Lizzie Seems Lonesome Tonight

Lizzie Seems Lonesome Tonight Lizzie Borden, c. 1895

Lizzie Seems Lonesome Tonight Lizzie Borden, c. 1895

Today is that infamous day on which Lizzie Borden took an axe. Or perhaps it was the maid Bridget, or her sister Emma, or an unknown stranger with a grudge against Andrew J. Borden who so deftly executed that hottest of cold cases.

If only the dead could return and solve the mystery….

Andrew J. Borden Heard From.

Andrew J. Borden has been heard from. A New Bedford medium declares she has had a chat with him. The old gentleman has kindly, according to this source of information, taken a hand in trying to unravel the snarl into which the Fall River authorities have tangled themselves regarding his untimely taking off, and to save his daughter.

The medium’s husband, also a Spiritualist, brought the news to the Border City to-day.

Mr. Borden’s communication, to which he desired his name appended, reads as follows:

“Now, I know Lizzie seems lonesome tonight, you are strangers to me. Please have this published and signed Andrew J. Borden.

“The man who wanted to ride to New Bedford and would pay well for it is the man who murdered me and my wife. His height is 5 feet inches, complexion light, color of hair auburn brown, smooth face, light blue eyes, weight 145 pounds, 39 years old, wore dark clothes.

“His name is ___ of ___

“He started to come to New Bedford, went through Acushnet to Mattapoisett, then to Wareham, from there to Kingston depot, through South Carver on foot. Took the 7:22 morning train at Kingston for his home via South Shore Railroad. I know he can be found. He has a wife and three children, two boys and one girl, the girl 3 years old.

“This man lives alone in the house—no other tenants. He has a farm. If the Pinkerton detectives should inquire any one would tell them where he lives. Now, I want you to attend to this. This man drinks, abuses his wife and children. My wife was killed first, between 10 and 12 o’clock. I was asleep when I was struck, and can’t tell what time it was. He used an axe to commit the deed. He buried the axe on the road to Flint Village, on Pleasant street, South Road.

“Now, I want you to write to Emma, my daughter, about this. Often I think of her. Kent says Lizzie is innocent, and I say so also. Now, clear my child.

Aug. 12, 1892. Andrew J. Borden”

The medium is said to be not a professional, but a woman who came to New Bedford but recently from Canada, and who has never been in Fall River or in any of the other places mentioned, save New Bedford, in her life.

Boston [MA] Journal 15 August 1892: p. 2

Pretty quick work for a man who had only been dead a little over a week. And a remarkably detailed description from someone who was asleep when the fatal blow was struck. The murderer’s travel route is also a helpful detail.

A few days later, Mr. and Mrs. Borden popped in and Mr. Borden explained how he had gotten his information.


Both Mr. and Mrs. Borden Talk

The Latter Comforts Lizzie.

[Special from a Staff Correspondent.]

New Bedford, Aug. 16. Two more messages have been received from the spirit world.

Monday evening the spirit of Andrew J. Borden knocked again at the brain of this New Bedford medium, while tonight from 8 o’clock until 10:30 the spirit of Mrs. Borden whispered strange words that may or may not mean much.

Monday Night’s message from Andrew J. Borden read as follows:

“No one knows where the axe is but you. Now I want you to publish when you go to the hidden scene; start early in the morning when the air is clear. Two weeks from now you will know much more about this. We want justice done to this dear woman.”

“Do you mean the medium?”

“Yes; you must see, my friend, that she is well rewarded. I know you can find the axe. A number of persons have been there but have found no trace. Even the man who hid it cannot locate the place now. You cannot find the axe unless the medium goes with you. They have not got this man’s name I gave you; don’t wait too long before you go for the man.”

“Shall I write to the Pinkertons?”

“Don’t write; let them come to you.”

“Did the man have dark circles beneath his eyes?”


“Were his clothes a dark blue instead of a black or dark brown?”

“I cannot tell; only they were dark?”

