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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Revolution Ends

 January 14 marked the release of the last of my trilogy on the Revolutionary War. It's fitting that the final book of this series, A British Governess in America, culminates with the burning of Groton, CT by the British in the final days of the long Revolutionary War. 

I've written before on this blog about the Ohio Firelands, which I investigated upon my return to my home state after an extended absence. The part of Ohio I returned to was part of the compensation the government extended to the citizens of Groton as payback for losing everything in the war. When I wrote this book, since I had already researched the fires, I tried to place myself in the town, and in the situation my heroine found herself in. As a stranger in the country, and an English lady, she found herself in a precarious situation each time she left the relative safety of the home. 

My heroine, Eleanor, spent her days hunkered down in her house, always concerned that there was not enough food in the house to feed her charges, and without the proper supplies to teach the children, who were relying on her for schooling. 

Somewhere along the way of putting together this story, I began to compare the life I was crafting for Eleanor to my own situation in the middle of a pandemic. I was virtually housebound, constantly concerned about if I had enough toilet paper, and afraid I'd run out of paper for my printer. 

We may be a long way from the America of 1783, but due to our current circumstances, maybe not that far. Here's hoping we can return to our normal lives in 2021. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

New Release -- A British Governess in America (Revolutionary Women Book 3) Kindle Edition by Becky Lower

Eleanor Chastain has never left her hometown in Sussex, England. For ten years, she’s been a governess to the local earl’s young children, and now that the last of them has gone to boarding school, she finds herself unemployed. But the earl has other plans for her—a nephew of his in the fledgling country of America desperately needs a guiding hand for his five youngsters. Though Eleanor wants no part of America or the earl’s nephew, she has no choice but to accept the “offer” and set sail for the war-torn country.

Patterson Lovejoy’s wife died two years ago in childbirth, and chaos has ruled his household since that dark day. Though he’s glad to have Eleanor’s help, he begins to wonder if the peace of mind he has enjoyed since her arrival is worth the torment he is feeling as time goes by—and he finds himself falling in love with her. He can’t allow that to happen, since he feels responsible for his wife’s death. Marriage--ever again—is out of the question.

But with the deciding battles of the Revolutionary War approaching, can they take a chance on their love, after all? Will the war end their secret longing for what might be between them before they can admit their need for one another? When the battle hits their home and they are separated, Eleanor discovers an inner strength she didn’t know existed, and Patterson must make a decision he never thought he’d face.


Reginald Patterson bustled into the room, finally, and sat behind his desk. “Miss Chastain, I wish to thank you for all your years of service.”

Eleanor bent her head to hide her tears from the earl. “You’re quite welcome, sir. I have enjoyed my years here.”

“Look at me, Eleanor.” The earl’s voice was soft.

Eleanor brushed the tears from her cheeks and slowly raised her gaze. The earl was smiling! How could he? Did he have no grasp of how her life was about to change? No, he could not fathom how her life would be upended. Only his life was important to him. He was smiling because he was probably happy to reclaim the coin he’d had to pay her over the years to educate his large brood. She gritted her teeth and locked her gaze on him.

“Do you suppose after all these years, I’d simply kick you out?”

“No, sir. I’m certain you’ll provide me with a letter.” Eleanor lifted her chin. “I have ensured that all your sons were properly prepared for Eton.”

“Yes, you have. My wife and I have made certain everyone in Sussex is aware of your value to us. But I’ve also informed everyone in Sussex that simply because we no longer have children at home, we still have need of you, and they shouldn’t bother attempting to entice you away.” The earl grinned at her.

Eleanor sputtered. “You did…what?”

“There’s still a job for you, Eleanor.” The earl rose and strode to the globe he insisted on having near his desk. He spun the orb so it showed England, the Atlantic Ocean, and America. Pointing to the American side of the Atlantic, he shifted his gaze to Eleanor. “You are going to America.”

Eleanor’s stomach clenched and she fisted her hands over the knot. “I beg your pardon?”


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

My dachshund Charlie – looking for the door into summer by Kaye Spencer #dachshund #pets #prairierosepubs #funnypetstories

I wrote this reflection the first winter Charlie, my rescue dachshund, lived with me (2012). He moved in with me that July, and we were still getting to know each other. He was barely four years old, and he had never been house trained.

I hadn’t yet discovered indoor pee pads. At the time, I didn’t have a doggie door, just a cat door, and it was too small for him to use. (That egregious oversight was soon remedied.) haha

Charlie - summer 2012

A dachshund as an exercise workout

 No one needs to purposely exercise in the winter when they have a wiener dog who needs to go outside on a below zero day with eight inches of snow on the ground. Let me tell you my story…

 I bundled-up my rescue dachshund, Charlie, in his cute little winter coat, and carried him outside, because he refuses to go out on his own if the temperature is below 90° F. I tried all the usual places for him to ‘do his business’, hoping he’d find one of them appealing. No luck. So, out into the neighborhood we ventured (not an unusual occurrence) with stops every ½ block or so to check for just the right spot.

My snow boots ar
e awkward and make me walk like a duck with snowshoes on, and my long heavy coat is fuzzy on the outside so when Charlie’s feet are too cold for him to continue walking (which is about every two feet), I hold him so his feet are in the fuzziness so he can get warmed up. Of course, the streets are icy and snow packed, but I only lost my footing twice. The first time I went down in a gracefully soft slow motion way in a snowdrift that cushioned my fall. No one saw it.

The second time, I lost it completely, sending Charlie nose diving into the snow. A guy driving toward us witnessed the crash, and he stopped to see if I was okay. We weren’t hurt. But it kicked into high gear my Charlie-must-pee-before-I-give-in mission.

