Arnold R. Brown,
Lizzie Borden:
The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter

(Dell, 1992)

The Borden murders represent one of the most fascinating crimes in American history, giving birth to a legend that has far surpassed the actual events of that fateful day in Fall River, Massachusetts.

In this fascinating book, Arnold R. Brown purports to tell us the true story of the crime and cover-up that revolved around Miss Lizzie Borden. Brown's arguments are really quite intriguing, and they are indeed credible -- to some degree. His tale does fit many of the facts of the case, yet in the end he has no real way to prove that he is correct. This does not mean that he has not in fact cracked the case wide open, but he has no incontrovertible proof to offer the reader to support the theory he is convinced explains everything. The heart of his argument relies on second- or third-hand hearsay evidence from individuals who were quite young at the time of the murders. Brown may well be right, and his obvious writing skills make you want to believe him, but there is simply not enough proof to declare his solution to be the actual final solution.

One would probably be better served by reading other accounts in order to get the facts of the case in mind before taking on this author. Brown jumps around in his narrative to some degree, and he never really lays out a timetable for what happened when on that fateful morning. We learn the accepted facts of the case from him in a rather piecemeal fashion. Along the way, his own conviction almost teases the reader. Remember this, he tells the reader, for it will be important later. Further along, he begins to make bold statements, holding off the proof of them for some later chapter. As he begins describing the inquests and trial, he contaminates the valuable evidence of fact he has with a conviction that seems unwarranted. He proclaims that local government officials planned every aspect of the case from inquest to trial for the sole purpose of charging and acquitting Lizzie Borden in a way that allowed no possibility of the real murderer's identity becoming known. He never presents a good enough argument for why the town leaders should prostitute the law in this manner. Brown alleges that virtually every principal in the trial's proceeding knew who the murderer was and worked conspiratorially to produce the result that indeed came about -- namely, Lizzie's acquittal. Even undeniably honorable men on the prosecuting team and behind the judge's bench were all active performers in a farcical drama. While I can't buy all he is selling on these points, Brown does do a very good job at pointing out many extraordinary aspects of the trial, especially many mysterious aspects to the prosecutor's case and the exceedingly strange decisions and pronouncements from the bench. His words are convincing, but I cannot objectively accept everything he pronounces as truth without more evidence.

After building up interminably for the big finish, the moment when he will announce who in fact killed Andrew and Abby Borden, Brown seems to let his excitement get away from him in the concluding chapter. His evidence simply cannot be proven, even if he is correct. Brown makes the situation worse by putting forth a timeline in which he ascribes definite actions to a number of players without offering any proof whatsoever -- his summary contains information he never even mentioned elsewhere in the book. He names Lizzie as a conspirator after the fact, one who knew the murderer but did not know he had rewritten everyone's plans for that morning by actually killing the elder Bordens. I found Brown's argument as to why she quickly decides to cover up the murderer and allow herself to stand trial for the heinous crimes somewhat problematic and unsatisfactory -- materialism and a desire to save the Borden name from embarrassment don't seem to do it for me, and Uncle John Morse's purported role in the central events strikes me as even harder to justify in Brown's scenario.

This is a fascinating book that all armchair detectives interested in the Borden case should read. One great strength of Brown's book is his inclusion of the long-lost testimony of Lizzie Borden from the original inquest, evidence that was not allowed during the actual trial. He relies heavily on information from this inquest to build his case, but many of his discoveries are perfectly capable of being twisted in different directions by other sleuths.

Brown is simply too sure of himself; he has contributed useful information and speculation into the Borden murder-mystery, but he allows himself to lose objectivity. It may well be that he is correct, and many of his ideas certainly deserve intense thought and investigation, but his theories simply cannot be proven, and his overzealous attempt to explain why each actor in this drama did what he or she did actually damaged some of his credibility in my eyes. Brown would have us believe that every halfway important man in Fall River knew the truth about the case and worked together to turn the trial into a mockery of justice for reasons that simply are not convincing, especially when you allow for the obvious public danger posed by the madman Brown dubs the actual killer.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 13 August 2005

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