Thursday, June 1, 2017

Memento mori: Lizzie Borden, accused murderer and keen reader

Inspirer of books, poems, movies, television, stage plays, operas and 125 years of speculation, Lizzie Andrew Borden, America's most famous non-double-murderer, died at her home in Fall River, Massachusetts on this day ninety years ago.

She was 66 years old.

Borden was one of two spinster daughters of wealthy and tight-fisted local businessman Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby. The two were found hacked to death on the morning of August 4, 1892.

An inquest was held August 8; a grand jury was convened to take evidence through November, and Borden was indicted December 8.

Her trial began June 5, 1893, and lasted fifteen days; her three-man legal team- which included a former Massachusetts governor who had appointed the judge- did such a good job the all-male jury acquitted her after ninety minutes' deliberation.

The trial was a nationwide sensation, complete with published photos of the victims' bodies in the newspapers.

The state never charged anyone else with the murders, leaving a pall over Lizzie and her sister Emma. With their father's- and stepmother's- inheritance (she was killed first so her estate passed to her husband ever so briefly)- the sisters bought a new house in a fashionable neighborhood with a substantial personal staff. There they lived in comfortable ostracism for decades.

Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth A. Borden but it didn't make any difference. Attending church after her acquittal, she was so ostentatiously shunned she never went back. She never appeared in local stores; though she took occasional trips to Boston to see plays.

Emma, ten years her senior, moved out after a dispute in 1905 and the two never saw each other again. Emma survived Lizzie by nine days; the two were buried in the family plot.

Here estate was worth nearly a million dollars; she left many bequests to her limited circle of friends and a large sum to an animal rescue shelter. Laughlin W. MacDonald, the owner of Adams' bookshop in Fall River that Miss Borden was a devoted customer who bought hundreds of books over the years as anonymous gifts to the poor of the city.

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