By the time this outdoor adventure was over, I’d done deep knee bends, toe touches, and leg stretches to brush snow away from potential pee spots just so he could give me the old stink eye while standing and shivering on dry ground from which I’d gone to all the work to clear off the snow…just for him. Plus, Charlie weighs 15 pounds, so carrying that little tub of lard added to my aerobic workout. My heart rate was up, I was sweating, and I was on the verge of frostbite on my nose and cheeks but, by golly, I won the battle. He finally peed…35 minutes later and two pit stops back to the house to warm up.

Darn good thing I’m retired.

Darn good thing I love him to pieces.

And I get to do this repeatedly…all winter long…and next winter…

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Look for Kaye here:

Monday, January 11, 2021

What’s the first thing you do every morning? Me? Coffee! Before I can even consider doing anything else, I pour my first cup of steaming, fragrant brew. After nearly 40 years, my husband knows not to talk to me before I’ve had my first cup—I wouldn’t remember what he said anyway.

I started drinking coffee when I was very young. My first memories are sitting down with my Granddaddy Thrailkill and sharing a cup. Of course, mine was a cup of milk with just enough coffee to tint it a bit and his was black as pitch. But that didn’t matter to me: I was drinking coffee.

Coffee has been around a long time. From the legend of the caffeine-hyped goats in Ethopia in the 1400s, to monks drinking the brew to stay awake for evening prayers, to the fashionable of London visiting one of the 300 coffee houses in the mid-17th century, coffee is a permanent part of all cultures around the world.

Many times through the centuries, governments and clergymen have tried to ban coffee with little success. Mecca, Italy, Constantinople (Istanbul), even Prussia, where Frederick the Great tried to convince the populace that beer was a better choice for breakfast.

The Dutch brought coffee to New Amsterdam (New York) in the 1600s. After the “tea party” held in Boston Harbor, coffee became the American beverage of choice.

Coffee is said to have fueled the American Civil War. Soldiers wrote in their diaries of their need for their morning cup more often than they did rifles, cannons, or bullets. Men ground their own beans and brewed coffee in little pots call muckets. Some carbines even had built-in grinders so the soldier never went without.

There’s even a statue to coffee. At Antietam in September of 1862 19-year-old William McKinley made the most unlikely coffee run ever, dodging through heavy Confederate fire to deliver vats of coffee to the Union troops. No wonder he was elected president thirty-five years later.

Ah, that fabulous brew. Love it or hate it, it’s fully entrenched in our lives and in our kitchens.


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Friday, January 8, 2021

Countess Mabel Montgomerie -- a woman a head of her times or a monster in men's eyes?

 The first in a series of looking back and ancestors

Ever notice the media tends to be harder on women than men?  They critique their hair, what they wear.  If a women is strong she is portrayed as being hateful, mean or—excuse the slur—a bitch.  Men are not subjected to such criticisms.  You cannot go anywhere that you won’t see this in action: she’s too fat, too short, too skinny, her nose is too long, eyes close together, omg—she wore a pantsuit!  There is Miss America, Miss Universe, Mrs. America, Miss Black America—but where is the Mr. America or Mr. Universe?  Just stop and try to think of a platform that subjects men to those same demoralizing nitpicking.  Tapping my nails on the table, waiting.  Fashion throughout history was a means to see women conform.  Whatever the era the dress, customs, protocols and positions in life, all were dictated by men’s critical eye and control.  Along with the male point of view on the woman’s role in life, they have also managed what we know of how women lived, survived and dealt with their roles in a man’s world. 

Now extend that throughout history. There were a few matriarchal societies through the ages, the belief being you cannot tell a man’s true father at birth, but you knew who the mother was.  Those societies were stamped out, or consumed by male dominance.  This is not a rant of hating men, for I find them endlessly fascinating, only I am humbugged that women’s pasts are increasingly lost to our knowledge due to being relegated to “unknown mother”.  There were women over the centuries that seized life and molded the course of their destiny, their fortunes, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine (my 24th great-grandmother).  Only rarely have historians portrayed these women in the light of admiration.  Randall Wallace, in the screenplay for Braveheart, opens the movie with the line “...history is written by those who have hanged heroes”.  Women had often been portrayed as little more than servants to their husbands, a brood mare to bear heirs, and a piece of property easily discarded, once they have worn themselves out birthing babies one after another.  They were set aside, locked away in some nunnery— or sometimes died in highly suspect circumstances i.e. murdered— to make way for another younger, richer wife. 

 I had to wonder about this slant against women as I looked at my first ancestor in this series of blogs about unusual women:  Mabel Montgomerie.  She has been called many unflattering things, murderess, "l'Empoisonneuse", evil, greedy, wicked—and she paid the price for her deeds—real or rumored slander.  However, with history turning a blind eye to granting women their true recognition, it’s very hard to find the facts to refute these claims.  I can only ponder and try to be impartial in judging my ancestor, especially since some of the writings about her come from Orderic Vitalis, who was only two years old at the time of her death. 

(Countess Mabel Montgomerie's arms)

My 31st great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Mabel Montgomerie was born Mabel Talvas dame de Bellême et d'Alençon in Alençon, Orne, Basse-Normandie, France, sometimes around 1030.  As often the case for females, the exact date was not noted.  Neither was the name of her mother recorded, only singled out as “Hildegard, daughter of Raoul V de Beaumont”.   Even in death, Mabel is not allowed to rest in peace, as her tomb has been destroyed due to the hatred of her.  She was a wealthy Norman noblewoman.  She inherited the lordship of Bellême from her father, Guillaume II "Talvas" de Bellême, seigneur d'Alenço.  Mabel was a loyal woman, but that loyalty cost her when her brother exiled their father for various offences—his cruelty was legendary, they say—including killing their mother for daring to disagree with him on the way to church.  Being a loving daughter, favorite of her father over her brothers, she accompanied him in his exile, thus earning the amenity of everyone, automatically believing she was “cut from the same cloth”. 

