From a Victorian style home in New England to a Grand Mansion in New Orleans, these houses simply look like your average historic home. However, what went on behind these doors was anything other than ordinary. What makes us want to catch a glimpse at these houses of horror long after the crime scene tape has been removed? It’s a morbid curiosity. If the walls could speak, they could tell us some terrifying tales.
While houses that are the scene of gruesome crimes are often demolished so that they don’t become a grim reminder to the atrocities that took place between the walls, many still stand and many you can visit.
Lizzie Borden – Fall River, Massachusetts
Lizzie Borden has been immortalised in the infamous poem:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Over 100 years have passed and the case of Lizzie Borden still manages to grip the nation. Was she wrongly accused of killing her father and stepmother or did she get away with murder? The opinion is very much divided still after all these years.
Born on the 19th of July, 1860, Lizzie lived on 92 Second Street, Fall River. At the time of the murders, she lived with her sister, Emma, her father, Andrew, and Andrew’s wife, Abby. In 1863, Lizzie and Emma’s mother, Sarah, passed away. Three years later, Andrew and Abby were married. The Borden’s were an extremely wealthy family. Andrew was a successful property developer and owned a profusion of commercial property. Furthermore, he was the president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co. 1
Despite his wealth, Andrew was extremely frugal. He refused to install indoor plumbing, forcing the family to use a two seat latrine. The Borden household had no electricity and no gaslight. This lifestyle didn’t satisfy Lizzie or Emma, who both wanted to live a more comfortable life in the wealthy neighbourhood known as “The Hill.”
The relationship between the girls and Abby wasn’t a particularly amicable one and they preferred to refer to her as “Mrs. Borden” as opposed to Abby.
Between 9am and 11am on the morning of 4 August, 1892, 70-year-old Andrew and 65-year-old Abby were murdered in their home in Fall River. They were both struck on the head, neck, and shoulders with a hatchet. Andrew was killed on the sofa in the living room while Abby was killed in the bedroom.
Lizzie soon fell under a cloud of suspicion after giving conflicting reports as to where she was and what she was doing during the time the murders took place. She initially claimed she was in the barn eating pears, where she remained for around half an hour. However, it was a scorching hot summer’s day and would have been much too hot to sit in the barn for a prolonged period of time. Furthermore, no footprints could be found in the dust.
She claimed that after she came back inside, she heard a groan, a scraping noise, or a distress call, before finding her father dead. She soon changed this story, though, and claims she heard nothing when she came inside from the barn.
A couple of days after the murders, the maid, Alice Russell, stated that she had witnessed Lizzie burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She claimed she had spilled some paint on the dress but was she trying to hide something more incriminating? 2
An inquest into the murders was held from the 9th until the 11th of August following which Lizzie was arrested. It was decided there was “probable cause” to believe that she had committed the murders. 3
On the 20th of June, 1893, Lizzie was acquitted of the murder charges and was released. She and her sister continued to live in the family home. They inherited their father’s estate and purchased a larger, more ostentatious home: something they had always dreamed of.
Lizzie remained in Fall River until her death in 1927. She was forever held under a cloud of suspicion and ostracised from the community. While she had been acquitted, many believe that all evidence points towards her being the killer.
The where, the when, and the how of this gruesome case are enshrined in history, but the who and why has been relegated to speculation and legend.
The Borden abode still stands in Fall River. It has since been turned into B&B and is said to be rife with paranormal activity. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can stay the night and chow down on the same meal that Andrew and Abby devoured before their lives were tragically ended. If you want to make a trip of it, located just a couple of blocks from the Lizzie Borden household is the Oak Grove Cemetery. Lizzie, Emma, Sarah, Andrew, and Abby are all buried in the same plot. Despite the fact that Lizzie left no descendants other than a large donation to the Animal Rescue League, her gravestone is always decorated with flowers and keepsakes.
The LaLaurie House – Royal Street, New Orleans
If you’re a fan of American Horror Story then this house will be all too familiar to you as it was a plot in the third season. Delphine LaLaurie, or Madame LaLaurie, was a New Orleans Creole socialite. However, she became more infamously known as an alleged serial killer and slave-keeper.
Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife, Delphine, moved into the mansion at 1140 Royal Street in 1832. 4
Madame LaLaurie was known to throw lavish parties in her mansion. Her guests would be bewildered by the exquisite décor inside the LaLaurie dwelling. However, these impressed guests weren’t aware that Madame LaLaurie was hiding an exceptionally grim secret.
She kept a plethora of African American slaves in the attic and they were subjected to unimaginable torment and torture at the hands of Madame LaLaurie.
As guests arrived for one of these opulent affairs in the spring of 1833, Madame LaLaurie was in her boudoir preparing for her grand entrance. As Leah, a 12-year-old slave, was combing Madame LaLaurie’s hair, she accidentally hit a snag which pulled out a small lock of hair. In a fit of rage, Madamde LaLaurie reached for the bullwhip and chased the young terrified girl. Leah ran through the hall and out to the balcony. In a desperate attempt to flee the banshee-like Madame LaLaurie, Leah plunged from the balcony onto the courtyard below. Unable to cover this specific tragedy up, she was charged with a $300 fine. 5
In the spring of 1834, a fire broke out in the mansion and authorities finally uncovered Madame LaLaurie’s gruesome secret. Behind a hidden door in the attic, they discovered more than a dozen slaves “in varying degrees of torment and starvation.” 6
Allegedly, some were chained to the wall while others were strapped to makeshift operating tables. Inside one of the numerous cages, rescuers reportedly discovered a woman whose limbs had been broken in several places, forcing her to walk like a “crab.” Several slaves were suspended by the neck with their limbs stretched and torn. 7 There were reports of disfigured faces and even disfigured genitalia. Human organs were apparently proudly displayed on the shelves like trophies.
