Blood-Soaked Handkerchiefs and Burnt Dresses: The Lizzie Borden Trial, as Told in a Newspaper of the Time

Strong Points for the State Brought Out at the Borden Trial

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New Mystery Furnished by a Ghastly Relic Most Damming of All the Commonwealth’s Evidence Against the Prisoner Brought Out—Alice Russell, Lizzie’s Close Friend, Takes Apparent Delight in Giving Evidence That May Convict the Accused—Introduction of a Ragged, Blood-Soaked Handkerchief, Picked Up on the Borden Premises on the Day of the Murder, the Sensational Feature of the Fourth Day of the Trial

New Bedford, Mass. June 8
This was the darkest day for Lizzie Borden of any since the trial began. The full force of the prosecution’s attack was developed and the most damaging of all their evidence against the prisoner brought out. The one distinctly vulnerable point in Lizzie Borden’s movements at the time of the murders and during the few days immediately following them was the burning of the light blue dress with the dark navy blue diamond figure.

It is upon this that the Grand Jury indicted her, and it is this which will convict her if she is convicted. Without that dress, the Commonwealth’s case is a mere tissue of speculation. The Commonwealth established beyond a peradventure today, in the opinion of all who heard the evidence, that Lizzie Borden did on the Sunday morning following the crime, which occurred on Thursday, burn such a dress in the kitchen stove and in the presence of two persons.

The testimony of one of these persons was the feature of the forenoon’s proceedings, and, indeed, of the entire trial up to that moment. Not only was the testimony itself the most startling of any heretofore produced, but the witness herself was a person of such singular individuality that she seemed typical of all the uncanny features of this amazing mystery as well as of the strange people and their strange and narrow lives who are the actors in it.

Miss Alice M. Russell is the name of the witness. For years she had lived next door to the Bordens, in a house now occupied by Dr. Kelly, and she was counted by Lizzie Borden among her closest friends.

Not only was the testimony itself the most startling of any heretofore produced, but the witness herself was a person of such singular individuality that she seemed typical of all the uncanny features of this amazing mystery as well as of the strange people and their strange and narrow lives who are the actors in it.

Yet today she took the witness-stand and not only testified to what will come nearer to putting a rope around her girlfriend’s neck than anything yet brought out, but she did it with a vicious snap in her voice and a cruel compression of her thin, colorless lips, which suggested anything but sorrow for the fact that she was compelled to do so.


The personal appearance of Miss Russell is extraordinary. As she took the witness-stand today it seemed as though one of the strange women characters in which Wilkie Collins delights, and which fit like ominous spectres through the deep shadows— through his mysteries—had walked out of the pages of one of the dead novelist’s books into real life and real participation in a tragedy more awful and more wrapped in obscurity than any he ever evolved.

Tall and slender and thin and sharp of feature, with a sallow complexion; yellowish gray hair, brushed tightly back into a coil like that worn by Lizzie Borden; a flat sailor-like hat, with a narrow rim; a face that is cold, matter-of-fact and non-sympathetic to a degree—such is the woman who testified today that Lizzie Borden on Sunday morning burned a dress which another witness who immediately preceded her has sworn that Lizzie wore on the morning of the murder.

Under the cross-questions of the counsel for the defense it was shown that the burning of the dress was in broad daylight in the presence of two witnesses and the house was surrounded and liable to be entered at any moment by police officers; that it was done openly, in other words, and without the slightest attempt at concealment and with a recklessness as to arousing suspicion which even drew comment from persons present, at the time she did it.

The sensational feature of the day was the production of a ragged, blood-soaked, bandanna handkerchief which Deputy Sheriff Wixen, of Fall River, swore he had picked up by the side of Mrs. Borden’s body as she lay dead on the floor where she had been stricken down by the assassin.

This is new evidence. What its full significance may be has not yet been developed. The Commonwealth was content with its production and identification. The counsel for the defense avoided all allusion to it in the cross-examination.

In the examination of Bridget Sullivan and Brother-in-Law Morse yesterday the District Attorney came back again and again to the question as to whether or no Mrs. Borden, while she was dusting in the dining room on the morning of the murder, wore anything on her head or had her hair tied up with anything, such as women frequently wear when they are dusting.

The Commonwealth by its witnesses distinctly established that Mrs. Borden did not wear anything on her head. The bandanna handkerchief was old and ragged and just such a one as a woman who was dusting would naturally select to wear over her hair.

The Commonwealth having established that Mrs. Borden had nothing of the kind on her head, at least when she was dusting downstairs, the question arises in what manner the handkerchief can be connected with Lizzie.

There have been rumors of witnesses who will swear that they saw a woman at the window under which Mrs. Borden’s dead body lay; saw her there on the morning of the murder, at about the time it is thought Mrs. Borden was murdered; that this woman stooped over as though doing something with whatever was at her feet, and that on her head was something that resembled a hood.