Mabel and Guillaume sought the protection of Roger II "The Great" de Montgomerie, 1st earl of Shropshire, earl of Arundel & earl of Shrewsbury.  He was one of William the Conqueror’s counselors, but stayed behind for the 1066 invasion of England, actually left in power to run the whole of Normandy.  For that, William rewarded him with holdings of two powerful positions in England, and immediately he began building the massive Ludlow Castle.  Besides this, he eventually built his honours to number eight-three, over half of England and Normandy.  Small wonder, people called him Roger “The Great”.

(Ludlow Castle)

Mabel saw him as a husband worthy of her goals.  The Talvas convinced Roger they were the aggrieved party, and that her brothers were plotting to get rid of her, since Guillaume had named her as his heir.  Well, the brothers were plotting, so we have that much truth.  Her dowry was worth a king's ransom—if they could get his oldest son off their backs.  Mabel came with massive lands, endless wealth and a shrewdness that attracted Roger.  He was as ambitious as Mabel, if not more so, thus they seemed a perfect match.  Theirs was not only a brilliant political bond, it must have been a marriage of love, since she bore him eleven children!  Thus, Mabel became Countess Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Arundel—and eighty other titles—through her marriage to the eminently pious, Roger Montgomerie. Through the ages, Montgomerie men have proved time and again to warm to intelligent wife, relishing the challenge of women willing to step outside of the normal roles afforded females.  Following that tradition, Mabel was given free rein to be an equal partner to Roger.   

(Abbey of St Evroul)

But not in one matter—religion.  Montgomerie supported many churches and abbeys, and even built several abbeys on his different fiefs.  The biggest thorn in her side was the Abbey of St Evroul.  Religious views likely was one their first clashes of wills.  She was determined he curtail the huge fortunes he was placing in the hands of these monks and priests.  Roger was very devout, and the religious sects ran their monastery on his largess, frequently prevailing upon him to give more than the general tithing. Tithing was required in ancient times—everyone was to give ten percent of their income to the church.  Since he inherited control of her lands through the marriage, coin from her holding of Bellême, in northwest France, was going into the hands of these ever-needy monks without a bye your leave.  That didn’t sit well with Mabel. Most of this tale comes from writings of the monks, especially the head of the order—Abbot Thierry.  He was Roger’s confessor, so in spite of Montgomerie’s ever growing greed, the abbot proved adept at bending his lord’s will on concerns of the monastery.  Thierry heard the man’s confessions.  It was reasonable he likely knew Montgomerie’s nature, as well as Mabel’s.  Since the strong-willed Mabel’s attempt to curtail their monies, we have to take their reporting of incidents with a thimble full of salt.

(Abbey of St Evroul)

No matter what, Mabel could not influence her husband on this issue, especially this tug of war with Abbot Thierry.  Being a cunning woman, she devised an end run.  She began visiting the monasteries, with her full entourage.  Castles and the monasteries, in medieval times, were basically required to serve as hotels for traveling lords and ladies. Mabel created a win-win situation.  She would go traveling the countryside on the excuse of checking on her husband’s vast holdings, along with her one hundred knights and ladies, and various servants. These abbeys dare not offer insult to the countess, or run the risk of Roger withdrawing his support. They were forced to open their gates and all Mabel and her retinue in, to stay as long as they liked.  They would have to feed them—and all the horses.  Mabel saved money by not feeding the lot at the Montgomerie honours, and she was draining away the supplies bought with her husband’s monies. 

The Abbot tried to reason with her, that they were a poor monastery (which was not the truth and she knew it) and it would drain them completely to support her entourage.  Mabel was unmoved by his appeals.  When he said feeding one hundred knights, and providing for her “worldly pomp” was simply too much, Mabel said fine, she would leave.  But—she would return the next week with one thousand knights!  Thierry was furious—a mere woman daring to best him.  Likely, he knew he was losing this battle of the wills, so he countered, “Believe me, unless you depart from this wickedness, you will suffer for it!”  Much to no surprise, a few hours later at supper, Mabel suddenly was seized by stomach pains.  She retired for the evening and the queasiness turned to agony.  From this distance, we can assume one of the learned monks put something in her supper, and you can bet the incisively smart Mabel knew it, too.  Ceding the battle for the moment, she took her troops and left the monastery.  The monks were not content with that bit of mischief.  On the way home, Mabel stopped at the holding of Roger Suisnar.  Still feeling ill—according to the Abbot—Mabel demanded Suisnar he give her his infant child to suckle at her breast.  The child drew the poison from Mabel, who instantly recovered.  Only the small child died doing it. Mabel knew the monks had poisoned her, but instead of demanding her husband punish them, she wisely never went to the abbey again.

The next big black mark history sees against Mabel was endlessly hunger for more land—and vengeance against those who had opposed her, her father and her husband. Arnold de Echauffour, the son of Lord William Giroie, presented himself to Roger, seeking his aid.  William was an old enemy of Mabel’s father, and there was a long running blood feud between the Montgomeries and the Giroies.  Arnold was making his way back from Italy, and stopped to present himself to Earl Roger, hoping to gain favor.  Arnold sought to barter a truce between his family and the Montgomeries.  He even presented a fine fur cloak to Roger as a gift.  He wanted Roger to throw his might behind him, so he could see his ancestral lands restored to his father.  As Roger’s holdings were so widespread, he was always in the need of loyal knights, so having one less enemy was worth putting aside old grievances. Arnold swore homage to Roger, who gave him a writ for Arnold and his father to travel across Montgomerie lands without bother, and agreed the Giroies lands in Montgomerie’s hands would be returned to them.

