Today I’m welcoming Laura LaFleur. She’s a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts and is quite familiar with one of its historic homes, the house of Lizzie Borden. Thank you, Laura for stopping by!
Sheila ~ Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Laura ~ I was born and brought up in Fall River, Massachusetts, so the story of Lizzie Borden was ingrained in my psyche like most people from a very early age. I’m a graduate of B.M.C. Durfee High School and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where I received my B.A. in English/Writing. I then pursued a teaching career which I did from 1989 to 2010.
Sheila ~ Care to share what house is so well-known in the city where you live and what historical events caused its notoriety?
Laura ~ Contrary to popular belief, the Borden House is not in a very good part of the city. It’s located very close to a high crime, drug infested area that most people know to stay away from. It is just far enough away to attract plenty of tourists and Borden enthusiasts, and the current owners have restored it beautifully. During the time of the Borden’s; however, it was considered a very nice, well groomed middle class neighborhood even though it was located “below the hill.” This term is still used in Fall River today to distinguish between the social classes who live here. I was born in the “Highlands,” above the hill, a few miles away from Maplecroft where Lizzie would later move after the murders. Due to ill health, I had to retire from teaching before my time, and I now live “below the hill”, and am quite content with my surroundings. It’s no secret that the Borden House is the most infamous and visited house in the city. I drive by it just about every day, and the “No Vacancy” sign is posted and people are lined up to take the daily tours that are offered, and they are well worth it. Basically you’ll learn that on August 4, 1892, the body of Andrew Borden was found on the couch in the parlor around noon time by his daughter, Lizzie. A media circus immediately ensued with police and reporters contaminating the crime scene. It wasn’t long until Mrs. Borden’s absence was brought up. Lizzie responded that she had received a note about a sick friend, but an immediate search of the house was made, and her body was found in the upstairs guest bedroom. This only added to the already ensuing frenzy, and word spread throughout the city that a crazed killer was on the loose. Lizzie was arrested a week later after displaying odd behavior, burning a dress she was ordered to bring in as evidence, and her changing testimony as to her whereabouts during the time of the murders. She was held for 10 months in a jail in Taunton, Massachusetts, because Fall River had no female facilities. Emma Borden supported her sister throughout the entire ordeal, and she made sure that Lizzie had the best defense that money could buy. The Borden sisters did inherit quite a bit of money when Andrew died: $265,000, $10 million in today’s money. If you look closely enough at the trial and Lizzie’s lawyer, you will see that there is a definite conflict of interest with one of the presiding judges on the bench. The trial was a world-wide media sensation with most women’s groups supporting Lizzie. She was eventually found not guilty because it was believed that a woman was incapable of such a heinous act. She and Emma bought Maplecroft, but Emma soon grew tired of Lizzie’s new friends and lifestyle. Some kind of falling out took place. Rumors around the city say that Lizzie confessed to Emma that she did indeed murder Andrew and Abby, but that’s why they’re called rumors. In any case. Emma left Fall River and Lizzie never to return. They never saw or spoke to each other again. They died nine days apart in 1927.
Sheila ~ What’s your connection to the Borden House?
Laura ~ My connection to the Borden House began at a very early age mostly thanks to my father and his wonderful gift for storytelling. I come from a family of educators. My father, like myself, was a high school English teacher, so he loved to tell stories, and he could make them come alive with his words and subtle facial movements. One night when I was no more than eight or nine years old, he took me for a drive and parked in front of the Borden House. He then proceeded to tell me the entire history of the Borden family, how Andrew made his fortune first as a furniture maker and undertaker, then as a shrewd businessman. My father told me how Andrew was disliked by many because of his supposed shady business deals and had made many enemies over the years. My father spoke briefly of Andrews’s first wife, Lizzie and Emma’s mother, and her tragic death when Lizzie was, I believe, two years old. Andrew remarried Abby Durfee Gray out of convenience mostly. His girls needed a mother, and he needed a housekeeper. I hung on my father’s every word, but I wanted details about the murders, and he did not disappoint. He told me every detail that was appropriate for my age at that time. After that night, I read everything I could find on the Borden murders.
