More than 125 years later, the question remains: Did Lizzie Borden murder her father and stepmother in their Fall River, Massachusetts, home on a quiet summer day in 1892? This perennially perplexing case began to intrigue Cara Robertson during her student years at Harvard and later became the subject of her senior thesis. Now, decades later, Robertson is an accomplished lawyer who has used her legal skills and research savvy to recount the crime, arrest, trial and its aftermath in the highly readable The Trial of Lizzie Borden.
Relying solely on evidence, never speculation, Robertson is an adept, fair-minded guide with a gift for organization and nuance. Seventy-two photos help bring the gruesomeness to life—including photos of the dead bodies and their shattered skulls, presented as evidence in the trial. The murders are haunting for their seeming impossibility and brutality (though there weren’t 40 whacks, as the childhood rhyme suggests―Borden’s father suffered 10 blows to his face, while her stepmother died of 18 head wounds). How such vicious attacks happened with no one noticing is bedeviling; no suspects emerged besides Borden, an elegantly dressed 32-year-old church volunteer who remained remarkably composed during the wildly publicized trial, reading the works of Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott in her jail cell.
Readers will feel as though they’re part of the investigation and trial, which drew hundreds of gawkers vying for seats inside the drama-filled courthouse. Robertson describes many astonishing moments, such as when the medical examiner set down the skull of Andrew Borden and “the old man’s jaw sagged back and forth in a grisly suggestion of speech.” One journalist wrote, “Was he trying to testify?” If only that were the case!
This murderous tale has inspired numerous books (such as See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt), movies, a ballet and an opera. The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a welcome addition to the lore, the perfect starting point for modern-day readers to launch their own inquiries.