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The Trial of Lizzie Borden

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When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August of 1892, the arrest of the couple’s 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.

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central, enigmatic character has endured for more than a hundred years, but the legend often outstrips the story. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper articles, previously withheld lawyer's journals, unpublished local reports, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden is a definitive account of the Borden murder case and offers a window into America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.

375 pages, Hardcover

First published March 12, 2019

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About the author

Cara Robertson

1 book96 followers
Cara Robertson is a lawyer whose writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, the Raleigh News and Observer, and the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. She was educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Law School. A former Supreme Court law clerk, she served as a legal adviser to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford Law School. Her scholarship has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center of which she is a Trustee. She first started researching the Lizzie Borden story as a senior at Harvard, and published her first paper on the trial in the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities in 1997. The Trial of Lizzie Borden is her first book.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,217 reviews
Profile Image for Julie .
4,030 reviews58.9k followers
May 31, 2019
The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson is a 2019 Simon & Schuster publication.

As unsolved murders go, this is THE case that puzzles me the most. For many it’s Jack the Ripper, whose violent killing spree has been poured over and analyzed six ways from Sunday. But, in the late 1800s, a gentle spinster lady goes on trial for the horrible double homicide of her step-mother and father.

This is a crime that took place in broad daylight, the murders occurring over an hour apart, with Lizzie and the family’s maid, Bridget, being the only two people in the house at the time. Neither of them, saw or heard anything…

The trial was sensational. National newspapers followed the events closely, editorialized and analyzed and theorized, as the testimony and evidence presented shocked the country. Through it all, Lizzie remained stoic, self-possessed, almost serene.

Most everyone has heard something of the Legend of Lizzie Borden. There have been some terrific books written about the crime, some re-imaginings, both in books and movies, all of which offer some compelling theories. It still amazes me that after all these years, the mystery still haunts us.

As this book states, on more than one occasion, it is a classic ‘locked room’ mystery. Perhaps the most famous one of all. Every time I read a book about this case, I find myself searching for an obvious clue, that one damning piece of evidence that would help me make up my mind about Lizzie's case. I've waffled back and forth since I was a teenager, and first watched ‘The Legend of Lizzie Borden’ , a made for television movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery. But at the end of the day, I’m still just as stumped, unable to make up my mind one way or another.

This book, though centered around the trial, does go over the facts as we know them, leading up to the murder and explains why Lizzie became the primary suspect. Once we get to the trial, the author takes the standard courtroom proceedings and adds in the journalistic elements of the trial, especially the viewpoint of female journalists. It was very interesting to see what the newspapers printed as the trial progressed.

I enjoyed the sketches and photographs of the lawyers and witnesses and the inflections of those who testified. I love a good courtroom drama, always have done, but a trial taking place in this time frame, before flashy theatrics were commonplace, pitted the opposing council against one another in a show of one-upmanship that was absolutely riveting. Not that there weren’t a few theatrics- pulling out the skulls of the deceased without warning was drama at its finest.

The inside information about the jurors was also very interesting. It was, of course, an all-male jury since women could not serve on juries until the 1950s in the state of Massachusetts. (!!!)

The one thing this book did do for me was give me a fresher perspective on the case. Times were so different back then. Women’s issues were highly misunderstood, and they were thought to be prone to hysterics, especially if Lizzie was menstruating, which, might have been a great defense for Lizzie -insanity. She must have been mad at the time, if she did indeed commit the crimes she was accused of, because, madness was the only explanation they could wrap their heads around. Women of Lizzie’s class and station simply could not commit such a heinous crime, otherwise.

This book has an interesting journey to publication, which also made it a unique read. But, more importantly, for me, is that this book succeeded where others before it failed. I now have little doubt about Lizzie’s guilt or innocence. The facts speak for themselves, and the way this book is formatted, without going off down rabbit holes or pontificating on this or that, helped me see things that were in plain sight all along.

Lizzie’s life after the trial was quiet as she was mostly shunned by locals. But she did lead a colorful life despite that and left behind a dark legacy in her wake. I wonder what Lizzie would make of all the attention her life has garnered, all the debate, the movies, books, TV shows and documentaries outlining her case, none of them able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lizzie Borden is guilty, nor can they exonerate her.

Without some bombshell revelation- perhaps a peak at that one file which remains untouchable- we will never really know for sure. However, this book leaves little doubt, although the author does not speculate one way or another, or give her opinion, allowing the reader to interpret the facts for themselves and draw their own conclusion, which is really how a true crime book should read.

The one downfall is the book’s ‘no-frills’ approach. Readers will probably struggle to keep awake, especially since we’ve all become so accustomed to reading true crime in novel form. Yet, for me, that no-frills approach is what made the book so chilling. The trial portions of the book were quite enlightening. Yet, even I couldn’t just sit and read this one cover to cover without taking breaks, because, yes, it is very dry reading at times. Still, I think the book is one of the most comprehensive and revealing of any I’ve read on the subject to date.

4 stars
Profile Image for Debra .
2,298 reviews35k followers
February 8, 2019
"The trial of Lizzie Borden, according to the Providence Journal, would be 'one of the greatest murder trials in the world's history' The New York World more modestly declared it 'the trial of the most extraordinary criminal case in the history of New England.'"

Most people have heard the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
**In reality Abby was hit 19 times and Andrew hit 10 or 11 times.

