Books: Forty Whacks

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TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN — Edmund Pearson—Doubleday, Doran ($3.50).

Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother forty whacks;

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father forty-one!

It was a sweltering August morning in Fall River, Mass. Some of the Borden household felt distinctly under the weather. Night before last both Mr. & Mrs. Borden had been violently sick; this morning Bridget, the maid-of-all-work, felt none too well. But they all got up as usual, went about their daily tasks. After breakfast 70-year-old Mr. Borden walked down town to do some business errands. Bridget, her first chores done, went up to her room to lie down. Mrs. Borden, 64 and fat, puffed up the front stairs to change the pillow slips in the spare room. That left only Stepdaughter Lizzie, a spinster of 32, unaccounted for.

Old Mr. Borden came back from his errands worn out by the heat. He went into the sitting room, stretched out on the sofa. Soon Bridget, dozing in her room, was roused by a cry from Miss Lizzie: ''Come down here! Father's dead; someone came in and killed him!" Mr. Borden was still lying on the sofa, his face and head a mask of blood. He had been hacked to death with some sharp, heavy instrument. His body was still warm, the blood was still flowing. Neighbors came running, the house was searched; in the spare room they found the body of Mrs. Borden lying on the floor, hacked to death in the same manner. She had apparently been killed an hour or so earlier.

That was Aug. 4, 1802. A week later, following the inquest, Lizzie Borden was indicted for the murder of her father and stepmother. It was known that the Bordens were not a happy family. Lizzie and her older sister (who was visiting friends at the time of the murders) resented their stepmother, kept to themselves as much as possible in the front of the house. By Fall River standards of those days, Mr. Borden was a rich man. Two days before the inquest, Lizzie burned up a dress. Her testimony at the inquest—she was never put on the stand during her trial—was contradictory on some points, evasive on others. Nevertheless, since there was only circumstantial evidence against her, she was acquitted. The trial (1893) was a national sensation, even eclipsing the Chicago World's Fair. Many a newspaper reader thought Lizzie innocent, but the majority in Fall River thought otherwise. One of the many current jokes about the case: on Aug. 4 somebody asked Miss Lizzie the time of day. Said she: "I don't know, but I'll go and ax Father."

For years afterwards the Fall River Globe kept the bloody memory of Aug. 4 alive, every year on that date ran a thinly veiled attack on Lizzie Borden. Fall River citizens shunned her on the street. She changed her name to Lizbeth, but refused to move away. Did Sister Emma suspect her? No one knows. They lived together for eleven years, then Emma left her, never saw Lizzie again. When they died, in the same year (1927), they were buried in the Fall River cemetery alongside the others.

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