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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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04 August, 2014

“Lizzie Borden took an ax …”: The Fall River Murders and the Woman who got Away with the Crime

In the hot, late morning hours of August 4th, 1892, the sleepy community of Fall River, Massachusetts, fifty-five miles southwest of Boston, was rocked by the murders of one of its leading citizens and his wife. In a large house that still stands at what was 92 Second Street in Fall River (since renumbered to 240 Second St.), seventy-two year-old Andrew Borden and his sixty-five year-old wife Abby were found brutally murdered, literally hacked to death by someone using a heavy, sharp-bladed instrument. Abby died first, in an upstairs bedroom. Andrew was killed some sixty to ninety minutes later, while napping on a sofa in the sitting room. The discovery of Andrew’s body occurred first, and the brutality of his murder was sufficient to guarantee headlines in the local papers; the discovery of Abby Borden’s body lying butchered in the guest room upstairs took those headlines national. However, it was the news, a week later, that Andrew’s thirty-two year-old daughter Lizzie had been arrested for the killings made it the crime of the century.

Lizzie Andrew Borden
One hundred and twenty-two years later, those killings, and their aftermath, still resonate through popular culture. Movies, books, plays, even songs have memorialized the case; the home where Andrew and Abby died is now a quaint bed-and-breakfast; and experts still try to solve the case that children have long ago marked closed:
Lizzie Borden took an ax,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Though the details are slightly off, most people familiar with the case do feel that Lizzie did in fact murder her father and stepmother, despite being acquitted of the crime. To think otherwise would be to admit the incredible—that a stranger, after brutally killing an elderly woman, waited in an occupied home for more than an hour, went downstairs, murdered her dozing husband with equal ferocity, and escaped unseen, taking nothing with him save any evidence of his presence. Robbery clearly wasn't the motive; nothing was missing from the home, and Andrew was found with his silver watch and chain in place, gold ring on his finger, and $85.65, nearly three months wages for most men in 1892, in his pocketsi. The extreme violence of the attack initially led police to speculate that it was the work of, in the parlance of the time, a “fiend,” or in today’s terms, a psychopath. The Fall River Police, acting upon that supposition, did what most 19th Century law enforcement officers would've considered the wisest move: they looked for foreigners to arrest.
Eventually however, certain facts in the case led them to a more reasoned conclusion—that the killer was a member of the household. The longer the investigators looked at the outwardly happy little family, consisting of the Bordens; Andrew’s eldest daughter Emma and youngest daughter Lizzie; John Morse, the brother of Andrew’s first wife Sarah; and Bridget Sullivan (whom the entire household insisted upon calling Maggie), the lone servant in the house, the less happy things appeared to be.

Though Andrew was wealthy, serving on the board of directors of at least four banks, he was also parsimonious to a fault; his household lived in near poverty, forced to scrimp and save every penny possible. Repeatedly Emma and Lizzie had begged their father to sell the cramped, two-story house in the decidedly middle-class part of town and move “up the hill,” to the swankier side of Fall River, where they could live among those of their economic and social strata. The appeals were ignored, perhaps fatally so. As author David Kent explains, “That Andrew would not spend a portion of his considerable wealth for a sumptuous home on the Hill may well have been the linchpin of the murders; certainly the prosecution made it one of the core motives in its case against Lizzie.ii

The morning of the murders, breakfast consisted of three-day-old mutton, mutton broth (both kept in the summer heat without the benefit of refrigeration), johnnycakes (pancakes made with corn meal), cookies, and overripe bananas, all washed down with coffeeiii. The family dined heartily on the unappetizing fare, then began their busy day.

Andrew left shortly after 9:00 to transact some business and stop by the post office. Lizzie returned to her bedroom, still suffering from a bout of nausea that had affected the entire household the previous day. Emma was away visiting friends in Fairhaven, and had been for two weeks. John Morse left earlier, with the understanding that he would return for lunch at noon. Bridget was tasked with washing the windows … all of them, inside and out, while Abby began cleaning upstairs. Sometime after 9:30, Lizzie came back downstairs, dressed for a shopping trip. As she was in the kitchen drinking coffee, her father returned from the post office. Lizzie informed him that Abby had received a note from a friend who was ill; she had left to visit them. Andrew retired to the sitting room to rest before lunch. The time was perhaps 10:55 in the morning. At that time, Abby was certainly lying dead in the guest room, body wedged between dresser and bed. Andrew, just drifting off on the sitting room sofa, had mere minutes left to live. And the whereabouts of his favorite daughter Lizzie during that period of time would become the crux of the most sensational trial of its day, a trial that carried all the notoriety of the O.J. Simpson trial a century later.