“Someone’s killed Father”
Lizzie Borden was the one who reported that her father had been killed and later the body of her Step Mother was found upstairs. Her Stepmother, Abby, was killed first and then her father, Andrew was killed while he was lying (asleep) on the sofa. Thus, an investigation ensued. An investigation that would consider many people to be possible suspects - John V. Morse, Andrew's brother in law, Bridget, the housekeeper/maid, Lizzie, and strange men seen walking through the neighborhood.

As Lizzie and Bridget were the only two home at the time of the murders, they were interrogated. Neither reported seeing or hearing anything amiss that day. Bridget had been ill that morning, was then told to wash the windows and sent on an errand by Lizzie. Thus, making Lizzie the one person in the home with the opportunity to kill. But she informed investigators that she was in the barn "looking for iron." How long does it take to look for iron? Did she not hear anything? Any cries for help?

This unsolved murder has been the subject of curiosity and debate since it occurred. Lizzie often gave strange and contradictory responses which frustrated investigators and later the prosecuting attorney. She often claimed she did not understand questions when confronted with giving differing statements. Many did not like her attitude and felt she was too calm and poised. During the trial she was noted as being flushed and was often seen biting her lip.

Lizzie Borden was acquitted for the murders and the murders remain unsolved. Many still believe she was the killer, and some have other theories as well. Slightly before the trial another person was killed in their town with an ax. Jurors noted this. Plus, there were inaccuracies with the investigations. If the murders took place today, forensics would have solved the case. Many people were in and out of the crime scenes. There were questions about the axes found in the basement, etc. After an hour and a half deliberation the jury acquitted Lizzie and she was free to go. Was she the killer or was she not guilty?

The book cannot shed led on her innocence or quilt, but it does show the investigation and the testimony of those who were part of the trial. I found this book to be extremely well researched. The book ends around the 65% mark and the remainder of the book is footnotes. This book feels very academic and somewhat dry. It's not a page turner, but a book about the murders, and provides in depth testimony. It is very informative, and most fans of true crime should enjoy this. The facts are impressive as was the research that went into this book.

- a side note, members of this household were ill - a lot. Some even reported that they thought they were being poisoned. There was testimony at trial detailing Lizzie's attempt to purchase prussic acid and how she was turned away. Another explanation of the frequent vomiting in this household was that their food was not properly prepared/stored.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,231 reviews1,279 followers
April 29, 2019
Fascination.....like eyes drawn to bright shiny objects.

Even after one hundred and more years, the world can't seem to get enough of the infamous murder case involving Lizzie Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts.

It's August of 1892 and the town is sweltering in the heat of summer. The Borden family live in a two-story wooden house near the downtown area. Andrew Borden remarried in 1865 after the death of his first wife, Sarah. Sarah was the mother of Lizzie and her older sister, Emma. Emma promised on Sarah's deathbed that she would care for "Baby Lizzie". And, indeed, she did.

Abby, the second wife, experienced a cool reception from the daughters. Emma refused to call her mother, although Lizzie did on some occasions. Within the household was the Irish maid, Bridget. The family had suffered from food poisoning a few days before. Andrew Borden held a tight fist on his fortune and insisted that the family eat leftover swordfish for dinner even in the stifling heat that guaranteed to turn milk into sour cottage cheese in a heartbeat. Perhaps too many putrid meals turned Lizzie against her parents. Perhaps.....

On the day of the heinous murders, Bridget was sent outside to wash windows. It was rumored that Bridget and Lizzie may have had a relationship. No one has proven that. Emma was visiting friends out of town. Lizzie claimed that she was in the barn looking for a sinker to go fishing. She also testified that Abby had received a note calling her away from the house so her disappearance wasn't questioned until her body was found. No note was ever found backing up Lizzie's story.

Interestingly enough, the autopsies suggested that the murders were at least one hour and a half apart. The murderer had to be waiting somewhere in the house for Andrew Borden to arrive. He was attacked as he napped on a sofa in the sitting room. The murders were brutal. Someone was filled with rage from the number of hits with what appeared to be a small axe. A bad business associate or just bad blood in general?

Cara Robertson lays out The Trial of Lizzie Borden with background information, photos, transcripts, and records from the original trial. She's done her homework here. Robertson keeps the interest high as the case against Lizzie unfolds. We shake our heads to see how badly the crime scene was contaminated. This was well before forensic science. The attorneys were supposedly the best of the day. The jury may have been contaminated as well since they came back with an acquittal. Unlike the infamous O.J., it didn't dawn on them that if not Lizzie, then Fall River had a serial killer that they failed to pursue. Case closed......

But unlike the Bordens, this case lives on in books, poems, plays, rock performances, and now an opera in the works. Oh, Lizzie, hot weather makes for hot tempers.

I received a copy of The Trial of Lizzie Borden through Simon & Schuster for an honest review. My sincere thanks to them for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Beverly.
808 reviews292 followers
March 4, 2022
This is a well written and well researched look at the infamous murder trial of a "lady". The name Lizzie was unsuitable for such a model of dignity and self control as Miss Borden. She changed it after the trial to Lizbeth. I guess I was hoping to glean what no one knows, whether she did it or not. That you won't find here, but you will find interesting bits and pieces. The all male jury was never going to sentence a woman of her class to death, but it was telling that the whole town, and her only sister did eventually distance themselves from her.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,130 reviews30.3k followers
April 29, 2019
A thorough compendium on the topic of Lizzie Borden’s trial! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Cara Robertson spent twenty years researching Lizzie Borden’s case, and this is her first book. The depth and breadth to this research shows immediately making this a resource for anyone interested in this trial, one of mythic proportions in the United States, still well-known and pondered over one hundred and twenty years later.

Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally murdered in 1892, and shocking everyone, their daughter Lizzie was arrested and charged.

The trial became international news and a spectacle that the United States hadn’t known at the time. Reporters traveled from all over to attend the trial. Lizzie was scrutinized from every angle possible. And not unlike today, every citizen possessed an opinion on what really happened.

Cara Robertson heavily researched everything she could obtain regarding the Bordens and the trial, including court transcripts, newspaper articles, local information, and fascinatingly, letters from Lizzie herself.

My favorite aspects of the book included the commentary on the culture of society at the time. Some purport Lizzie was found innocent simply because society couldn’t believe that women were capable of murder. It also showcased the fever pitch, not unlike today’s time, where everyone rushes to judgment before a trial. While the book is rich in details, I never found it overbearing because I was so enthralled with examining the case through my own amateur lens. I think to fully appreciate the book you need to be appreciate the detailed information involved.

At the end of the book, I’m not sure if Lizzie was guilty or not, and I had every piece of information laid out in front of me, even more so that than those at the trial at the time! Also of note is all the pictures included. They added to my understanding of the place and time and thoroughly enriched my reading experience.

If you are as enthralled with the trial of Lizzie Borden as many in this country have been for over one-hundred years, check this one out. No stone is left unturned by Cara Robertson!

I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

My reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
Profile Image for Tucker  (TuckerTheReader).
908 reviews1,598 followers
May 23, 2020

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

I have always been fascinated by this case in particular. Cara Roberston did a great job of going over the facts in an exciting and intriguing way. My one complaint was that at times she would seem like she was trying to be funny but it didn't quite fit the mood. For instance, she used the word "mansplaining" which in another book wouldn't have been an issue but in this one, it just didn't fit. Other than that, I enjoy this book!

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Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
April 16, 2019
In August of 1892, horrific dual murders occurred in the home of Andrew and Abby Borden in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts. At some point on the morning of the murders, while Abby was making the bed in an upstairs bedroom, someone approached and struck her 19 times in the head with a hatchet. About an hour or so later, the killer entered the home's living room where Andrew was napping on the sofa and bludgeoned him to death as well. These gruesome murders ultimately led police to arrest the youngest Borden daughter, Lizzie, and led to a sensational murder trial which captured the attention and imagination of people across America. This murder trial is the subject of this book, 'The Trial of Lizzie Borden' by Cara Robertson. I listened to the audiobook version of this book and the narration was performed by Amanda Carlin.

This book is the result of many years of research by Cara Robertson, a lawyer who began looking into this case as the subject for her Harvard undergraduate thesis. Using transcripts of the Borden murder trial, newspaper accounts from that time and even recently discovered letters written by Lizzie Borden herself, Ms. Robertson skillfully reconstructs the trial, taking the reader painstakingly through numerous witnesses' testimony for both the prosecution and the defense. But in addition to the legal motions and wrangling, Ms. Robertson also provides a sort of commentary not only on the dynamics within the Borden household, but also a commentary about societal views during this time; specifically, the role of women in society and commonly held beliefs about women's temperament and the lack of options available to women for personal fulfillment.. all of which may have contributed to the outcome of this trial.

Although I've read a couple of books and watched a documentary about the Lizzie Borden case, there was much in Cara Robertson's account which held my interest. In discussing the prosecution's evidence, Ms. Robertson described the family dynamics that were present in the Borden household, which can only be described as tense and weird. Andrew and Abby Borden (Andrew's second wife) lived in the home with Andrew's two grown daughters, Emma and Lizzie, and a servant, Bridget Sullivan. Although by all accounts, Andrew Borden was well-off financially, he was also known as miserly. Rather than engaging in a showy display of wealth as other well-to-do people in town did, he chose instead to live frugally in the modest home he had lived in for years. Andrew's tight-fisted ways seemed to be great source of tension in the household since Emma and Lizzie felt this was a sort of stumbling block to their enjoyment of a social life they felt they deserved. In addition, Andrew Borden had purchased a home at his wife's request to be used as a rent-free home for one of her struggling relatives. This gesture enraged Emma and Lizzie and to keep peace in the home, Andrew decided to also purchase property for each of his daughters. Unfortunately, this gesture did not appease Emma and Lizzie and the two, although continuing to live in their father's home, became estranged from their father and engaged only in the politest of conversation with Abby only when it was necessary.

The prosecution made much of the tension in the Borden household at the trial, but would that have been enough to push Lizzie to murder her father and step-mother? Another aspect of the prosecution's case was the circumstances in the borden household the day of the murders... who was present in the home and who had the opportunity and motive to commit the crimes? The prosecution stressed the fact that on that August morning, Lizzie had been the only other member of the household inside the home. Emma had been out of town visiting friends. And the Borden's servant, Bridget, had been sent outside to clean the windows and she testified that while working on that task, she had also spent time socializing with a servant girl from next-door. Although it had been suggested during the investigation that an intruder (a stranger in town) had entered the home and committed the murders, how would the intruder not have been seen by Lizzie? Furthermore, there was a time lapse of about an hour between the murder of Abby and Andrew.. why would an intruder have taken the risk of staying inside the home waiting for an opportunity to commit the second murder? And again, how would he not have been noticed? Plus, the police determined that nothing had been stolen from the home... so what motive would an unknown intruder have to commit two murders?

