Human beings are fallible creatures. We have been for as long as we have been human. We are not only fallible but can be utterly disrespectful of our fellows and even vicious toward them (as well as toward non-human animals). The Borden murders, regardless of who committed them, are only one example among a seemingly endless number of how cruelly people can harm other people.
Thus, throughout recorded history Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and probably even in prehistoric periods Ã¢â‚¬â€œ humans have sought to restrain the destructive impulses of those unwilling or unable to restrain themselves. In other words, they have sought to Ã¢â‚¬Å“policeÃ¢â‚¬Â their environments. Police are a vital component of civilization. Since police in the United States wear blue uniforms, it has been said that they are Ã¢â‚¬Å“the thin blue lineÃ¢â‚¬Â that prevents an eruption of chaos in the midst of civilization.
The city of Fall River, Massachusetts, so well known to readers of this journal and dear to some of them, boasts a police department with a distinguished and often colorful history. Current Fall River Chief of Police John M. Souza writes in the official website of the Fall River Police Department that it Ã¢â‚¬Å“has the enviable distinction of being one of the oldest police departments in the country. Our long and proud tradition dates back to 1854, when the first constable hit the street to begin his tour of duty.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Although the present FRPD traces its origins back to the first constable of 1854 when the city charter was adopted, there was law enforcement in the town prior to that. The FRPD website reveals that in 1636 constables were elected by the General Court at Plymouth. The website states, Ã¢â‚¬Å“After the union of colonies in 1692, the general Court of Massachusetts passed a law requiring Ã¢â‚¬ËœtithingmenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to be chosen in every town.Ã¢â‚¬Â However, the role of these officials appeared to evolve from what modern people would recognize as police duties to the limited and archaic role of enforcing laws then in place about keeping the Sabbath.
With the creation and acceptance of the Fall River city charter in 1854, a total of fifteen men were on the Fall River police force. Seven of them served during the daytime and eight during the night. It is easy to surmise that an extra police officer was thought necessary after dark as so many criminals use the cloak of darkness to cover their nefarious activities.
As the population of Fall River increased, criminal activity inevitably grew with it and the police department expanded to keep pace. The FRPD website notes that the force consisted of twenty-eight men by 1872, Ã¢â‚¬Å“twenty two of whom were on night duty.Ã¢â‚¬Â By 1874, the number rose to seventy.
The website notes that the City Marshal in those days kept a list of arrestees by occupation. It continues, Ã¢â‚¬Å“In 1877, among those listed were one phrenologist, two physicians, one school master, one music teacher, one druggist, eleven firemen, two undertakers, and one hundred forty four housekeepers. The remainder were laborers, spinners, and weavers. Out of 2,419 arrests, 1,319 were for drunkenness.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The brief information quoted above is richly evocative of the Fall River of the time period. Ã¢â‚¬Å“PhrenologistÃ¢â‚¬Â is an occupation that might even be unknown to the 21st Century reader although it will be familiar to most readers of this journal who are likely to be well acquainted with things particular to the Victorian era. Dictionary.com defines phrenologist as Ã¢â‚¬Å“a specialist in phrenologyÃ¢â‚¬Â and phrenology as Ã¢â‚¬Å“a psychological theory or analytical method based on the belief that certain mental faculties and character traits are indicated by the configurations of the skull.Ã¢â‚¬Â
It is also fascinating to note the sheer number of the arrested who were housekeepers and how much greater the representation of people with this job was than the others specified. This reflects the truth that domestic service employed a great many people in the 19th Century. Prior to the introduction of such modern conveniences as vacuum cleaners, laundry machines, and dishwashers, cleaning a house and keeping it operating took a great deal of time and work so many people were employed in this field. Anyone familiar with the Borden case knows that, at the time of the murders, the family employed housekeeper Bridget Sullivan. The family had previously employed a housekeeper named Ã¢â‚¬Å“MaggieÃ¢â‚¬Â and Emma and Lizzie called Bridget by that name, a practice by which Bridget testified that she was not offended.
However, housekeepers, both then and now, were not among the most highly paid workers. Thus, they might be tempted to supplement their legitimate earnings with those not-so-legitimate. It is also possible that they might have endured stresses connected with low incomes or with working on a very intimate basis with demanding or irritable employers that contributed to their committing other sorts of crimes. Some students of the Borden case have believed that Bridget Sullivan was the true culprit and have cited possible strain with Abby and Andrew Borden as reasons to see her as guilty.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The remainderÃ¢â‚¬Â of those arrested in the account quoted above were employed as Ã¢â‚¬Å“laborers, spinners, and weavers.Ã¢â‚¬Â Few people in todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s United States work as spinners and weavers because these jobs have to a large extent been automated out of existence or been outsourced overseas by American companies. Laborers are not uncommon but much less common than during the 19th Century, as so many factory positions have become heavily mechanized in our era.
That over half of Fall River arrests in 1877 were for drunkenness also tells a tale and one that ties in with the observations made above. Since this period was well before Prohibition and the consumption of alcohol was legal, it must be surmised that those arrested were drunk in public. Intoxication is often an all-too-tempting way to soothe oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pains, both physical and psychological, for those who do manual labor and/or suffer the deprivations of poverty.
The FRPD website reports, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The patrol-wagon system was instituted in 1890 and twenty years later, the automobile replaced the horse-drawn wagon.Ã¢â‚¬Â As would be expected, the FRPD changed with the times.
Pre-Borden murder cases
A murder in 1891 reminds us that America is a nation of immigrants Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a fact responsible for the glorious diversity of our national character but also inevitably the source of tensions that can sometimes turn tragic. Indeed, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Fall River was a special magnet for people who journeyed to the United States from other countries. The history section of the website of the Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry explains, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The abundance of work available in the mills drew immigrants from around the world. A steady wave of English, Irish, Russian, Lebanese, French, Polish and Eastern European Jewish immigrants flocked to Fall River and its surrounding cities to staff the factories and mills. They arrived in such vast numbers that by 1900, Fall River had the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the entire country.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To return to the 1891 murder that illustrated the tragedy that can result from ethnic conflicts in this nation of immigrants, Rebello writes that spinner Mathew Cullen was Ã¢â‚¬Å“murdered by one of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœgang of ItaliansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ after he Ã¢â‚¬Å“made a profane reference to a half dozen Italians.Ã¢â‚¬Â Two men were charged and convicted.
Fall River was the scene of a patricide in 1882. Rebello writes that James McDougall, Jr. shot his father five times. However, his father did not die so McDougall, Jr. was sentenced to prison for only six years. Rebello adds, Ã¢â‚¬Å“After his imprisonment, his father died and consequently James was sentenced to an additional six years.Ã¢â‚¬Â Readers who believe Lizzie Borden was guilty may see a parallel to the case in that of James McDougall, Jr. Those who believe her innocent will, of course, reject any such parallel.
Police at Rocky Point
Much of the Fall River Police Department was away from Fall River on the day of the murders. The FRPD had been taking an annual excursion to Rocky Point, an amusement park in Rhode Island, for several years, and that was where many police officers were on August 4, 1892.
Rebello quotes the Fall River Daily Globe, Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was also remarked as somewhat singular, that this, the worst and most aggravated crime in the annals of the city, should be committed on the one day of the year, when four-fifths of the police force were absent on their annual outing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Was the fact that these double murders were committed on the day on which members of the FRPD were on their annual outing simply a coincidence? Probably. However, it also seems at least possible that whoever committed the crimes knew about the excursion that was scheduled and timed the slayings to coincide with it.
Rebello also quotes Edward Rowe Snow in Piracy, Mutiny and Murder, a book published in 1959, as suggesting that the confluence of the Borden murders and the Rocky Point outing led to the FRPDÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s abandoning the practice of taking annual trips to the amusement park: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is said that they [police department] have not had a similar excursion since.Ã¢â‚¬Â However, Rebello then points out that this does not appear to have been true as contemporary sources such as the Fall River Daily Globe and the Fall River Daily Herald reported that there was an excursion the next year but that most police officers remained in the city while only members of the night patrol went to Rocky Point.
Top cops who investigated the Borden butchery
The Fall River Marshal, (Ã¢â‚¬Å“MarshalÃ¢â‚¬Â being the title of the head of the police department) in 1892 was Rufus Bartlett Hilliard. He had grown up living a traveling life. However, the nomadic lifestyle of the young Rufus had not been fueled by adventure but made necessary by tragedy. According to Rebello, Hilliard was born in 1850 in Pembroke, Maine. When little Rufus was only two, his mother died. The toddler traveled to Pennsylvania to be cared for by his grandparents. They died and the boy went to live with an older sister who resided in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Still later, for reasons this writer was unable to discover, the growing boy went to live with another older sister in Newcastle, New Hampshire. In 1865, at the age of 15, he enlisted in the army. His tour of duty up, he went to Lowell, Massachusetts and studied mechanical engineering. In 1874, he traveled to Fall River to work at the American Print Company.
Hilliard apparently decided on a career change in 1879 when he entered the Fall River police force. His work as a police officer must have impressed his superiors as he became a sergeant three years later in 1882. Four years after that, he was appointed Fall River City Marshal. During his tenure in that position, he would deal with Fall RiverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most famous unsolved murder case.
