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The Case of Lizzie Borden

Date Saturday - March 23, 2019
Host Ian Punnett
Guests Cara RobertsonOpen Lines

The arrest of Lizzie Borden for the grisly murders of her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby, turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle. Lawyer and author Cara Robertson began researching the Borden story as a senior at Harvard, and published her first paper on the trial in the Yale Journal of Law. She joined guest Ian Punnett (Twitter) to discuss the gruesome murder case, as well as the incarceration and trial of Lizzie Borden. Was she a cold-blooded murderer or an unjustly persecuted lady?

According to Robertson, there was so much turmoil between Lizzie and her father and stepmother that Lizzie did not eat with her parents, and the Bordens moved furniture in front of certain doors to prevent Lizzie access to them. "It seemed to indicate... there was something particularly strained in the household," she said. The relationship diminished further after money was earmarked to Abby's family. "[The father] transferred a property of similar value to his daughters but it didn't heal the rift," Robertson revealed, likening the household to a Cold War state by the time the murders happened.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby were found hacked to death in their home. "It looked like the work of a madman because the details were so gruesome," Robertson reported. Abby was felled by 19 blows of an axe in an upstairs room and 90 minutes later Andrew was brutally hacked ten times while he slept on the sitting room sofa, she continued. Andrew's injuries were concentrated in the face, which one witness described as having the appearance of raw meat, Robertson added. The only other people in the house at the time were the maid Bridget Sullivan and Lizzie.

Robertson pointed to two bits of evidence which rule out an external deranged intruder: 1) the interval between the murders, and 2) the front and back doors to the house were locked. The account of what happened that day evolved as Lizzie retold it to investigators. "The biggest problem with Lizzie's story was that it changed," she said. Charges were eventually brought against Lizzie. The strongest evidence against her is the pre-existing enmity between her and her parents, and the exclusive opportunity she had to commit the murders, Robertson explained. "It's just hard to imagine how anyone else could have done it," she suggested.

The final hour of the program was devoted to Open Lines.

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