Friday, November 13, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 82 - Lizzie Borden House

Moment in Oddity - The Watseka Wonder

The Watseka Wonder is the first documented case of spiritual possession in America and it happened in the town of Watseka. It involved a young girl by the name of Lurancy Vennum who was thirteen years old. She and her family moved into a home where a girl named Mary Roff had lived thirteen years before. Mary had been an ill child prone to unexplainable seizures. She would have periods of depression that would end in these fits of seizures. She was sent to the hospital in Peoria, but no cure was found for her. She returned home and found that bleeding herself helped. Doctors brought her leeches and would apply them to her head. Mary actually began to keep the leeches as pets. After one bad spell, Mary ran into the backyard and sliced open her arm. Many men had to drag her back in the house and hold her down as she raved. Her strength was far more than what a hundred pound girl should have. Mary was sent back to Peoria where she died during a fit in 1865. After moving into the Roff House, Lurancy started having fits that would leave her rigid for hours and she would complain afterward of feeling strange. She would contort and go into trances, claiming she could see heaven. After 100 days, Mary Roff left the body of Lurancy and the home. Later on, Lurancy would visit the Roff family and there are claims that she would let Mary enter her body when she visited. The idea that a dead girl could enter the body of another that is living is not only terrifying, but very odd.

This Day in History - Moby Dick Published

On this day, November 14th, in 1851, Moby Dick by Herman Melville is published. Moby Dick had originally been published as "The Whale" in London, but when it came to America, it received the more fetching name of Moby Dick. The story is narrated by a sailor named Ishmael and he details the quest of his captain who is named Ahab. Captain Ahab has an obsession for finding and killing a certain whale that is white in color. This whale not only destroyed his prior ship, but it injured him in such a way that his lower leg was severed. The work is very detailed in its descriptions of life at sea and the practice of whaling and Melville drew from some of his own experience at sea. Although the novel is considered a masterpiece and one of the Great American Novels, it was a failure during Melville's time. When he died in 1891, Moby Dick was actually out of print. World War I would reawaken an interest in the novel and it has gone on to great acclaim and is required reading in many schools.

The Lizzie Borden House (Research Assistant: Sharon Spungen)

Growing up, many of us sung a rhyme about the crime attributed to Lizzie Borden that began, "Lizzie Borden took an axe." But did this young woman actually commit the crime for which she was accused and aquitted? What was going on in this home with this family that people actually thought it was possible? What happened to the Borden family is not in dispute, nor are the facts unclear. It was August 4, 1892. Andrew Borden's body was found, shortly before noon, in his Fall River, Massachusetts parlor room. He had suffered many blows to the head, specifically to his face, with a blunt object. His wife, Abby, was found that same day in an upstairs boudoir with the back of her head bashed in. This violent crime remains unsolved and perhaps that is why the spirits are at unrest in this home. Come with us as we explore the home, the family, the crime and the hauntings connected to the Lizzie Borden House.

Andrew Jackson Borden was born in 1822 in Massachusetts. He married Sarah Anthony Morse and they had three daughters: Emma, Alice and Lizzie. Lizzie was born the youngest of those three daughters and only she and her sister Emma survived to adulthood. Their mother Sarah died when Lizzie was only two years old. Andrew was seen as a reclusive man, although highly successful. He was believed to have been extremely tight with his money, as he had started out in life with little means and never changed his spending habits, even as his fortune grew. He would come to be one of the richest men in Fall River, Massachusetts. He was not very well liked; however, because he was always in a sour mood and lacked humor. Just two years after Sarah's death, in 1865, Andrew married Abby Durfee Gray. She was considered a spinster by the community and she was not very well off. Andrew needed help raising his two girls. The situation was ideal for both of them and it was a mutually supportive marriage.

The Lizzie Borden House was built in 1845 by Southard Miller for a man named Charles Trafton in Fall River, Massachusetts. It was originally meant to be a two family home. In 1872, Andrew bought the large house for his family of four. The house had wall to wall carpeting on the first and second floors. Andrew remodeled to make the home more spacious by knocking out a wall on the first floor. Radiators provided central heating. There was a bathroom in the cellar with a pull chain toilet. The parlor was decorated with lace curtains. Despite the home being large, both Borden daughters felt the house was beneath their station in life. In 1889, the family hired Bridget Sullivan, an Irish immigrant, to help with the household chores. The home was large and comfortable and from the outside, everything seemed well in the Borden home. But that was not the case.

