The trial of Lizzie Borden for the double axe murders of her father and mother began today on June 5, 1893 at the New Bedford Courthouse.
Here's an excerpt from Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete based on the real-life events, and a few surprise twists on the story.
Those who saw Miss Borden for the first time were very much astonished. Her newspaper portraits have done her no justice at all. Some have made her out a hard and hideous fright, and others have flattered her. She is, in truth, a very plain-looking old maid.
—The Boston Daily Globe, June 5, 1893
izzie held her head high as she rose and addressed the court to formally enter her plea. “Not guilty,” she stated, her voice and conscience clear. “If you please, I will rely on my attorney, Mr. Andrew Jennings, to speak for me from now on.”
With that, she sat down to the sound of pencils scratching across paper as the court artists faithfully replicated her every feature and article of clothing. As the reporters wrote about the least of her reactions during the legal proceedings, she took care to keep her face emotionless. She ducked her head to stare at her hands clasped firmly together in her lap. How long she could maintain such behavior was yet unknown, though she knew her very life depended on her looking calm—not like the prosecution’s image of a crazed killer.
That didn’t mean it came easy. She smoothed the front of her plain black brocade dress, a fashion some would call rather schoolmarmish; even old-fashioned. True, maybe, as she was never a slave to the latest fashion trends, though she did appreciate looking presentable. What she did resent was one newspaper’s description of her as “a plain old maid” and detailing a look of wear on her face. Well, given what she was going through and the night’s horrific encounter, she suspected anyone would look tired and far from their best.
Of course, this was only the start. Lizzie tried not to fret, especially as the daily barrage of newspaper reports and speculations kept on. Add to this the stress from the nightly noises of the other inmates housed near her, the taunts—Chop-chop, Lizzie, they’d yell—and the undead creatures parading outside the cell, and it all took its toll. Even the carriage ride to a larger cell in New Bedford, normally used for the ill and infirm, offered its stresses. She felt like a museum specimen, but remained stoic and outwardly calm. It all amounted to pretty good reasons for having perpetually dark circles under her eyes.
Interestingly, despite the jailhouse noises, the curious eyes peering at her window from outside, and the way some jail staff eyed her though they tried not to show it, Lizzie felt almost glad for the semi-privacy her cell offered after a day in court. At least she was away from the public and the newspaper writers’ constant prying.
As she spent another grueling morning in court, listening to her attorneys haggle with the district attorney over appropriate jury choices and such, her mind wandered in illogical directions. At one point she wondered—would any women in the temperance union, or her church associations, sit on her jury if they could? What did they say about her as they talked with their husbands at home? Of course she’d seen enough cold stares and unfriendly faces to guess the answers to both questions. She decided not to dwell on that further lest she fall deeper into the black hole of melancholy beckoning her.
Back in her dreary cell, Lizzie walked aimlessly in a circle as exercise and tried fluffing the rock-hard pillow in an attempt to use up her nervous energy. Minutes later, the jingle of the matron’s keys let her know she had a most-welcome visitor, likely John or Emma, the only two besides Mr. Jennings she could count on these days.
She stepped back and waited, hands folded primly in front, as the door swung open to the mood-lifting sight of her sister.
The matron relocked the door with her usual warning, “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
Lizzie reached out and gave Emma a hug. “It’s so good to see you.”
Of course, when she glanced over the courtroom each day, she saw Emma faithfully seated in the first row. But being able to converse with her sister and touch her, to feel like someone cared, was much different. To Lizzie, it felt wonderful to be in contact with someone who would offer cheery conversation, even if was often one-sided. It still helped to hear about some bit of news; anything, besides her grim situation.
Emma returned her hug and after a minute pulled back, waving the woven basket in front of her. “So, what do we have for today’s special?”
Lizzie crossed the room in a few steps, patted the bed, and urged Emma to sit down. She eyed the basket with a big smile, followed by a grimace. “How about cranberry-apple-prune?”
She laughed and removed the cloth napkin cover from the basket, revealing a pile of nicely browned cookies. Even if she could eat just about anything at this point other than what passed for meals here, nothing equaled Emma’s homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. She grabbed one and bit into it, savoring the sweetness and the chewy texture.