The trial lasted fifteen days, from June 5th to June 20th 1893. The verdict, “not guilty,” was the only one possible given the dearth of physical evidence available to the prosecution, a sympathetic press, and the golden oratory of the counsel for the defense, the Honorable George Dexter Robinson, former three-term governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But was it the right one? Did the scale of justice function as intended, or did a guilty woman go free? And what led authorities to fix their suspicions on Lizzie in the first place?

Lizzie made the initial discovery of Andrew Borden’s body; Bridget was in her room resting. Bridget wasn’t present when the note requesting Abby come to the aid of a sick friend, nor when she supposedly left. Only Lizzie bore witness to that. Lizzie claimed that, following her father’s return, she spent fifteen minutes, or maybe twenty … or perhaps thirty, rummaging in the barn looking for bits of metal to use as fishing sinkers, and snacking on pears from the tree in the Borden’s yard. She claimed that, shortly after the city hall clock chimed 11:00, perhaps five or ten minutes past, she returned to the kitchen, then entered the sitting room to discover her father’s bloody corpse in repose on the sofa.

Within minutes, the alarm had been raised, and at precisely 11:15, the first call is received at the City Marshal’s office. That is one fixed point in the day’s timeline; the only other ones are when John Morse left the house at 8:30, and when Andrew began his walk home, at 10:45. For the other points on the timeline, there is only the word of Lizzie and Bridget. One fact is certain, and is the source of much of the suspicion which must rest on Lizzie—Abby Borden died at least an hour, and perhaps as much as an hour-and-a-half, before her husband. To believe that Lizzie, Bridget, or both were ignorant of the crime is to believe that a stranger entered the home, traveled upstairs, through the oddly laid out building (the home had no hallways; it was necessary to move through each room to reach the adjoining rooms), in order to hack a woman to death. He then spent the next ninety minutes concealed in the home until her husband returned, while avoiding the other two women moving in and out of the house … well, the premise strains credulity.

But why would Lizzie Borden want to kill her father and stepmother? Was it as simple as being tired of living so far below their means? A childish resentment of a stepmother taking her late mother’s place? Or, as has been suggested by those who’ve studied the case, a more sordid reason for the crime, one rooted in a forbidden relationship? As noted crime author Ed McBain posited in a 1984 novel entitled Lizzie, a possible motive could have been to cover up a lesbian relationship between Lizzie and Bridget, at a time when mere rumors of such an affair would have ruined the reputation and social standing of the Borden daughter. Others have suggested that the obvious rage visited upon the Bordens was revenge for some manner of abuse Lizzie suffered at their hands as a child, possibly even physical or sexual abuse.

Post-Mortem photograph of Andrew Borden
Some may wonder, in this day of CSIs, when fingerprints and DNA solve crimes every day, how there could be no evidence from such brutal murders. The murders occurred in a far different era, when forensic science was just a dream in the minds of a few criminologists. Some departments in larger cities had begun using the Bertillon system, a complex series of precise measurements of criminals, especially such characteristics as the shape of the ears, the width of the nose, and the distance from one pupil to the other. In 1892, the same year the Borden murders occurred, a detective in Argentina closed the first case using fingerprint evidence, a homicide in the town of Necochea, though the practice wouldn't be introduced in the United States until 1906.
Post-Mortem photograph of Abby Borden

As far as physical evidence in the Borden case, it’s conspicuous in its absence. No trace of the note which supposedly called Abby away to the bedside of a sick friend was ever found, nor were attempts to identify said friend successful. The prosecution made much of a supposed bloodstained skirt, the spot upon which, in the words of expert witness Prof. Wood, “… was the size of a very small pin head …iv” that wasn't blood after all. There was testimony about a blue dress that Lizzie burned in the days following the murders. She stated that it had been spattered with paint. An old, rusty hatchet without a handle was found in a bin in the basement; experts testified that it couldn't have been the murder weapon. In short, there was nothing to prove that Lizzie committed the crime, and nothing to show that anyone else had either. The only proof of the murders was the dead, bloody bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden, and their severed heads, removed by authorities just prior to the funerals and preserved as evidence.