The home was robbed and cash and jewelry were taken during daylight hours. It is believed that Andrew and Abby considered Lizzie the prime suspect and insisted that all family doors were to be kept locked from this point forward. In a bizarre incident, Andrew took a hatchet and killed all of Lizzie's pet pigeons sometime in the late spring/summer of 1892. Emma left the home in the summer of 1892 after some huge family fight and went to stay with friends of the family. She was still there at the time of the murders of her father and step-mother. The morning of August 3rd in 1892, Abby went to the doctor's complaining of severe illness that she and Andrew suffered the night before, and allegedly, made mention of her fear that the family was being poisoned. Interestingly, around this same time, Lizzie attempted to purchase poison to combat moths that were eating a fur coat she owned from the local drug store, but was told she would need a prescription for it. Rumors have survived to this day that Lizzie was not just a spinster living at home, but that she and her father had some kind of incestuous relationship.

The family was active in the Central Congregational Church. Lizzie herself joined the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Christian Endeavor Society. Her activities with these types of organizations earned her the respect of two ministers, William Walter Jubb and Edwin A. Buck. She was a Sunday School teacher and many considered her a hard worker. It would come as a shock that she would be arrested and tried for the events that would take place on August 4, 1892.

Emma was with friends, but Uncle John Morse had come to visit and he had stayed overnight. The maid Bridget was up at 6am to get a fire stoked and breakfast started. Andrew, Abby and Uncle John came down an hour later. Every one sat and ate for an hour, but Lizzie did not join them. She slept late. Uncle John left after breakfast and Lizzie came down complaining she felt ill. Bridget herself threw up later that morning. A little after 9am, Andrew headed out for business and Abby asked Bridget to wash the windows while she made up Uncle John's bed. Bridget got the outside of the windows done around 10:30am and headed inside to do the interior of the windows.

Andrew Borden arrived home at this time. Bridget let him in and Lizzie told him that Abby went to visit a sick neighbor. Andrew grabbed the key to his room and headed up the back stairs. You might be wondering why he needed a key. It would seem that the Bordens were in the habit of locking all the doors in the house, all the time. As if they not only didn't trust the outside world, but each other as well. Lizzie went to heat the iron and Andrew returned downstairs and sat on a sofa in the sitting room and began reading the newspaper. Bridget retired to her room, but was awakened by the shouts of Lizzie a little after she had drifted off to sleep. Lizzie was shouting that her father was dead. She sent Bridget off for the doctor.

The doctor's house was across the street, but he was not there. Bridget returned with his wife and several neighbors came as well. They all asked Lizzie where she had been when her father was murdered. Keep in mind that the house was kept locked tight. Lizzie claimed she had gone to the barn to get an iron for fishing sinkers and had left the door unlocked. Then there were, of course, the question about where Abby was and suddenly, Lizzie had no idea. Then she threw out a comment about her father having an enemy and how the family had been poisoned by milk. Now wait a minute! Abby was the one mentioning that she thought the family had some kind of poisoning and there is not much doubt she suspected Lizzie. And how would Lizzie know it was the milk that was poisoned? And why throw that out there right after finding your father bludgeoned to death. Shouldn't she be a bit tramatized from the scene. The crime scene photos and autopsy photos are hard to look at.

The doctor finally arrives and observes that a sharp object was used to deliver eleven blows - not forty - to Andrew's head making him unrecognizable. An eye was cut in half and his nose was gone. Blood was sprayed up to the ceiling, across the wall, the floor and was still seeping from the wounds. A neighbor and Bridget went to see if Abby was upstairs after Lizzie mentioned that she thought she had heard Abby come home while she was out at the barn. So now Lizzie's story has gone from "I don't know where she has gone" to "I think she came home." The neighbor found Abby next to the bed in Uncle John's room, lying face down in a pool of blood. She had been making the bed and seemed to have been struck by a sharp object from behind. The coroner later revealed that Abby had received more blows than Andrew. She had been struck ninteen times. The blood was congealed meaning she had been killed before Andrew and more than likely at least an hour before, meaning it happened while Andrew was out and while she was supposedly at an ailing neighbor's house, according to Lizzie. Now would be a good time to mention that the girls referred to Abby as Mrs. Borden because they disliked the woman. They never considered her a mother and fought often. This is more than likely why Emma was no longer living at the house. Whoever perpetrated this crime had a lot of anger towards these two victims.

Now where are the cops? It would seem they were away for their annual picnic. Only one officer was at the station. He ran to the house and saw that Andrew was dead and ran back to the station. So no one is watching the crime scene. As happened with the Villisca Axe Murder, this scene was overrun by looky lous. Any evidence was quickly destroyed. Based on Lizzie's comments about the milk, the medical examiner sent the milk and stomachs to Harvard for testing where no poison was found.  Another autopsy was conducted after the funerals. The burials were prevented so this could be done. Both of the couple's heads were removed, so the skulls could be studied. The skulls were later interred with the rest of the remains.

