The Lizzy Borden trial

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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, the Bordens received only 29 whacks, not the 81 suggested by the famous ditty, but the popularity of the above poem is a testament to the public’s fascination with the 1893 murder trial of Lizzie Borden. The source of that fascination might lie in the almost unimaginably brutal nature of the crime–given the sex, background, and age of the defendant–or in the jury’s acquittal of Lizzie in the face of prosecution evidence that most historians today find compelling.

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The case was a cause célèbre throughout the United States. Following her release from prison, where she was held during the trial, Borden chose to remain a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, despite facing ostracism. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected not to charge anyone else with the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden.

 

On a hot August 4, 1892 at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts, Bridget (“Maggie”) Sullivan, the maid in the Borden family residence rested in her bed after having washed the outside windows.

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She heard the bell at City Hall ring and looked at her clock: it was eleven o’clock. A cry from Lizzie Borden, the younger of two Borden daughters broke the silence: “Maggie, come down! Come down quick; Father’s dead; somebody came in and killed him.” A half hour or so later, after the body–“hacked almost beyond recognition”–of Andrew Borden had been covered and the downstairs searched by police for evidence of an intruder, a neighbor who had come to comfort Lizzie, Adelaide Churchill, made a grisly discovery on the second floor of the Borden home: the body of Abby Borden, Lizzie’s step-mother. Investigators found Abby’s body cold, while Andrew’s had been discovered warm, indicating that Abby was killed earlier–probably at least ninety minutes earlier–than her husband.

Under the headline “Shocking Crime: A Venerable Citizen and his Aged Wife Hacked to Pieces in their Home,” the Fall River Herald reported that news of the Borden murders “spread like wildfire and hundreds poured into Second Street…where for years Andrew J. Borden and his wife had lived in happiness.” The Herald reporter who visited the crime scene described the face of the dead man as “sickening”: “Over the left temple a wound six by four had been made as if it had been pounded with the dull edge of an axe.

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The left eye had been dug out and a cut extended the length of the nose. The face was hacked to pieced and the blood had covered the man’s shirt.” Despite the gore, “the room was in order and there were no signs of a scuffle of any kind.” Initial speculation as to the identity of the murderer, the Fall River Herald reported, centered on a “Portuguese laborer” who had visited the Borden home earlier in the morning and “asked for the wages due him,” only to be told by Andrew Borden that he had no money and “to call later.” The story added that medical evidence suggested that Abby Borden was killed “by a tall man, who struck the woman from behind.”

Two days after the murder, papers began reporting evidence that thirty-three-year-old Lizzie Borden might have had something to do with her parents’ murders.

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Most significantly, Eli Bence, a clerk at S. R. Smith’s drug store in Fall River, told police that Lizzie visited the store the day before the murder and attempted to purchase prussic acid, a deadly poison. A story in the Boston Daily Globe reported rumors that “Lizzie and her stepmother never got along together peacefully, and that for a considerable time back they have not spoken,” but noted also that family members insisted relations between the two women were quite normal. The Boston Herald, meanwhile, viewed Lizzie as above suspicion: “From the consensus of opinion it can be said: In Lizzie Borden’s life there is not one un-maidenly nor a single deliberately unkind act.”

Police came to the conclusion that the murders must have been committed by someone within the Borden home, but were puzzled by the lack of blood anywhere except on the bodies of the victims and their inability to uncover any obvious murder weapon. Increasingly, suspicion turned toward Lizzie, since her older sister, Emma, was out of the home at the time of the murders. Investigators found it odd that Lizzie knew so little of her mother’s whereabouts after 9 A.M. when, according to Lizzie, she had gone “upstairs to put shams on the pillows.” They also found unconvincing her story that, during the fifteen minutes in which Andrew Borden was murdered in the living room, Lizzie was out in the backyard barn “looking for irons” (lead sinkers) for an upcoming fishing excursion. The barn loft where she said she looked revealed no footprints on the dusty floor and the stifling heat in the loft seemed likely to discourage anyone from spending more than a few minutes searching for equipment that would not be used for days. Theories about a tall male intruder were reconsidered, and one “leading physician” explained that “hacking is almost a positive sign of a deed by a woman who is unconscious of what she is doing.”