Sheila ~ Have you ever visited the Borden Home?
Laura ~ The property at the time was privately owned, but I had a friend who knew the family who lived there & somehow got invited to a sleepover when I was maybe eleven years old. To say I was thrilled was an understatement. I’d like to tell you that I experienced something “otherworldly” that night, but it was a typical slumber party with one exception. We were expressly forbidden to go into the basement for any reason. That was my first time in the Borden House. Many years would pass before I would cross its threshold again. During my rebellious teenage years, my friends and I would hop the fence at Oak Grove Cemetery on Halloween and drink a six pack at the Borden graves like most teens in Fall River did that night, and like most teens, we were chased out by the local police. The kids are still doing it today from what I hear, but with iPads and X-Boxes. I think a lot of the interest has faltered.
I’ve been to the Borden House over 20 times over the years both as a tourist and with my class on field trips for educational purposes, but I have only stayed overnight a total of 5 times counting the time I was a child.
Sheila ~ What kind of paranormal activity did you experience?
Laura ~ The house, as you know, is a bed and breakfast, so most of the time my friends and I would all get together and rent out the place for one night and take it from there.
The first 2 times I spent the night there absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened. My friends and I ordered pizza, drank beer, and did some very basic and amateur ghost hunting. We got nothing.
The next time I went back, I returned with someone I’ll call Derek who had a lot more experience in the paranormal. He knew what to do, where to do it, and where he wanted to go was the basement. Suddenly, I was eleven years old again! I began to sweat and my heart was pounding! All I could remember was that we were told not to go down to the basement. Time was blurring for me. Derek had brought quite a bit of gear with him to take temperature readings, digital recorders for EVP’S, Cameras – both video and still equipped with night vision/infra-red, and some kind of device that drove me nuts because it scanned radio stations and made so much noise. Derek finally convinced me to help him carry some of the gear down to the basement and help set it up. That’s when I had my first experience.
Derek was already in the basement yelling for me and I was making my way down the stairs when I hit a wall. There was no wall there to speak of, but something or someone was blocking my way. I can only describe it as an ominous feeling like I was intruding into a place I had no business being. I remember feeling weak like I couldn’t get enough air, and then there was the feeling of being pushed back. I didn’t see anything in front of me, nor did I hear anything, but I did drop the gear I was holding which caught Derek’s attention. I loved Derek, but true to form he did not come to my aid, he hit the digital recorder and started taking pictures. The entire episode lasted maybe 30 seconds.
This was my first interaction with any strange occurrence in the Borden House. I would definitely say that I felt that the interaction felt purposeful and intelligent. It did not want ME in the basement. It didn’t have a problem with Derek. It felt like it had a problem with a woman being there. The energy felt masculine to me. There was a power behind that push, and it meant business. Once it passed, I slumped down to the stair where I had been standing, completely drained of all my energy for quite some time. Derek came and got me, brought me down the rest of the way and we finished setting up once I recovered. Later on, we played back the digital recorder. All we heard was my frantic breathing then for one split second a low, guttural voice saying, “No.” Derek must have snapped 45 pictures in 30 seconds, but only one showed “something” on the stairs in front of me. It wasn’t in the shape of a person, in fact it had no shape at all. It was pure blackness. It obscured everything around it like it was swallowing it up. That’s how I felt. I felt like I was being swallowed up. Needless to say, I couldn’t get out of that basement fast enough. Derek and I made our way up to the main floor then upstairs to where Mrs. Borden’s body was found. All we brought up with us was a small pocket digital camera and a voice activated digital recorder. That’s also the room where I would be spending the night. I knew I wouldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep after the events in the basement, but I was wrong. As soon as my head hit that pillow, I was out, and I would have been out for the night if I hadn’t consumed three bottles of water before I fell asleep. As you might guess, I awoke to use the facilities which are adjacent to the room. I was gone less than 2 minutes, but when I returned, the room had an entirely different feeling. It was freezing cold, and I could see my breath steaming from my mouth. I wasn’t going to panic or go running to Derek. Then, I looked down at my bed and froze. It was perfectly made up like I had never slept in it. As I moved around the bed, the smell hit me. I have horrible allergies, and I never have flowers in my home so I couldn’t place it at first, but then I remembered my grandmother’s perfume. It was the smell of lavender. It was permeating the room like it was coming out of the vents. Now, in all honesty, I began to panic, but in an instant the smell disappeared and a calming feeling came over me. I’m an only child, but this was a protective feeling, not at all like the one I encountered on the basement stairs. Whatever or whoever this was that had straighten up my bed meant me no harm. I knew that as sure as I knew that the thing on the basement stairs wanted to swallow me whole. I can’t be sure, and this is pure conjecture on my part, but I believe that I came into contact with Emma Borden that night. She was Lizzie’s protector from Abby and more importantly, from Andrew. I picked up the small camera and snapped away but failed to capture anything. The digital recorder did activate while I was sleeping and then again when I was in the bathroom. When Derek and I played it back we heard a woman’s voice, soft, barely more than a whisper say the following, “Hush now.” Then, there was a long silence followed by, “Safe.” Then, the last one after my return from the bathroom, “Tidy.” After listening to this over and over, I have no doubt that I interacted with a female entity who I believe to be Emma Borden. She felt kind, comforting, and I felt safe.
