In the history of murder and suicide most macabre, there are all kinds of notorious estates and houses. Some of these sad cases happened as far back as the 19th century and their stories are still prevalent today. Others are a little too close for comfort. Here is a free guided tour through some of the most talked-about horror houses today.
The Borden House
You knew this one would top the list. Located in Falls River, Masachussettes, the house is in mint condition, furnished exactly as it was when the Borden family inhabited it. Since the killings, the house has most often been a private residence. Now it is a well-kept tourist attraction, and open 7 days a week as an egad, bed and breakfast, where “everyone is treated like family.” (You better update your will, although this didn’t work out well for Andrew). There are walk-throughs for people not brave enough to spend the night….or perhaps they wish to avoid the breakfast, most likely week-old mutton soup. Prices at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast range from $150 to $250 per night. Eight guest rooms are available including five on the second floor and three on the third floor. Some rooms share a bathroom. Breakfast here is designed to be similar to the one the Bordens ate on the morning of the murders. It includes bananas, jonnycakes (unleavened cornmeal pancakes), sugar cookies and coffee, in addition to breakfast staples. Lizzie was mentally unstable and was known by the family to be a kleptomaniac. Years after she inherited Papa’s money, Lizzie was accused of shoplifting. Outside of the Borden home, Fall River itself is nothing special. It was once an industrial town (I think they made axes), however a one and a half hour drive from Fall River will bring you to Salem City, home of the whacky witch hunts. If you are a Borden fan it stands to reason you are a witch hunt fan, so you may want to make a stop in Salem and indulge in a guided witch hunt tour before bunking down with the Bordens. Naturally the B&B is rumored to be haunted, pish-posh utter nonsense, so don’t get all silly and lose your head over it.
The Winchester Mystery House
No one was murdered in this house located in San Jose, California, however, its mentally ill, superstitious owner and her obsession with the estate make for an interesting, if dark, tale. Sarah Winchester, widow of the gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, ordered work done on the house around the clock, without interruption until her death on Sunday 5, 1922, when all work immediately ceased. The total cost of the estate was $5.5 million dollars (about $75 million by 2005 estimates). Sarah consulted a Boston medium who convinced Sarah to build a house for the spirits of her dead relatives. She built staircases that lead to ceilings or walls, staircases, doors are built on the ceilings, and windows look into other rooms. People can book the house for tours, special events and visitations. Ghosts are reportedly seen by guests but if you move as fast as Sarah, who pushed paneled walls and vanished into another part of the house, you might escape unscathed.
The Amityville Horror – Robert Defeo, Jr.
Personally I find the movie to be quite dull and naturally unrealistic. The real story of the Defeo family murders in 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, is far more tragic and intriguing. Defeo Jr., or Butch, had a pathological relationship with his abusive father. Butch became psychotic, engaging in violent physical rage and various crimes. He spent the weekly allowance money his parents gave him on LSD, heroin and alcohol. Constant fighting between the Defeo parents caused an uneasy atmosphere in the house. Finally, in the early morning hours of Thursday, November 14, 1974, Butch shot and killed all 6 members of his family including his father, mother and four younger siblings. Hours later, he calmly went to work at his grandfather’s Buick dealership at 6 a.m., making no mention of the murders. Defeo Jr. was eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison on all six counts of first degree murder. A family by the name of Lutz purchased the house 13 months after the tragedy. Ick. You can’t help but see the irony in reading about this shotgun murder after the tale of the Winchester Mystery House.
A Woman Scorned at Cypress House
You must be familiar with the Betty Broderick story by now. In the late 1980s, she and her lawyer husband Dan Broderick were married with four children when Dan left her for his much younger paralegal, a Betty knock-off, Linda Kolkena. Dan was by now a multimillionaire who left Betty with barely the clothes on her back. The sham of their divorce brought attention to women’s divorce-reform groups that laws in California did little to protect women. After Dan left Betty for Linda, Betty became emotionally unstable. She called their residence daily, uttering threats and calling Linda names such as “whore” and “f–ing bimbo.” She deliberately drove her car into the door of Dan’s residence and was arrested and jailed. Finally on November 5, 1989, Betty tucked her new .38caliber Smith & Wesson into her purse, drove to Dan’s new residence at 1041 Cypress Avenue, San Diego, and shot he and his wife in their bed. Linda died from two bullets. Dan woke up, was shot in the back, then died by choking on his own blood. Betty received two consecutive fifteen-years-to-life sentences. After 19 years she was denied parole. Two of her own children argued against setting her free. She was again denied parole in 2013. It is unlikely she will ever be released. That’s probably a good thing.
The Congolier Mansion
Speaking of a woman scorned, here is another similar occurrence. The facts are disputed by historians but I shall go with the information that has generally been printed about the manor. The Congolier house stood in the Manchester neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It’s long and gruesome history is more horrifying than any horror movie. A carpetbagger, Charles Congolier made his way to Pittsburgh. He built a beautiful mansion in the 1860’s. The mansion was located at 1129 Ridge Avenue. He moved in with his wife Lyda and their maid Essie. Lyda discovered Charles was having a passionate affair with Essie. Enraged Lyda gathered a knife and a meat cleaver and surprised the two lovers. She stabbed Charles to death with a knife. She decapitated Essie with the meat clever. Days later, Lyda was found sitting in a rocking chair humming lullabies to the severed head of the maid. She must have taken a page from Lizzie Borden’s book. Regardless of the actual facts, the legend of the Congolier Mansion lives on and sends a shiver down anyone’s spine.