During the investigative and inquest phases of this case, Lizzie Borden had given many contradictory statements to police. She could not explain what she had been doing during the time the murders had been committed. She placed herself at various locations in the home and on the property; however, at trial, the judge ruled that Lizzie's statements could not be admitted as evidence and this became a definite disadvantage for the prosecution. Also, to the prosecution's detriment was the fact that police had never recovered the hatchet that had been definitively used in the murders. Lizzie was defended by former Massachusetts governor, George Robinson, and his main job was to instill a 'reasonable doubt' about Lizzie's guilt into the minds of the jurors.. all white men, of course. As it turned out, reasonable doubt was apparently not all that difficult to achieve. After a trial which lasted 15 days, the jury returned with a verdict of 'not guilty' after just 90 minutes of deliberation.

This book is perfect for people who enjoy the minutiae of criminal trials. Cara Robertson leads the reader step-by-step through every argument made and every piece of evidence presented. Plus, she adds some fascinating courtroom color.. like the jockeying by the townspeople to obtain seats in the always crowded courtroom; the sensational articles written about the trial by regional newspapers and even the comic relief provided by lowing cows outside of the rural New Bedford courthouse.

One of the aspects of the book that I found most interesting was the societal attitudes towards women in the 1890s. Women were considered the 'fairer sex' by most people in society, even the police and the criminal justice system; and Lizzie Borden's attorney never missed an opportunity to refer to her as an innocent "girl", although at the age of 32, this characterization seemed to stretch credulity. The subtext of this description seemed, of course, to be that Lizzie (and other women, especially of her social class) was simply not capable physically and emotionally of committing such heinous crimes. Instead many people seemed to hold onto the fanciful idea that murders were and looked like monsters and fiends.. and most often their collective suspicion fell on the elusive, unknowable stranger passing through town or on recent immigrants.

Despite the author's thoroughness in presenting the evidence both for and against Lizzie's guilt, I was never convinced she had formed a strong opinion of her own. Although I'm not a lawyer, my opinion about this case has never really changed based on all I have read throughout the years. It seems to me that it is more likely than not that Lizzie Borden did, in fact, murder her parents that August morning although I still can't say I have a clear understanding of her motives. Perhaps it was her frustration over her inability to live a life she felt she was entitled to; or perhaps it was the accumulation of many years of resentment toward her father and step-mother. Regardless of her motives, it seems that her constantly changing explanations about where she was and what she was doing at the time of the murders and the fact that she was the only other person in the home at the time, to me, points to her guilt. Having said that, I can certainly understand why a jury could find reasonable doubt in the prosecution's case. But what struck me while reading this book was just how difficult it must have been at that time to gather enough evidence to convict ANYONE of a crime. In the time before the availability of fingerprint analysis and long before anyone understood the complexity of DNA, it would seem that the only way to be able to prove the guilt of a criminal was if the crime had been clearly witnessed by numerous people.

I DID enjoy reading this account of the Lizzie Borden murder trial even though I was familiar with much of what I read from other sources. More than 100 years after these crimes, this case is every bit as sensational and fascinating as it was then.
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,294 reviews2,965 followers
June 10, 2019
I'll admit I'm pretty disappointed I didn't like this book more because true crime is one of my favorite genres. My 3 stars might be a tad generous because I was bored for so many of the chapters revolving around the trial. It's a well-researched book, but it reads more like a textbook than interesting nonfiction.

So I only knew some of the very basics about Lizzie Borden and the murders and that's why I wanted to read this book. For those of you unfamiliar to the case, way back in the late 1800s, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their Massachusetts' home. Thirty something year old Lizzie who lived in the home with her father, stepmother, and older sister, was charged with the double homicide. Soon after what was dubbed as "the trial of the century" began and schoolchildren around the country skipped rope to the rhyme about Lizzie taking whacks with an axe.

For such a sensational case even by today's standards it's a shame that so much of this book was dull. I honestly only liked the beginning of the book before Lizzie was arrested and all of he stuff after the trial. It's never a good sign when reading a nonfiction book when you flip to the back to see just exactly how much more you need to read before you get to the Author's notes. Once I saw the last 1/3 of the book is just the boring research notes that 99.9% of us on the planet end up skipping, I decided the book wasn't super long so I might as well just stick with it.

Even thought I got frustrated a bit while reading, this by no means was a waste of my time because I did learn quite a bit. One of the more random tidbits that stuck out to me was the family couldn't be bothered to call their maid by her real name and instead just used the previous maid's name when addressing her. The other thing that blew my mind is that many of the defense files continue to be in the possession of a law firm and the contents will not be disclosed due to attorney-client privilege. Doesn't matter all of the main players in the case have been dead for decades, we the public aren't getting our hands on those files.

If you are just looking for a well-researched book about Lizzie Borden than this is a safe bet but just be prepared it is pretty dry at times. It's a book I would read for small periods of time before setting it down for awhile and definitely not one I was engrossed in for hours at a time.

Profile Image for Juli.
1,879 reviews474 followers
March 2, 2019
"Lizzie Borden took an axe...gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done...gave her father 41" ~Playground chant

In August 1892, the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, MA created a media frenzy. Their daughter, Lizzie, was arrested for the crime and put on trial. The murder trial was an instant sensation. At the time, nobody could believe a woman would hack her father and stepmother to death with an axe.

After more than 120 years, many still wonder.....

