Lizzie Borden: a Bad Columbo Episode

Lizzie BordenOn this day in 1860, Lizzie Borden was born. She is famous not so much for killing her father and step-mother, but for getting away with it. And, of course, the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

The history of this rhyme is not known, but I’m rather fond of the belief that it was made up by a newspaper seller. You know, like those people you see in the old movies selling papers yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” For the record, she gave her step-mother 19 whacks and her father only 11. Whatever else you can say about about Lizzie, she wasn’t excessive!

When I was younger, I really loved the television show Columbo. In those cases, the murderers take such great pains to provide themselves alibis. But in the case of Lizzie Borden, she didn’t much take any pains whatsoever. It was a frightfully planned murder plot. For example, two days after the murders, she was caught burning one of her dresses. Even still, as with the O J Simpson trial, the prosecution and police work was very bad. There are really only two reasons I feel certain she did it: she had a huge and multifaceted motive and she was pretty much the only person who could have done it.

There is one interesting aspect of the trial. They cut off the heads of the victims for use in the trial. Since the trial took place about a year later, the bodies had already been buried. So after the trial, the heads were buried at the foot of each grave. It just seems strange to me that they didn’t dig up the coffins and put the heads back in. I mean, these were extremely rich people.

They were also, not surprisingly, all a pretty vile bunch. Daddy, for example, killed all the pigeons in the barn with an ax, because they were attracting kids to hunt them. Lizzy apparently had built a roost for them and was very upset about him killing the birds. That may have been the ultimate cause (but there was lots of money as a sweetener). As Columbo would tell you, it is always the little things.

Regardless, I think people should stop fretting about whether she really did it. I like this line from Verbal in The Usual Suspects, “To a cop the explanation is never that complicated. It’s always simple. There’s no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you got a dead body and you think his brother did it, you’re gonna find out you’re right.” Regardless, the only other person it could possibly have been would have been the maid and the best motive that anyone has had for her is that she was angry about being told to clean the windows on such a hot day. I’m sure that the maid was used to doing whatever the vile Borden family told her to.

Happy birthday Lizzie Borden—you got away with it!

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