I try to keep up with what is going on in the world by reading the news online, but there is a lot of news and something new and sensational seems to happen on a daily basis. Because of that, we often get reporting on the beginnings of a story, but any final resolution has been relegated to what is the electronic equivalent of the back page of the newspaper.
I thought I would illustrate this using the story of Lizzie Borden. Most people have heard that Lizzie Borden took an axe, or so the rhyme says, and most people know she was acquitted of using that axe to kill her father and stepmother on the morning of August 4, 1892. Lizzie was informed she was a suspect on August 6 and an inquest hearing was held on August 8. One week after the murders, on August 11, Lizzie was arrested. But what was reported on the day of the murders?
A Venerable Citizen and His Aged Wife
HACKED TO PIECES THEIR HOME.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Borden Lose Their Lives
AT THE HANDS OF A DRUNKEN FARM HAND.
Police Searching Actively for the Fiendish Murderer.
The community was terribly shocked this morning to hear that an aged man and his wife had fallen victims to the thirst of a murderer, and that an atrocious deed had been committed. The news spread like wildfire and hundreds poured into Second street. The deed was committed at No. 62 Second street, where for years Andrew J. Borden and his wife had lived in happiness.
It is supposed that an axe was the instrument used, as the bodies of the victims are hacked almost beyond recognition. Since the discovery of the deed the street in front of the house has been blocked by an anxious throng, eagerly waiting for the news of the awful tragedy and vowing vengeance on the assassin.
“FATHER IS STABBED.”
The first intimation the neighbors had of the awful crime was a groaning followed by a cry of “murder !” Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, who lives next door to the Bordens, ran over and heard Miss Borden cry: “Father is stabbed; run for the police !”
These are the opening paragraphs of the first article written by the local newspaper, The Fall River Herald, on the day of the murders. The article runs to over 2,000 words, so I won’t include the entire article here, although you can read it here. This next bit of the article talks about Miss Borden.
MISS BORDEN ATTRACTED
The heavy fall and a subdued groaning attracted Miss Borden into the house. There the terrible sight which has been described met her gaze. She rushed to the staircase and called the servant, who was washing a window in her room on the third floor. So noiselessly had the deed been done hat neither of them was aware of the bloody work going on so near them.
To a police officer, Miss Borden said she was at work in the barn about 10 o’clock. On her return she found her father in the sitting room with a horrible gash in the side of his head. He appeared at the time as thought he had been bit while in a sitting posture. Giving the alarm, she rushed up stairs to find her mother, only to be more horrified to find that person lying between the dressing case and the bed sweltering in a pool of blood. It appeared as though Mrs. Borden had seen the man enter, and the man, knowing his dastardly crime would be discovered, had followed her upstairs and finished his fiendish work. It was a well known fact that Mrs. Borden always left the room when her husband was talking business with anyone. A person knowing this fact could easily spring upon his victim without giving her a chance to make an outcry. Miss Borden had seen no person enter or leave the place.
Another statement made by the police, and which, though apparently light, would bear investigation, is the following: Some two weeks ago a man applied to Mr. Borden to the lease of a store on South Main street that was vacant. After a short time as Miss Borden was passing the room loud words were heard her father making the remark. I will not let it for that purpose.” Quietness was restored in a short while, and when the man departed her father said: When you come to town next time I will let you know.” This was two weeks ago; but in the mean time the store has been let to another party, but why a person would commit such a brutal affair because of being refused the rental of a store is hard to see. Miss Borden thinks that the party wanted the store for the sale of liquor, and her father refused. It was dark at the time of his calling and she did not recognize his features.
How you feel about Miss Borden’s guilt or innocence may skew how you interpret this first article. Was she trying to help the police as much as possible, or was she setting up alternate suspects? Was she already a suspect even though that isn’t mentioned in this article?
If you are interested in more detailed information about the case, there is plenty available. There are untold books, articles, movies and organizations about Lizzie and the murders. You can read about the family dynamics or the idea that Lizzie was only a suspect because her attitude meant she was not like all the other spinsters. Even all these years later, new information can still be found. In 2012 the Fall River Historical Society was gifted the original journals used during the trial by Miss Borden’s attorney.
Sometimes the initial available information is not enough. There is value in sticking with a story, even when there is no clear resolution more than a century later. Anyone care to share an opinion about Lizzie’s guilt or innocence?