Did she? Or didn't she?

Cara Robertson has spent 20 years researching the murders and the trial. The Trial of Lizzie Borden is her first book.

This book is so interesting! The Borden case is one of the most interesting and intriguing unsolved mysteries in American history, in my opinion. I don't believe the case was really solved by the investigation or outcome of the trial because at that time nobody could believe a woman was really capable of such a violent crime. Lizzie was found not guilty (as we all know) but faced public scrutiny until her death in 1927 because nobody was sure. The question hung in the air for the rest of her life....was she really guilty? Or innocent? And...if she was innocent....who killed the Bordens?

After reading this book, I can't really sway my opinion one way or the other. The evidence in the case is long gone. If such a murder occurred today, there would be DNA analysis, fingerprint evidence, and the investigation would not be impeded by the sex of the accused. A person is assumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. In my opinion, the trial did not prove her guilt so she was freed. Did she actually murder her parents? After 127 years any proof is just dust in the wind...there is no way to know.

Awesome book! Obviously well researched, and definitely well-written. Awesome debut book. I will be looking for more from this author! I will be running over the facts of this case in my head now for days I'm sure.....did she? Maybe she did. But maybe she didn't. That's the rough beauty of an unsolvable mystery....it can be pondered, but never really brought to a satisfying conclusion. Brain candy. Things for me to mull over in my head. Love it!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
Profile Image for Tammie.
217 reviews56 followers
November 20, 2018
A solid 4 stars. Lizzie Borden has always been a fascinating person-with the various books, shows, and movies based on her life, she is still someone that people find interesting even in present time. I found The Trial of Lizzie Borden to be an interesting and compelling book. For those who may not know, Lizzie Borden was accused of killing her father and stepmother by hacking them to death with an axe. An absolutely horrific crime, but especially in the late 1890s. I found The Trial of Lizzie Borden to be a well written book and I enjoyed the numerous photos that are included-it allows the reader to get to know the people and places surrounding this high profile crime in a better light. Highly recommend to fans of true crime/non-fiction books and anyone interested in learning more about Lizzie Borden. Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity review this.
Profile Image for Valerity (Val).
957 reviews2,741 followers
February 3, 2019
The Trial of Lizzie Borden

This is a book that delves into the story of Lizzie Borden and the murders of her father Andrew and step-mother Abby. But it mostly focuses on the trial after the murders, once she’s been held and it’s been found that there is supposedly enough evidence against her to bind her over, and a grand jury has filed a true bill. This is a good retelling of the facts of the murders and Lizzie’s arrest and time in jail, especially the trial afterward. It’s very detailed and gives a good recounting of how life was back in those days. But overall, I found it a bit parched. My thanks for the advance electronic copy that was provided by NetGalley, author Cara Robertson, and the publisher for my fair review.
3.5 of 5.0 Stars

Also on my BookZone blog:
Profile Image for Kristy.
1,007 reviews123 followers
April 26, 2019
"Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one."

2.5 Stars

Sadly, my knowledge of Lizzie Borden was basically the rhyme above. As a true crime aficionado, it was always on my list to read about the Borden murders. Obviously, I should have read about them sooner as I believed that she was a child when the crimes were committed and that she was found guilty. (Neither are true, and my ignorance shames me, I must say.)

The Trial is Lizzie Borden is literally that: an almost ad nauseam account of her trial. At first it was interesting but after a while it became a bit cumbersome. I found many of the details, evidence, and trial oration a sign of the times. I wonder what the result would have been if the trial had taken place today, at a time where we didn’t see women as fickle creatures incapable of the same evil as men.

In the end, I can’t say whether or not Borden was actually innocent of these crimes. Lawyers then seem pretty much the same as today where they twisted circumstances and words to create the narrative they wanted. (No offense to lawyers, I know there are also great ones out there.) But everything was so skewed one way or the other that it was difficult to see the truth in it all.

I received an advanced copy through Netgalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Bridgett.
Author 20 books429 followers
October 6, 2019
The truth is, I don't have much to say. This book bored me to tears.

While I admire the time and research involved in the making of this biography, it was incredibly dry. I literally had to force myself to pick it up and keep reading. Admittedly, nonfiction isn't typically my genre of choice, but the Lizzie Borden story has fascinated me for years. I was genuinely curious about this latest installment which offered a new glimpse into her infamous life. The included pictures were a very nice touch and gave the story that sense of realism so many true crime books lack...these were real people dealing with real crimes. I sometimes think that fact gets lost in the shuffle.

An extra star was added solely for the amazingly well done research.

**As always, thanks to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster, and Cara Robertson for the advanced reader's copy.
Profile Image for Jammin Jenny.
1,387 reviews187 followers
June 5, 2019
I really enjoyed this novel that provides a fairly detailed account of the actual trial of Lizzie Borden who was accused of murdering her father and step-mother in cold blood using an axe. It was interesting to see the way the trial came about, and the evidence brought forth both against her and in support of her. I tend to think she probably did it, but can see why she was acquitted for the crime. Very interesting narrative.
Profile Image for Erin (from Long Island, NY).
449 reviews153 followers
July 9, 2019
I was impressed by the amount of research that obviously went in to this book. Beforehand I had only heard bits & pieces of the case, so i went in interested in learning about what had actually happened (the best anyone could tell anyway.) My only warning would be that there isn't much "story telling" in this book. It's straight to the point- some brief family background, the crime, the trial, and briefly about the future. I did respect the fact that the author did not let on to his personal opinions, so the story was told straight from the research with no biases leaning either way. It was exactly what i wanted and i enjoyed it, but if you already know alot about the case or sticking to the facts with not much "fluff" may bore you, this may not be the 1 for you.
Profile Image for Marjorie.
545 reviews56 followers
March 2, 2019
Most people are familiar with the murder that Lizzie Borden was accused of as there have been numerous books and movies based on it. In August of 1892, Lizzie’s father and stepmother were brutally murdered in their home. Lizzie was accused of the murder and the trial became a sensationalized spectacle. People then and now all have different opinions of what happened that day in Fall River, Massachusetts. Was Lizzie a guilty murderess or was she wrongly accused?

