Fall River Tragedy, The by PORTER, Edwin H.

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The story of how Lizzie Borden supposedly murdered her parents has passed into American folklore, partly thanks to the albeit inaccurate playground rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” Here we have the ‘true’ story, as reported by the local police reporter who attended the trial and lived only streets away from the Borden home with his young wife. After the trial, Porter ‘disappeared’ and it was widely speculated he had either been murdered or bribed to disappear in order to suppress the book. His reappearance some time later put paid to the first theory. After his death at age 39 from tuberculosis, a new theory emerged, that he had been away for treatment while keeping his illness secret. Meanwhile, the trial itself was noteworthy for several reasons: it was one of the first to be followed by nationwide press, providing a template for today’s tabloid and cable coverage of major trials; it also had some distinguished personnel: one of the prosecutors, Frank Moody, later became the attorney general of the United States and was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt; and Borden’s defense attorney, George Robinson, was the former governor of Massachusetts. The appearance of Professor Wood of Harvard University was an early use of an expert witness at trial.
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