In Performance: Lizzie Borden's hatchet job | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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In Performance: Lizzie Borden's hatchet job


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Professor Dan Campagna

Chair, Criminal Justice Program

Aurora University


You may think we are oblivious here, but you are wrong. I am painfully aware of your plans to put me on trial yet again for a crime I was acquitted of more than a century ago. I am writing to object to this flagrant disregard for the principle of double jeopardy and to protest, as I did at my first trial, that I am innocent!

What would lead you to believe that a modest and proper lady such as myself, an upstanding member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, a faithful Sunday-school teacher at the Congregational Church, would take an ax to her own miserly father and his stupid swine of a second wife? Do you think their scheme to change his will, robbing my sister and myself of our inheritance, would be enough to push me into such unspeakable behavior? Do you imagine that I, crazed by the female curse and the unbearable August heat, could sneak up behind my stepmother with a hatchet in my hand and let my anger find expression in the heft of that weapon? Swinging it high over my head and bringing it home in the soft, corpulent flesh of her disgusting neck? Again and then again, blood and brain splattering over both of us? Whack, whack, whack?

Come now, professor. You are giving too much credence to accounts of my behavior inspired by mere jealousy. They said I went to a pharmacy a few days before the murders to buy prussic acid, telling the druggist--that twit--that I needed it to purge insects from my sealskin cape? Balderdash! And since he declined to sell it to me, how could I then be responsible for the illness that came over Mrs. Borden (I'll never call her mother) shortly thereafter and made her think she'd been poisoned? As for the former friend who saw me preparing to throw a stained frock into a fire after the murders: old paint stains can turn to dried blood in the heat of fevered imaginations.

What is all this prattle about motive and opportunity? So what if I was in or about the house when these tragic events occurred? So was my maid, Bridget Sullivan. Why aren't you trying her? Has your opinion been colored by reports of my conduct after the trial? The lavish spending? The parties? The taste of life's full pleasures at last with my companion and closest friend, the incomparable actress Nance O'Neil? Professor Campagna, one cannot hope for fair reporting from persons who will not abide the idea of a woman living a full life free of male dominance. I remind you that none of this has anything to do with events that transpired before my original trial.

You compare my case to that of O.J. Simpson: the vicious double homicide, the keen interest of the press, the mysterious-stranger defense, the celebrated attorneys. On this last, I daresay, I outdid him, hiring as one of my lawyers a former governor who had appointed one of the judges on my case to the bench. This proved to be an extremely helpful strategy.

I understand you'll have three actual judges sitting for this trial--Du Page County circuit court associate judge Nicholas Galasso, retired state appellate judge James Quetsch, and retired federal judge William Hart. Furthermore, I've learned you'll select 12 male jurors from the audience while students, faculty, and citizens of the community perform in costume as me, my family, my lawyers, and our opponents--all spouting excerpts from the original trial testimony. I warn you, professor, this sort of thing can get you into trouble. Just because you are a former professional basketball player and Kane County sheriff's deputy, an international expert on sexual trafficking in children (a truly despicable crime--why don't you go after these horrid people?), the author of two plays and four board games, and the head of the criminal justice program at your university, do not think you will be immune from repercussions!

If you go forward with your plan to hold this trial November 12, you will need to be sure your door is securely bolted anytime in the future that you lay down for a little nap. Remember what happened to my beloved papa, who opened his eyes for the last time to see the descending arc of a cleaver just before it sheared off his nose and forced one of those very eyes from his skull. One never knows when a mysterious stranger might come by with a score to settle.


L.A. (Lizzie) Borden

Court will convene for the trial of Lizzie Borden at 7 tonight in Aurora University's Perry Theatre, 347 S. Gladstone in Aurora. Admission is $5. Call 630-844-5150 for more information.

--Deanna Isaacs

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