Lizzie and Emma were the heirs to Andrew's small fortune and suspicion fell to Lizzie. Bridget was brought in for questioning as well, but she was never charged. Lizzie was charged. The evidence was weak at best. No murder weapon was found. A hatchet that was found in the cellar had been cleaned and then purposefully dirtied, so it could not be proven that it was used in the crime. Lizzie burned a dress, but she claimed there had been paint on it and so that is why she destroyed it. Uh huh. There was nothing to go on other than the fact that Lizzie and Bridget were at the house at the time of the murder and Lizzie was being evasive. But this isn't enough to convict anyone. The trial lasted 14 days. The jury acquitted Lizzie.

Although the case was circumstantial, it's hard not to believe that Lizzie perpetrated this crime. Her motive? Money would be a main factor as her father held onto it tightly and Lizzie wanted to spend it and Andrew had told people he was changing his will to make Abby sole heir and give nothing to his daughters. It was no secret that there were family issues as well. The killer would have had to have entered a locked home. The place was always locked and even if it were unlocked because Bridget was outside cleaning the windows, would she not have seen someone come into the house? Wouldn't Lizzie have heard the person come in and at least heard something as Abby fell and was bludgeoned? Then the killer would have had to have waited at least an hour for Andrew to get home. This person would have had to have hoped that no one would find Abby in the meantime. Clearly, Lizzie had lied about Abby running off to a neighbor's house since Abby never left the house. And Lizzie said she knew Abby had left because she had left a note, which was never found. Lizzie claimed that she had been in the loft of the barn looking for iron when the murder of her father occurred. The loft was thick with dust and no footprints were found. No one had been up there for some time. The only thing that brings some doubt is the question as to why Lizzie was not covered in blood, even if she had changed dresses or as some have theorized, killed in the nude. Was it possible that a stranger had commited the murders? And is there truth to the gossip that Andrew had an illigetimate son who was the axe wielder? We'll never know.

Lizzie and Emma moved from the house five weeks after Lizzie was acquitted. They bought a large home up on The Hill, which was the posh part of town, and named the home Maplecroft. Lizzie never married, but this could be because she may have been gay. On the seedy side of things, Lizzie met a beautiful actress named Nance O'Neil in Boston and it was rumored they carried on a long affair. And there are theories that Bridget and Lizzie were having an affair and the discovery of this might have prompted the murders. Lizzie died on June 1, 1927 at the age of 67. It was due to complications from gall bladder surgery.

The Lizzie Borden House has passed through several hands over the years, Lizzie and her sister sold it in 1918, and it has served many purposes. The home has been a boarding house, a printing business was once located inside as well as a toy shoppe, an insurance man lived in it as a home and today it is a Bed and Breakfast that doubles as a museum. Tours are offered and ghost cams have been installed for people to watch activity online. And why would there be ghost cams? Because this house is considered one of the most haunted homes in the country. And why wouldn't it be with an unsolved heinous crime involved?

Guests and employees of the Bed & Breakfast have all reported unexplained occurrences. A woman is heard softly weeping. The apparition of a woman in Victorian clothing is also seen. This spirit sometimes appears to be dusting furniture or straightening beds and this is while people are still in the beds. The typical opening and closing of doors happens and disembodied footsteps are heard in the hallways and on the stairs. Cold spots are felt throughout the house that seem to be more than just drafts. One visitor claimed that he entered his room and found it in an orderly fashion. He turned his back to the bed as he unpacked and when he turned around, he found the bed rumpled and indented as if a body were lying atop the bed. The pillow was indented as if a head were lying on it.

The rooms at the Bed & Breakfast each have distinct names, named after family members. One woman reported the following after her friend stayed in the Bridget Room:
"I just spoke to my friend in PA tonight, who stayed years ago in the Bridget room. She told me she awoke in the middle of the night and she felt as if someone was sitting on the end of the bed. She evidently turned on the light, and could see a depression where they were sitting."
Paranormal investigators have researched the home for years, including Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Many claim crazy activity in the basement. People have been pushed, scratched and cameras set up for recording have been physically moved by an unseen entity.

It may not just be Abby and Andrew haunting the place. Andrew's uncle had lived on the same property earlier in a house next door and his wife had tried to drown their children in the well, successfully killing two of the three, and then committed suicide by slicing her own throat with a straight razor. Is there an evil entity here that fed off the discourse in the family? Did it lead family members to kill each other?

Are the spirits of the Bordens still living in their home in the afterlife? Is there an evil spirit on this property? Did Lizzie Borden kill Andrew and Abby? Is the Lizzie Borden House haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show notes
Crime scene photos:
Official site for the Lizzie Borden House: