Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Borden Murder Suspect Bridget Sullivan

Bridget Sullivan (1866 – March 25, 1948) was an Irish domestic housemaid. She was employed by the Borden family of 92 Second Street Fall River, Massachusetts, at the time of the gruesome hatchet murders of Andrew J. Borden and his second wife, Abby Gray Borden, on the hot morning of August 4, 1892.

While cleaning the windows, which Abby insisted be done, Sullivan was one of the last to see her employers alive. Andrew's younger daughter, Lizzie Borden, became the chief suspect, but was later acquitted of the crimes. Sullivan provided key testimony at the inquest, preliminary hearing and final trial.

Bridget Sullivan was born in the copper mining village of Allihies, County Cork, Ireland, the daughter of Eugene Sullivan and Margaret Leary. She emigrated to the United States in 1886, arriving in New York City, aboard the White Star Line's 3,707 ton S.S. Republic, on May 24. She worked as a scullery maid in Newport, Rhode Island, then moved to South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where she likely joined relatives. In 1888, she moved to Fall River and worked as a cook for Charles Reed, a lawyer who lived in the exclusive "Highlands" neighborhood of the city. In 1889, she moved on to the home of another Highlands resident, Clinton V. S. Remington.

Her next job, with the Bordens of 92 Second Street, where she was employed in November 1889, was a step down, as the extremely wealthy, yet frugal, Bordens lived in a less fashionable setting than her two previous employers. The Borden home, however, was two blocks from the Irish neighborhood, Fourth Street's Corcaigh "Corky" Row, which may have influenced her decision. In her testimony, Sullivan denied having connections to the Irish neighborhood, although many of the Irish in that section of the city also originated from the Allihies region of Cork.

Sullivan's duties included cooking, cleaning and ironing. Lizzie and her elder sister, Emma, called her "Maggie," the name of their previous servant. A Borden authority, Victoria Lincoln, was quoted by essayist Florence King as saying their use of Maggie may have been forgetfulness; or it could have been a courtesy; the name "Bridget" having taken on an "off" stereotype of the typical Irish maid of the era.

During Lizzie Borden's trial, Sullivan testified that on the day of the murder, she prepared a meal of two-day old mutton for the Bordens and then was sent by Abby to wash the windows. After finishing the outside windows in the sweltering heat, she retired to her room in the third floor attic to rest, as she felt ill. At 11:10 a.m., Lizzie called to her, "Maggie, come quick! Father's dead. Somebody came in and killed him."

During the trial, the defense team and the press equated Lizzie's gender with innocence, claiming no woman could commit so terrible a crime. Sullivan testified, however, that Lizzie shed no tears for her murdered father and stepmother.

Legend had it that after the trial, and Lizzie's acquittal, Sullivan returned to Ireland, with the help of Lizzie and Emma, but there is no documentary proof of this. She later moved to Anaconda, Montana, where she is said to have become, in 1896, the maid of attorney George B. Winston (1861-1936). She is said to have worked for Winston until his death, never once mentioning the gory details of the murders or what she witnessed that fateful morning in Fall River, Massachusetts.

She married in 1905, in Anaconda, John M. Sullivan (c. 1868-1939), a copper smelting furnace man. In 1910, they lived at 412 Monroe Street. They later moved to 701 Alder Street, where they lived for many years. When John died in '39, she moved to Butte, Montana, where she remained until her death.

While ill with pneumonia, and fearing that her death was near, Sullivan allegedly summoned a friend to her bedside because she had something to reveal. By the time the woman arrived, however, Sullivan was recovering and said it was nothing. She did remark that she always liked Lizzie Borden.

Bridget Sullivan died at age 82 in Butte, Montana. She is interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Anaconda, Montana, along with her husband.


Binette, Dennis and Michael Martins, eds. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Lizzie Borden: The Knowlton Papers, 1892-1893 (Fall River, Mass.: The Fall River Historical Society, 1994), 464.

Burns, Catherine M., "The Irish of Fall River, Massachusetts, 1843-1894: Variations of Irish Ethnicity in an Industrial City," (Unpublished B.A. thesis, University of Massachusetts--Amherst, 1999).

King, Florence. WASP, Where is Thy Sting? Chapter 15, "One WASP's Family, or the Ties That Bind." Stein & Day, 1977. ISBN 0-552-99377-8 (1990 Reprint Edition)

O'Dwyer, Riobard, "Who Were My Ancestors? Geneaology (Family Trees) of the Allihies (Copper Mines) Parish, County Cork, Ireland," n.d., n.p. Located at the Fall River Historical Society.

-- wiki

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