In 1888, Hilliard married Nellie Clark, who taught sewing at the Fall River Technical High School. A son named Dana S. Hilliard was born during the marriage.
Marshal Hilliard played an extremely prominent role in the Borden drama. Rebello quotes the Fall Evening News as reporting that Hilliard led the search of the home that took place on the Saturday after the slayings. Rebello later reports that the clothing of the victims was initially in the custody of Marshal Hilliard and returned to him after being examined by doctors. Marshal Hilliard and Mayor John W. Coughlin informed Lizzie on August 6, 1892 that she was suspected. On August 11 of that same year, Hilliard went to Lizzie and told her, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have a warrant for your arrest for the murder of Andrew J. Borden.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Hilliard remained as Marshal until 1909. He died in 1912.
In 1989, a gift of Marshal HilliardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s papers was made to the Fall River Historical Society. The gift giver was Donald A. Bradbury whose late wife, Jean Bradbury, previously Jean Hilliard, was Marshal HilliardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s granddaughter.
Fall RiverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Assistant City Marshal in 1892 was John Fleet. Like so many Americans, and as noted especially typical of Fall River residents in the period under discussion, he came to this country from foreign shores. Born in Lancaster, England in 1848, Fleet immigrated to the United States. According to Rebello, when Fleet was first in this country, he worked in American Linen Mills. Rebello reports, Ã¢â‚¬Å“In 1864, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving in the Civil War.Ã¢â‚¬Â After completing his military service, he worked at the Fall River Boiler Company. Fleet appears to have been someone of varied interests and talents as Rebello also writes that he worked as a painter and house decorator.
In 1877, Fleet joined the police force. Five years after he joined, in 1883, he was made a sergeant. He rose to Assistant City Marshal in 1886.
At LizzieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trial, Assistant City Marshal Fleet testified that Lizzie gave him the following explanation for her whereabouts when her father was murdered: Ã¢â‚¬Å“She then went out into the dining room to her ironing but left, after her father was laid down and went out in the yard and up in the barn.Ã¢â‚¬Â He further testified that Lizzie Ã¢â‚¬Å“said she remained up in the barn about half an hour.Ã¢â‚¬Â He also testified about finding the famous handle-less hatchet that the prosecution contended was the murder weapon.
Fleet succeeded his boss, Hilliard, as Marshal in 1909.
Fleet was married to Lydia Wallace. Four sons and a daughter were born during their marriage. Fleet was a member of several fraternal organizations including the Richard Borden Post, the latter once again reminding us of how prominent the Borden name and family was in Fall River. Fleet died of a heart attack in 1916.
Like John Fleet, William H. Medley was an immigrant from England. Born in that country in 1853, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1869 when he was sixteen. The Medley family settled in Lowell, Massachusetts where young William found work in a textile mill. He came to Fall River in 1876 where he worked in another mill. During this time he was active in the MulespinnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Union and had writings published in a union publication appropriately titled The Labor Standard.
Medley joined the Fall River Police Department in 1880. Rebello writes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“One of the first important cases in which he appeared as a witness was the Borden case; several phases of which were investigated by Officer Medley.Ã¢â‚¬Â He was promoted to inspector with the rank of lieutenant eight months after the Borden trial. He was appointed Assistant City Marshal in 1910. He became Chief of Police in 1915 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the title that had succeeded the title of Ã¢â‚¬Å“City Marshal.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Along with wife Mary and daughter Kathleen, William H. Medley was involved in a serious automobile accident in 1917. Medley died three days afterward. Mary and Kathleen survived the accident.
Captain Philip Harrington was a true son of Fall River, having been born in that town in 1859. He was part of the working world from a young age, working as a boy at his fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grocery store and as a messenger for Western Union Telegram. For three years, he apprenticed as a cabinetmaker at Borden & Almy.
In 1883, he joined the Fall River Police Force. He became a captain ten years later. Rebello reports, Ã¢â‚¬Å“He testified at the preliminary hearing and trial as to his investigation the day of the murders.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Harrington was married twice. His second marriage was to Kate Connell and took place on October 11, 1893. He died less that three weeks after the wedding at the age of thirty-four.
Fall River Police Headquarters
At the time of the Borden slayings, the headquarters of the Fall River Police was known as Central Police Station. The FRPD website describes it as Ã¢â‚¬Å“a large granite structure.Ã¢â‚¬Â It was located on what was then called Court Square. Rebello notes, Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a relatively short distance from the Borden home on Second Street.Ã¢â‚¬Â Judge Josiah C. BlaisdellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inquest and preliminary hearing were held there.