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On August 9, an inquest into the Borden murders was held in the court room over police headquarters. Before criminal magistrate Josiah Blaisdell, District Attorney Hosea Knowlton questioned Lizzie Borden, Bridget Sullivan, household guest John Morse, and others. During her four hours examination, Lizzie gave confused and contradictory answers. Two days later, the inquest adjourned and Police Chief Hilliard arrested Lizzie Borden. The next day, Lizzie entered a plea of “Not Guilty” to the charges of murder and was transported by rail car to the jail in Taunton, eight miles to the north of Fall River. On August 22, Lizzie returned to a Fall River courtroom for her preliminary hearing, at the end of which Judge Josiah Blaisdell pronounced her “probably guilty” and ordered her to face a grand jury and possible charges for the murder of her parents. In November, the grand jury met. After first refusing to issue an indictment, the jury reconvened and heard new evidence from Alice Russell, a family friend who stayed with the two Borden sisters in the days following the murders. Russell told grand jurors that she had witnessed Lizzie Borden burning a blue dress in a kitchen fire allegedly because, as Lizzie explained her action, it was covered with “old paint.” Coupled with the earlier testimony from Bridget Sullivan that Lizzie was wearing a blue dress on the morning of the murders, the evidence was enough to convince grand jurors to indict Lizzie for the murders of her parents. (Russell’s testimony was also enough to convince the Borden sisters to sever all ties with their old friend forever.)

The trial of Lizzie Borden opened on June 5, 1893 in the New Bedford Courthouse before a panel of three judges. A high-powered defense team, including Andrew Jennings and George Robinson (the former governor of Massachusetts), represented the defendant, while District Attorney Knowlton and Thomas Moody argued the case for the prosecution.

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Before a jury of twelve men, Moody opened the state’s case.

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Prominent points in the trial (or press coverage of it) included:

  • The hatchet-head found in the basement was not convincingly shown to be the murder weapon. Prosecutors argued that the killer had removed the handle because it was bloody. One officer testified that a hatchet handle was found near the hatchet-head, but another officer contradicted this.
  • Though no bloody clothing was found, a few days after the murder Lizzie burned a dress in the stove, saying that it had been ruined when she brushed against fresh paint.[21]
  • According to testimony, the maid, Bridget, went upstairs at around 10:58 a.m. and left Lizzie and her father downstairs.[24]Lizzie told many people that at this time, she went into the barn and was not in the house for “20 minutes or possibly a half an hour”.[25] Hyman Lubinsky testified for the defense that he saw Lizzie leaving the barn at 11:03 a.m. and Charles Gardner confirmed the time.[26] At 11:10 a.m., Lizzie called the maid downstairs, told her Mr. Borden had been murdered, and told her not to go into the room where he died. Instead, Lizzie sent the maid to fetch a doctor.
  • There was a similar axe-murder nearby shortly before the trial, though its perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country when the Bordens were killed.[27]
  • Evidence was excluded that Lizzie had sought to purchase prussic acid (for cleaning a sealskin cloak, she said) from a local druggist on the day before the murders when the judge ruled that the incident was too remote in time to have any connection.[28][29]
  • Because of the mysterious illness that had struck the household before the murders, the family’s milk and Andrew’s and Abby’s stomachs (removed during autopsies performed in the Borden dining room) were tested for poison; none was found.
  • The victims’ heads were removed during autopsy. The skulls were used as evidence during the trial – and Lizzie fainted upon seeing them the heads were later buried at the foot of each grave.
  • The presiding Associate Justice, Justin Dewey (who had been appointed by Robinson when he was governor), delivered a lengthy summary that supported the defense as his charge to the jury before it was sent to deliberate.

On June 20, after deliberating an hour and a half, the jury acquitted Lizzie.[21]

The trial has been compared to the later trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and O.J. Simpson as a landmark in publicity and public interest in the history of American legal proceedings

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The jury deliberated an hour and a half before returning with its verdict. The clerk asked the foreman of the jury, “What is your verdict?” “Not guilty,” the foreman replied simply. Lizzie let out a yell, sank into her chair, rested her hands on a courtroom rail, put her face in her hands, and then let out a second cry of joy. Soon, Emma, her counsel, and courtroom spectators were rushing to congratulate Lizzie. She hid her face in her sister’s arms and announced, “Now take me home. I want to go to the old place and go at once tonight.”

