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The Fall River Tragedy

Edwin H. Porter

Book Overview: 

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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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Borden premises,—his attention was attracted to a pedestrian walking slowly along the sidewalk near the Borden house. Ordinarily the face of a stranger would not excite much interest in the mind of Dr. Handy, inasmuch as he was continually passing the streets of the city on his professional calls. In this case, however, he looked twice at the passerby, and even turned in his carriage to inspect him more closely. Just what caused him to do this the doctor did not definitely explain. There was a peculiarity about the man which he could not exactly describe. The individual was about 30 years of age, five feet five inches in height, weight perhaps about 125 or 130 pounds. His clothes were of light gray of just what cut and texture the doctor could not positively state; nor could he tell whether the man’s hat was of felt or straw. It was not the dress which attracted Dr. Handy, it was the man’s features, which he saw. He was pale, almost white; not with the g. . . Read More

Community Reviews

2.5 stars. This history is very poorly edited, and gets very dry and long. However, I am glad that I read it as it an historical account from the time period. The beginning is a bit easier to read, as the sections are smaller and make it easier to pace the reading. Once you get into the Lizzie Bo...more

Just a little too dry for what I was hoping to read.

The writing is dry but still it was interesting to see how someone from 1893 account of the Borden case.

Mr. Porter presented the case in itself very well. All of the facts were there. With any unsolved murder case of the era (think Jack the Ripper) there are always going to be more questions arising, and the majority being unanswered and only speculated on.

An Historical Curiosity
This is the first book published about the infamous Lizzie Borden case, published shortly after her 1893 trial. The writer, Edwin Porter, was a newspaper reporter from Boston covering the case. It reads as pretty florid in style and is full of the author's opinions. The boo...more