Bertha Manchester- that other hatchet job. . .


The hatchet killing which happened just before Lizzie’d trial began and which was referred to in the Lifetime movie this past weekend was the Bertha Manchester crime- which thankfully was solved. Care was taken that Lizzie’s jurors did not learn about this case as it would seem to suggest a killer was still on the loose in Fall River with a hatchet. Bertha Manchester is also buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Lifetime’s Lizzie Borden Took an Axe- Yes, a Crime was Committed


So,  Bordenphiles everywhere are probably burning up their keyboards tonight writing reviews of the much-hyped Lifetime movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Axe. Before the verdict is in, why indeed was this production rushed to the screen? Clearly with a gross lack of fact checking on the case, the culture and mannerisms of the times, set dressing and costume, this was a low-budget rush job to get something in the can to beat out the anticipated Playtone-Tom Hanks production starring Chloe Sevigny.  Ms. Sevigny, a visitor to Fall River and a case enthusiast would have done the role justice.

The never-ending inaccuracies, too numerous to mention in full, indicate a total laziness on the part of the scriptwriters to even consult Google for the most basic of facts on the case.  In fact, other than the undeniable truth that two people were murdered in Fall River, most probably with a hatchet, there is not much else this version of the story got right.

Filmed in Halifax, presumably for the vintage atmosphere and possibly budget constraints, the film begins with a house which looks nothing like the Borden house, a city which looks nothing like a city and most certainly nothing like Fall River.  There is no flavor of the mills, Main Street, the Hill section or the river. At least they did not attempt the distinctive Fall River accent.

Even those not in the know about speech patterns, costume, mannerisms and culture of 1892 will instantly sense something is quite wrong on all these counts.  For example, a woman would never have appeared on the street without a hat, and most assuredly not at an inquest.  When making a period piece, attention to the smallest detail is essential lest the entire screen illusion of the event be destroyed. And speaking of destroyed- what did you think of Lizzie’s playlist?

• The Black Keys, “Psychotic Girl”

• Ian Clement, “The Hammer & the Nail”

• Sons of Jezebel, “Whoo Boy”

• Kreeps, “Pennsylvania Boarded House Blues”

• Paul Otten, “Dangerous Mind” *

• The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer, “Are You Listening Lord,” “Shake It”

• Pow Wow, “All In” *

• Lady of the Sunshine, “White Rose Parade”

• Cavendish Music Library, “Razzamatazz Man”

It is always a great risk to incorporate contemporary music in a period piece.  The end result may be campy or it may turn out to be another Marie Antoinette film disaster of recent years.  In this case, the spectacle of Christina Ricci striding out defiantly to a forbidden party in what might be construed as a “Soiled Dove”, cleavage-baring bodice to the strains of “Whoo Boy” is laughable.  At the party Lizzie meets Nance O’Neil who makes her entrance into Lizzie’s life at least 12 years too early. Understandably, in a two hour film, many factual sequences must be collapsed or even omitted in the interest of time. What is unforgiveable is that in this production, they managed to find precious minutes for total fabrications which never occurred, or did not serve the history timeline in the least, while leaving out vital information and actions and incidents crucial to the case. It’s almost as if the script writer had a large handful of facts about the case scribbled on post-it notes, threw them all up in the air, and whatever order they landed in was the order in which they appear, sometimes tarted up or altered at will and with zero relationship to the actual timeline of the true events.

As in the Elizabeth Montgomery 1975 film, (a vastly superior effort), Lizzie’s Uncle John Morse was left out as well as Mrs. Churchill, the very important star attorney and former Massachusetts Governor Robinson, Mr. Moody for the Prosecution, and others.  Andrew Jennings was the sole embodiment of Lizzie’s defense.  With the actual Borden trial transcript available, the screen writer for this sad attempt himself should have been hanged for Laziness in the First Degree.  Kudos for getting the famous line uttered by Lizzie in response to whether she and her mother were cordial, “It all depends on your idea of cordiality”.

Also disappointing was the performance of Christina Ricci, a talented young actress who turned in a one-note song as Lizzie.  The real Lizzie Borden was a multi-faceted and subtle person; refined, dignified, meticulous, affectionate to friends and also stubborn, having feelings of inferiority, and a full spectrum of traits as most human beings possess.  Ricci has made her name as a quirky, Goth-Girl, dark performer and is good at it.  She is better than the lines given her in this production.  Ricci’s distracted, crazy poses, bulging eyes, and defiant little outbursts did not make for much depth-of character.