It is reported that Mabel was less than happy with this turn of events.  She decided to avenge her father on her own, so it is written.  Here is where it’s murky, more rumors than fact, but history seemed determined to paint Mabel as a monster.  Tales say she prepared a celebratory drink to seal the pact, and had one of her prettiest ladies take the potion to him, before he left the holding.  Whatever the circumstances, Arnold did not trust the daughter of his old enemy, and refused her kindness.  Unfortunately, Gilbert Montgomerie, Roger’s only brother, was showing off, grabbed the goblet and gulped it down.  Gilbert was some miles away, when he fell ill.  Three days later he died in anguish.  Roger’s brother had been a valiant knight, and was much loved by all.  Roger adored his brother and grieved deeply.  

Some time later, Arnold did fall gravely ill.  Rumors swirled Mabel had poisoned him by sending some “special” refreshments to him.  It seems rather unlikely, if Arnold did not trust her, and proved that by refusing the drink she offered before, why would he accept another such beverage sent from her? Arnold, Lord Grioie, and his chamberlain, Roger Goulafre, all fell ill, and had to be carried back to their castle.  Both Goulafre and Lord Grioie recovered with good care.  Arnold did not.  He died on the first of January 1064.  The lands he sought to claim stayed with Roger Montgomerie's possession.  After those events, the Giroie family fell on hard times.  Arnold’s infant children were sent to live as poor relations within the households of various lords across Normandy.  His wife sought refuge with her wealthy brother, Eudo, steward to the Duke of Normandy.  The Giroie family would never be powerful again.  Who poisoned Arnold?  There were several possibilities, but all fault fell on Mabel’s shoulders.  Few point at Roger Montgomerie, who gained as much as she did.  It’s just too easy to blame a female—just like they blame Helen of Troy for causing the Trojan War.

Roger held great influence with the duke of Normandy, who was paranoid about his vassals rebelling.  When Roger hinted this his neighbors were planning just this thing, the duke listened, and was only too happy to have Roger put down the so-called rebellion by striking first and seizing the lands of Eodolph de Toni, Hugh de Grant-Mesnil and Arnold d’Eschafuour, amongst many others.  So it was clear, Roger was as devious as Mabel, maybe more so.  When Mabel’s brother died in 1070, she finally seized control of that part of the lands of her father.  Between Roger and Mabel, they owned so many honours in three countries, that he was as powerful and wealthy as any king. 

That sort of influence, and sway with the kings of two nations, naturally fermented jealousy and enemies. Hugh Brunel de la roche was one of the knights who lost everything to Roger and Mabel.  Unable to accept the humiliation of losing his ancestral holding, he plotted to take his revenge.  During the long night of December 2, 1079, Hugh led his three brothers to force their way into Mabel’s quarters at Château at Bures-sur-Dives.  Mabel was relaxing in her chamber, enjoying a bath, when Hugh and his brothers burst in.  Before she could raise a cry, Hugh lopped off Mabel’s head with his great sword.  Her son, Hugh de Montgomerie gave chase to the murdering brothers; they evaded pursuers by destroying a bridge, knowing those following could not cross the small river due to wintertide flooding.  They left Normandy, never to return.

Mabel’s decapitated body was buried three days later at Troarn Abbey.  Her tomb was marked by an epitaph.

Sprung from the noble and the brave,
Here Mabel finds a narrow grave.
But, above all woman’s glory,
Fills a page in famous story.
Commanding, eloquent, and wise,
And prompt to daring enterprise;
Though slight her form, her soul was great,
And, proudly swelling in her state,
Rich dress, and pomp, and retinue,
Lent it their grace and honours due.
The border’s guard, the country’s shield,
Both love and fear her might revealed,
Till Hugh, revengeful, gained her bower,
In dark December’s midnight hour.
Then saw the Dive’s o’erflowing stream
The ruthless murderer’s poignard gleam.
Now friends, some moments kindly spare,
For her soul’s rest to breathe a prayer.

Mabel’s tomb survived into the early 18th century, but by 1752 it no longer existed.  No one knows what became of her body.

History, written by men, painted her as a monster, a poisoner.  But you have to wonder how much was really her machinations, and how much was blamed on her because she was an easy target.  She was beautiful, smart, aggressive, and dared to take a place in a man’s world.  I have to wonder if she is guilty more of those thoughts, than the supposed deeds attributed to her.

Her son carried the mantle of her animosity.  Robert de Belême de Montgomerie, comte de Phonthieu, 3rd earl Shrewsbury and Arundel, was known as "Robert the Devil."

Thank you for taking time to stop by and learn about Mabel, a woman ahead of her times.  I hope you will continue to join me on the second Saturday of each month, to learn of another colorful ancestor.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Recycling Victorian Style - The Murder Clues in Hidden in plain Sight

Recycling - Victorian Style - The Murder Clues Hidden in Plain Sight 

C.A. Asbrey

Lizzie Borden

One thing I found in my career as a police officer was that women noticed small details men didn't. It's a generalization, and not true of all women, or all men; but most accept that women in the law take a different approach and broadened the service considerably. It was that instinct which made me spot a few huge lies in the court transcript in the trial of the famous axe murderer, Lizzie Borden. I don't want to litigate the whole case here, just point a few abnormalities which were obvious to me. 

The first thing which caught my attention was Lizzie burning a dress in front of a witness, which was the same colour as the one she had worn on the morning of the murders, Lizzie's sister told those investigating that she had told Lizzie to burn the dress. She went on to confirm and that the Borden women had a habit of disposing of dresses in this manner. 