Did Lizzie kill her Father and Stepmother? I believe so. Logically, it’s hard to believe otherwise. It can’t be proven, nor is it possible at this point to assess a motive for the crime. One thing is certain, however … this case will continue to fascinate people for generations, just as it has for more than one-hundred and twenty years.

Kent, David. Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden. Yankee Books, Emmaus, PA. 1992.
Kent, David, with Roberta A. Flynn. The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. Branden Publishing, Boston. 1992.
i Kent 20
ii Kent 9
iii Kent 13

iv Kent and Flynn 269

Bobbie's Movies to Look For-- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes begins where Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes ends. Only it's been ten years since Caesar and his band of escaping simian brethren escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge into the relative safety of Muir Woods. During that decade, the ape group has grown exponentially and formed a community of families and homes and a form of government lead by Caesar and his friends, Koba and Maurice. One day, while out on a hunting trip, Caesar, Caesar's son and Koba encounter a group of human Simian Flu survivors, lead by Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Caesar, pulling himself to full stature, bellows "GOOOOO!!!!!!!" at the humans and the humans quickly flee in terror.

Returning to San Francisco, Malcolm tells human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) about the encounter and the fact that apes can talk. Dreyfus wants to kill the apes but Malcolm convinces Dreyfus to allow him to return to talk to Caesar about the human's need to restart a nearby Dam to provide power to the City. Malcolm, with wife and former CDC doctor Ellie (Keri Russell), returns to discuss this matter with Caesar. Ellie cures Caesar's wife of a deadly infection and thus begins an uneasy truce between apes and humans. However, not all apes are comfortable with this idea including Koba, who hates all humans for the torture he underwent as a lab animal, and former SF water worker Carver (Kirk Acevedo) who thinks the only good ape is a dead ape. How long before they all learn that in every ape is something human and in every man, something animal lurks? Who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

Sure this blockbuster is not without it's faults, including such groan-inducing gaffs such as a hydroelectric Dam that, having sat vacant for over a decade, springs back to life with only some minor tinkering. Video cameras that still function after having been untouched in years. Laptops that power up instantly. Guns and rifles, unused for years, that still fire without blowing up in your face. However, what this movie will be remembered for is the amazing CGI! Especially the amazing stop-motion performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Within minutes of the movie, I totally forgot that what I was watching on the screen was special effects thanks, in large part, to Serkis' astounding acting. The apes are among the more intellectually complex characters you're likely to spend time with this summer. The gritty and realistic portrayal of a slowly escalating conflict between apes and humans until the final battle was spectacular, mesmerizing and ultimately  heart-breaking. This movie will make any average viewer forget the improbability of talking apes battling mankind for domination. Andy Serkis should get an Oscar nod for is work in this movie!

One more minor thing I would mention. I first saw Dawn in 3D, and then saw it again in 2D three days later. And in my opinion, 2D is by far the better. I found, especially during the final battle, that the 3D annoyed me. The many and varied items being thrown at the screen made it difficult to figure out who was coming out a victor of that battle. And be sure to sit through the closing credits for a audio hint of what's to come in the sequel!

Trash Palace Dumpster-- Bobbie's Best of the Bad: Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