I have read many accounts of this murder and even saw a play based on it. Ms. Robertson’s book is one of the most extensively researched and unbiased accounts I’ve read. This most definitely does not read like a historical novel as well it shouldn’t, though never ceased to hold my interest. This is a fact-based accounting based on Ms. Robertson’s twenty years of research. The book itself ended at 65%, the rest being a list of notes detailing the source of almost every sentence in the book.

What I found the most impressive about the book was that the author includes much information about society at the time of the murder and the way people perceived women. The men on Lizzie’s jury just couldn’t imagine a lady such as Lizzie committing such an atrocious act. For a women to do what was done to these two victims, she would have had to have been a monster and that would have shown in her countenance. The book also touches on what was thought to be the cause of “hysteria” in women.
The book not only covers the trial in detail but also the discussions that were taking place outside of the courtroom and newspaper accountings, as well as rumors. Another plus is that the book is chock full of photos that help the details to life.

A must read for true life crime readers. Highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Profile Image for TL .
1,826 reviews35 followers
October 6, 2019
The writing is a little dry but for me, this was a fascinating read.

I saw the title and thought at first it was historical fiction (whoops haha). The length had me a little wary too. "Can this really fill up an entire book? .
No worries there in case anyone else is wondering.

Imagine being in the courtroom and watching all of this unfold. Not gonna lie, if time travel was possible, this would be one of the times I would travel back too (along with hearing Lincoln speak). It is just one of those things that captures the imagination and makes you think.

Was Lizzie guilty? We may never know for sure.

The attitudes and theories regarding Women back then had me going between rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth. Not that I didn't know that going in but it still amazed me. A few times brought to mind the GibbsSmack as well.

One thing did amuse me

Narrator 4 stars
Writing/story: 3.5 stars

Would recommend, well worth the read.

*Overdrive app*
Profile Image for Leo.
4,313 reviews388 followers
January 24, 2021
Definitely a very interesting read that was well put together in a readable way.
Profile Image for Deanne Patterson.
1,829 reviews87 followers
March 31, 2019
Fall River,Massachusetts 1892 it is a bustling town with the usual shops,churches and neighborly visits. Those who could afford it had servants and lived up on the hill. While the Borden family did have domestic help, an Irish woman named Bridget they did not live on the hill and Lizzie resented this. The household consisted on Andrew Borden,his second wife Abby Borden, his two spinster daughters Emma and Lizzie and the domestic help Bridget.
This is author Cara Robertson's first book and she does an excellent job of presenting facts after much careful research. I have read several books on this murder and this one has way more information available than the others. A good portion of the book covers the trial with dialogue I have not seen in previous books I read. We really get a sense of the time period through this book in the setting and mannerisms of the people interviewed.
This is one murder that fascinates us to this day even over one hundred years after the fact. Was Lizzie responsible for the murders? Read the book and make your mind up for yourself.
Great for lovers of crime fiction.
Pub Date 12 Mar 2019
I was given a copy of this from Simon & Schuster through NetGalley. Thank you. All opinions expressed are my own.
Profile Image for Sharon Barrow Wilfong.
1,117 reviews3,942 followers
March 15, 2021
This was a good, step by step exploration of the mystery of the Borden murders.

We all know the rhyme:

Lizzy Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
Gave her father forty-one.

But did she? She was acquitted for the murder.

To start at the beginning:

Lizzie Borden was ironing handkerchiefs in the dining room and Maggie, the house servant, was washing windows on the top floor.

Around 11:00am, Lizzie called to Maggie to come downstairs quickly for someone killed her father. Later her stepmother was also found dead in the upstairs bedroom. Both had been murdered with an ax.

According to autopsies, and blood coagulation, the mother had been killed an hour and a half earlier than the father.

The community of River Falls, Massachusetts, was completely unprepared for such a grotesque crime. The police seemed to be the least prepared. They couldn't find the murder weapon, they found no clothes of Lizzie's that had any blood on it, and although fingerprint samples were available at the time, they refused to use them, considering them unreliable.

Friends seemed to have incriminating evidence, such as one who had a note written by Lizzie, refused to cooperate and the police refused to press the issue.

Eventually an ax head was found but without the handle. It turns out Lizzie burned a dress the next day of the murders and her statements and alibis were tenuous and contradictory.

However, all the police had to go on was circumstantial evidence.

Cara Robertson takes the reader through everyone's testimony, the events themselves and the court trial. Some of it gets a bit long, but is still interesting. I felt both the prosecutor and defense lawyers used too much speculation and subjective feelings as to how or why Lizzie Borden, a wealthy young woman, could or could not be capable of such a heinous crime.

In the end, the defense won. It took the jury barely ninety minutes to decide the Lizzie was not guilty. Apparently Lizzie's gender and station in society won the day.

