The search for Lizzie Borden artifacts is branching out

Deborah Allard

Stefani Koorey, who discovered the photograph believed to be of a young Lizzie Borden at 8 or 9 years old, was back in town last week conducting more research into the history of the infamous and wealthy Victorian family.

Koorey, of Orlando, Fla., was in pursuit of pictures of the Morse family — who sit on Lizzie’s mother’s side of the tree — as well as other relatives named Gardner, Mason and Emery. Seated in the Swansea Public Library, Koorey gently fingered through several ornate but tattered albums that once belonged to those families.

So far, she has discovered the young Lizzie, a picture of Emma Borden — Lizzie’s sister — at about 5 to 7 years old, photos of Lizzie’s parents — Andrew Jackson Borden and Sarah Anthony Morse Borden (she died in less than three years after giving birth to Lizzie in 1860) — and one of John Morse, Sara’s brother.

“I like the ‘eureka’ moments,” Koorey said. “There’s probably more.”

Koorey stared into the faces in the sepia photographs looking for clues. “That’s how you do it, you study them and study them.”

Many of the photographs probably haven’t been removed from the albums in a hundred years. Stuck in their resting places were unidentified photographs of babies, older people and young, bearded men and ruffled women.

The albums, a total of seven with two as yet unfound, are numbered to nine. They were donated to the Swansea Historical Society in 1945 and were likely forgotten until they were rediscovered in December by Koorey, a Borden scholar and the editor and publisher of the online quarterly journal The Hatchet, and Leonard Rebello, author of “Lizzie Borden Past and Present.”

“I’d like to see more family photographs,” Koorey said.

She was also looking for a “candid shot of Emma” standing in front of a church that she’s heard existed in the Swansea archives. “I may find more,” she said.

Already, there was one photograph in question — that of a young woman in a very wide, almost rounded, dress. The woman’s features beared the likeness of Sarah, Lizzie’s mother. But, she looked younger and her facial features were thinner than in the other photographs. So why would a thin woman wear such an unbecoming and rather large dress?

“She may be pregnant with Lizzie,” Koorey speculated.

Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure. Even the other identified pictures are suspect. No one took the time to write the names of the individuals in the album, at least not on all of the photographs.

And, many say nothing on back, either. Koorey did discover that on the reverse side of the young Emma picture was stamped “Nichols & Warren Photography, 46 South Main Street, Fall River,” creating another avenue for the avid historian to wander.

It’s in those moments of speculation that Koorey finds the intrigue of the Borden mystery and its storied past in the city she’s come to love.

“I care about the history here,” Koorey said. “And, it’s everywhere. It can be found.”

Though she longs to see more Lizzie pictures and construct the woman’s life, she doesn’t proclaim Lizzie’s innocence.

“I think she either did it or knows who did,” Koorey said. “But, I’m not one to say. I’m not going to write a book. I just find the tidbits. It’s up to other people to put it together.”

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