The last question, which was printed in the Post yesterday, was answered thus:

“When I was struck, I was in the mortal, when I saw I was in the spirit; I feel I am losing my strength; I must leave you; good night.

Andrew J. Borden.”

This evening the following was received from the spirit of Mrs. Borden:

“This is Mrs. Borden. I have come to thank you for what you have done for us.”

“Can you give us a test?”

“Tell them to take care of my things and a copied picture. I will do as much to help them. Tell Lizzie I know the window was left open; I know the man can be found. Please write this to Emma: “’I want to know the reason you don’t go to Fall River.’”

The reason was given and accepted by the spirit, and the influence left, signing “Wife of A.J. Borden.”

Boston [MA] Post 17 August 1892: p. 2

Ah, so the axe cannot be found without the medium. It was kind of the victim to recommend the medium for a reward…  I wonder about that cryptic question for Emma. Although Emma was visiting friends out of town at the time of the murders, it has been suggested that she made a flying visit home to commit the murders then rushed back to her friends without being missed.

The police apparently looked at New Bedford travelers, but quickly dismissed the medium’s lead as worthless.

Did the New Bedford medium’s description cast a pall of suspicion over any actual person? Despite the Post’s need to avoid a lawsuit, why bother to put in those damned discreet dashes when the medium had practically drawn an Identi-kit sketch and a map?

Most of the locals had trouble imagining that a refined young lady like Lizzie Borden could perpetrate such an unspeakable crime. Surely it was more likely to have been the work of a madman or of some enemy of Andrew Borden, who had a reputation as a “hard businessman.” In an article linking the Carrie Brown “New York Ripper” murder with that of the Bordens, this astrologer proved to his satisfaction that the murderer could only have been a man:

borden murder astrology chart

The above chart shows the position of the signs and planets when the bodies of Mr. Andrew J. Borden and his wife were discovered on the 4th of August, 1892, at 11:13 A. M., in Fall River, Mass.

The afflicting planet in this figure is Mars in Aquarius in the 4th house, in close opposition to the Sun in Leo in the mid-heaven. It also shows beyond a question that it was a man, and not a woman, who did the deed, and he had no one with him.

Mars in Aquarius, the books say, “gives a well composed body, rather corpulent, inclined to be tall, although frequently not above the medium height [I should say about 5 feet 8 inches], with a fair or sanguine complexion, sandy or auburn hair, mustache is yellow or sandy, round face, high forehead, quick, sparkling eyes, and has a straight and proud walk.” Mars, in opposition to the Sun, “denotes a man of great ambition and violence, but his fortune is too evil to allow him to succeed.”

Mars in the 4th house in a fixed sign, indicates that the Bordens were murdered in their own house, also that the muderer did not go a way off, as in the case of Carrie Brown’s murderer. Therefore the murderer in this case is still in the neighborhood of the murder, or not very far away.

The student of Astrology will notice that in [this chart] of the heavens, the afflicting planets are masculine and evil, which denotes that they were men who committed the murders. The last chart is more marked in this respect than any of the others. The reason that the man got away unnoticed and unsuspected, is also indicated by the planet Jupiter in the 7th house, and falling cadent, and the Moon in the 3d house leaving a trine or good aspect of it.

The parts of the bodies injured are indicated by Sun in Leo, which rules the heart and upper parts of the body, and Mars rules all sharp tools or instruments.

I have been very particular in giving the description of the murderer in this case, and if this publication has any effect in leading to his conviction and clearing an innocent woman from even suspicion, I shall deem myself amply rewarded for my labor.

[Included with an analysis of the Carrie Brown (Old Shakespeare) murder, known as the “New York Ripper” case]

The Elements of Astrology, Luke Dennis Broughton, 1898: p. 85

I have absolutely no idea what any of that means, but the author seems certain that he had helped clear Miss Borden’s sullied name. And it is always fascinating,  to examine in retrospect what mediums and prophets of various sorts “see” in the wake of a murder. [See, for example, a description of the Lindbergh baby kidnapper by a German graphologist.]

