Monday, June 5, 2017

Today in History: Lizzie Borden Trial 125th Anniversary!

The Lizzie Borden Trial Begins!

This was a momentous month for the infamous Lizzie Borden. It was on this day in 1893 that the "trial of the 19th century" began.

(Leslie's Illustrated cover, June 19, 1893 showing Lizzie Borden listening during her trial.)

On June 5, 1893, crowds packed the circuit court in New Bedford, Massachusetts to not only get a glimpse of the accused axe murderer, Lizzie Borden, but to hear the details of one of the most shocking cases to occur in Fall River, Mass. history. 

The news of the trial, in which the spinster-daughter Lizzie Borden was accused of the vicious murders of her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby Durfee Borden on August 4, 1892, spread across the country. The trial was reported on by newspapers here and abroad.

Here's a glimpse of the front page of the June 9, 1893 Friday evening Daily Herald from Texas: (You can read the full copy here in PDF.) * See more newspapers here

The case continues to fascinate today as it seems inconceivable to us, as it did to the jurors of the period, that a Victorian lady from a notable family could, or would, commit such a horrific murder.  Many today insist she literally got away with murder. Some still believe she couldn't have done it. (See more information on the Famous Trials-Lizzie Borden website.)

As a writer, it's a case I always found fascinating. No matter how you view Lizzie, you still have to wonder how and why she (or anyone) could do such a thing. You only have to look at the crime scene photos to understand. Warning: garish photos. The autopsy reports are just as graphic. It was a truly horrific murder and a horrorific story.

To me, the photos and reports provided a reason for why she would do such a thing--she had no other choice. I built my novel, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, around the real life events, the trial, and the aftermath of her life. I used actual trial transcripts and information to provide a framework for the story and provide a plausible reason this could have happened. Once you look at the photos and read the reports, you'll see that it makes perfect sense in the horror realm.

 *** Here's an excerpt detailing what brought Lizzie Borden to trial from my book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete:

(Get in print - B&N -  or Print & Kindle or Kindle Unlimited)  - See more reviews and information on my website.
Chapter One

Q. You saw his face covered with blood?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Did you see his eyeball hanging out?
A. No sir.
Q. Did you see the gashes where his face was laid open?
A. No sir.
—Lizzie Borden at inquest, August 9-11, 1892, Fall River Courtroom