So many disappointments for even the most casual Lizziephile:  Lizzie standing over a cauldron stirring up that infamous dress, outside, while Emma shrieked and Alice Russell peered out a second storey window, City Marshal Hilliard played as a fool, Andrew Borden with dark hair and a mustache, Lizzie racing around in her underwear with hair streaming wantonly down her back, the missing scene where neighbor Addie Churchill spies the corpse of Abby Borden under the bed, Dr. Bowen popping out of his house like a jack-in-the-box when Bridget hammers on the door.  All so incorrect.  All so maddening.  When will anyone recognize that this story deserves to be told as it actually happened?  If Cameron could not get it right with his Titanic epic, as pretty as it was to look at- then there is little hope the real, and truly fascinating story of the Borden case will ever see the light of day.  Another golden opportunity missed.

Two thumbs way down.  Not released tonight, it escaped. Airing again on Sunday. Give it a miss.

Lizzie in the Autumn


As the leaves begin to turn in September, thoughts begin to turn towards Lizzie Borden again. After a brief respite from the August Lizzie fever, cooler temps and the approach of Halloween always seem to inspire revivals of Borden-centered plays around the country. The Boston Lyric Opera has some exciting news. The BLO’s Opera Annex production this year is a commissioned work, a new chamber version of Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden (Nov. 20-24, in the Castle at Park Plaza). – (See more at:

Paranormal groups and television production companies are drawn to the house on Second Street to capture that something extra which flavors the very atmosphere this time of year.  The house is busy with overnight guests and day tours and thoughts are turning to Halloween night, which is a sell-out every October 31st.

Lizzie’s grammar school sold to a restaurant

morgan21(photo courtesy of Keeley Library Photo Archive)

Once again Fall River is about to tear down a fine old building to make room for a parking lot.  The Morgan Street School, known as the N.B. Borden School more recently, was sold for a pitiful sum.  Last used in 2007 as a grammar school, there had been plans for the redundant building to be converted into a community center.  The layout inside would have been ideal for a city museum. ran this article on its timeline about the sale of redundant schools in the city: ”

In February 2012, the city council delays sale on Belisle; awards bids for Osborn to SB&A Realty Group, Fall River, for $3,111 for professional building, and for N.B. Borden to TA Restaurant Inc., Fall River, for $5,000 for parking and possibly apartments. Council President Linda Pereira removes Pat Casey from RE Committee related to Belisle School controversy.

For more information on Lizzie at the school visit the W&W link below.

The Season of Lizzie Opens

Yes, it’s that time of year again- the August through Halloween Lizzie Season when plays, books, Lizzie website news, hatchet-throwing contests and such begin to appear with a vengeance.  The kickoff is usually on July 19th, Lizzie’s birthday, and the fever pitch continues right through Halloween night when the house on Second Street is packed to the attic and more than one trick- or- treater dresses up as the infamous Lizzie B.

A special Borden exhibit will debut at the Rock Street Fall River Historical Society on August 4th, and as usual, the Pear Essential Productions will be putting on the annual dramatization at the Borden house on Second Street. This year there will be a few new faces in the familiar roles, and a new director for the Bordenian amateur acting troupe, many of whom work at the Bed and Breakfast during the week.  Oak Grove will be hopping with visitors to the Borden plot, and the Herald News and other area newspapers will not fail to recall those famous days of 1892.  Are you ready for All Things Lizzie?


A few changes for August 4th

The Pear Essential Productions’ annual August 4th dramatization at the Borden house will have a few new faces this year. Mike Shogi, from Cleveland will be directing this year for the first time as long-time producer-director and script writer Shelley Dziedzic steps down after a long run.  She will still assist with ticket sales, script and costuming.

???????????????????????????????Mike is a familiar face at #92, having played Dr. Dolan in 2011 and Detective Seaver in 2012 as well as being one of the Second Street Irregulars “Muttoneaters” for many years.

There will be some big changes in casting this year as well as a few old familiar faces reprising their usual roles.  Stay tuned for more cast announcements here.

August 033Carol Ann Simone will be returning as Lizzie Borden this year, shown here in the famous pink and white striped wrapper which she designed and made herself.

Below: The cast from August 4, 2012.


