Though she was found innocent, history seems to remember Lizzie Borden as a disgruntled, cold-blooded killer who murdered her father and stepmother. The wealthy New England woman spent 10 months in a Massachusetts prison until her acquittal in 1892, and now the case is moving back into the spotlight with the discovery of her attorney’s handwritten journals. The documents provide new insight into the nuances of the situation as well as Borden’s personal life, and will likely revive speculation about the controversial events.
After the case cooled, most of the evidence ended up in the hands of Andrew Jackon Jennings, Borden’s attorney, ABC News reports. Documents, newspaper clippings and even the infamous “handless hatchet” found in the Bordens’ basement were all eventually acquired by the Fall River Historical Society, whose staff noticed the attorney’s two fragile notebooks. The first contains a series of newspaper clippings, while the second contains Jennings’ firsthand interview notes and observations of both Borden and others involved in the case.
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“A number of the people Jennings spoke to were people he knew intimately, on a social or business level, so many of them were perhaps more candid with him than they would have been otherwise,” curator Michael Martins told ABC News. “But it’s also evident that there are a number of new individuals he spoke to who had previously not been connected with the case.”
The documents shed light on Borden’s father, Andrew, who, following the trial, had been painted as evil, miserly and abusive toward his daughters. The journals, however, suggest that this image had been at least partially contrived. The attorney’s notes also show a more sensitive, grieving side to Borden, who had been seen as stoic and cold.
It’s not expected that the new evidence will finally provide a clear answer to one of the nation’s greatest unsolved mysteries, but it will provide deeper insight into the characters involved, stirring up fascination that has persisted for decades and has even generated a popular, if grim and historically unsound, nursery rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother forty whacks. When she had seen what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”
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