But did it?

After being set free, Lizzie determined to return to her home and continue as she left off. But the support that her friends and church gave her while she was on trial eroded and she soon found herself alone.

She and her sister Emma then bought an expensive house on an estate. Lizzie then began to show peculiarities that showed another side to her. She kept strange, bohemian friends. After a while the home life became so unsupportable for her sister that she moved away.

It also came out the Lizzie was a thief. Furniture and jewelry stores discovered that she was stealing from them and refused to accept her patronage after that.

The case has been cold since 1893 and some questions will never be answered:

If Lizzie Borden didn't kill her parents, who did? The house was securely locked. And where was the murderer hiding for an hour and a half undetected between the murders?

Was Lizzie a psychopath or temporarily insane?

What happened to the murder weapon?

We'll never know.

Or will we? Robertson mentions concealed documentation of the trial that is classified because of some ruling over 120 years old. Maybe a law can overturn the classification and the documents can be unsealed and shed new light on one of the most famous cold cases in America.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,924 reviews731 followers
April 6, 2019
I'm going with 4.5 here -- although I was worried about it since I haven't been impressed with a number of books on the topic, it turned out to be a good one.


In The Trial of Lizzie Borden, just so we're clear, the author does not endeavour to solve the mystery of who killed Abby and Andrew Borden, but rather to peel away the sort of mythical elements of this story and get down to realities of the crimes, the investigation, the trial and its aftermath. At the same time, in presenting her account, she also examines the social and cultural factors of this time period, as the dustjacket reveals, to offer "a window into America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and the most troubling social anxieties." By the time I turned the last page, it seemed to me that the trial and the media coverage turned less on guilt or innocence and more on whether or not someone in Lizzie's respectable position could have possibly done such a horrific thing. As her attorney would later say as part of his closing arguments,

"It is not impossible that a good person may go wrong ... but our human experience teaches us that if a daughter grows up in one of our homes to be 32 years old, educated in our schools, walking in our streets, associating with the best people and devoted to the service of God and man ... it is not within human experience to find her suddenly come out into the rankest and baldest murderess."

Robertson's book plays out the story of the case in three parts -- the murder, the trial, and the verdict. Part two is my favorite and the longest and most detailed of the three, covering the trial. It is, in my opinion, the best and most interesting part of the book, because not only do we get a look at the actual court proceedings, in which we come to realize exactly what a circumstantial case it actually was, but even more fascinating to me was Ms. Robertson's presentation of the press coverage of the time. Journalists not only sat in court each day to record the events of the trial and Lizzie herself as she sat in the dock, but went on to provide speculation and opinion to its readers, in some cases making it very clear which side they were taking, rather than offering a more objective stance. Biased media in the 1890s? You bet.

She goes on to say, in getting to the heart of her argument here, that

"Even as the murders themselves seemed summoned from a mythic reservoir of human darkness, the trial of the alleged perpetrator occurred in a specific time and place: America in the Gilded Age, its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling anxieties inscribed in every moment of the legal process. Lizzie Borden was a devout young woman 'of good family' -- a lady -- and an accused axe-wielding patricide. It should not have been possible."

According to the "science" of the day, no one would have been surprised had the murderer turned out to be either someone whose "criminality" would have shown in features marking their ethnicity or class. It might have also been less sensational and more acceptable had the perpetrator turned out have been some strange man who just happened to be on hand to commit these terrible murders. But a woman of Lizzie's station hacking her parents to death so brutally seems to have been a scenario that would have, when all was said and done, constituted some sort of threat to the existing order of Fall River in that particular place at that particular time.

I found this a book very much worth reading for anyone who may have an interest in this case. Aside from placing this case in its particular social/historical context, the author seems to adhere closely to fact, doesn't go off on any tangents or theories that weren't expressed at the time, and keeps the narrative interesting enough for rapid page turning. I'm also utterly impressed at the scope of her research. I have read enough reader reviews to know that not everyone agrees with me, but aside from the weird word choice of "mansplaining," I have little to complain about. Very nicely done.
Profile Image for Yodamom.
1,990 reviews194 followers
December 14, 2018
Very informative about the Borden trial. Shows what living in the time period would be like. Has some comments from journalists. The remarks about her demeanor, and mood changes. The courtroom antics where fascinating a drama at it's most dramatic. Most of the book is of the trial, which is something I hadn't read much about before. If you're interested in learning about the Borden trial I recommend this book.
Thank you to the publishers for an early review copy
Profile Image for Simona.
238 reviews22 followers
May 11, 2019
Pillar of this book is a comprehensive research, and author didn’t just dissect the trial into day to day events, but she also gave them the frame in interesting social study of this era. If you are looking for something more in true crime books, then this book is for you!
Profile Image for Dez Nemec.
717 reviews23 followers
February 3, 2019
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were both brutally murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. After an investigation and inquest, which included her own testimony, Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged for the murder of Andrew Borden only. (This was later amended to add Abby Borden). What followed was the biggest US trial to date. Reporters were everywhere, people were clamoring to enter the courthouse to see the proceedings, and amateur sleuths were attempting to solve the mystery themselves. Ultimately, Lizzie was found not guilty by the jury of men.