The reason I think this is a lie is that 19th century women most certainly did not dispose of dresses in such a manner. Not only was Andrew Borden famously parsimonious, it was a staggering waste of useful fabric. Now when I say Andrew Borden was mean, I mean miserly penny-pinching. In the middle of a crushing heatwave they had three-day-old mutton soup for breakfast. The soup was three days old - in a home with only a perfunctory icebox, in which all the ice had melted by the end of the day (according to the testimony of the maid, Bridget). Soup was traditionally made with the leftovers from a roast, and they were often served on a Sunday. There's a good chance the that meat in the mutton soup (being served on a Thursday) was actually a leftover from Sunday. There were reports of people in the family feeling unwell, other than just the maid. It's no great leap to suggest that leftovers kept for far too long in a heatwave might have been the culprit. The doctor did blame food left on the stove for days for illness in the family.   

We are talking about a man who was so mean, he would not even throw out old soup, and will serve it at unconventional times of day, to use it up. Would a man like that really allow his daughters to routinely throw out dresses in a town where the rag and bone collector would be prepared to give cash for rags older than a dress which had been recently in a good enough condition to wear? Seriously? Old clothes were normally mended, handed down to poorer relatives or servants. When gone beyond that stage they were cut down for cleaning rags, scraps used for quilting, shredded to use for stuffing, and even went into hand-made sanitary pads. By the time they got to the rag and bone man they were being sorted by pickers to salvage whatever they could, before being boiled down to make paper. Even buttons were kept and reused. Most households had a big collection of buttons which they used time and time again. The button eyes on homemade toys (more scraps of fabric) were generally the last of a set left, and unsuitable for shirts and the like, as they didn't have enough matching buttons to complete a garment. Nothing was wasted. And it was a remarkable enough act for a friend and neighbour to be taken aback by it. So I ask again, would dresses routinely have been burned? I say not. On top of all that, the dress had only been made three months previously by a local dressmaker. Lizzie contended that she got paint on the dress, so only wore it indoors, yet also complained that it was faded. How did a dress which she never wore outdoors become faded in only three months? The stains were also brown, the colour of dried blood. More than that, it had been completely missed in the police search of the house on the day of the murders. It shows that the police missed far too much. She probably hung a clean dress over it in the wardrobe, and the men just slid through each hanger without looking underneath.

On the night of the murder the constable guarding the house saw a lantern descend the stairs in the dead of night, and watched Lizzie scrub something in the sink. He did not challenge her, but he did record it.

On Saturday night the mayor came to the house and informed Lizzie she was a suspect. On Sunday morning she burned the dress. I contend that she wore that dress to kill Abby Borden, and then handed over another blue dress to the police for examination. It was confirmed at the inquest (all that evidence was excluded from the trial) that Lizzie had changed clothes that morning. A Mrs. Churchill stated that Lizzie lied about which dress she had been wearing. That was also excluded from the trial. Lizzie did something different for the second killing, which I'll go into later.    

And let's take a look at the rags soaking in the pail in the cellar. Those rags were homemade sanitary pads - which proves that the women in the household did use scraps of material in such a way. It's corroborating evidence that they used fabric like the rest of the women in society at that time, and that the dress burning wasn't usual. Whilst menstruating, Victorian women kept a pail, usually somewhere men rarely went, like the pantry or a corner of the kitchen. It contained a solution of cold water and bicarbonate of soda (great for getting blood stains out, try it.). As women's cycles tend to match up when living together, they would generally soak used pads for days, then at the end they would get boiled up in a copper for re-use next month. Hygiene standards were different back then. It was not seen as disgusting. It was seen as a good soak for stain removal. It was common practice. There was a privy in the cellar.

Such a bucket of bloody rags appeared the day of the murders, and the maid expressed surprise at finding it. Bridget's initial interviews say that periods finished the day before the murders, and that the bucket should have been gone as she'd washed everything the day before. That would indicate that it did not fit with the usual menstrual cycles of the household. The doctor did confirm that Lizzie was menstruating, but there's zero evidence that he really did examine her. She came from a wealthy, church-going family, and doctors of this period were notoriously prudish about examining women intimately. He was also a family friend. The male investigators never looked further at the collection of bloody rags, taking her word for it that it was menstrual blood. A blood speck on her petticoats was said to come from a 'flea bite' - Victorian code for a spot of menstrual blood. There were no tests to establish more that at the time, and they had no way to test whose blood it was.    

Under examination, the speck was on the outside of the petticoat, and not the inside where it would be expected to be. But why would there be blood there when her period finished on Wednesday, and the maid had already washed up everything in the pail? 
Bridget Sullivan

I have first hand experience of reactionary male reactions to menstruation. When my work took me around the world, I found that simply scattering a few sanitary products over my case meant that customs men were less interested in touching my case. The women smiled and examined the case as usual. They knew what I was doing, and found it amusing.  I wasn't smuggling, but it did mean I often cleared customs a lot quicker. The Victorian reaction would have been more extreme.

Looking at the floor plan, the guest room is next to Lizzie's bedroom. The doors to Abby and Andrews room was kept locked and connecting doors were blocked by furniture. Access to Abby, working in the guest room, would have been easy from Lizzie's room. Lizzie had a washstand and bowl in her room. It would have been easy for her to go back to her room, change dresses, wash, then take the bloody rags to the cellar knowing the maid was outside. There was nobody else in the house at that time. 

So as not to shock people, here is a link to a colourized version of the crime scene. The coat can clearly be seen above Andrew Borden's head.  (You may need to copy and paste the link into a browser.)

