Showing posts with label Lizzie Borden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lizzie Borden. Show all posts

01 October 2012

To Kill or Not to Kill: My Personal Story


by Fran Rizer

Recently, I began going through my deceased mother's personal belongings. Among newspaper clippings and all of my report cards back to preschool, I found she'd saved print copies of numerous Internet articles and several guest blogs I did before I discovered Criminal Brief and was later invited to become a SleuthSayer.

Today, I'm reprinting a blog that appeared on Murderous Musings,
Sunday, June 11, 2008, including the introduction and an afterword.

2008 INTRODUCTION

We cap off the opening week of Murderous Musings with some thoughts from Guest Blogger Fran Rizer, author of the Callie Parrish Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime. Fran obviously has a morbid (make that mortuary) sense of humor. That she is a retired public school teacher may seem obvious from her nursery-rhymish titles. The first book was A Tisket, a Tasket, a Fancy, Stolen Casket. The second will be Hey, Diddle, Diddle, the Corpse & the Fiddle.

Fran has written for magazines, won photography awards, co-authored scientific nature studies for Clemson University, and is a published, recorded songwriter, A Murderous welcome to Fran Rizer.

THOUGHTS OF MURDER

Lizzie Borde
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved that rhyme. I was that child. My fascination and delight with this poetic effort revealed my interest in murder at a very tender age. I read avidly about Lizzie, Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, and, of course, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood killers.

Then I saw Susan Smith on television begging for the safe return of her children. She lived only about an hour's drive from my home. I doubted her sincerity but was still horrified when she confessed.

Susan Smith made me aware that my intrigue with murder isn't the act itself. My attraction is entertaining reading. It's not murder I like; it's reading about it. In my earlier years, I'd devoured true accounts, but because of their distance in time and place, those words had seemed like reading fiction.

That was a relief. It's easier to confess, "I love reading murder mysteries," than, "I love killing."
Susan Smith, 1994

Having read this week's initial blogs and feeling honored to be a guest on Murderous Musing, I wanted to address my personal thoughts on murder first and close with a few words about another favorite topic of mine: research.

RESEARCH NOTES

I always knew that if I lived long enough, someday I would write a novel and it would be a murder mystery. I also realized that many people are tired of the horrific news on CNN and that real murder is tragic and heart-breaking. When I retired from teaching, I decided to take a light-hearted approach to my first murder mystery. That's how the Callie Parrish Mystery Series was born and I was tagged the writer who put "fun into funerals."

Asked why my books are southern-based, I tend to answer, "Because you write what you know, and that's what I know." That's partly true, but I also write about murders and mortuaries, and I've never killed anyone, personally known a murder victim, nor worked in a funeral home. I used to tell my students, "Write what you know, and if you want to write about something you don't know, research it!"

A couple of years ago, at the visitation for my uncle's funeral in Aiken, SC, I began chatting with an employee who'd recently graduated from mortuary school. I asked a simple question about casket locking mechanisms, and he invited me downstairs to see for myself.

He showed me how to lock and unlock different models. I asked, and he answered a thousand questions. Well, at least a hundred. I confess I also checked out the difference in linings and the mattresses. When we finally returned to the visitation upstairs, I found my family frantically searching for me.

"Where were you this time?" my son asked.

"Researching for the book,"I replied.

When the first book was completed, I sent it on its merry way to New York where I was fortunate enough to get a great agent who got me a deal with Berkey Prime Crime. The third Callie Parrish book will be issued in October, 2008,

Recently, a cousin called me from Augusta, Georgia. "I went to a funeral today," she began.

"Who died?" I asked.

"Nobody you know, but I was telling a friend that my cousin writes books that take place in a funeral home. This good-looking man asked if you were from Columbia and then proudly announced that he'd taken you on a tour of the funeral home where he used to work. He wants to know where your next book signing will be."

As much as I appreciate the opportunity to blog as a guest on Murderous Musings, I need to hit the road. I'm headed to Georgia on a research trip!

2012 AFTERWORD

A lot has changed since 2008. The second, third, and fourth Callie books have been published, and I'm on a first-name basis with undertakers at several funeral homes who have no problem answering whatever weird questions I call and ask them.

My friend, Linda
The major change, however, is about my best friend, Linda. A few of you already know about her. She was two years younger than I and the daughter of my mother's best friend. We had matching Easter dresses when we were little, and one year, we received identical gorgeous dolls from Santa. We each married our childhood sweethearts two weeks apart and bought houses next door to each other. We celebrated the births of our children together and comforted each other when our marriages ended in divorce. We double-dated both before our marriages and after our divorces. Linda was Callie Parrish's number one fan, not the kind Stephen King wrote about in MISERY, but the kind who organized a fan club that met me at book signings carrying big "Fran Rizer Fan Club, We Love Callie" signs and wearing black, sequin-accented mourning veils she made.

On the last Friday in January, 2009, Linda and I went shopping that morning. That night, we went to dinner with Cal and Dennis. She went home early because she had an all-day church meeting on Saturday. I called her several times Saturday. Her car wasn't at her house, and I assumed she'd gone out with some of the others from the meeting.

