Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Lizzie Borden was accused of killing her parents with a hatchet in 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was indicted and made to stand trial for murder. If she had been found guilty, she would have been hanged.
She was found "not guilty" by the jurors after only ten minutes of deliberation. (They sat in the jury room for another hour to avoid embarrassing the prosecution before announcing the verdict.)
The murders happened with only two other people in the house, Lizzie Borden and her maid, Bridget Sullivan. Borden's step mother was hacked to death on the top floor of the house about 90 minutes before her father met a similar fate, after he came home and dozed on the couch. In spite of the "not guilty" verdict, many people still believe Lizzie Borden did the deed and got away with it. Until today, I was one of them. Now I'm not so sure.
I just read a book "Forty Whacks" by David Kent. This is a book with a detailed story line about what happened, what is fact and what is rumor about the case.
Kent makes it clear that Lizzie's guilt was by no means proved and the jury did the right thing. While Mr. Borden's body was still warm and oozing blood, Lizzie yelled for help and a doctor from across the street came over to the house and examined Mr. Borden's body. Others from the neighborhood soon showed up as well to comfort Lizzie, and Lizzie's clothing, hair and shoes were completely bereft of any blood. All evidence against her was circumstantial and unpersuasive. The jury acquitted, and I agree with the verdict.
However being found "not guilty" is not the same as "absolutely innocent." There was not enough evidence to convict. No murder weapon was ever tied to the crime, no motivation apparent. Lizzie's life both before and after the crime was completely inconsistent with such an evil act. Still, she could have done it, and it seems unlikely that anyone else could have done it without being detected by Lizzie or Bridget when they entered the house. However, what is unlikely is not impossible, and the killer's identity may never be known.
If Lizzie did it, how did she escape being splattered with blood? Where did she hide the murder weapon, which was never reliably identified?
Perhaps Lizzie hired someone to kill her parents so she could inherit their fortune without having to wait years for their natural deaths. Lizzie could have hid the assassin in the house and helped him escape detection. This would explain the 90 minutes between the murders. However, this is speculation and not supported by any evidence. We will probably never know the why, the who and the how of these murders.
Lizzie does indeed deserve the benefit of a doubt, and the jury gave her that. RIP, Lizzie Borden.