Margaret Reviews: The Trial of Lizzie Borden – Cara Robertson

This new account of the 1893 Trial of Lizzie Borden, accused and acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother in the home the family shared in 1892, is packed with facts and photographs the author uncovered during the course of her research, much of which draws on the collections of the archives in Fall River. Images of key players and places, diagrams and plans, as well as fascinating, though frustratingly blurry ‘crime scene’ photographs, all help bring the story to life for the modern-day reader. Most of us have heard the tale of Lizzie Borden, who “took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one,” but few of us know much, if anything, of the actual events. Robertson’s book sheds light not only on Borden, her life, and this crime, but also on 19th century Fall River society. The facts of the case are carefully laid out in this book, but the pieces of this murder mystery do not all fit smoothly together, and there are many questions to puzzle over long after you are done reading. Why didn’t anyone hear anything during this crime? I would think hitting someone with an axe or hatchet would be a rather noisy business. Who dies silently if they are attacked while wide awake during the day (though evidence suggests Mr. Borden may have been sleeping)? Did Mr. and Mrs. Borden put up a fight? Were there any defense wounds on their hands? There was considerable evidence presented about the head wounds suffered by the victims, but no mention of any other cuts or abrasions. If Lizzie did murder her parents, what happened to her bloody clothes? These are just a few of the many inscrutable features of the case. Perhaps most tantalizing of all, in her summary the author notes that there is an archive of material related to the Borden trial locked away in a law office in Springfield, MA, protected to this day by attorney-client privilege. Would this finally solve the mystery of Lizzie Borden? We may never know. For all interested in local history and true crime, this is a good read!