As often happens in sensational murders, many persons, barely noticed at the time, became persons of interest. In this case, they were, of course, all men. Here is a selection, omitting the many reports of maniacal foreigners. Were any of these influenced by the medium’s description?

Mark Chase said he saw a man with a brown hat and black coat in a buggy in front of the Borden house just before 11 o’clock on the morning of the murder. He never saw the man before. Noon recess.

After the recess Dr. Benjamin J. Handy testified that he passed the Borden house between 10;20 and 10;40 on the morning of the murder, and saw a medium-sized young man of pale complexion, with eyes fixed on the sidewalk.

He was in the street, between the Borden and Kelly house, and attracted witness’s attention by his strange actions.

On cross-examination, the doctor said the man was walking slowly away from the Borden house, and seemed mentally agitated. The Evening World [New York NY] 15 June 1893: p. 1


Officer Saw a Man in Front of the House Just Before the Murder.

Fall River, Aug. 7. I have learned tonight that a man—and a suspicious man now—was seen in front of the Borden house at 10:20 or a little later Thursday morning.

He stood on the walk before the house, and the officer on that beat who has not told the story until now, could not see his face. He saw at a passing glance that the man wore a finely checked suit—a pepper-and-salt mixture, the policeman thought.

The office thought nothing of it at the time. A little later he learned of the tragedy. Then he recalled the man he had seen standing before the house, apparently without any special object in view.

He describes the man as rather tall and slimly built. A more detailed description he cannot give, for the stranger did not at that moment impress him as worthy of notice….

Now this man answers generally the description of two men, one of whom Mrs. Durfee heard threatening Andrew Borden one night some months ago; the other, the man whom the boy Keriouack says he saw in the act of scaling the fence in the rear of Borden’s house on the day of the murder and at about the time the crime was committed….[The boy] noticed that the man’s hat was slouched; that he was slight and pretty tall; that he had a dark mustache and wore baseball shoes. Boston [MA] Post 8 August 1892: p. 1

Of course, the usual assortment of cranks “confessed.” This gentleman had a very straightforward motive :

Charles Peckham, of Fall River, Mass., surrendered to the police on the 18th inst. declaring he killed Mr. and Mrs. Andrew J. Borden. He said he did the deed from pure love of blood. Peckham was locked up while the police made an investigation as to the truth of his story. He is a farmer and sixty-two years old. Turner County Herald [Hurley, SD] 25 August 1892: p. 2

One of the most striking theories of the crime is found in Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter, by Arnold R. Brown, whose theory is that Andrew Borden had an illegitimate son named William Borden who quarreled with his father over money and was the actual killer. Since my copy has gone missing, I’m relying on various summaries online, which may or may not be an accurate representation of the book’s contents, although it has to be said that most authorities on the Lizzie Borden case have discounted or denounced Brown’s theory.

William was said to be the product of an affair with Phebe Borden, who was married to Charles, Andrew Borden’s brother.  Better genealogists than I have certainly discovered this before me, but Andrew Borden apparently did not have any brothers or step-brothers. Phebe Hathaway Borden was the first wife of Charles Lott Church Borden. The couple had a son named William, but, again, I can’t find any evidence that they were related to Andrew, although a child could have been sired during an affair with anybody’s wife and half the county seemed to be named Borden. (Here’s a forum discussing some of the genealogical bits of this tangled story. And another discussion of the Borden families in connection with Brown’s book and some of the lurid third-hand stories that inspired his theory.)

Still, just because I notice patterns, it is one of those meaningless little coincidences that Phebe and Charles’s son William was born in 1853 and was 39 at the time of the murders, as the medium described the killer.

Confusing the nomenclature question even further, Phebe Borden was the name of one of Andrew’s sisters, as well as their mother. Charges of incest have been hurled at Andrew for over a century, but suggesting that he had a son with his sister would be a bit much even in a story rife with whispers of lesbian affairs, doors barred to keep out a molesting father, and a nude murderess.

Other visits or messages from the murdered Bordens? chriswoodyard8 AT

For a good summary of the Borden case see the links here.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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