Villisca Axe Murder House
Another haunted house that offers tours for the curious and brave-hearted. The house has been turned into a haunted house sideshow. Currently it is four hundred dollars and up for an overnight tour. A farm house in Villisca, Iowa was the scene of a tragic murder. The home belonged to Josiah and Sarah Moore. The Moore’s had four children. On the evening of June 9, 1912 the Moore family attended the Presbyterian Church to watch the children’s day program. It was the last time anyone saw the family alive. The following morning, an alert neighbour contacted the sheriff, who entered the house to find the bodies of two guests, Lena and Ina Stillinger. Everyone in the family had been brutally murdered. Their skulls were crushed with what police believed to be an axe. No one was ever convicted of the murders. Many historians focus on the three most likely suspects. Frank F. Jones was a prominent resident and an Iowa State Senator. Others believe that a deranged man named Reverend George Kelly was the murderer. Andrew Sawyer, a transient, was the third suspect. Whatever the case, the murders remain unsolved to this day.
Upwell, Norfolk, UK – Blood Under the Carpet
England has its share of gruesome houses. The bodies of a mother and daughter, elderly Janice Sheridan and daughter, Connie were discovered in the parlour of a quaint detached cottage, stabbed to death, a bloodbath covering the walls around them. Kevin Cottrell, a business loser who’d changed careers 4 times, was a renovation salesman who visited the Sheridan home with the intention of selling a renovation of windows to the women. The women couldn’t afford to replace all of the frames and glass but he convinced them to renovate one. Later forensic science linked him absolutely to the two murders. After the house was placed on sale, several people stopped by to view it, not with the intention of purchasing, but out of morbid curiosity. The couple who bought the house have never reported ghostly activity. What do you know?
Bertha Manchester House – Lizzie Borden’s Redemption
Five days before Lizzie Borden went to trial for killing her parents with a hatchet, a drifter named Jose Carreiro axed Bertha Manchester, a young woman living with her father and sister, in her home. There are two theories as to why Carreiro did away with the unfortunate Bertha: (1) Carreiro had argued with Bertha’s father, Mr. Manchester, the day he fired Carreiro from his job on the Manchester farm. Words were exchanged and Manchester slapped Carreiro in the face. Carreiro left and returned later with a hatchet, seeking revenge on the elder Manchester, but finding Bertha instead. In order to prevent her from telling her father that he came thisclose to become a murder victim, Carreiro chopped her up, one, two, three…..and so on to about 15 hacks, 4 more than Andrew Borden. Bertha Manchester is buried somewhat near the Bordens. (2) The second theory is that Carreiro simply returned to rob the house of its valuables and encountered Bertha, who put up a fight for her money. Whichever the case, the Manchester murder proved to be of great assistance to Lizzie Borden’s defence team. Carreiro provided the all-male jury with a visual of what a murderous hacker was supposed to look like: a wiry, scruffy transient with no family roots (or branches, as it were – yuk yuk). Proper ladies didn’t commit hatchet murders. Not surprisingly, Lizzie was acquitted.
Tower of London
I seem to be on a roll with axe murders, even these were executions, and I had to put this one on the list. How many people resided here awaiting their due date with death? Well, seven actually. Executions were usually held on Tower Hill, to the north of the castle. Here’s something else I bet you didn’t know: It’s actually a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. The Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two rings of defensive walls and a moat. A moat huh? Either to keep danger out or seal it inside. The castle was a prison during the 16th and 17th centuries, when many disgraced figures, such as Elizabeth I were held within its walls. This use has led to the phrase “sent to the Tower“. It’s enduring reputation as a place of torture and death was made popular by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers. The ghost of Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VIII, (sleeping with her first cousin…gross) haunts the chapel of St Peter and Vincula and walks around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm, a sensible thing to do, as putting it down somewhere might cause her to forget it. Anne also pissed off Henry for not giving him a son, so she tried 3 more times and failed. Silly girl. She should have quit while she was a head. Queen Catherine II, Henry’s wife whom he married when he was an obese, middle-aged porker, and she was a young, slender 16, was the other wife he executed. Catherine had guts. She insisted on having the executioner’s block brought to her cell so she could practice placing her head on it. Other ghosts supposedly include Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey (who was queen for 9 whole days), Margaret Pole, and the Princes in the Tower.
An amusing aside: a judge in Quebec City ordered the previous homeowner of this gorgeous stonework detached house to return the buyers’ $313,000.00. Why? The seller had neglected to inform the buyers that the owners prior to him had died by way of a murder-suicide in the house. Gilles Nadeau, 66, smothered his disabled wife Jeanine Proteau, 76, before hanging himself. Cool. Now, to be sure it would be a bit of a shock to realize the house you bought served briefly as a mausoleum. However, most people do die in their homes, (whether violently or not). Are we supposed to tell all potential buyers about previous homeowners dying a natural death in their houses? Jeez, then we’d never love it or list it again and I like that show. What happened in this case was: A nosy neighbour informed the couple about the house’s creepy history, otherwise they would never have known. I think the recent homeowner should sue the big-mouthed neighbour for causing irreparable financial damage to the seller, or sue for slander. You know, it’s almost like selling and buying used cars. In Ontario we have a law that states if a buyer of a used car ASKS if the car has ever been in an accident, no matter how slight, the seller has to say yes (if it has, obviously). Perhaps Quebec City should enact a law that if any purchasers of a home ASKS if anyone has committed a murder-suicide in the house, the seller has to say yes, if it’s true. That would solve everyone’s problems. Now had the house also been haunted and I was the seller, I would personally have charged more for it. Talk about a money-maker. Otherwise, no harm no foul. Or as they say in latin “habeus corpus” (pun), which actually means let the buyer beware. This is fitting on so many levels (pun).