March 22, 2023

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin's Autopsy Report on Andrew & Abby Borden

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin's Autopsy Report on Andrew & Abby Borden
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Mayor of Fall River, Dr. John Coughlin entered the residence of Andrew and Abby Borden, on August 4, 1892,  forty minutes after their murders, and began to take meticulous notes and observations about the victims and the perpetrator that are still relevant today. 

"The same deliberate hand that inflicted death upon the man guided the weapon that cut off Mrs. Borden's life. I cannot satisfy myself how a person could have done such a deed with so little blood around and leave no mark of his presence left behind." 

Dentist M.M. Park played by David Loftus 
Special Appearance by Jack Cone
Mayor Dr. John Couglin played by David Loftus
All other voices played by David Loftus

Music in order of appearance: 
Gloria in Excelsis by Raffaele De Leonardo
Disturbed Anxiety by eBunny 
Cute Puzzle Box by Roman Cano

This episode contains transcripts.

Produced by Kate Lavender

All information contained in this podcast was selected from the scholarly work of the Fall River Historical Society with "The Knowlton Papers" and "The Jennings Journals 1892." You can order these books online. 

Outro voiceover by Don Sharp of Sharp VoiceOvers


Music Fades In… Gloria in Excelsis by Raffaele De Leonardo 32 secs.

Dr. M.M. Park, Dentist  0:34  

Dear Sir: Have been reading with some interest the Borden murder case and the suggestion occurred to me which I have not seen spoken of in the paper and which would explain some mysteries connected with the case. From the description of the case the thought came to me that the murderer of the Bordens used chloroform to facilitate the murder of the aged couple.

Jack Cone, Narrator  0:52  

What would Lizzie want of chloroform?

Dr. M.M. Park, Dentist  0:54  

This theory seems feasible from the following points: One: It explains the difference of one and a half hours between the deaths of the victims as the murderer after catching one of the victims asleep and finishing her would perhaps have to wait some time to catch the other sleeping. Two: This accounts for no noise being heard. 

Three: It would account largely for the bloodless clothes. Four: It accounts for the slumbering position in which the old couple were found, the old man especially in his usual place on the sofa in his usual position. Five: It accounts for so many slashes on the victims inflicted by the murderer as under the anesthetic, it would be difficult to tell when life had ceased thus the murderer would make many slashes or cuts to make death sure. 

Mr. Johnson, a legal friend of mine suggested to me that I acquaint you with this theory should it prove of any benefit to you I should be pleased to know it. Respectfully yours Doctor M.M. Park, Dentist. Address me at number 526 Front St. Toledo, Ohio, P.S. -  I might add if such were the case, post mortem examination of the stomach would develop nothing. Yours M.M.P.

Jack Cone, Narrator  1:57  

What would Lizzie want of chloroform?

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin  2:17  

Couldn't you hear anybody killing your father with that axe Miss Lizzie?

Narrator  2:21  

It was Mayor John William Coughlin who first informed Miss Lizzie A. Borden that she was suspected of murdering her father and stepmother. Rumors were confirmed that Lizzie asked for chloroform at Rydell's Apothecary for Emma before she went to Fairhaven, but it had all evaporated. 

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin  2:38  

The noise must have sounded like a person chopping meat.

Music: Disturbed Anxiety by eBunny begins…

Narrator  3:02  

His Honor John W. Coughlin, Mayor of Fall River, who is by profession a physician told an interesting story to the writer of his first visit to the Borden house after the tragedy. 

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin  3:13  

It was less than 40 minutes after the announcement of the tragedy that I entered the Borden house. I took pains to observe carefully all that I saw. I was present also and assisted at the autopsy. From both calls I acquired much information in solving a mysterious murder of this kind, the circumstances attending the discovery of the utmost value. 

I was first impressed with the position in which Mr. Borden's body lay. It was evident he was asleep when struck. The head, as exposed, afforded the murderer a comparatively small mark. I looked at the mangled head and wondered at the precision of the hand that had inflicted the 12 gashes with so little variance from the first mark.

Any man who occasionally handles an axe knows how difficult it is to hit a log several times in the same place. It would require a cool head and an experienced eye to do it a dozen times under the most favorable conditions. Much more difficult to mark would be a human head. Much harder would it be to control nerves and direct blows with the awful responsibility of the crime upon one capable of realizing it. 

I went to the head of the sofa and stood in the position one must have occupied to have accomplished his purpose. I noticed the appearance of the wounds and concluded they were inflicted by a very sharp small axe or hatchet with a handle fully two feet in length. 

The angles and outlines of the wounds indicated this much: One blow was heavier and deeper than any of the others are calculated. It was the first inflicted. It was probably not two seconds from the time the blow was struck until the heart ceased beating. 

The force was sufficient to drive the blade through the skull and thence down deep into the brain matter. Still, it was manifest the instrument could be easily removed. Mr. Borden never moved after he was hit the first time. I figured the cutting of the head at the very shortest estimate consumed from two to five minutes. It could not be otherwise owing to the accuracy of the blow. 

In fact, that was very remarkable to me. I searched the sofa back chairs, carpet, wall and paint. In fact, every portion of the room for some spatters of blood but could find none except the pool caused by the natural flow from the wounds after death. There was not a trace of crimson.

Jack Cone, Narrator  5:17  

Not a trace of crimson...

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin  5:21  

I estimated the chance of a person's clothes escaping spatters while committing the deed and thought they were very small. Then I figured like this. If the weapon that inflicted the blows on Mr. Borden's head was used on the wife immediately before or after the other murder, it must have been withdrawn from the head dripping with blood and brain matter and conveyed from one floor to the other. 