This large granite structure had been built in 1843 but not as a police headquarters. It had been called the Richardson House and came equipped with a large stable. At the suggestion of Mayor Nathaniel B. Borden, Fall River bought the building to use it as police headquarters in 1857. The name of that mayor is yet another reminder of how significant the Borden family was in Fall River.
The city had the building remodeled so it could serve its new designated function. Prominent among those helping to remodel it was Southand H. Miller, the man who built the home at 92 Second Street in which the Borden murders were committed.
The building was remodeled a second time in 1874.
Fall River Police moved their headquarters to a recently completed building on Rock St. in 1911. Just five years later, in 1916, they moved to the Police Headquarters Building on the corner of Bedford and High Streets.
The FRPD website reports that construction of a new police headquarters began in 1996 and was finished by 1997. The FRPD is currently headquartered at this new building at 685 Pleasant Street.
Prohibition, traffic lights, and a parade with John F. Kennedy
Like many other law enforcement agencies, the Fall River Police Department faced special challenges when the eighteenth amendment banning the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was passed to the United States constitution. A Prohibition Squad was formed especially to deal with these offenses. Presumably the officers in it either received other assignments or had to look for new avenues of employment when the twenty-first amendment rescinding the experiment in prohibition was passed in 1933.
Many changes were made over the years as the FRPD changed with the times. Up until at least the 1950s, Fall River police often directed traffic. The proliferation of traffic lights eventually made this duty unnecessary.
On May 30th, 1956, Fall River received a special honor as then-Senator John F. Kenney appeared in a parade beside then-Deputy Chief Ralph Cruedele.
The contemporary FRPD is made up of twelve departments: Uniform Division, Major Crimes Division, Special Operations, Staff Services Division, Auxiliary Police, Traffic Enforcement, Traffic and Parking Division, Emergency Response Team, Honor Guard, K-9 Unit, Animal Control, and Professional Standards. The titles of most of these divisions are self-explanatory. Special Operations was called the Community Policing Division when it was formed in 1993. The website continues, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Officers from the division worked to form partnerships with the community and brought the community policing philosophy to the city.Ã¢â‚¬Â After this philosophy was adopted more generally by the FRPD, the Community Policing Division was re-named the Special Operations Division. Officers in this division work with people and groups in various neighborhoods. The website says they are Ã¢â‚¬Å“charged with identifying current and future neighborhood problems, gathering intelligence, preventing gang violence and recovering firearms in the city.Ã¢â‚¬Â The K-9 Unit is made up of human officers and trained dogs (K-9, canine Ã¢â‚¬â€œ get it?). The Honor Guard participates in marching competitions and other special events. The FRPD website states, Ã¢â‚¬Å“These officers train monthly, practicing synchronized marching drills, funeral ceremonies, flag folding and presentation while proudly representing the men and women of the Fall River Police Department.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Fall River Police Memorial is dedicated to officers who died in the line of duty. It consists of plaques and statues.
Several special events and projects are undertaken on an annual basis by the FRPD. There is a Thanksgiving Basket Food Drive. Food is collected that includes canned food, food in boxes, and non-perishable foodstuffs. The FRPD also collects food specific to the Thanksgiving holiday such as stuffing and gravy or gravy mixes, canned and boxed potatoes, and items like applesauce and cranberry sauce. Bins in which to place donations can be found in the lobby of the FRPD headquarters as Thanksgiving approaches.
Along with other Fall River City governmental offices, the FRPD holds an annual auction for goods considered no longer useable by prior owners and for items found but unclaimed. The website states, Ã¢â‚¬Å“These items may include vehicles, bicycles, electronic equipment, household goods, computers, [and] computer parts.Ã¢â‚¬Â It also states that Ã¢â‚¬Å“all items are auctioned in an Ã¢â‚¬Ëœas isÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ condition.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The FRPD has an Annual Scholarship Reception for the Thomas J. Giunta and Richard G. Magan Memorial Trusts. At these receptions, dinners are served and the scholarship checks are presented. Both Thomas J. Giunta and Richard G. Magan were Fall River police officers who lost their lives on their jobs.
The FRPD works in the present and prepares for the future. It has come a long way from its origins. However, it has not forgotten the crime that catapulted Fall River to fame. On the FRPD website, City Marshal Rufus B. Hilliard is identified as Ã¢â‚¬Å“arresting officer of record of Lizzie Borden.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Gates, David, Newsweek, June 4, 1983, p. 12.
Rebello, Leonard. Lizzie Borden: Past and Present. Al-Zach Press, 1999.