Providence Journal Launches Six-Part Serial for the 120th Anniversary of Lizzie’s Acquittal

ProjoA much-anticipated series debuted today in the Sunday Providence Journal. ” Projo” writer Paul Davis certainly did his homework for this six-part article which runs all week and features some new, never-before-published information. The writing is crisp, accurate and thought-provoking and highlights trial coverage from 1893 Providence Journals.  Lizziephiles will be over the moon with the expansive coverage.  If you cannot obtain a hard copy of the paper, read all about it at the newspaper online link.

A short trailer was put up on Saturday night to heighten anticipation.

A promotional online video is also on the Projo site and Youtube which features Warps and Wefts writer, Shelley Dziedzic who made a tour with Journal reporter Paul Davis in May.  The tour encompassed all things “Lizzie” in and around Fall River and a jaunt to the New Bedford courthouse to visit the scene where the 1893 trial unfolded.

It’s Lizzie Time Again


It was a quiet Winter and Spring for All Things Lizzie in the public eye, but behind the scenes, there was a buzz. The big news in the Bordenphile community is the possibility of two new biopics about Lizzie and her trial. Casting of one Lifetime channel made-for-TV effort has been posted, with Christina Ricci in the coveted role of Lizzie B.
The long-awaited version with Chloe Sevigny in the title role was shelved due to the filming workload of the actress, which is a shame since Tom Hanks and Playtone would have been a dynamite combo for HBO. Maybe we have not heard the end of that one yet.

On the historical front, The Fall River Historical Society has pulled out all the stops for a refreshed Lizzie Borden display which includes a dainty Delft-like teapot Lizzie once bestowed upon her companion, Miss Russell (no relation to poor Alice).

On Second Street, casting is underway for August 4th dramatizations, this year produced and directed by Cleveland’s Mike Shogi, taking over for long-time director, Shelley Dziedzic who has retired after 14 years. Yes, the Season of Lizzie is upon us and will be going full tilt through Halloween, you can be sure!

R.I.P. Ed Thibault, December 18, 2012


It is with profound sorrow that I post the sad news about the passing of my old friend Ed Thibault today. We had been friends for over 20 years and worked at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast together for many years. Ed and I began the Second Street Irregulars together in 1993. Affectionately called “Mr. Lizzie”, Ed was the go- to guy on all things Lizzie back in the 80s and 90s. He gave tours of the Borden home, visited schools and civic groups and was never too tired to sit and chat about the case. We played Mr. and Mrs. Borden for many years. The photo below was for Monsterquest 2008, our last time together in the roles.


I am missing my old friend already. Ed had been suffering for a very long time with respiratory and heart ailments and had spent the past 6 weeks in Charlton Hospital before being released to a rehab and nursing establishment. News of funeral arrangements will be forthcoming. Lizzie Borden had a champion in Ed who never believed she was guilty.


Ed accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Second Street Irregulars at the Q Club, 2011.

October and Lizzie Borden Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

First, a big thank you to followers and readers of Warps & Wefts as we mark the 600th post since 2007. Comments and emails are much-appreciated.

Well, just as seen posted here every October, Lizzie is back in time for Halloween in every fun house, horror venue, costume contest, and not more than a few really BAD films. Usually seen in a red and black dress with puffy leg-o’-mutton sleeves and red hair, she is swinging a bloody hatchet- or even more often an axe, and looking maniacal.  Sadly, a really intriguing mystery goes missing in all the gore, and much misinformation about the case gets repeated as Gospel truth which makes a lasting impression. The true story is as scary as anything:  two harmless old people savagely slashed and bludgeoned in the head right in the safety and comfort of their family home;  home– a place which should be the haven of safety. If this can happen there- then who is safe?  Horrifying thought. Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock got it right.  Horror truly comes in the unexpected violence which intrudes into the safe and simple day-to-day, ordinary life.

So this year, W&W is not going to comment on Halloween Lizzie doings all over America. Rather, try having a really good historical scare by reading the source documents on the case.  The witness statements, inquest, preliminary, and trial are all available on Amazon, and some free online.  And while you are waiting for your Amazon delivery, here is something interesting to read.

Happy Halloween.

Jury photo up for auction

Swann Auction Galleries in New York is selling an oversized original photograph of the jury that acquited Lizzie Borden. It’s Lot 207 in the October 2, 2012 sale. Estimate is $800.00-$1,200.00. John O’Neil New Bedford, MA 1893 -photographer.  The photo below is the one familiar to most and was given as a parting gift to Lizzie after her acquittal.

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.