Lizzie borden took an axe ... or did she?
WHO DID IT?: Lizzie Borden, whose name for more than 120 years has been synonymous with a grisly nursery rhyme, was tried for the murder of her parents in Fall River, Mass., but was ultimately acquitted. Still, the case remains shrouded in mystery.
BETWEEN THE PAGES: Annette Holba explores a famous 1892 murder case in her book, “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe, or Did She? A Rhetorical Inquiry,” and associated lecture series in New Hampshire.
Borden became the talk of Fall River, Mass., back in 1892, when the 32-year-old was charged with murdering her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby, in their home with an axe.
Holba will present her finding at talks throughout the state this year, including Thursday, May 23, at the Harvey-Mitchell Memorial Library, 151 Main St., Epping; Thursday, July 18, at Seabrook Library, 25 Liberty Lane, Seabrook; Thursday, Aug. 15, at Gilmanton Year-Round Library, 1385 NH Route 140, Gilmanton Iron Works; Wednesday, Sept. 11, at Gorham Public Library, 35 Railroad St., Gorham; and Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Newton Town Hall, 2 Town Hall Rd., Newton.
Borden lived with her parents and older sister, Emma, in a small house in Fall River. At the time of his murder, her father, Andrew Borden, had amassed a considerable amount of his death, owned a lot of commercial property and was president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co.
Though ultimately acquitted of the murder, Borden never escaped her infamy and police never considered other suspects.
And it certainly grabbed Holba's attention. She first started looking at the Borden case when she was teaching a class on women and crime back in 1999.
"(Borden's) case just stood out for me from the other women we studied that semester," Holba said.
To get a feel for the case, Holba went back to the scene of the crime. She and a neighbor headed to the Borden home, which is now a bed and breakfast.
"I said, 'Let's go spend the night, let's go explore'," Holba said. "What was really interesting to me was how modest the house was, how small it was, how there were no hallways from room to room.
She also took the extra step of buying the transcripts of the trial. She started reading pockets of the documents, which are thousands of pages long, and immediately found discrepancies. Among them, she said, is testimony as it related to John Morse, Andrew Borden's brother-in-law by a first marriage. Morse had come to stay with the Bordens the night before the murders. He said he heard a conversation between Bridget (the maid) and Abby (the stepmother). Bridget also testified having that conversation, however, she testified it took place after Morse already left the house.
Holba said there's still a lot more work to do, including tracking down the living relatives of the maid, whom some records have as moving to Montana after the trial. The same state that Morse was reported to have lived. She also wants to finish going through the court transcripts and get a better understanding of what became of Emma in the years after the trial.
"If you get too narrow a focus, you lose sight of what's in front of you," Holba said. "I think that's what the police did."