  Let's look at one more clue in the crime scene pictures. Andrew Borden was known to love his special overcoat, which was styled a 'Prince Albert Coat.' He was proud of it, and hung it by the door every time he came in, and replaced it the reefer jacket he wore indoors. He was identifiable in the area by it being his constant companion. There's no evidence that he wore it that day, the temperature was eighty-three degrees, but the area does get very humid, making the heat feel more intense and cloying than the temperature would imply. Whether he wore it or not, would he really have used it as a pillow? His head is already resting on at least one pillow. Did he need to use his prized coat this way? Wider shots show other cushions on other chairs. Why not use one of those? Underneath the coat you can see the newspaper he'd been reading, neatly folded. The coat isn't. Would a man known to be fastidious care more about his newspaper than his beloved coat? Clothes were expensive items in the 19th century, and a laundress was more likely to be targeted for robbery for the clothes she washed, rather than her meagre earnings (according to contemporaneous records). I contend he'd have been a lot more careful with it - and killers also make mistakes. This coat was one of them.

Clothes were only used as extra bed covers by the poor, as they had nothing else to add. That does not describe the Bordens.

letter to a local newspaper dated June 16, 1893 (The Knowlton Papers, page 250, HK235) signed "Concord, N.H. for Justice, suggests that the coat was used as an apron. Who was that really from?  Lizzie was 5'4" and her father was 5'11". That means that a coat which reached his knees would have been at least seven inches below her knee. Put on backwards it would have offered a great deal of protection from blood splatter. If he hadn't worn it, the coat would have been available for both murders, meaning that a few rags to clean the face and hands would have been sufficient but in the first murder the lower part of Lizzie's dress (and the petticoat which had a blood speck) would have been exposed. It is possible that Lizzie did not anticipate the amount of blood which would splatter on her her for the first killing, and made sure she protected her clothing for the second murder. Tellingly, the coat was not produced in evidence, or on the list of clothing buried with him. Where did it go after it was photographed above his head? Nobody knows. With the coat as protection, and standing behind the arm of the sofa (The point of assault - tests say the blows would take in the region of ten seconds) while striking the blows, most of the assailant's body would be protected.

Andrew normally hung his coat in the hall closet, and put on his house jacket. (Very normal at the time, Shirt sleeves were seen as common. Underwear was unthinkable.) It would have been easy for Lizzie to take that coat, put it on backwards, walk into the living room and bludgeon her father while standing behind the arm of the sofa. The coat was then bundled untidily near his head, hoping that the bloodstains would be assumed to have come from the head. The door to the dining room was right behind her, leading to a back door. Looking at the plot plan it was easy for her to go to the barn to clean up. Only her hands and face would have been exposed in the attack. The maid's room was attached to the kitchen by the back stairs. Using the barn meant that her cleanup was not in danger of being interrupted by the maid coming to use the most commonly-used water closet in the house. She was seen coming from the barn.

Nobody buys Lizzie's excuse for being in the barn - eating pears and looking for fishing weights. It was reportedly very hot, and dusty, enough in there for the police to note that she never left footprints (while they did), and the order in which she did things varied in different accounts. In her account she was rummaging through rubbish and eating fruit. Her hands should have been grubby with dust and juice. They were spotless. She claims she never washed her hands, but she must have. Nobody seems to have looked at the obvious reason for going to the barn. There was a water pump in there on the ground floor. That's where she cleaned up, and she had to admit to going to the barn as she was seen by the local ice cream man, Hyman Lubinsky. There's a good chance she also saw him, and knew she had to account for why she went there. That's why she didn't leave footprints in the dust in the loft. She was on the ground floor, washing under the pump, and disposing of the weapon. She didn't lie about going to the barn. She lied about why she went there. And she probably knew she had to. There was also an old privy, with a cesspit beneath, in the barn. The perfect place to dispose of an axe. The police say it was searched, but they missed the dress - and that wasn't at the bottom of a vault filled with faeces.    

The timescales are all dependent on us accepting both Bridget's and Lizzie's accounts. What if there was an argument between Abby and Lizzie, or an anticipated fight, and that's why the servant was sent outside to wash the windows? Victoria Lincoln, the late novelist, and neighbour of the Bordens, wrote that Abby was due to go to the bank to sign a deed for a farm that day, something which angered Lizzie. Families didn't like to argue in front of the servants. Abby was hit by a frenzied eighteen blows. That's the work of someone seriously worked up, and literal overkill. The killer definitely wanted to make sure Abby Borden was dead. The attack on Andrew Borden was also furious, but not quite as much. He had only ten wounds. Still far more than required, but the killer definitely wanted to make sure they were dead. Twitching may have made the killer continue to thrash out until convinced. 

But experience tells me not to accept Bridget's testimony. There's a lot she's not saying, and reading her testimony, prevarication seems to be her modus operandi. 19th century poor Irish people were culturally prone to mistrusting the law, due to their history of injustice in their homeland. Even having fellow Irishmen as officers didn't help too much. Those in charge still reflected the protestant oppressors of the old country. When asked about what dress Lizzie wore that morning, Bridget talks in general terms about what Lizzie often wore, but not that day. Her reaction to the killings is unusual too. 

