Category Archives: Investigations & The Trial

Witness Statements, Coroners Report, Preliminary, Trial.

Book Review: Cara Robertson’s The Trial of Lizzie Borden

UPDATED 3/27/19 – Note:  The inscribed copy arrived March 20th – postmarked March 12th.  I wrote the following review March 13th.



Cara Robertson has written a fine book that wonderfully weaves the context of the Trial proceedings into a “you are there” narrative flush with new insights and deft storytelling, exposing the female-suppressed culture of the Gilded Age.  Drawing heavily from the Trial transcript and newspapers of the day, she tells this oft-told tale in a new way that forces the reader to reflect on the cultural influences of the era and the why and how of its sensationalism, final outcome, and enduring appeal.

Well read Lizzie Borden scholars will hear in the narrative echos of previously published books on the case which have been “go to” resources for decades, but probably my favorite sentence in the whole book is this:  “Combining the enduring emotional force of myth and more prosaic intellectual challenge of a detective story, it is a ‘locked door’ mystery written by Sophocles.”  (Kudos, Cara)

The book credits almost all the photographs therein to the Fall River Historical Society where, sadly, the wrong image of a purported Uncle John Vinnicum Morse is actually that of his (and sister Sarah’s) brother, William Bradford Morse.  I know this to be a fact because William’s photograph is included in one of several family albums to be found at the Swansea Historical Society, housed at the Swansea Public Library – a place where I have visited for research several times.  William’s name is handwritten in pencil above his image.


23017445_119566315824                                  notmorse

The image on the left is the actual John V. Morse and has appeared in countless books and documentaries.  William,  who was in Excelsior, Minnesota during the murders (as he had been most of his life) did, however, resemble his brother, John.  (It should be noted that when I brought this error to the attention of the FRHS,  I was informed they had documentation from a relative of the Morse family asserting the photograph of William was John.  This fails to explain the decades of the other photograph being cited as John with credit to the FRHS).

A more blatant error appears on page 278 where the author writes of post Trial notoriety and states “Papers printed improbable reports of engagements, including a betrothal to one of her former jurors.”  There is no source citation in the end notes to this statement, however, it has been widely reported of the December 10, 1896 Fall River Herald News report citing a “Swansea school teacher” as the subject of this rumor.  That person was, in fact, Orrin Gardner.

Crowds gather outside the Superior Court house in New Bedford during the 1893 Trial

Ms. Robertson’s deft handling of Knowlton’s lengthy summation strips his elegant oratory to the persuasive essentials:  the prosecution’s case was based on Lizzie’s exclusive opportunity and that the victims did not die at the same time -and that these were the controlling facts of the case.

As to why Lizzie remained in Fall River the entire second half of her life, the author speculates with an allegorical reference to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter:  “It may seem marvelous, that, with the world before her….this woman should still call that place her home, where and where only, she must needs be the type of shame.  But there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it had the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked recent event has given color to their lifetime, and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.”  (And here one can pause to ponder Donald Woods’ appropriate marketing of Maplecroft).

While I was impressed with Cara Robertson’s fresh narrative point of view, my overall expectations of the book fell short considering the author’s background.  There were far too many errors.  There was no new information, and indeed it seemed peppered with the redundancy of other known works.  I had been anticipating more given her years of research on the case and her impeccable credentials.   That said, I still highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this case and specifically to those interested in the Gilded Age and its cultural impact on women.




Lizzie Borden – Actual Trial Transcript



These are random images from my 10-volume set of the original Trial Transcript as transcribed from shorthand taken by Frank Burt’s stenographers in the court room and passed on to the typists in back of the New Bedford Superior Court in 1893.  This is what allowed national papers to transmit over wires all over the country to the public awaiting the next edition of their home town papers.

Each volume includes the index and image(s) I created/assembled that were reflective of the of testimony included for that specific volume.

How I acquired these and produced them for sale on eBay (a couple decades ago) is explained in the first image above.  I have used these volumes countless times when fact-checking various published works on the Borden case and Superior Court Trial.  I’ve referred to them most recently with Cara Robertson’s book, The Trial of Lizzie Borden to be released for sale in less than 2 weeks.

I have always relished in the thrill of reading the actual transcripts exactly as they were typed and made available to reporters in just a matter of hours from when the  testimonies were actually given.    The testimony comes alive, putting you in the court room itself (something, by the way, which Cara’s book does), so much more than reading the contemporary digital recreations into a WORD or .pdf document more than a century later.   So enjoy, and to borrow from today’s vernacular – “let’s keep it real”.






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“Cara Robertson’s ‘The Trial of Lizzie Borden’ Hits Like an Ax “

Here’s an early Review on Cara’s new book.  As stated in a previous post, I’ve already ordered on Amazon for its official March release.  However, I stumbled across it listed on eBay  as an advanced readers edition and now await its delivery this coming Wednesday.

As indicated by the background to its publication – and certainly to any Borden case fanatic – this should be one delicious read.