Within hours of the discovery, Madame LaLaurie was gone. Some say she fled to Paris or north shore while others say she never left New Orleans. Rumours swirled around the town that voodoo queen, Marie Laveau took the wretched woman under her wing and taught her voodoo practices.
After the fire and the outrage, the home was rebuilt and along with the restoration came the tales of strange noises, bizarre flickering lights, and tales of paranormal sightings. A series of new owners came and went. None stayed for a prolonged period. Most fled in the middle of the night after experiencing something terrifyingly unexplainable. In 1920, a resident told the New Orleans Item newspaper “on the third floor, I saw a man walking carrying his head on his arm…” Another family reported that she spotted a woman running through the house with a whip and on another occasion, they awoke to find decapitated animals in the courtyard.
As the lurid tales of Madame LaLaurie grew and grew, much of what actually took place has been obscured by myths and legends. It’s difficult to tell what is truth and what is exaggeration. Nevertheless, the three-story gem in the French empire style with a wraparound balcony still stands today. In fact, it was once owned by Nicholas Cage.
Even to this very day, people report paranormal and bizarre events in and around the mansion. “On one tour stop there, none of the tourists’ cameras would work, and only at that one house,” said Sidney Smith, the owner of Haunted History Tours. Check it out, if you dare!
The Villisca Axe Murders House – Villisca, Iowa
During the early 1900s, Villisca, Iowa, was a flourishing quaint town. The family farm, the one-man cheese factory, the buggy rides and horse buyers were a regular way of life in this farming town of approximately 2,500 residents. According to D.N. Smith, a Chicago Railroad employee, Villisca meant “Pretty Place.”
However, in 1912, this pleasant tight-knight community was rocked by a grisly tragedy that still remains unsolved today.
A prominent citizen of Villisca, 42-year-old old Joseph Moore, lived in a white wooden farm-style home at 508 e 2nd Street. He owned a distinguished farm implement store and lived with his wife Sarah Moore, and their four children: 11-year-old Herman Montgomery, 10-year-old Mary Katherine, 7-year-old Arthur Boyd and 5-year-old Paul Vernon.
The afternoon of the 9th of June, 1912, was a pleasant summer’s day. Katherine Moore invited her two friends, 8-year-old Ina Stillinger and 12-year-old Lena Stillinger, to the family home. The family and their two guests later attended a Children’s Day programme at the local Presbyterian Church, not leaving the festivities until approximately 9:30PM. As the Stillinger family lived in another town, they decided that the sisters would sleep overnight at the Moore dwelling.
At some point during that fateful night, something unfathomable took place.
“8 Iowa Persons Slain with an Ax While They Slept” read the Chicago Tribune headline on the 11th of June, 1912. In the middle of the night, somebody crept through the Moore household, armed with Joseph’s own axe, and bludgeoned and smashed the heads of six little children and two adults. The axe was swung with such force that marks could be seen in the ceiling from the upswing.
After seeing no movement the following morning, Mary Peckham, the Moore’s next door neighbour, went to the their front door and knocked. Maybe they had slept in, she thought. It wasn’t like them to laze about and ignore their daily chores. What if they were ill? Receiving no answer and unable to open the door herself, she called for help. It was a bloodbath. The first bodies to be discovered were Lena and Ina who were lying deceased on a bed located downstairs, surrounded in blood. The remaining members of the Moore family were discovered upstairs in the other bedrooms. Their faces were covered either with a section of bedspread or an item of clothing. The killer left the murder weapon leaning against a wall downstairs and locked the door behind him.
The house was investigated from top to bottom, sniffer dogs were employed, and even clairvoyants were called in to assist. The killer added some obscure touches to the crime scene. He had left a four-pound slab of bacon beside the murder weapon. Furthermore, he covered the mirrors and glass doors with items of clothing. On the kitchen table, he left a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water. 8
Over the forthcoming years, there were numerous suspects, ranging from a senator to a travelling preacher. One suspect was even put on trial twice but there was no conviction. Over a century has passed since the grisly murders and yet they still remain unsolved.
Much like Lizzie Borden’s B&B, The Villisca Axe Murder House is available to tour and if you’re feeling particularly bold, you can even stay the night for around $400 a night. Paranormal investigators and curiosity seekers arrive to Villisca in droves. As if the case with most scenes of terror, there’s many reports of paranormal incidents in the “murder house.” A disk jockey reportedly awoke in the middle of the night when staying overnight and heard to sound of children’s voices and laughter when no children were in the house. Tours have been cut short by moving objects and unexplainable sounds. 9
It is said that the Villisca Axe Murder House is one of the most haunted houses in America.
- David Kent, “The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook,” (Boston: Brandon Publishing Company, 1992)
- North Island MidWeek – 27 October, 2008 – “There’s Little Doubt”
- Providence Journal – 30 June, 1991 – “Lizzie Borden’s Case”
- Hartford Examiner – 7 January, 2010 – “Ghosts of New Orleans”
- New Orleans Examiner – 11 April, 2012 – “It was 178 Years Ago Today”
- The Evening Star – 22 July, 1943 – “War Workers Crowd Ghosts from Mansion in Quest for Housing”
- The Times-Picayune – 31 October, 2000 – “Mystery Mansion”