Do we really believe that two women finding a relative's bloody body, after an obviously violent attack had the reaction they describe? Did Lizzie hate her stepmother so much she overlooked calling out for her at all? The servant never thought to look for her mistress either, and if that was a matter of emotional upset, why didn't they both run for help? I've arrived at crime scenes where grown men were at a neighbour's house because they thought a burglar was still in their home. For Bridget to leave Lizzie there alone, while she went for help, just doesn't fit, even with her sitting on the doorstep. This was an axe-maniac at large. Neither woman acted in a normal way. They knew they weren't going to be next, and where it doesn't show in their words, it certainly shows in their actions. One vital thing Bridget told the police is that she heard Lizzie tell her father that Mrs. Borden had received a note and had gone out. We know that is absolutely untrue as she was already dead. Lizzie clearly wanted to stop her father from looking for her stepmother. We also know that Abby's body was visible from the stairs Lizzie descended, as that is how the body was found.

After Lizzie 'discovered' her father she sent Bridget for help. She did so, but on her return, the doctor and another neighbour are already there. At this point Lizzie then tells Bridget that she heard her stepmother coming back, and asks her to check upstairs. When could Lizzie have heard her come back in? And if she did, why not shout for her to get out to safety when there's an axe murderer in the house? It's an obvious lie. We also know Mrs. Borden never left the spare room alive, killed before she could go anywhere. Not one single neighbour saw Mrs. Borden leave, and no note was ever found.

The witnesses saw the body from under the bed from the staircase. The same staircase Lizzie had walked down and paused on to laugh at the maid struggling to unlock the door when Mr. Borden came home.            

View of the spare bedroom from the staircase. Abby Borden' body was clearly visible.

Link to Bridget Sullivan' testimony. You may have to copy and paste:

Lizzie's lawyer paid the maid, Bridget Sullivan a sum of money to return to Ireland, which she did, quickly leaving the Borden home, and their employ. The  amount was not disclosed. She later travelled back across the Atlantic. Some say she went to Canada, but whatever route she took, she ended up in Anaconda, Montana.  She kept the name Sullivan as she married a John Sullivan (no relation, it's a very common name). As a retired woman she lived with her niece, who was the mother of the local Deputy Sheriff. It's worth noting that the younger Bridget had declared that her grandfather had died, and she'd inherited a small fortune. $1,000 in 1892 - worth $28,562.42 today. Genealogists have been unable to find any such relatives. That may seem a small sum to us, but to someone who lived on very low wages, and who would have been lucky to own more than two pairs of shoes, it would have been an unimaginable fortune. Many would suggest it was a payoff for the loyal servant who reportedly left the house on the evening of the murders carrying a parcel. Others would beg the question as to why any sum of money needs to have the proviso that a key witness needed to leave the country. Bridget also showed up at the trial in expensive new clothes. Who paid for those?            

Andrew and Abby Borden

The book, "A Private Disgrace", was written by Victoria Lincoln, who lived next door to the Bordens. In it she says that when the maid, Bridget Sullivan was ill in later life she asked an old friend, Minnie Green, who was also originally from Ireland, to visit her in her new home in Montana. That friend hadn't previously known that Bridget was involved in the Borden case. Bridget told Minnie of her fondness for Lizzie, considering her put-upon, and often taking her part in family disputes, and bringing her sweet treats. She also disclosed that she'd been less than candid in her evidence. Bridget extracted a promise that Minnie would never reveal what she'd been told. Minnie kept her word until after Bridget died, when she revealed to the local librarian that Bridget had helped cover for Lizzie. There are no details as to what exactly was lied about.  

Both Lizzie and Bridget's testimonies changed from the inquest the police reports, to the inquests, and subsequently to the jury, a point worth noting.  Also, those of you who know me, know that I generally contend that the last person to see the victim is usually the killer. It's just the way it so often is. Sure, they'll lie about details, timescales, and even what they did, but crucially, Lizzie Borden admitted to being the last person to see both victims alive, and was also seen walking from a place she could have safely cleaned up. Re Abby, Lizzie said at the inquest of the pillow slips, the last thing to be done to make up the guest room. "She had done that when I came down."

She then goes on to prevaricate and obfuscate, but she crucially placed herself with the victim, where she died, and as the last person to see her alive. Abby never made it out of that room after making the bed. Lizzie confirms the bed was just made when she saw her last.    

The same with her father :

Q. "When you went out to the barn, where did you take your leave of your father?" 

Lizzie. "He had laid down on the sitting room lounge, taken off his shoes, put on his slippers, and taken off his coat and put on his reefer. I asked him if he wanted the window left that way."

Q. Where did you leave him?

Lizzie: "On the sofa."

Q: "Was he asleep?"

Lizzie: "No sir."

Q: "Was he reading?"

Lizzie: "No, sir."

As you can see, she left him exactly as the crime scene pictures show, just as she did with her stepmother. She places herself with both victims at the point of their death. To any student of criminology, that is very pertinent. Ask any detective what they would think of the main suspect placing themselves at the point they were killed and you'll get a reaction. That alone doesn't prove guilt, but is very compelling. When placed alongside all the other evidence, it's very unlikely she'd have gotten away with it today. Even without modern forensics, a properly controlled crime scene, and thorough search would have made a huge difference. The police failed massively.

Both Lizzie and Bridget's testimonies changed from the inquest the police reports, to the inquests, and subsequently to the jury, a point worth noting.         

I could go through the all evidence, bit-by-bit, but I think it's already out there. I just wanted to post why I think Lizzie Borden was as guilty as hell. People told barefaced lies, which would never have been accepted by female prosecutors, or investigators of any gender, today. 19th century men accepted them because they could not conceive of an upper-class, church-going, monied, white female hacking anyone to death. The system did not want to hang one of their own. When the verdicts were announced there was violence in the streets. The working people of the area absolutely could see that a female could commit such a crime. The verdict was greeted by protests divided by class, religion, and race. Andrew Borden's insistence on saving money meant that his daughters did not live among the wealthy protestants. They lived in an area full of immigrants and Catholics. The police were largely Irish, and treated with disdain by the rich. Many accounts show Lizzie being distant, or even rude, to men whom she considered to be beneath her when questioned.

