Notes from notorious ax trial revealed
Lawyer’s journals from 1892 case bequeathed to historical society
When the sensational murder trial of Lizzie Borden ended in her acquittal, much of the evidence ended up with her family’s attorney, Andrew Jackson Jennings. From the infamous “handless hatchet’’ to bloodstained pillow shams found at the crime scene, the historical trove sat for years in Jennings’s attic, stored in a Victorian bathtub.
Now the final piece of that collection, two handwritten journals Jennings kept during the trial, have emerged from obscurity, providing fresh insight into the mysterious 1892 case that continues to tantalize crime and paranormal buffs.
“It’s all new material, completely unpublished,’’ said Michael Martins, curator of the Fall River Historical Society, which recently acquired the journals. “It’s the only file Jennings retained, and it’s the first idea we have about how the defense went about building its case.’’
The Herald News of Fall River reported last week that the society had acquired the journals.
Jennings’s grandson, who died last year, left the leather-bound journals to the society in his will. He had kept them private out of concern that researchers might misquote Jennings, whose handwriting is hard to decipher.
But Martins said specialists should have little difficulty transcribing the notes, which include annotated newspaper clippings from the case, lists of people Jennings interviewed for the defense, and some revealing personal comments.
For instance, Jennings wrote that in his conversations with Andrew Borden, Lizzie’s father, Borden often would mention how he enjoyed receiving letters from his daughter, Martins said.
That meshes with findings Martins and Dennis Binette, the society’s assistant curator, published last year in their book “Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River.’’
“It’s clear from what these people said that Andrew Borden was apparently quite concerned about his daughters’ well-being, and he often referred to them as his girls,’’ Martins said. “We know now that he was not a gentleman who deprived his daughters of much.’’
That image stands in sharp contrast to a common perception of Borden as a bitter, miserly man.
Martins said he had discussed the journals with Jennings’s grandson, Edward Waring, on several occasions, and had always hoped he would leave them to the society.
His mother, Marion Jennings Waring, had donated the bulk of the collection of evidence in the 1960s.
The journals have become fragile over time, and the pages are brittle. Martins said he has given them only a cursory look to avoid further damage.
“We really want to handle them as little as possible,’’ he said. The journals will be conserved before they are transcribed, he said. The society plans to publish the writings.
From what Martins has read, however, it does not appear the journals include a “smoking gun’’ that would strongly suggest whether Borden killed her father and stepmother.
“It’s so rare to have primary source material appear 120 years after the fact,’’ he said.