For one woman, there is absolute certainty that Lizzie’s fingers never touched the hatchet that bludgeoned her parents 117 years ago in their Second Street homestead. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that Lizzie’s sister Emma did it. She acted alone and killed them both, committing if not the perfect murder, then the perfect mystery, she said. Fattibene said Emma came to her in a dream 11 years ago and told her exactly how she murdered her parents.
Even though Lizzie Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother, she was never really exonerated. She spent her life shunned and ridiculed by society. And, even after her death and burial in Oak Grove Cemetery, the accusations persist.
What if there was a way to really know if Lizzie did it?
For one woman, there is absolute certainty that Lizzie’s fingers never touched the hatchet that bludgeoned her parents 117 years ago in their Second Street homestead. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that Lizzie’s sister Emma did it. She acted alone and killed them both, committing if not the perfect murder, then the perfect mystery, she said.
“I have to do right by Emma now and tell her story. Just like she told me back in the ‘90s in a dream,” wrote Donel Fattibene in the preface of her book, “I Did It.”
Fattibene said Emma came to her in a dream 11 years ago and told her exactly how she murdered her parents. Fattibene, a resident of Swansea, self-published her book in July in hopes of sharing Emma’s story, and also to relieve her own conscience for keeping it to herself for so long.
“I really feel like (Emma) was reaching out,” Fattibene said. “She needs to rest.”
It all started in July 1998. Fattibene was living in a second floor apartment in Somerset. The house was once a one-family home and had been owned by a sea captain who was buried with the rest of his family in the backyard.
Fattibene often saw shadows in the house. Her husband Jody frequently went away for several nights in a row for work. It was on one of these nights that Fattibene went to bed and was visited by a little girl with blonde curls.
She told Fattibene she was the cousin of the sea captain’s daughter. She said she was sent to Fattibene so she would not be afraid as the little girl resembled her own daughter. She told Fattibene she would be visited by a woman who had a story to tell.
The next night Emma Borden slipped into Fattibene’s dreams.
“I was never frightened,” Fattibene said. “It was a dream, but so vivid, unlike any other dream I ever had.”
She said Emma didn’t resemble any photographs she’d ever seen. Emma was old and frail, and had short, gray hair.
“She looked distressed, on a mission,” Fattibene said.
She gave Fattibene some information and asked her to verify it so she’d know she was telling the truth. Some of the information consisted of names of servants that had worked for the Bordens but were never recorded in any books or in the trial transcript. Emma told her where she could find this information in census books and libraries.
Fattibene did as she was told and then several nights later, Emma came to tell her how and why she committed the murders.
Her motive was hatred for her stepmother Abby, according to Fattibene. But, Emma never meant to kill her father.
On the chosen day, Emma said she dressed like a man, complete with a fake moustache. She set up an alibi with her cousins in Fairhaven and rented a horse and buggy, storing it in a rented barn a couple of blocks from home.
The Borden house was to be empty that morning except for Abby and the maid Bridget, who would be occupied with her chores.
On the day of the murders, Emma set out to kill Abby. She ran into problems with Lizzie being at home, her uncle John Morse staying for an unscheduled visit, and her father coming home unexpectedly. Emma did a lot of hiding out in the house and in her bedroom closet. No one discovered her presence.
After she killed Abby in the guest room with 19 whacks, Emma went downstairs to escape. Instead, she ran into her father. Suddenly, she became angry with him for taking his wife’s side over hers and Lizzie’s so many times. She knew that he would turn in his daughter for murder. She had no choice but to kill him too, Fattibene said.
Once the story was relayed to Fattibene, she said she woke the next morning and recorded it immediately.
“I was writing and writing for hours ... everything I remembered,” Fattibene said. “There was something to it. I really believe it.”
She said Emma contacted her because she’d always had an interest in the Lizzie Borden case. As a child, Fattibene spent hours at The Fall River Historical Society talking with the curator about the case. She said Emma told her she’d been trying for years to reach someone to tell her story and was never heard.
Even in her life, Emma tried to tell what she had done, but believed people would only think she was protecting Lizzie as she had always done. Emma told her sister Lizzie about killing their father and stepmother and was banished from the house. The sisters in their later life didn’t speak for years. They died nine days apart in 1927.
“I really do believe that’s how it really happened,” Fattibene said. The book, she said “is not embellished. It was done as it was told to me. It’s not padded.”
Fattibene said she’s never been visited by Emma again.
“I hope she’s finally resting now,” she said.
Copies of “I Did It! As recorded by Donel Fattibene” are available at The Fall River Historical Society, 451 Rock St. Fattibene said she has sold about 70 copies of her book since July 30.
E-mail Deborah Allard at firstname.lastname@example.org.