It didn't take long for this attitude to spread throughout the growing Irish community, and discord at the way a rich suspect was being pandered to, as opposed to the way their women were dragged to court. Disquiet grew. Lizzie was portrayed as virtuous, stable, and religious, where local businessmen had a different experience with her, and allegedly had thefts hushed up by the family. The notion of her being portrayed as a  'Protestant nun' (a contemporary term for rich women who were unable to marry because suitors would be socially beneath them) inflamed a community who knew, and did business with her. They did not see her that way at all. They thought she stole from them, and treated them with disdain. 

Let's look at Lizzie's character. She was indulged by her father and sister, but he was emotionally distant. She was rumoured to have been involved in a number of thefts, both in shops, and from the Borden household. She was arrested for theft in later life in Rhode Island. Lizzie was the baby of the family, and looked after by her older sister who promised their late mother she would always care for her sister. She was described as a dominating personality with a haughty air, and a tendency for massive sulks. There can be little doubt that money was the motive for the murders, and that Lizzie wanted what she wanted - and when she wanted it. The tantrum Lizzie threw in a pharmacy when refused prussic acid, is another telling character indication. She wasn't afraid to break rules to get her way. In papers released by her lawyer, she was seen to be emotional and very connected to her father, but he was remote and distant. No doubt some darker secrets would be unearthed by the press if this happened today, but there have been cases of parents killed by selfish children seeking financial freedom and suffering from affluenza. The White House Farm murders, and the Menendez brothers leap immediately to mind - and Andrew making a will had been discussed just the night before at dinner with Andrew's brother-in-law.    

The poorer people in the town saw the rich circling wagons to protect one of their own, and they were angry. The upstart Irish immigrants were those investigating the WASP woman who represented what some people thought the country should be - and they found her wanting. The first suspect identified by Lizzie herself was Portuguese. (He was cleared of any suspicion.) The rich sent Lizzie the same message when she was found innocent, but their usual method was a death by a thousand cuts. She could not possibly be hanged, but they had no intention of welcoming her back to the fold. Lizzie had no invitations, she was not welcome, and societies for which she was a patron asked her not to attend. She socialised in theatrical circuits out East, which resulted in further scandalous accusations, and her sister moving out. These people were not friends. They were curious about her infamy. She had moved to the wealthy area, but nobody wanted her there. The newly-named Lizbeth Borden lived an increasingly isolated life.

When Lizzie died, nobody came to the funeral. Nobody. The singer was paid, and told to sing the song Lizzie had asked for in her will to no-one but the funeral director. Lizzie did itemize in her will that certain people should attend. When they showed up the next day, they were told she was already buried the day before. Nobody can tell us why that happened, but it would seem that the people of Fall River might not be prepared to hang a rich white woman, but they were fully prepared to hang her out to dry for eternity.


Lizzie Borden's grave marker
I'll leave you with a fight witnessed by the Police Matron, Mrs. Hannah Reagan, in Lizzie's jail cell. She never forgot that Lizzie said to her sister, "Emma, you have given me away, haven’t you?”

They demanded a retraction when this was reported in the press. Mrs. Reagan refused. Why would she lie?



“She hasn’t got the combination to the safe,” said the manager. “You can scare her as much as you want. We all know you’re not gonna use that gun on us.”

Rebecca’s breath halted as she felt a careless arm drape around her shoulder.

“I don’t need a gun to hurt someone. Give us the combination.” The manager remained mute and turned his face away. “Your call, sir.” He pulled Rebecca around to face him as she gasped in alarm. “Just remember who you’ve got to thank for this, ma’am.”

He pointed over at the manager, who refused to meet her eyes. “That man right there.”

“Anything that happens to her is down to you. Not me,” said the manager.

Rebecca felt herself dragged from the room by one arm. She was pulled into the office next door and pushed against the wall. The man walked over and pulled down the blind before returning to her. Her breath came in ragged pants of fear. “Please, no. Don’t.”

He leaned on the wall, a hand on either side of her head, and pressed his face close. “You were gonna hold this place up. Are you some kind of idiot?”

She blinked in confusion. “Huh?”

The man pulled down his mask, revealing the face of the fair man who had walked into her office looking for Fernsby. “Don’t lie to me, honey. You had the same idea as we did— look at Meagher’s bank account to see where he gets his money. We’ve watched you march up and down outside this place all day, like you were on sentry duty, while you built up your courage. You even got in the way of us doin’ it. What the hell is goin’ on in your head? How dumb can a woman get?”

“You? Here?” She couldn’t quite decide whether to stop being scared or not.

“Yeah. Me.” He indicated with his head. “Now, Nat’s in there, and he needs the combination of the safe. It’s too new and sophisticated for him to crack the combination. You and me need to put on a bit of a show to make sure the manager gives it up.”

“You’re not robbing the bank?”

Jake huffed in irritation. “Try to keep up, Becky. I need you to scream for help so the manager gives Nat the combination to the vault. We want Meagher’s records too.”

She shook her head. “Me? I can’t scream.”

“What do you mean you can’t scream? All women can scream.”

“I can’t. I’m just not made that way.”

He frowned. “Look, Becky. If you won’t scream, I’m gonna have to make you. Let’s do this the easy way, huh?”

“Please, help! Noooo.”

Jake frowned. “You call that screamin’? That’s useless.”

“I told you. I can’t.”

Jake flicked up an eyebrow. “Last chance, Becky.”


“Nope.” A gloved hand reached up to her hat as his eyes glittered with mischief. “Don’t say you weren’t warned, sweetheart.”