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Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden Hardcover – September, 1992

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On Aug. 3, 1892, wealthy businessman Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, of Fall River, Mass., were hacked to death on a hot summer morning. Presumably Borden's younger daughter Lizzie and an Irish servant woman were the only other people in the house. Lizzie was tried for the murders and acquitted, supposedly closing the case. But speculations about the Fall River murders have refused to subside, prompting dozens of books, short stories, plays, an opera and even a ballet, many of these offering alternative conjectures about the killer. This carefully researched book is one of the best ever done on the case. The late Kent, an actor and fiction writer, lays out the flimsy evidence and comments impartially on the court testimony, making it clear that the verdict of not guilty was justified. And, perhaps uniquely among the writers about the case, Kent presents no theory about mysterious strangers, disgruntled former employees or estranged relatives. He simply confesses, convincingly, that he has no idea who committed the crime--except that it was not Lizzie Borden. Photos.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

It is known with certainty that Andrew and Abby Borden were killed in 1892. All else is conjecture. Arnold Braun's Lizzie Borden ( LJ 8/91) presented yet another theory of who the killer might have been, and now Kent reveals new evidence about the case, although he does not point to a suspect. History will not be changed by Kent's findings or by any of the plethora of books commemorating the 100th anniversary of the deed. Still, Forty Whacks gives a good presentation of the social history of the time. It also shows Lizzie as she probably was instead of the way the late Victorian tabloids portrayed her. Kent gives good, crisp images of the main characters and their motives, including those who perjured themselves. The book succeeds best when the author narrates and is less successful when relying on trial transcripts. Overall, though, it is a balanced addition to the body of literature on the Borden murders. Recommended to public libraries and for all true crime collections.
- Lois Walker, formerly with Winthrop Coll. Lib., Rock Hill, S.C.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Yankee Books; First Edition edition (September 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0899093515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0899093512
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The MOST important new evidence is the fact that a fairly new hatchet was used (the shred of gilt paint in Abby's skull) - not reported in the past; the old hatchet found in the basement could NOT have been the murder weapon! The "Harvard Perjury" was the testimony preceded by "I believe that ..." the old hatchet was the murder weapon. The common sense jury knew that the hatchet head was SAWN off, not broken off.
The chapter on rumors carries the full text of the anonymous letter from Albany (most likely Joseph Carpenter?) sent to both the Prosecutor and the Marshall. The misspelled "Bordon" name is just a sample of "plausible denial", in case somebody (with a hatchet) came to talk to him. The letter that was later found on a Rome NY street pointing to J. Carpenter was a way to get even; somebody connected with the case wasn't fooled.
This book is a very good complementary to Arnold R. Brown's "final chapter" on the case - as good a solution as you can find after a century.
Edward Radin's 1961 book re-investigated the case, and talked to some contemporaries who knew Lizzie. He was the first to show Pearson's biased reporting, and had his own solution (based on his own experiences as a crime reporter).
The 1973 book by Robert Sullivan, lawyer and judge, provides another point of view. His opinion that "there was enough evidence to convict" shows prejudgment of the case. His book quotes Judge Justin Dewey's charge to the jury, as true and important today as a century ago. He interviewed Abby Borden Whitehead Potter, Abby's niece (and Godchild?).
The most important thing about this case was the condition of the blood of the victims. Red and liquid for freshly-killed Andrew, black and clotted for Abby (predeceased for over an hour). Think about that in a more recent case!
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Format: Hardcover
After recently reviewing this book, I would like to add one other important detail which is the crux of Mr. Brown's argument: what evidence/proof does he have for the existence of the "Mellen (Mellon) House Gang"? All communities have their respective political machines, but if Mr. Brown could substantiate this in more detail, then (along with the geneology documentation of William Borden) he would really make a case for "the final chapter."
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Format: Hardcover
I've read most, though not all, of the books on Lizzie Borden and I think that this is easily the best. This is the most complete and unbiased presentation of the facts. Kent looks very carefully at a variety of evidence, including the contradictory. I think that Kent would like to believe her innocent, but this remains very even-handed and presents evidence for guilt as well as innocence. In the end, he concludes, correctly I believe, that this is no way to resolve the matter one way or the other, and he doesn't indulge in wild speculation.

I don't have strong opinions on whether Lizzie Borden was guilty or not, but I agree with Kent that the evidence for a verdict "beyond reasonable doubt" simply wasn't there. This is not to be confused with concluding that she was innocent.

After this book, I would recommend Edward Radin's Lizzie Borden: The untold story (A Dell book), which shares with this book the virtue of an author who actually weighed the evidence before coming to a conclusion. Whether or not one agrees with Radin that she was innocent, he did a lot of valuable research. I would also recommend Robert Sullivan's Goodbye Lizzie Borden, with some reservations. Sullivan apparently never considered the possiblity that she didn't do it. He presents a convincing case that she might have gotten away with it even if she was guilty, but this isn't the same thing as proving guilt.
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Format: Hardcover
The through research and impartiality of the author makes this book a must on anyone's booklist who is interested in the Lizzie Borden legend. Mr. Kent provides you with testimonies from all the characters involved in this real-life murder mystery and allows you to judge the facts for yourself. A throughly entertaining book which may leave you with the question -- Who really murdered Andrew and Abby Borden
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Format: Hardcover
This very readable book provided new evidence on the life and legend of Lizzie Borden, who was found 'not guilty' of a double murder. The book lists the people involved, and a Bibliography of books, short stories, plays, an opera, a ballet, and articles and essays. It lacks an index. David Kent provides "the essence of historical truth" in this one best book on this topic. DK simply laid out the facts to let the reader come to his own conclusion, unlike other writers. Many are fascinated by that brutal slaying that remains an unsolved crime. The Preface provides a summary of previous books with his evaluations; he omits the books of Robert Sullivan and Arnold R. Brown. E.H. Porter was biased against Lizzie.

Andrew Jackson Borden was the president of a Fall River bank and on the board of directors of three others. He owned substantial properties and was a director of three major textile mills. Fall River was famous for its cotton industry since the Civil War. DK quotes the 'Daily Herald' for the first news of the murders. There was a farm hand who wanted money from Mr. Borden (see Bertha Manchester?). There were imprints of two men in the hay (when?). The Medical Examiner said Mrs. Borden was killed by a tall man who struck from behind. A suspicious man was seen in the morning. The police searched high and low for any suspicious strangers. Lizzie said she had dressed to go shopping; after the murders she changed out of her morning dress. The 'Daily Herald' of August 5 sums up the problems for a concealed murderer (pp.25-30). Only two people were left alive that morning. Bridget was not a suspect after the first day. The jury said Lizzie wasn't guilty. Who was left?

Chapter 4 tells of the problem in timing from 10:45 to 11:15.
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