There was not the slightest evidence on carpets, halls or stairway or even in the chamber where Mrs. Borden's body was that such was the fact there was not a spatter of a trace of blood anywhere. The dead woman lay in a pool of blood which covered a comparatively small part of the room. It was not the slightest sign of a struggle. 

I thought carefully over the possibilities of the attack upon her. Judging from the way she fell I think she was looking out the North window when assaulted, owing to the presence of the bed and dressing case one could not come upon her unexpectedly, it was manifest that she had offered no resistance. 

On the other hand, it appeared as if she had been struck wholly without suspicion of the attack upon her. The same deliberate hand that inflicted death upon the man guided the weapon that cut off Mrs. Borden's life. The same method of action and care was visible. 


The central blow and the massive cuts of mutilations was as deep and heavy as that on the other victim. The other cuts were likewise similar. I cannot satisfy myself how a person could have done such a deed with so little blood around and no marks of his presence left behind.

Kate Lavender  6:45  

Unless they were already dead. The part in quotes is added by me but yes, I want that said otherwise a certain percent of the audience won't figure it out.

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin  6:53  z

He must have taken at least 10 minutes for the completion of both murders. I think the chances are, however, that they could not be done in less than 15 minutes. So it is apparent that if the murderer entered the house by the front door, he must have done so at almost the same minute Miss Lizzie went out to the barn, and likewise, he must have departed but a few minutes at least before her returned to the house when the tragedy was discovered, and the neighborhood informed.

Newspaper Article  7:17  

Mayor Coughlin said in concluding that the city would do everything possible to solve the mystery. When asked if he thought it possible that Mrs. Borden might have been killed as early as nine o'clock he replied that it was certainly possible judging from the post mortem condition. "Horrors Filled" Boston Globe, August 6, 1892.

About eight o'clock Saturday evening, Mayor Coughlin and Marshall Hilliard drove to the Borden homestead and held a long interview with John Morse, Miss Lizzie Borden and Miss Emma Borden. She did not manifest in any way the anxiety of her elder sister, but as has been explained, she has the phlegmatic temperament which distinguishes the German race.

Mayor Dr. John Coughlin  8:14  

When did you last see your mother Miss Lizzie inquired the Mayor?  “I don't think I saw her after nine o'clock she went upstairs to put shams on the pillows.” 

“Couldn't you hear anybody killing your father with that axe Miss Lizzie?”  The noise must have resembled the noise made by a person chopping meat. Ouch! Ouh! Ow! Miss Lizzie did not hear. It is true that the noise must have been like the sound the mayor described. 

The axe rose and fell 11 or 12 times. It cut deep through flesh and bone. Was withdrawn and cut deep again and again. The wretched that cutting was protected by his guiding star once more and Miss Lizzie was too far away to hear. Many questions which would have been impertinent under other circumstances were put by the mayor but nothing further importance was elicited and the interviewers withdrew.

Mayor Coughlin went directly home shortly after his arrival, he was interviewed by a couple of reporters to whom he used nothing but kind words of Miss Emma, the elder sister, when asked if there were any new or serious developments in the case, he said, "There's nothing of which I can speak at this moment. There's not a slightest question about the minuteness of the search, I regret to say that nothing new resulted from it."

"The younger girl is very haughty in manner and would not talk as freely as Miss Emma, there is something about the whole case that I do not understand until some few threads have been run to the end. And that will not be tonight in the dark." Fall River Daily Globe, August 8, 1892.

Newspaper Article  10:06  

Lizzie Borden may have committed this terrible crime. But until something in the way of evidence more than has already been shown is produced. The people will not believe that a daughter who, as far as anyone knew loved her father, would murder him with a weapon she was not strong enough to handle striking blows that she was too weak to inflict.

It is said that she is cold and consequently must have had a hand in the crimes. How long is it since a demonstration of nervousness has been considered as evidence of weakness? Springfield Union.

Here to the best of our knowledge and belief the assassin did escape by daylight indeed, we are forced to accept this, or the conclusion that Lizzie Borden or the servant girl, that the deed John Vinnicum Morse was not there, but remembered all that we can claim for our supposition is this: 

It gets the murderer into the house under the cover of darkness, and thus disposes of one great difficulty how he got out unobserved is another matter but we repeat, he did get out unless one of the two women did the butchery that the actual killing was done by a woman of the 19th century and particularly by refined and cultivated women we hold to be clearly possible as to complicity nothing can be said at this time. 

This is one of the many mysterious cases if the murderer ran out of doors with a blood dripping axe, it would seem as if there would be some blood somewhere to be found in carrying the axes from the scene of the murder to that of the other blood would naturally have dropped and yet none was found. "No New Clues, No Arrests Yet." Boston Sunday Herald, August 8, 1892.

Narrator  12:19  

You've been listening to the autopsy results of Andrew and Abby Borden by the mayor of Fall River, Dr. John Coughlin, played by David Loftus from the Boston Globe, August 6 1892, selected from the Jennings Journals 1892. Published by the Fall River Historical Society. 

Special guest appearance by Jack Cone. Introductory letter from the Knowlton Papers was published by the Fall River Historical Society, produced by Kate Lavender. Your monthly donations help pay for the continuation of compelling audio productions like the Nellie McHenry interview with Bridget Sullivan and the Grand Jury interview with Alice Russell, and the infamous inquest of Lizzie Borden, as well as 13 others, including the preliminary testimony of Bridget Sullivan with over 1000 questions, and no other podcast has the actual trial testimony of the trial carefully curated for listeners like you without ads.