As fans of the made-for-TV 2013 surprise hit Sharknado know, this aquatic disaster franchise is meant to be mocked and ridiculed. That's why it came as no surprise that last night's airing of Sharknado 2: The Second One garnered 5.3 million viewers who tweeted 215,000 tweets during it's two-hour running time. Snarks flew like the sharks in the movie with such notables as director Roger Corman tweeting "Do I sate myself? Do I soar? These are the existential questions that a shark in a #Sharknado2TheSecondOne must ask himself. So must we all" and Sharknado star Tara Reid twittering "when something bites us we bite back." So, without further ado, I give you my 6 reasons to love Sharknado 2: The Second One.
  1. Cameos! By the dozens! Seems like everyone wanted to be in this movie! From NBC-TV anchormen Al Roker to Matt Lauer arguing about whether to call it a shark storm or a sharknado before stabbing to death a shark that lands on their desk to Jared Fogel, the Subway Sandwich Shop shill, eating a subway sandwich while waiting for a subway train. In one scene that made me want to sing "Don't Break My Achy-Breaky Shark", songster Billy Ray Cyrus appears as Tara Reid's surgeon. If you've ever yearned to see rapper Sandra "Pepa" Denton gets squashed by a shark while riding a Citibike, this is the movie for you! Or if you've ever wanted to watch Robert Klein chatter with WWE Superstar Kurt Angle while they play the Mayor of New York and the Chief of the FDNY respectively, well, here ya go! Or the guy from Shark Tank get killed by the detached rolling head of The Statue Of Liberty, this one's for you, sicko! Two of the best might be Robert Hays, star of the 1980 film Airplane!, as the pilot of the airliner attacked by flying sharks, and Judd Hirsch, who starred as Alex Reiger on the 1970s series Taxi as, what else, Ben the taxi driver!

    1. It's terrifyingly easy to get access to weapons on The Big Apple. From napalm selling pizzeria owner Biz Markie to random citizens storing pick-axes, saws, machetes and machine guns in their car trunks, it's no wonder that this major metropolis area has such a high crime rate!
    2. Knowing that "during an EF5 sharknado," sharks can come down at a rate of up to "two inches an hour." And that they can do this even while being on fire! On fire while climbing stairs!
    3. In what can only be an homage to Bruce Campbell, Tara Reid's missing lower left arm is replaced with a circular saw she uses to kill the same flying shark that took her arm in the first place! After which, ex-husband Ian
      Ziering retrieves her chewed off arm from the sharks mouth, removes her wedding ring from the dead finger and, with sharks raining down all around him, drops to one knee and proposes to Tara! She says "Yes!", BTW. So, we can have romance in a disaster movie, right!?!
    4. Climate change is real. As blizzard-like conditions move in from the East and meet with tropical storms coming in from the West, it snows in New York City on a clear June day. Al Roker told us this so it must be true and not a flimsy excuse to cover up the fact that it's snowing and we can see the actor's breaths on what's supposed to be a typical Summer's day!
    5. And finally reason #6 … Sharknado 2: The Second One set a network record on Wednesday night with 3.9 million viewers for its premiere telecast. That makes it the most-watched movie in network history. What's more: It nabbed 1 billion Twitter impressions, according to the cable network.  Less than 24 hours later the SyFy channel astounded and surprised no one by announcing the third installment Sharknado 3 has been green-lit for release next year! Keep checking with SyFy.com for further updates. Meanwhile, if you missed it's premier showing July 30, it's showing again Saturday, August 2 at 7 pm. and Sunday, August 3 at 9 pm. (ET/PT).