Lizzie Borden Homes Raising Money for Homeless


Themed events to help victims of the Four Winds Fire in Fall River will be held at the two top tourist destinations – Click HERE.

All those Travel Channel and Discovery Channel programs have just begun to tap into the availability of a new location for crime-solving and ghost-hunting enthusiasts, i.e., “Maplecroft” in Fall River, MA.  This was the house “on the hill” purchased by Lizzie and Emma after her acquittal in 1893.  Quite fortuitous for Donald Woods and Lee-ann Wilber who own and are vested in this property, as well as the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast – both run as businesses and their objective is to make a profit.  That’s the purpose of a business.  So the welcoming of these type of shows is “smart marketing”.  (And may I insert here that the B&B on Second Street was once operating under the parent company, “Smart Advertising”).

Anyway, huzzah, I say for their charitable contribution to the unfortunate victims of the fire.  And keep those doors open wide for those who come to feed the need.  <wink, wink>

P.S.  The recent Legend Hunter with host Pat Swain was rather well produced, I thought.


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Twenty years in the making, this promises to be the next best thing to the Fall River Historical Society’s Parallel Lives – A Social History of Lizzie Andrew Borden and Her Fall River.

Cara Warschaw Robertson

This book

You can pre-order (as I did weeks ago) on Amazon.   Cara has been a great and long-time contributor to the FRHS’s Borden collection.  Her background is absolutely stellar. She was admitted to the California Bar in 1997 – but here’s a brief recap:

“Ms. Robertson earned her B.A. from Harvard College (summa cum laude), her Ph.D. from Oxford University and her J.D. from Stanford Law School (with distinction). After law school, she clerked for the Honorable James R. Browning, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for the Honorable John Paul Stevens and the Honorable Byron White of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ms. Robertson has been an associate legal officer for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a visiting scholar at Stanford Law School and a fellow at the National Humanities Center.”

I knew of Ms. Robertson because in my own research on the case  I had come across her  work published in the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities (Summer 1996, Vol. 8, No. 2) entitled:  “Representing Miss Lizzie: Cultural Convictions in the Trial of Lizzie Borden”.


However,  I actually met her during one of my twice annual visits to Fall River through an introduction by Curator Michael Martins.  It was in 2001, in the basement of the FRHS  where she was engaged in deep research for this book.  A few days later we chatted outdoors on the FRHS property (inside the gazebo) about all things Lizzie.  She struck me as a lovely person and a most serious scholar.  She also struck me as off-the-charts smart.  Thus, I have been awaiting this book ever since.

Here’s the promo text from the Amazon site – enough to get all Borden case enthusiasts salivating:

“The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.”

Oh, goody, goody, goody.  New stuff.  New author.   BUT NOT A NEW RESEARCHER.  And there’s the difference my friends.  This woman knows her stuff inside and out.   I’m certain one will be hard pressed in the reading of her book to find misquotes or misinformation.

And don’t forget:  She’s smart – really, really smart.  And, oh, so nice.

Buy the book.








(Recycled post)

Jun. 29th, 2007



George Dexter Robinson Blue Flo Plate of Gov. Robinson

3X Governor of Mass. private collection of Faye Musselman

Headed Lizzie’s defense team On loan to Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast


from South Coast Today April 14, 1998

“By Paul Edward Parker, Providence Journal-Bulletin

FALL RIVER — In a locked storage room on the 16th floor of a high-rise office building in Springfield, a five-drawer file cabinet may hold the secrets of Fall River’s most enduring mystery: Who killed Andrew and Abby Borden. Only one man has the key to that locked filing cabinet, an administrator in the law firm that, more than a century ago, represented Lizzie Borden when she was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. Since June 1893, the papers inside that filing cabinet have remained a secret between Lizzie and her lawyer, former Gov. George D. Robinson. But all that may soon change.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving former White House aide Vincent W. Foster, who committed suicide in 1993. Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr has demanded to see notes of a conversation between Foster and his lawyer just days before the suicide. The high court will hear oral arguments in that case on June 8, with a decision expected in late June or early July. The court will decide whether attorney-client privilege, which protects the secrecy of the relationship between lawyers and their clients, continues after the client dies. It is the attorney-client privilege that has kept the Robinson papers out of the public eye for 105 years. Though Lizzie is long gone, her lawyer lives on, in the form of Robinson, Donovan, Madden & Barry, the law firm that succeeded Governor Robinson’s firm.

The Supreme Court’s pending ruling opens a tantalizing possibility to historians and Borden buffs. “Would we like to look at Robinson’s papers? Absolutely, of course,” said George E. Quigley, president of The International Lizzie Borden Association.

Said Michael Martins, curator of the Fall River Historical Society: “Any documents that pertain to a case as notorious as the Borden case, a great unsolved murder mystery, would be of tremendous interest to researchers and scholars.” The historical society is home to the largest collection of Borden material, including the papers of prosecutor Hosea M. Knowlton and City Marshal Rufus B. Hilliard, Fall River’s police chief at the time of the murders. “I’m sure it’s an interesting collection,” Martins said of the Robinson papers, “but I doubt there’s anything that’s going to prove the case.”