The production of the handkerchief today has revived these rumors, as well as many other speculations as to its significance.

Interest in the trial here in New Bedford has reached such a pitch that elaborate measures are necessary to keep it within bounds in the vicinity of the courtroom. Day by day the crowds seeking admission have steadily grown until the deputies and policemen who line the stone walk down from the Courthouse through the Courthouse yard to the sidewalk, have had to be increased in numbers. But even this was found insufficient to restrain the mad fury of the rush for the door when it is announced that so many as can be accommodated will be admitted.

There is no fence around the Courthouse yard. It is divided from the sidewalk by a low stone wall, the top of which is on a level with the lawn of the yard. The gateway is a mere break in this wall. This is the only access to the front entrance of the building, for along the top of the wall a rope had been strung to keep people from trampling over the lawn.

The pressure of the crowd around the gateway at critical hours is something fearful. The worst of it is that the crowd is almost entirely composed of women and young girls. Rough handling or shoving or even harsh language is out of the question with such as these.

To meet the emergency, it has been found necessary to erect a high broad fence across this entranceway, about six feet wide, and in this fence to make a door. Through this the people will have to pass in orderly single file. Workmen are engaged on this job this evening and tomorrow the new arrangement will be in operation.

The persistent determination manifested by some of the women to gain admission to the trial is almost incredible. The Courthouse, even when quite filled, will only seat 200 people. Not more than two thirds of this number are admitted, a circumstance which is greatly credible to the good sense of the Chief Justice and to the firmness of the blue-and-gold-bespangled Sheriff, who, with all his absurd pouter-pigeon strut and pomposity, is after all a very conscientious and capable officer. The trial has for this reason never lost its dignity nor the courtroom been made to assume the character of a mass-meeting.

When all who have a right to enter have been admitted then it is “first-come, first-served” for the public. The flood-gates are opened just long enough to admit a sufficient number to occupy the room without crowding and then they are remorselessly shut down.

It is in waiting for the chance to get in at this brief moment that the women have shown a patience and endurance almost beyond belief. After the gates have been closed in the morning those who were not fortunate enough to gain admission hover about the neighborhood all the morning, to be the first in line for the opening in the afternoon.

They bring crullers and cookies and other New England food atrocities in their pockets, and actually camp out and lunch on the scene of the battle. They swarm all about the neighborhood and invade the verandas of adjacent houses until it has been necessary for the people owning them to have signs printed and posted up, warning them off.

Next to the anxiety to get in the courtroom is the overmastering curiosity to catch even so much as a glance of Lizzie Borden. This afternoon, at the adjournment of the court, the street from the back entrance of the Courthouse, out of which she passes to her carriage, all the way down to the jail, three long blocks away, was literally lined on both sides of the way with wagons and carriages, many of them stylish turnouts. In addition to this the sidewalks on both sides of the street were packed with people all the way down to the jail, standing as closely together as they comfortably could.

It looked like a country street down which a circus procession was expected to pass, and the extraordinary thing is that of all these people, both in the carriages and on the sidewalks, fully eighty per cent were women and little girls. They saw nothing for all their pains. Miss Borden drives to and from the jail in a little old coupe drawn by one horse.

Next to the anxiety to get in the courtroom is the overmastering curiosity to catch even so much as a glance of Lizzie Borden.

Since the crowds have grown so great the curtains of the coupe are so tightly closed that not a glimpse of her face or figure can be seen. This evening the coupe was actually blocked and stopped in its passage by the great number of carriages, and, just for the tenth part of a second, Kirby, the deputy who has charge of the prisoner, pulled the curtains aside just long enough to peep out and see what was the matter and the glimpse of his grizzled face was all the spectators had to reward them for their patience.

The vivacity which Lizzie Borden showed yesterday under the influence of the bracing air and the cheering testimony in her behalf was somewhat diminished today. The weather continued cool, almost to the point of chilliness and the reefer jacket which she has heretofore held folded across her lap or kept lying on a chair by her side she has on today during all the morning session.

Her face was pale, but without the meekly sallowness of the first two days of trial, and frequently she coughed hoarsely in a way which showed that the attack of grip which recently sent her to bed in the Taunton Jail with a sharp threat of pneumonia had not left her. She took the same seat within the bar she occupied yesterday afternoon. She sits close to her lawyers and immediately behind Mr. Adams.

The object of this change is two-fold. First, it enables her readily to prompt her counsel, which she very frequently does, and, second, it gives the jury a good view of a young woman who, if not handsome, certainly does not look like she is capable of committing the hideous butchery with which she is charged.


The Case of Lizzie Borden and Other Writings: Tales of a Newspaper Woman - Garver Jordan, Elizabeth

From The Case of Lizzie Borden by Elizabeth Garver Jordan, published by Penguin Classics, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

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