Christine (C.A.) Verstraete is the author of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. The Haunting of Dr. Bowen: A Mystery in Lizzie Borden’s Fall River (releasing August 4, 2017 and available for pre-order now), offers another view of the Borden murders –through the eyes of the Bordens’ neighbor and family physician, Dr. Seabury Bowen.
How did the crime affect him? You might be surprised.
Chris answers a couple of questions about her newest book and also gives us a sneak peek excerpt of it.
Who is Dr. Bowen and why write about him?
Dr. Bowen was not only neighbor to Lizzie Borden and her family – his house was kitty-corner from theirs – but he also was their family physician. Following the murders, Lizzie sent the maid, Bridget Sullivan, out to find the doctor. He was among the first officials at the murder scene and the first to check the bodies.
As there are only newspaper reports on the trial or his trial testimony to go from, I started to wonder how the murders might have affected him. Yes, he was a medical professional, but this was a horrible crime – and he personally knew the victims. Beyond the ordinary motives, I thought there could possibly be a supernatural and paranormal influence. Why not?
You also wrote about the Borden crimes in your first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. What inspired you to write on the same topic?
The book releases on August 4th, the 125th anniversary of the Borden murders. You can’t help but wonder, did she or didn’t she, and how could she? It’s a topic that never fails to intrigue. Even now you have to wonder how a genteel lady could commit such an awful and brutal crime. Beyond the lack of actual evidence linking her to the murders, that’s probably what the jury also thought when they acquitted her of the crime in June, 1893.
In Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, I offered a plausible, fictional solution to the crimes based on the actual autopsy reports and photos. Why else would she have killed her father and stepmother in such an awful, brutal way except… her parents had turned into zombies. It made sense.
I also felt that writing about her doctor and close neighbor gives another unusual aspect to the story in a fictional sense. I’ve enjoyed writing about the topic and am working on other related projects. A short Lizzie Borden – zombie story will be out soon and I’m working on Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter 2.
Sneak Peek Excerpt
“I saw the form of Mr. Borden lying on the lounge at the left of the sitting-room door. His face was very badly cut, apparently with a sharp instrument; his face was covered with blood.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893
The man reached toward him with long, lean fingers. Dr. Seabury Bowen blinked and tried to make out the features of the unknown figure standing in the corner. The unexpected visitor had a broad, dark face and what looked like a band across his forehead. Bowen stretched out his arm in turn and jumped when their fingers touched, the jolt surging through him like the electricity he knew would soon replace all the gas lights.
“Seabury, dear, are you all right?” His wife, Phoebe, sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”
Bowen breathed hard. He bolted upright and held a hand on his chest, trying to catch his breath. Still stunned, he gazed about the room, disturbed at the odd shapes until he recognized familiar things… the bureau, the armoire, the paintings on his bedroom walls. He swallowed and nodded.
“Ye-yes. I-I’m fine. A bad dream, that’s all it was. Just a dream.”
“A bad dream? Dear, you’re breathing so hard, your heart must be pounding like a drum in Mr. Sousa’s band! Are you sure you’re fine?”
The doctor took his wife’s hand and kissed it, relieved to feel his heartbeat return to normal. He had to admit his reaction worried him for a minute, too. “I’m fine now, Phoebe. Really, it’s all right. Go back to sleep. I’m too wrought up to rest. I think I’ll go downstairs and read awhile.”
He gave her a loving smile before he rose and slipped on his robe, his thoughts in a whirl. To tell the truth, these dreams or hallucinations or whatever they were appeared to be getting stronger and more frequent. Not that he’d tell her, of course. It made Bowen wonder if he was losing touch with his faculties, something he’d never dare mention. Nor did he want to even entertain the thought, but he did. Am I going mad? Am I?
The doctor mulled over the idea as he tiptoed down the stairs. A cup of coffee sounded good. If he were truthful, he’d admit that these strange visions or hallucinations had begun that ghastly morning two years ago.
After his neighbor Miss Lizzie’s frantic call at his back door, he’d grabbed his worn leather medical bag and rushed with her to the adjacent Borden home, not sure what he would find. Despite the horrors he encountered, by instinct he’d switched to professional mode, making sure the Borden sisters weren’t harmed. Of course, nothing could, or would, help the horribly butchered Mr. Borden. Then they discovered Mrs. Borden’s body, and all hell broke loose.
He put the iron coffee pot on the burner and turned the flame on high. While the coffee warmed, he pondered how many lives had changed that day, his included. He’d tended to many terrible accidents and injuries over the course of his nearly thirty years serving the medical needs of the families of Fall River, but this had affected him the most.
Maybe it was the proximity of his own home and the underlying fears he naturally had about the safety of his wife and daughter. No matter what, it was enough to make him decide to retire sooner than he’d planned. It made him try to forget those other strange incidents, too. Not that he could.
“How can I ever forget?” he wondered. “How?” Indeed, the odd occurrence was etched on his mind as much as anything else that fateful morning. He recalled how he’d glanced up a moment after checking Mr. Borden’s body. In that instant, he’d caught what looked like a dark shadow lingering near the door of the sitting room. He’d stopped and almost cried out in alarm when the odd thumping sounds started. He remembered his panic, and the questions he’d had: Was the killer there? Was someone trying to break in?
A quick glance around told him no one else seemed to hear it. But he did. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. He listened, hand on his chest, and realized the thumping wasn’t his heart, though it was pounding hard. No, it was inside the house, and sounded like… a drum?
We had Chris on our radio show on March 21, 2017 to talk about Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. Her show was one of the first promo videos we ever made. (It’s still one of our favorites.)