|Lizzie Borden (1860-1927)|
The trial of Lizzie Borden (1860-1927) for the horrific ax slayings of her wealthy father, Andrew, and her stepmother, Abby, at their home in Fall River, Massachusetts had commenced on June 5, 1893 and culminated a couple weeks later on June 20 with a finding by the jury of not guilty.
To the jubilation of her supporters, Lizzie was free. She would live in Fall River for the rest of her life (though not at the house of the murders, which, I understand, is now, rather creepily, a bed and breakfast). No one else was ever tried for the crimes.
Popular opinion has tended to register another verdict from that of Lizzie's jury, however, as embodied in the famous rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her Mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her Father forty-one!
Actually, Andrew got ten whacks and Jennie nineteen, but that amount was more than sufficient to do the jobs.
By the way, the mystery writer Carolyn Wells recalled that when she once was discussing limericks with Theodore Roosevelt (only clean ones I'm sure!), Roosevelt recalled the Lizzie Borden rhyme as the most memorable piece of "doggerel verse" that he had ever heard.
The man from whom I learned that piece of information, Edmund Lester Pearson (1880-1937), was the great American chronicler of true crime during the Golden Age of detective fiction (roughly 1920-1940). He made the Lizzie Borden murder case the centerpiece of his pioneering 1924 true crime book, Studies in Murder.
Just as people around the globe during the 1920s and 1930s found detective fiction fascinating, they thought true crime terrible interesting as well; and Pearson made quite a splash with this book.
A man of his time, Pearson was a witty and entertaining writer who tended to view his true crime cases more as deductive puzzles than psychological studies. Yet he also had a strong belief in the moral imperative of meting justice to murderers, which lends a serious tone to his essays as well.
|Mary Roberts Rinehart'scrime novel|
was inspired by a true crime case,
the Mate Bram murders
I will have more on this later in Part 2, where I discuss Pearson's handling of the Borden case. This case is, I think, the most interesting one that Pearson covers in his Studies in Murder, although I will talk about another one Pearson deals with as well, the Mate Bram murders. This was another 1890s American ax slayings case, one that took place on the high sea and inspired Mary Roberts Rinehart's 1914 mystery, The After House.
See what Pearson thought of these cases, both classics of American murder. And if you have any thoughts about it all, please comment!