The above general information is fairly well-known (except maybe the initial complaint was only about the father). Robertson takes this and proceeds to give a carefully retelling of the entire saga – the murder, the trial, and the verdict. She outlines the family dynamic, including not only what daily life was like for the family, but also the issues between Abby and her step-daughters. She shows what life was like in Fall River in the 1890s – industry, religion, the nationality/heritage of the people. She also talks about the role of women at the time, which undoubtedly had some bearing on the outcome of the trial. Throughout the trial, Robertson quotes both the transcripts and news reports.

(As an aside, it is amazing some of the quotes regarding women, Lizzie and/or the crime: “there was something ‘effeminate’ about the hacking;” “‘if any girl can show you or me, or anybody else what could interest her up here for twenty minutes, I would like to have her do it’” (regarding the barn loft); and with regards to hysteria “in young married women, doctors initially claimed that hysterical symptoms resulted from a wandering womb.”)

That amount of research that went in to this book was staggering. Except for a few places where I sensed a bit of bias, it is given in a very straight-forward matter. I can see how some people would view it as dry, as legal proceedings can be rather monotonous to even the interested parties. The multiple expert witnesses crossing (and recrossing) their T’s and dotting (and redotting) their I’s would make anyone’s eyes cross. I am used to reading caselaw and even I grew a bit bored. But this is the way trials proceed. Overall, this is a relatively complete telling of the entire story. I was particularly excited to see some information of which I was unaware: the existence of the original trial notes of ex-governor George Robinson, one of Lizzie’s attorneys. Imagine reading that file. I wonder if they are hiring…?
Profile Image for Jessica White.
470 reviews35 followers
March 18, 2019

That's what I've always said about Lizzie Borden.

That being said, reading the actual transcripts from her trial is incredibly aggravating.
Fall River Police BOTCHED this investigation.

Now that may just be my Criminal Justice/Forensics background coming out.
But honestly, there was no way in hell the jury could have found her guilty with the information that was presented to them. I honestly understand why so many people believe she's not guilty.

I, however, still think she is.

She had motive, anger, frustration, and the cool demeanor to fake innocence.

But if this was tried in court today (as long as we ignore all the inconsistencies and fabrications the police department made), the jury would not be 100% male, the prosecution would not be able to say Lizzie was coming to the end of her menstrual cycle and was temporarily insane, and there would definitely be psych evals.

Now, about the book itself.

It was so incredibly dry.

There are so many minute details Cara Robertson goes into before the trial even starts. She walks us through every last moment leading up to the crime, the crime itself, and then the trial begins about 100 pages in. But the trial will hook you! It picks up and gets to the information most people don't know about the Lizzie Borden case. I was enthralled reading the transcripts and just seeing how far we've come as a society. The way the investigation was handled was completely absurd, the amount of bystanders that were supposedly trying to find the killer on their own, the differing stories told by officers in the same department, and how we treated women in a male driven society.

I highly recommend this to true followers of the Lizzie Borden case!

Huge thank you to Cara Robertson, NetGalley, and Simon and Schuster for providing me with an advanced copy of this book!

The Trial of Lizzie Borden goes on sale this week!

This review and reviews of other books on Lizzie Borden can be found at A Reader's Diary!
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,858 reviews364 followers
July 14, 2019
My thanks go to Cara Robertson, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.
After twenty years of research Robertson has written an intricately woven narrative of Borden's day's before and during her trial. I'm just saying she's guilty, but so many people disagree about this crime even readers of this book. There is no doubt that Lizzie held great animosity toward her stepmother. She also had a taste for the highlife. But how angry does one have to be to whack her parents to death with an axe!? How indifferent to suffering?!
Robertson 's book gives us readers an inside look into Lizzie's life and desires. You be the judge.
Profile Image for Janelle Janson.
709 reviews438 followers
March 26, 2019
Many thanks Simon and Schuster for my free copy of THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN by Cara Robertson

I love reading true crime and have always been fascinated by Lizzie Borden. I’ve read several books, watched movies and TV shows, but this is the first nonfiction book I’ve read. It’s right in my wheelhouse and I loved all of it.

Lizzie Borden lived a short life from 1860 to 1927. She was accused of the murder of her father and stepmother, who were hacked to death with an axe. While Lizzie wasn’t close to her parents, she did live with them and was the only person who could’ve been present during the crime. However, there was no physical evidence, no witnesses, no blood anywhere on her...nothing.

Robertson has an extensive, impressive law background and it shines in this book. She studied this case for years and it actually started out as a thesis paper which was published in 1997. Robertson focuses on the trial specifically and the evidence is presented without being salacious or with unwanted conjecture - which I prefer. The chapters are laid out perfectly with an abundance of photographs and illustrations that add context.

THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN is an interesting and refreshing change from reading fictional accounts of Lizzie Borden. I can’t say that I’ve come to any conclusions on the case but I definitely have my opinions. If you are as fascinated by Lizzie as much as I am, then this book is definitely for you!
Profile Image for Amy.
1,597 reviews136 followers
June 9, 2019
I really wanted to love this one ... as a huge fan of true crime, I was so excited to see this was coming out. Unfortunately, this one didn't work for me. I loved the pieces about the crime and the people who were involved in the case but a large component of the book was a moment by moment synopsis of the trial (hence the title). Unfortunately, I didn't find those pieces particularly compelling. A lot of great information but I didn't find that it was pulled together to be particularly compelling. I think this will work for readers who like a very deep dive into a case - the crime, the trial, the aftermath. Unfortunately, it wasn't one that worked for me. This one is much more academic than I was expecting. I suspect this may have worked better for me if it was more of a narrative non-fiction take on the Borden case.
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