an hour, and that an intruder could have entered the house and concealed himself, allows for reasonable doubt.  And therein lies the fascination with this case.

    Got a favorite oft-quoted but unsubstantiated Borden case statement to share?  Please leave a comment!

  • Lizzie appears in new crime novel

    Bruce A. Brennan, attorney from DeKalb, IL released a novel on November 10, 2010. The book is historical fiction in the crime genre. The book takes place in the late 1880s through the early 1900s and involves Jack the Ripper and other infamous criminals of that period..  Jack the Ripper, Chicago’s H.H. Holmes, the Dalton gang and others make guest appearances.  The novel is e-published and can be downloaded at this link.  Send us your reviews!  http://www.prweb.com/releases/2010/11/prweb4774174.htm

    About the Author:

    “Bruce A. Brennan is a practicing attorney handling criminal defense work. This is his first published novel. A second one is expected within four months. He writes a daily blog and contributes to several others. This is the story of the investigation and crime solving techniques used to track down the most notorious murderer in the world. The killer plied his trade in Europe and the United States during the 1880s through the early 1900s. After an exhausting investigation, Ian Dean gets his man.”

  • Mysteries at the Museum presents the hatchet

    Tonight the popular Travel Channel program, Mysteries at the Museum, which features unusual artifacts from around the country, presented a segment on the handle-less hatchet found in the Borden cellar.  The segment filmed at the Fall River Historical Society and the house on Second Street and showed excellent close-up footage of the hatchet head and break on the handle stub.  The seven-minute portion was well-done and worth a look.  It airs again tomorrow, December 1st at 3 p.m.