The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

I remember singing this rhyme as a child. I found it fascinating and morbid and terribly ghoulish.  So began my obsession with all things true crime, the tale of Lizzie Borden being one.

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I find true crime to be an irresistible genre, whether in books, movies or television, it holds my attention like no other category.  Making a Murderer, The Staircase, Amanda Knox, Forensic Files, you name it, I’ve probably watched it.  As a teen and young adult I very much wanted to be an FBI profiler and read John Douglas books prolifically. I studied serial killers and during my undergrad study in a major of psychology my two favorite courses were Deviant Psychology and Homicide.  I never became an FBI profiler but being a librarian is pretty rad in itself and when a new book came out recently about the trial of Lizzie Borden, I was on it.

I knew of the basics of the case and some of the theories, she did it naked, she had a mysterious lover, maybe she and Bridget Sullivan did it together…etc., etc., etc.

Yet the case still holds a deep fascination for me and many other people.  If she did commit the murders, how did she do it without having a speck of blood on her?  There’s an hour time lapse after her stepmother was killed to when her father was murdered.  So she’s got an hour at least with other people in the house and she spoke to her father before he went to lie down in the parlor.  If she did do it how in the world did she hide that she had murdered her stepmother for AN HOUR?  AAGHH.  I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.  So my skepticism that she could have done it is strong.  However, who else would commit such a very personal attack? Makes my head spin…

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson was a treat to read.  Robertson being a lawyer herself, the book is incredibly well organized and researched.  I learned of the particulars of the day of the murders, Lizzie’s arrest, the intricacies of the trial, newspaper accounts, local accounts by members of the Fall River society and the sensation the murders and trial triggered in the community and the world.  The mystery of Lizzie’s burned dress, the curious disappearance of a hatchet handle, possible missteps by the local police and more puzzling details are included.  Robertson gives a gifted account of the time period as well, being the Gilded Age of America, and how cultural and gender expectations of the time affected Lizzie and the trial. 

The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a page turner and kept me on my toes.  While I was reading late at night I’d turn to look down my long, dark hallway past my bedroom and fear the figure of Lizzie staring me down at the end of it.  I spooked myself pretty badly a couple times.  And yet…I still cannot say what I believe in terms of her guilt or innocence.  Robertson leaves it to you, the reader, to be judge and jury and I still can’t find myself on one side or the other.

— Review by Heather, St. Matthews