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Cold cases of the WWII era

Not all murders committed during 1939 and 1945 were war related. Just because there was a war going on didn’t mean that the ‘regular’ criminals’ stopped their efforts. In fact the war would often give them a cover, so much so that some of these cases were never solved.

The Ora Murray case

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Near dawn on the morning of July 27, 1943, the son of a caretaker at the Fox Hills Golf Course was startled by the loud barking of a dog, Pete, an Airedale belonging to one of the groundsmen.

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The boy went to investigate, thinking that Pete had cornered a gopher. When he found Pete, the dog was standing near the semi-nude  mutilated body of a woman. The boy called the Sheriff’s Department.

LASD Inspector Penprase arrived at the murder scene, which was about 100 yards from the clubhouse. Penprase told reporters that it was evident that the victim, soon identified as Mrs. Ora Murray, had been fierce in defense of her life despite the fact that she was recovering from three broken ribs.

Most of her undergarments had been ripped away, and her dress was in tatters. Under Murray’s body was a flattened gardenia corsage wrapped with tinsel. The press called the case The Gardenia Murder.

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According to Inspector Penprase, it appeared that Murray had been strangled to death. Ora had last been seen alive at 11 pm. the night before her slaying with a man named Paul.  While the search for Paul continued, Ora’s sister, Mrs. Latona Leinnan  was located. She told cops that she and Ora had gone to a public dance together. It was at the dance that Ora met a man who suggested the three of them go out for a drive. Leinnan asked the man if he’d stop by her house first so her husband could join them and make it a foursome.  When they reached Latona’s home her husband wasn’t in the mood to go out, so Ora left with the stranger.

The mystery man, Paul, was described by Latona as about 30, 135 pounds, and five feet eight inches tall. He had black hair and he was wearing a dark, double-breasted suit.  He was driving a 1942 Buick convertible coupe with a three inch silver stripe painted around the body.

About one week following the discovery of her body, LASD detectives received a phone call from a woman who said that she’d been jilted by a man named Grant Wyatt Terry — and he matched the description of the mystery man, Paul.

Terry’s spurned lover, Miss Jeannette J. Walser, told a tale of a whirlwind courtship by the possible slayer and his disappearance with a $300 diamond ring and $700 in cash. Jeanette had given Terry the cash and jewelry shortly before they were to be married.

Jeanette told Inspector Penprase that she had met Terry at a cocktail lounge on July 17, and he proposed marriage to her two days later! He told her he was an attorney for the Feds and was assigned to various Army camps, then he borrowed her car for “an important trip to San Diego”.  Walser’s car matched the description of the one driven by “Paul”. Ora’s sister Latona was shown a photo of Terry, and she identified him as Paul.

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Finally in March 1944 the man known as Paul, with whom Ora had gone on her last car ride, was seized in New York by the FBI. His name wasn’t Paul, and his name wasn’t Terry (as he had told Jeanette, his heartbroken fiancee), his real name was Roger Lewis Gardner.He was never tried for the murder for the jury did not think he was a killer, a con man yes, but not a killer.

The Georgette Bauerdorf case

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Georgette Bauerdorf was a young socialite with a grand future—until 1944, when her life was cut short in the dead of the night.

Born to an oil tycoon in New York City in 1924, Georgette lived a life of privilege. She and her older sister attended a convent school on Long Island, where they were trained in goodness and propriety. When the girls’ mother died in 1935, the Bauerdorf siblings and their father moved to California, where Georgette was once again enrolled in a school that befit her place in society—alumnus of the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles included Shirley Temple and Myrna Loy.

Upon graduation in 1941, young Georgette moved to West Hollywood to pursue an acting career. By the age of 20, she found work at the Los Angeles Times in the Women’s Service Bureau and at the Hollywood Canteen—a dining and dancing club that catered to young men in uniform. Georgette called El Palacia her home, a grand Spanish-style house that played host to numerous celebrities. Her evenings were filled with nights out on the town; she was courted often and enjoyed the attention of her many suitors.

Exactly what happened on the night of October 11, 1944 remains a mystery. It was a Wednesday; Georgette was at the Canteen, where her role as a Junior Hostess meant she danced with and entertained the servicemen on layover in Los Angeles. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that night. At the end of her shift, she climbed into her sister’s Pontiac coupe and drove home.