Cal and I kept calling. When there was no answer by nine that night, he called her son-in-law, who entered the house and found Linda's body. She'd been beaten to death the night before during a home robbery. She'd retired from her state job only sixty days before; she'd raised her daughter as a single mother; and her house needed repairs, but she spent most of her money on her three grandchildren. What in the hell did the monster think she'd have that was worth stealing? I won't go into details except to say that I helped clean the house including removing what seemed like a ton of black fingerprint dust. Her burned car was found not very far away, and the amethyst and diamond ring she'd traded her wedding rings in for after her divorce was recovered from a pawn shop.

Well-written murder can be entertaining. In reality, murder is perpetual hell with survivors doomed to wonder every day: When did she know he was in the house? How scared was she? How much pain did she endure physically and mentally?

I vowed not to ever write another murder. I did, however, allow what I'd already written to be published.

My mother, Willene
On April 25, 2012, my mother died in my arms after five months of constant agony, infection, and complications from hip surgery. How could I even consider ever writing another Callie mystery which, according to some reviewers, "put the fun in funerals"?

Not a day passes that I don't think about my mother and Linda. Not a day passes that I don't remember the many wonderful times with each of them--including watching my mother read the Callie books with her big magnifying glass and finding Linda's optimistic stash of black sequined veils in her closet when we cleaned out her house.

I couldn't write fiction from November until a month ago. The thriller written long ago found a home under a pen name after Linda's death, but I decided there would be no more Callies.

There's an old song– "Time Changes Everything." Maybe so. Or maybe I remembered how much Linda and Mama loved Callie, but when my publisher called and asked when the next one would be available, I told him the end of November and started writing. Callie books average 80,000 words. I'm 60,000 words into the rough draft of Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD. I can no longer say, "I haven't killed anyone...lately" because I've killed two recently. I don't think blunt force trauma will ever return to my writing, but apparently I can still shoot fictional characters.

Gotta go now. I have another book to finish.

Until we meet again… take care of   YOU!

24 July 2012

Forty Whacks


by David Dean

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Just about everyone is familiar with that iconic verse, even if they are not familiar with the infamous case from which it springs.  The average person is usually surprised to learn that the axe-wielding Lizzie was found not guilty of the murders of her father and step-mother.  Why then, those same people might ask, does that danged poem hang on so?  Good question, which unlike the case itself, has a fairly easy and clear answer--everybody thought she was guilty.  Well, maybe not everybody, but just about.  She did have her defenders during her trial, and she has a vast horde of them today.  There are many websites and books dedicated to clearing her name, just as the jury cleared her of any wrong-doing.

There are parallel cases even today: The O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony murder cases spring to mind.  Not guilty?  Most folks don't think so and never will.  People in Lizzie's time felt the same about her.  When you know the facts of her case it is difficult to rule her out...but not impossible, hence the verdict.  Here are the facts in brief: On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, father of Lizzie, 32, and Emma, 41, (spinsters according to the times) arrived home from his business rounds sometime close to 10:45am to take a rest.  The weather was brutally hot and it would appear that he lay down on a settee in the living room to nap.  He would not be getting up.  The maid (Irish, of course), Bridget Sullivan, was also lying down in her room upstairs when she heard Lizzie calling her to say that her father had been killed.  She stated that this was around 11:00am. 

Andrew Borden's Death Scene
 It is worth noting, that the entire household had been down with food poisoning the previous day, which may explain the need for rest in the Borden home.  Strangely, the fear of being poisoned had arisen in the days before the murders and created such paranoia that the Bordens had had some of their food tested.  The results were negative.  Other than the fact that Andrew was not the most popular figure in town, it is not clear why or how the Borden clan arrived at their suspicions.

In any event, Andrew was indeed murdered.  The number of whacks he had received fell well short of the infamous forty-one, but were more than sufficient at ten, or eleven, having been applied to the head.  The wounds appeared to have been made with an axe.  The police were summoned.  After their arrival, darlin' Bridget went in search of her mistress, Abby Borden, whom no one else seems to have missed up to this point...and found her in the upstairs guest room.  She was in a kneeling position between the bed and the wall, her face to the floor, her skull caved in.  It was estimated that she had received nineteen blows to the back of her head by an instrument similar to, or identical with, the one used on her husband.  A search ensued for evidence.

Abby Borden's Death Scene

All that was found of consequence was a hatchet with a broken handle.  This was in the basement.  There would later be conflicting testimony on whether the remainder of the handle was, or was not, discovered.  There were no blood stains evident on it.  Strangely, the police made a conscious decision not to dust the hatchet for fingerprints.  Forensics were just beginning to be used by police in the 1890's and trust in these new methods was not necessarily widespread.  Unfortunately in this case, this potentially valuable piece of evidence was left unprocessed.

On the day of the double murders, the only persons at home in the Borden household were the victims, Lizzie, and Bridget.  Emma was off visiting some friends in the country.  Lizzie would later testify that she had been out in the barn just prior to coming in and discovering her father's much-abused corpse.  According to her, there were some lead fishing sinkers stored in the loft that she wished to locate--this is Lizzie's testimony.  Bridget was supposed to be cleaning windows on that hot day, but had lain down to rest as previously mentioned.  There were no blood stains on the clothing of either woman.  Coincidentally, a few days later, Lizzie would be seen burning a relatively new blue dress in the kitchen stove.  She testified that the dress had got paint on it from some newly-painted baseboards and was ruined.  This was not the dress she had been wearing upon the arrival of the police.