Sheila ~ Was there ever a moment that frightened you to no end?
Laura ~ The last time I spent the night at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, I decided to go alone. I did this for personal reasons. My health was getting progressively worse, and I had just gotten divorced so I needed some alone time. I am not a paranormal expert, nor am I a ghost hunter, so all I brought was myself and a good book. I figured I’d been there enough times that the house knew me, and if it wanted to, it could seek me out for a change. I was lucky to get a room. I ended up on the top floor which was a new experience for me, but I welcomed the privacy. The place was filled with “ghost hunters” ready to seek out the spirits of the Borden family. The house psychic was on hand for the nightly séance which I wanted no part of, and some group was there filming something which I also wanted no part of. So I hung back and watched the excited people amuse themselves with their K2 Meters and spirit boxes, but I quickly disappeared when the Ouija Board came out. I didn’t need to be a paranormal expert to know that conjuring spirits is a dangerous business, and I didn’t want to be around if that “Blackness” decided to make an appearance. I retreated to my private space and let them do their thing. A couple of hours later, as the various groups were off “hunting”, and I was busy dozing, I thought I heard footsteps coming up the stairs to my room. I figured one of the hunters had mistakenly invaded my space, so I swung my legs around, but as soon as they hit the floor the footsteps stopped. So I thought to myself, someone’s toying with you. I got up and looked out into and down the stairs. Nobody there. Now there are two stairwells in the Borden House. Maybe I heard an echo, so I went back and stretched out on the bed and started reading. This time I didn’t hear anything, but out of the corner of my eye I saw something dark cross in front of the hallway lamp. It was a fleeting glance, but I knew what I saw. What’s more, I knew what I was starting to feel, and Derek wasn’t there to pull me back. The longer I sat there, the weaker I felt, and I knew the “Blackness” had sought me out. Out of all the people in that grand house, it had looked for and found me. Now there was only one thing I could do, leave that very minute before it swallowed me, and that’s just what I did.
My two separate encounters with the thing I refer to as the “Blackness” still frightens me till this day. What I felt while in its presence can only be described as evil incarnate; it is a suffocating blackness that sucks the life’s breath right out of you and tries to penetrate the light in your soul. I believe this to be the goal of the “Blackness.”
Sheila ~ What’s your opinion on the media portrayal throughout the years?
Laura ~ The media knows a hot commodity when they see one, and the story of Lizzie Borden has never really gone cold. In 1975, Elizabeth Montgomery starred in “The Legend of Lizzie Borden.” My God, did the city of Fall River go nuts. Half of it loved it and the other half hated it. More recently, the USA Network aired “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax” which was just totally inaccurate in more ways than I care to mention. As far as paranormal shows go, I understand the appeal, and I understand the owners of the Borden House wanting the publicity. It’s good business, and it makes for great and entertaining television. Ghost Adventures, The Dead Files, T.A.P.S., and a host of other shows have filmed at the Borden House. It brings in the tourists and the money. It helps out the city and its failing economy.