Submission for your approval: Andrew Borden as he was found the morning of August 4th, 1892, in his Fall River Massachusetts home, after being hacked to death with a hatchet. His wife Abby also lay similarly slain in an upstairs bedroom…
Why is this picture the greatest crime scene photo of all time? For starters, it was one of the first ever taken in this country, a spontaneous decision to record the tableau of an unfathomable double homicide for later use as an investigative tool.
Also, the compelling composition is pure American Gothic, evocative of an Edward Hopper painting, like a curious interior view of a New England parlor. There’s a disturbing serenity to this murder, far removed from Jack the Ripper’s shocking butchery of Mary Kelly that we see in that infamous 1888 crime scene photo.
THIS crime scene photo is sedate yet chilling. But here’s what makes it THE masterpiece…a crucial clue to the murderer’s identity is clearly visible in the photograph! Something that is so out of place, so askew, that the finger of guilt can be effortlessly pointed in the right direction.
That black shape behind Andrew’s smashed head and bloody pillow is his Prince Albert Jacket, the coat he donned that morning to carry out his business rounds in downtown Fall River in the sweltering heat, the coat he wore when he came trudging home to die, and the coat he wearily hung in the hall closet upon returning.
Look at that Prince Albert wadded under his head! Would Andrew do that? Fastidious Andrew, who would have abhorred a dry cleaning bill if ANY member of his family treated a garment with such carelessness? No, he would have hung it up like he did every other morning of his life.
So what is that jacket doing in our picture? And why is it there on the day of Andrew Borden’s murder, of all days?
A killer always leaves something at the scene and takes something from the scene. But every so often, they also employ something close at hand and then abandon it.
Slipped on backwards and worn like an apron, the Prince Albert would easily fit a shorter person (Andrew was 6’2”), and could serve as a covering to shield a stealthy killer from flying blood when leaning around the door jamb to strike the blows.
Because compared to the frenzied slaughter of Abby Borden 90 minutes earlier, this 2nd killing looks like a furtive, peek around the corner affair. The overkill of Abby was pure orgasmic rage, yet this same UNSUB murdered Andrew out of fear…
This wadded up jacket fits only one crime scenario. No maniacal OR cunning intruder, intent on rapid flight after the second killing, would have bothered with it. And if the motiveless maid Bridget did the whacking, she would have used her own apron and then disposed of it.
But Lizzie Borden, at only 5’4”, would have recognized the jacket’s value immediately. Having leaned around that corner into the sitting room myself, it’s easy to see how Lizzie could have remained free of blood. The trajectory was away from the door jamb. The Prince Albert jacket would fit her like a pair of coveralls. And by leaning into the room, she wouldn’t have to face her father as she hacked him.
We already know that Andrew would NEVER have wadded the jacket under his pillow to prop up his head. That touch is pure Lizzie. Yet she believed that others would accept the jacket under her father’s ruined head without comment. And she was wickedly perceptive, because neither the contemporary detectives nor future armchair sleuths (except Victoria Lincoln) have ever seriously considered what this significant clue really meant.
That Prince Albert wadded under Andrew’s head SCREAMS OUT that Lizzie Borden was the killer of her father and stepmother. Case Closed!
PS – Just because the killer is revealed, that doesn’t mean America’s most notorious murder is bereft of mystery. Please help yourself to my previous blog post on the Top Ten Lizzie Borden Case Mysteries, and have a whack at solving those little gems…