That is the bare-bones of the crime scene. I'm not going to dwell on all the potentially relevant details as most are a matter of interpretation and debate, and there are a number of well-researched books on the subject available.  Instead, I will turn to a brief description of the dynamics underpinning the Borden household in the days prior to the murders: In a nutshell, no one was happy.  Abby, who was Lizzie and Emma's stepmother, was not popular with the girls, especially Lizzie.  In fact, about six years prior to the fateful day, Lizzie had quit calling her mother (she had been the mother figure in her life since the age of three) and began to refer to her as Mrs. Borden.  It is not recorded why.  Their father, Andrew, was a notorious skinflint who spent as little as possible on the home they all lived in.  In spite of the fact that they were quite well off, they had no electricity or indoor plumbing, having to dump their 'night soil' in the back yard each day.  A running dispute had arisen in recent times over the distribution of property and monies, both sisters demanding what they felt was their due.  Also, an illegitimate son of Andrew's had attempted a shake-down of the old man just days out from the tragedy.  He was not successful.  Did I mention that no one was happy?  On top of all this was the family's shared concern over poisoning.  Could it get any worse?  Yes.  According to Liz, her father beheaded all her pet pigeons that she kept in the barn.  He was concerned, it seems, that they were attracting curious neighborhood children who might cause damage or be hurt in the disused building.  Right...Murder, anyone?

So what's the upshot of all this?  Not guilty.  Lizzie was acquitted less than a year later, June 20, 1893 to be exact, after only one and half hours of deliberation.  In modern terms it's not too hard to understand why--there was virtually no physical evidence.  Circumstantial evidence is another thing altogether.  There was some of that, but the jury chose to give it scant weight.  I think she would have been given the same result if it were tried today.  Recent verdicts would seem to indicate that juries don't want the moral burden inherent in circumstantial cases.  It was also difficult for the all-male jurors of the Victorian era to envision young ladies of the proper class committing heinous crimes.  It just wasn't done.  Unthinkable.

I'm thinking it's thinkable.  How about you?  With a verdict of not guilty, the slayings remain officially unsolved, as are the Simpson and Casey murders.  That does not mean that we don't form our own opinions, whether rightly or wrongly we may never know.  It's an interesting, if ultimately futile, exercise to think of what modern investigative techniques might have been able to do with the Borden crime scene.  There has been much speculation over the years as to what really did happen August 4th, 1892, including the tantalizing theory that Lizzie committed the murders in the buff.  The picture my mind conjures of the rather formidable Lizzie (see photo) creepy-crawling through that dark, narrow-roomed, stuffy Victorian home in her birthday suit is mind-jarringly terrifying.  Can you imagine the horror of the last thing you see in this world being your naked, adult child swinging a hatchet down onto your head?

The debate over the Borden case goes on, and probably will for some time to come.  It is possible that it may yet be solved.  Patricia Cornwell, famous writer of mystery novels, as well as a forensic pathologist, claims to have solved the Ripper murders of London.  She makes this claim in her book, "Portrait Of A Killer--Jack The Ripper Case Closed," setting forth a very intelligent investigation into the available evidence and arriving at a very convincing conclusion with the use of DNA.  Certainly a surprising one for me.  Though the case she puts forth can only be tested so far, it is the most compelling one I've read.  It's well worth a look if you're interested.  Perhaps she'll move on to the Borden case.  Maybe Lizzie really is innocent, or at least, not guilty.  Who knows?  Stranger things have happened--the actress, Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), who played Lizzie in a made-for-TV-film, turned out to be actually related to her.  She did not know this at the time of the filming, and it was only discovered after her death by someone doing genetic research on Lizzie.  The doctor who did the autopsies on Andrew and Abby had to be sued to return their heads.  This was only accomplished after their funerals; the heads being buried atop the caskets in separate boxes later.  I did say stranger, didn't I?

Well, what say you?  Lizzie, or nay?  It could have been the illegitimate son, though he was never considered a serious suspect at the time.  He certainly had both a beef (his unacknowledged status) and a motive (money). What about dear Bridget?  She was supposed to be washing windows, not laying about in her room.  She wasn't too happy about that assignment.  Maybe she was very unhappy about it.  The Bordens couldn't have been easy to work for, I'm thinking.  Who's to say Emma couldn't have ridden in from her friend's home and committed the murders and returned the way she came.  Especially if she was in cahoots with Lizzie, the look-out, in the barn. Was the only thing that saved Bridget the fact that she didn't rise to investigate any strange sounds in the house?  Was she asleep?  She doesn't say so.  Was she an accomplice?  It would have been instructive, perhaps, for someone to have looked into her finances after the murders.

It was a long time ago...but it could have been yesterday--we see similar crimes far too often.  What do you think?  Did Lizzie give those infamous whacks?