“Emma, these are wonderful, thank you. I never thought a cookie could taste so good. Do you have any news? Find anything of interest in the papers from the warehouse?”
“I have some names.” Emma offered a paper covered with neatly written rows. “Well, they’re mostly the initials and first names of persons I found in the papers. I also listed the activities or goods linked to them if it was included. Most involved office supplies or unspecified items.”
Lizzie looked at what Emma had carefully recorded. Her hopeful feeling soon turned to disappointment. “Yes, I see here, SS, wooden crates. BC, shipping containers. Well, more initials, not much hope there, I fear, unless we can positively identify the person.”
Letter after letter flew past her eyes. She saw nothing but initials, until she turned to the other side. “This looks more promising. Adelaide, typewriting.” Lizzie glanced up at Emma. “No surname, no initial. Did you look at the class list I had in my drawer, or the potential applicants list from the church? Maybe there aren’t many Adelaides who expressed interest.”
Emma shook her head. “Not yet. I haven’t had a chance. I hope to do it next if I can. With everything going on…”
Nothing more needed to be said, of course. Lizzie went back to the list. “Wait, here’s one thing. Bottles, Samuel S. The other warehouse we were at…” She paused and tried to remember. “Yes, Samuel Smith. He was listed as the owner of that dreadful place. We’ll have to look through the rest of the papers, see who else he’s connected to. Father bought a lot of bottles, I see. I can’t imagine why.”
“He must have used these bottles for something particular at his business,” Emma stated.
But what? Lizzie wondered. An image of all the papers and boxes in that abandoned warehouse, especially one box with the word BOTT on it—for bottles, she realized—flit through her mind. The thought gnawed at her. She shrugged and pushed it away to figure out later. “I suppose.”
Emma’s departure left her with plenty of time to sit and think about her case, not that she wanted to do more of that. She shifted through the stack of papers half-heartedly, noting page after page of mundane supplies. The actions made her feel more discouraged and disheartened, not the kinds of sentiments that would help her get through this ordeal, she knew.
To her surprise, the jangle of keys announced another visitor. She stood and waited for the matron to open the cell door, her eyes widening in surprise to see John again so soon. He nodded to the matron. “Thank you. I should be done in about ten minutes.”
Once the matron disappeared down the hall, Lizzie let all caution go and rushed to give him a hug. “I miss you.”
To her chagrin, he gave her arm an almost brotherly squeeze and stepped away. What was going on? Her shock at his unexpected coldness left her almost breathless, but she forgot that as his next bit of news unnerved her even more.
He lowered his voice. “I’m sorry, Liz, I don’t have much time. I wanted to let you know what’s been happening before the matron returns. I suppose you have heard what seems like more disturbing sounds at night?”
She agreed and whispered back, “Yes, I do try to get used to it, but it does seem like there are more of them out there wandering around. I can usually hear them somewhere outside my window.”
He shook his head and raked a hand through his hair. “We’ve observed a new pattern in the last week. Remember I said we think someone is keeping these monsters confined and letting them out?”
At her nod, he continued, “Our crews are seeing triple the number of creatures out on the streets during the day. We’ve doubled patrols, but the danger is spreading. A woman downtown just missed being attacked when one of the creatures lurched out of an alleyway. Two of the Society members intervened before it could do any harm. We told the woman we were police and the man was sick. A fortunate turn is she didn’t get a good look at him.”
“That is alarming.” Lizzie gasped, fearing for Emma’s safety. She wrung her hands, her worry levels rising. “Have they harmed anyone?”
John shrugged and went on. “We can’t be sure. Police have been checking on several recent incidents of missing persons, but they can’t say with certainty what happened. You may not view it as such, and I regret saying this, but the press is too busy with your trial to bother with much else.”
Lizzie gave him a sour look. “Yes, how ironic.”
He shrugged. “All I can say is any reports have mostly been ignored. The police did issue warnings about being alert, isolated attacks, and being aware of suspicious, ill persons roaming about. They were buried in the back section of the papers.”
--(c) 2018 C. Verstraete. More information on the murders can be found at the author's website.