Movie Review: The Legend of Lizzie Borden by S. J. Martiene

On a steamy August day in 1893, Fall River, Massachusetts earned its spot in the annals of unsolved mysteries when two of its citizens, Andrew and Abbey Borden were brutally murdered. The story has always intrigued me (as do many stories of this type). The Borden’s youngest daughter, Lizzie Andrew Borden, was convicted, tried, and found NOT GUILTY of the crime. The real killer was never found.
On February 10th, 1975, ABC aired THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN as their Movie of the Week. I had just turned 14 and thereafter I could never forget Elizabeth Montgomery’s haunting performance, the wicked music score, and the fact that I would never, EVER want to eat mutton broth. The movie was in the exceptional, pure '70’s style and went on to win two Emmy Awards (Outstanding Achievements in Costume Design and Art Direction). Montgomery’s performance was nominated; however, she lost to Katharine Hepburn in LOVE AMONG THE RUINS. Despite Hepburn’s stalwart reputation, I still believe Montgomery should have won, particularly since it was such a stunning contrast to the role she was most famous for: Samantha Stevens, the bubbly good witch, in BEWITCHED (which ended its 8 year TV run in 1972).
The movie opens with the murder having already been committed. When Lizzie’s sister, Emma (played by SOAP’s Katherine Helmond), arrives home, she confronts Lizzie with a question, “Did you kill father?” A vacant-eyed Lizzie replies, “No, Emma, I did not.” Lizzie is quickly brought to trial, and the bulk of the movie is filled with the inquest, Lizzie’s imprisonment, and subsequent trial. One of the scenes that stayed with me since it first aired was the meal of rancid mutton and broth. Their housekeeper didn’t want to serve it, but Mr. Borden insisted. We get to see Mr. and Mrs. Borden eat away and grunt like pigs at the fly-ridden broth as Lizzie watches over in disgust. Watching the movie 37 years later does not lessen its foul-factor. YUCK!!
Right away, Lizzie is depicted as having some sociopathic tendencies, and loyal Emma remains at her side, even though she is a victim of Lizzie’s bullying. Emma brings Lizzie a beautiful hat (with ensemble) to wear at the trial and Lizzie goes off on her because she brought the wrong gloves. “Sometimes I actually believe you want to see me hang!” During an interview from a journalist (I DREAM OF JEANNIE’S Hayden Rourke) she portrays her father as a very generous and kind man, although they didn't even have the convenience of an inside bathroom.
The Borden home today, now a Bed-and-breakfast
Public sentiment is on Lizzie’s side, much to the chagrin of prosecuting attorney, Hosea Knowlton (Ed Flanders). “I guess it is to be expected. They haven’t had a good witch hunt in this area since Salem.” After much hub-bub, the trial gets started with testimony from Bridget Sullivan (the Borden housekeeper). She portrays the Borden home as a peaceful place to live and work, the flashbacks in Lizzie’s head beg to differ. Quarrels between Abbey, Andrew, and Lizzie were the norm. Accusations of theft, greed, miserliness, and physical threats abound as a matter of course. The trial continues into questions of the dress Lizzie was wearing and the amount of drugs that Lizzie was given. It has been said that all of the dialogue from the trial was taken from the actual court transcripts. I feel this lends to the movie’s authenticity. The contrast between the testimonies of witnesses and the “flashbacks” in Lizzie’s head are indeed some of the highlights. In the flashback during the questioning regarding the ax, Lizzie is at a general store, buys some poison, and shoplifts the ax. Another customer (played by TITANIC’s Gloria Stuart) brings it to the manager’s attention, but is told that “Old Man Borden always pays.” Evidently, Lizzie has a Five-Finger-Discount habit. The prosecution is frustrated when there is no sign of the victim’s blood or hair on the ax or on the dress Lizzie was wearing. As Lizzie thinks back, she remembers another time when Abbey Borden insisted the will be changed so she is not left penniless in the event of Andrew’s death. Lizzie is filled with rage.
At the Knowlton home, the trial is discussed and Hosea is not happy that Lizzie gets to hide behind her femininity to gain sympathy. Knowlton’s wife also begins to feel empathy for Lizzie, and recites one of the great lines from the movie. It simply illustrates how life was for women in the mid-1800’s.
You have no idea how unbearably heavy these skirts can be at times.” Even today, that line resonates.
Back to the trial, Emma takes the stand and Lizzie thinks back to her relationship with her father. We’ll just say it is creepy, to say the least. As the trial closes, Lizzie maintains her innocence and now it is time for the verdict. While we wait for the foreman, the “truth” is shown through Lizzie’s eyes. If you have never seen the movie, then I will not spoil it for you. Let’s just say for TV in the 1970’s, it was pretty bold and gruesome. The foreman proclaims her innocence and she goes to the Borden home where Emma is waiting. Once again, she asks (and for the last time), “Lizzie, did you kill father?” This time the viewer is left with no answer; only the chilling refrain of children singing the oft-heard Lizzie Borden rhyme. And yes, I had nightmares after I saw it.
There have been many movies, documentaries, books, and even songs written about Lizzie Borden. In 1961, The Chad Mitchell Trio released an album with the song, LIZZIE BORDEN, on it. You can listen to it here: Lizzie Borden . There were also radio shows of what happened in Fall River and one that re-imagines the story. The re-imagining, titled THE OLDER SISTER was featured on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.
Emma and Lizzie Borden died within 10 days of each other in 1927. Their story continues to fascinate me.