The types of documents in the collection are as mysterious as what they might say.
Bruce Lyon, administrator at the Robinson firm, said the collection includes newspaper clippings and other materials that were publicly available. It also includes a lot more material, he said, all of which is privileged.

Around the time of the 100th anniversary of the murders, in 1992, the firm consulted with the Board of Bar Overseers, the agency that oversees the conduct of lawyers. The board informally advised that not only does the attorney-client privilege bar the firm from releasing the papers, it prevents the firm from disclosing the nature of what it holds. Lyon said the Robinson papers have been catalogued and placed in protective document holders, but he could not say anything more.

Speculation is that the files might contain letters between Lizzie and Robinson; letters between Robinson and other lawyers involved in the case; Robinson’s notes, both strategic preparations and documenting how the trial progressed; and other documents relating to testimony at the trial and preliminary proceedings.

Few expect to find anything directly incriminating Lizzie, such as a signed confession. But the papers may hold bits of information that may have seemed inconsequential at the time that, viewed with a modern understanding of the case, might bolster one or more theories of the crime.

“Some things in there might be historical,” Quigley said. “There might be statements in there that might be damning or might be helpful to her. There would be notes that Robinson wrote about the case that would be telling. Who knows.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling will probably only deal with whether lawyers can be ordered to divulge material relating to dead clients. A ruling paving the way for release of the papers would only be the first step to their becoming public. If the Robinson papers became publicly available and the law firm wanted to lend or donate them to the historical society, Martins would be happy to accept them, but added, “we wouldn’t go after them.”

Martins said the society, in such a case, would probably seek to publish the papers, a painstaking process involving years of transcribing handwritten notes. The society published prosecutor Knowlton’s papers in 1994, and has been preparing the roughly 600 documents in Hilliard’s papers, which are still several years from publication. Despite the keen historical interest in the material, even Martins and Quigley are hesitant to advocate that the Supreme Court extinguish the attorney-client privilege upon a client’s death.

Quigley noted that Foster has living relatives, who could be hurt by the release of confidential material. “Lizzie, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “She’s dead. She’s dead a long time.”

Martins thinks the privilege should be extended even to the long-dead accused ax murderess. “Personally, I think Lizzie Borden bought and paid for her defense,” he said. “Isn’t it important that they protect the documents of their former clients? I think it’s important that they do that.”

The Supreme Court, using the case of Vincent Foster, ruled that lawyers must still maintain the attorney-client privilege, even when the client is dead. Personally, I can see the merits of this with regards to private correspondence. But the firm most likely has what remains the only surviving copy of Bridget Sullivan’s Inquest Testimony. Testimony from all others called by District Attorney Knowlton has long since been made public via the “Jennings hip bath collection” sold by the Fall River Historical Society. The Inquest was a legal proceeding and if this firm does have Bridget’s testimony, it surely is not “material between lawyers and their client” and, IMHO, should be released and made public.

About 5 years ago I sent an email to attorney Jeffrey McCormick (no longer with the firm) following up on Jules Ryckebusch’s earlier plea in 1992 to release the files. I received a prompt and courteous email response citing their standard reply as indicated above.

The firm has evolved and grown, now known as Robinson Donovan P.C. Check out their website:

Tags: george dexter robinson, robinson donovan p.c., robinson law firm




Posted by phayemuss on July 27, 2007 in Fall River Police Department, Investigations & The Trial, Legal & Forensics, Newspaper Coverage, The Borden Family



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Posted by on June 23, 2018 in Investigations & The Trial


New Book: In My Opinion, The Inquest Hearing of Lizzie Andrew Borden

….. Volume I  by Keith A. Buchanan


Just started reading this new publication written with a fresh , creative approach.  Mr. Buchanan actually puts us inside the room where the Coroner’s Inquest was held where we are silent observers to the excellent guide/narrator, “John”.   “John” begins with laying the foundation of the case and reveals Witness Interviews making us feel as if they are talking to us, and later, some giving inquest testimony, “John” makes them feel familiar to us.

So far I am thoroughly delighted with this approach – the most original I have come across in decades.  The book is flush with illustrations, some never seen before.  The author’s extensive and detailed research is without question.  Not only does he capture the full inquest testimonies of all those called (with the exception of Bridget Sullivan, of course) but he provides personal profile information on them.  However, I have noted a few errors – not many – and one photo illustration attributed to the wrong person.  But this is such a fun read that I will forego comment on those until a completed read when I can do a valid review of this 503 page gem.    Meantime, get this book!

In the Lizzie landscape of non-fiction, this book is akin to a new ride at Disneyland.

Parts can be read HERE.

P.S.   Author Keith A. Buchanan is life long resident of Fall River.

Also, off topic but related to disposition of “Maplecroft” – this is the one option that made the most sense.  Thank you, Donald Woods! :0 


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