At 11:00 a.m. that following morning, Georgette’s maid and a janitor arrived to clean her apartment. They were met with an unlocked front door. The cleaners entered and found Georgette’s lifeless body face down in her bathtub, the water still running.

In the days following the murder, police received a leter  from a Sergeant Gordon Aadland. Aadland claimed that a woman matching Georgette’s description gave him a lift through Hollywood on the night of October 11.

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In the letter, he described the woman as appearing quite nervous, though he would downplay this claim in later years.

The killer, meanwhile, vanished into the night after the slaying, driving off in Georgette’s car. The vehicle was found some distance away, abandoned and out of gas. It was the last trace of the killer in a case that quickly went cold.

The case of Josslyn Hay, Lord Errol

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Josslyn Hay, Lord Erroll – he was found shot dead in his car on 21 January 1941, after a night with his mistress, Lady Delves Broughton. He was known as the king of the Happy Valley set: white socialites who had drunken orgies in Kenya. Ex-lover Alice de Janzé was suspected, but had an alibi. Jealous husband Sir Jock Delves Broughton was tried and acquitted. He killed himself in 1942. The mentally ill de Janzé had committed suicide in September, 1941, three months after the trial.

The case of Harry Oakes

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Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet of Nassau (23 December 1874 – 7 July 1943) was an American-born British Canadian gold mine owner, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He earned his fortune in Canada and in the 1930s moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes, where he was murdered in 1943 in notorious circumstances. The cause of death and the details surrounding it have never been entirely determined, and have been the subject of several books and four films. He was found in his mansion in Nassau, Bahamas on 8 July 1943. His son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, was arrested shortly afterwards based on evidence allegedly uncovered by two Miami police detectives brought in to work the case, who had upset their Bahamanian counterparts by completely taking over the investigation. However, weaknesses in the case led to de Marigny’s acquittal; no one else has ever been tried.

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The case of David Bacon

sr19-davidbacon-liveActor David Bacon, best known for playing Bob Barton in the Masked Marvel serials of the 1930s, died shortly after crashing his car in Santa Monica, California on 12 September 1943. Afterwards he was found to have been suffering from a stab wound to the chest; no suspect has ever been identified.

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According to an autopsy report, a person could live for 20 minutes with such a wound. The interior of Bacon’s car was soaked with blood. It was never clear whether Bacon was stabbed inside or outside the car. The knife was never found, even though the field was thoroughly searched. So many questions unanswered.

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He was born Gaspar Griswold Bacon, Jr. in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and his family was one of the prominent, politically active Boston Brahmin families. His father, Gaspar G. Bacon, was on the board of Harvard University, and later, in the 1930s, served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

Bacon married Austrian opera singer Greta Keller in ‘42 and began to obtain several small film roles, the biggest being Republic’s “Masked Marvel” serial filmed from July 14 to August 18, 1943. About this time Hughes signed Bacon to an exclusive contract, intending to use him as Billy the Kid in “The Outlaw”. However, Hughes later deemed Bacon unsuitable, probably due to his non-western New England upbringing. He was replaced by Jack Beutel.

This is where innuendo comes into play. In interviews after Bacon’s murder, his widow alleged there was a homosecual relationship between Hughes and Bacon and blames her husband’s cancellation from “The Outlaw” on a “lover’s quarrel.” However, Hughes biographies have found no validity to this claim.

Witnesses to the September car crash claimed to have seen a passenger in the car. Two others claimed to have seen a man and a woman.

Bacon’s wife returned to Europe after the war then returned to the U.S. in the ‘50s where she became a popular cabaret singer.

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A few years before her death in 1977 her voice was used in the Oscar winning movie “Cabaret” (‘72) singing the song “Heirat”.Bacon’s killer was never caught, The Masked Marvel Murder Mystery remains unsolved. Today, all files pertaining to the case have been destroyed.

The Ernst Dehmel case

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For the last one I don’t really care if this case get solved .Ernst Dehmel, 30, a decorated officer in the German Waffen-SS, was allegedly beaten to death by French soldiers who had him in their custody at Remscheid-Lüttringhausen on 7 August 1945. No charges have ever been brought.