    August 4, 1892

    Lizzie Borden drained the rest of her tea, set down her cup, and listened to the sound of furniture moving upstairs. My, my, for only ten oclock in the morning my stepmother is certainly energetic. Housecleaning, already?
    For a moment, Lizzie forgot her plans to go shopping downtown. THUMP. There it went again. It sounded like her stepmother was rearranging the whole room. She paused at the bottom stair, her concern growing, when she heard another thump and then, the oddest of sounds—a moan. Uh-oh. What was that? Did she hurt herself?
    “Mrs. Borden? Lizzie called. Are you all right?”
    No answer.
    She wondered if her stepmother had taken ill, yet the shuffling, moving, and other unusual noises continued. Lizzie hurried up the stairs and paused outside the partially opened door. The strange moans coming from the room sent a shiver up her back.
    Lizzie pushed the door open wider and stared. Mrs. Abby Durfee Borden stood in front of the bureau mirror, clawing at her reflected image. And what a horrid image it was. The sixty-seven-year-old womans hair looked like it had never been combed and stuck out like porcupine quills. Her usually spotless housedress appeared wrinkled and torn. Yet, that wasnt the worst. Dark red spotsBlood, Lizzies mind whispered—dotted the floor and streaked the sides of the older womans dress and sleeves.
   Lizzie gazed about the room in alarm. The tips of Fathers slippers peeking out from beneath the bed also glistened with the same viscous red liquid. All that blood! What happened here? What happened?
    She gasped, which got the attention of Mrs. Borden, who jerked her head and growled. Lizzie choked back a cry of alarm. Abbys square, plain face now appeared twisted and ashen gray. Her eyes, once bright with interest, stared from under a milky covering as if she had cataracts. She resembled a female version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Another growl and a moan, and the older woman lunged, arms rigid, her stubby hands held out like claws.
    “Mrs. Borden, Abby! Lizzie yelled and stumbled backward as fast as she could. “Abby, do you hear me?”
    Her stepmother shuffled forward, her steps slow but steady. She showed no emotion or sense of recognition. The only utterances she made were those strange low moans.
    Lizzie moved back even further, trying to keep some distance between her and Mrs. Bordens grasping fingers. Then her foot hit something. Lizzie quickly glanced down at the silver hairbrush that had fallen to the floor. Too late, she realized her error.
    “No! Lizzie cried out at the strange feeling of her stepmothers clammy, cold hand around her wrist. Abby, what happened? Whats wrong with you?”
    Mrs. Borden said nothing and moved in closer. Her mouth opened and closed, revealing bloodstained teeth.
    “No! Stay away! Lizzie yelled. “Stop!
    She didnt. Instead, Mrs. Borden scratched and clawed at her. Lizzie leaned back, barely escaping the snap of the madwomans teeth at her neck.
    “Mrs. BorAbby! No, no! Stop!
    Lizzies slight advantage of a few inches in height offered no protection against her shorter stepmothers almost demonic and inhuman strength. The older woman bit and snapped like a rabid dog. Lizzie struggled to fight her off, and shoved her away, yet Mrs. Borden attacked again and again, her hands grabbing, her teeth seeking the tender flesh covered by Lizzies long, full sleeves.
    The two of them grappled and wrestled, bumping into the bedposts and banging into furniture. Lizzie yelped each time her soft flesh hit something hard. She felt her strength wane as the crazed woman’s gnarled hands clawed at her. Lizzie wondered how much more she could endure.
    Lizzies cries for help came out hoarse and weak. “Em-Emma!” She tried again. “Help! Help me! She knew Emma had come in late last night from her trip out of town. But if Emma already woke and went downstairs, will she even hear me?
    Lizzie reeled back, her panic growing as her spine pressed against the fireplace. She pushed and fought in an attempt to keep this monster away, yet Mrs. Bordens ugly face and snapping teeth edged closer and closer.
    Then Lizzie spotted it: the worn hatchet Father had left behind after hed last brought in the newly chopped wood. No, no! Her mind filled with horror, but when her stepmother came at her again, Lizzie whispered a prayer for forgiveness and grabbed the handle. She lifted the hatchet high overhead and swung as hard as she could. It hit her stepmother’s skull with a sickening thud.
    As impossible as it seemed, Mrs. Borden snarled and continued her attack.
    Lizzie hit her again, and again, and again. The blows raked her stepmother’s face and scraped deep furrows into tender flesh. The metal hatchet head pounded her stepmothers shoulders and arms, the bones giving way with sickening crunches. Mrs. Bordens broken arms dangled, hanging limp and ugly at her sides and yet, dear God, yet she continued her attack.
    With the last bit of her strength, Lizzie raised the hatchet again and brought it down on Mrs. Bordens head. Only then did her stepmother crumple and fall into a pile at Lizzies feet.
    It took a few minutes for Lizzie to comprehend the horrible scene. It didnt seem real, but it was. With a cry, she threw the bloodied hatchet aside. She gagged as the weapon caught in the braided artificial hairpiece hanging from the back of Mrs. Bordens gore-encrusted scalp.
    Retching, Lizzie ran to the other side of the bed, bent over, and vomited into the chamber pot. She crossed the room and leaned against the wall, her shoulders shaking with each heart-rending sob.
    Her hands trembled so hard she could barely hold them still, but she managed to cover her eyes in a feeble attempt to block out the carnage. It didnt stop the horrific images that flashed in her mind, or the many questions. And it certainly did nothing for the soul-crushing guilt that filled her.
    Why? she cried. Why? Dear God, what have I done? What have I done?
--CA Verstraete,

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