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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
WHEN SHERLOCK MET LIZZIE
Taken from forthcoming book; Holmes and Watson: An American Adventure. It is 1897, five years since the Borden murders in Fall River. There are two more axe murders and both victims have connections to Lizzie Borden. Sherlock Holmes, in Fall River to look into the original murders interviews Lizzie Borden:
After he had done so he invited us to the holding cells to see Lizzie. Holmes insisted that if were to interview her then he would rather it take place in different, more congenial surroundings. Hogan agreed that it was probably a good idea and invited into an empty office on the second floor, empty save for a desk and two chairs.
A short while later Hogan entered the room with Lizzie Borden who cut an abject figure, manacled as she was to an officer. Abject, yes, but strangely proud, almost dignified, at least that’s how I saw her. She was small of stature, but she seemed to dominate the room somehow. Holmes asked if the manacles could be removed. The officer looked at Hogan who nodded his silent assent. I invited Lizzie to sit, which she did hesitantly. I sat in the other chair and Holmes perched on the corner of the desk.
“Miss Borden, my name is Sherlock Holmes and this is my colleague Dr Watson. The other gentlemen you know of course, but they are just leaving.”
“This is pretty irregular, Mr Holmes, I have to say, this is my case after all.”
“Yes, Chief, and it will remain your case I assure you, but if you could indulge me just this once, I would be forever in your debt.”
“Very well, Mr Holmes. I will leave you to it, Come on, Smith.”
“Now, Miss Borden, can I fetch you anything? A drink maybe?”
Lizzie did not speak, but shook her head.
“Very well, now, do you know why you have been brought here?”
“Yes.” The voice was clear and free of emotion.
“What is your connection to Sansom Weinberger?”
“I have none. I do not know the man.”
“Some five years ago you attempted to purchase prussic acid from his drugstore.”
Lizzie did not respond.
“Do you deny that was the case?”
“I may have done. I can’t remember all my dealings from that time. If I did, what of it?”
“The police are suggesting that his murder may be an act of revenge by one who felt they had been wronged.”
“I have nothing to say on the matter.”
“This is a murder investigation; you would be well advised to keep nothing back.”
“I do not know the man. I am sad that he has been murdered, I deplore the act, but I cannot help you further.”
“You do not recall attempting to purchase poison from the man?”
“No,” she answered with an emphatic shake of the head.
“Very well, perhaps you are more familiar with the name, Mrs Honoria Walters?”
“I do not recall the name.”
“Miss Borden, just a few weeks ago I am given to understand that Mrs Walters caught you in the act of stealing items from the clothing store she manages, perhaps you cannot recall that event either.”
“It was a misunderstanding. I am prone to forgetfulness and once I realised the situation I apologised and Mrs Walters, if it was her, accepted my apology.”
“My understanding of the matter is that Mrs Walters threatened you with police action. This was in fact overheard by others in the store.”
“Then I fear you understand very little. The truth is as I have told it. Why you choose to bring this matter up I do not know.”
“The answer to that is simple; Mrs Walters too, has been murdered.”
Lizzie’s face remained blank, her features unmoved, registering neither shock or surprise at Holmes’s words. Unblinking, she stared at Holmes.
“I am mighty sorry for the poor woman, but I cannot help you, you must search for your murderer elsewhere.”
“Elmer Hogan will be asking you to account for your movements during the night, perhaps you can enlighten us?”
“I do not see I have the need to do so, but as you obviously feel that you can trample all over my privacy, I can tell you that I was at home all evening, but when I retired I found I could not sleep so I rose and left the house and just walked to clear my head. It’s something I often do, for the good folk of Fall River deny me the freedom to do as I like and go where I like without fingers being pointed in my direction. And yes, I hear the comments and the spite in their voices. Is it any wonder I have taken to parading the streets under cover of darkness?”
“Was you sister aware that you had left the house?”
“I very much doubt it; she is in Concord visiting friends of the family. If only I had known I would need an alibi I would have asked her to cancel her visit,” she responded with a sweet smile, but devilment in her eyes.
“Your sister, Emma has requested my help in ascertaining the truth of what befell your father and mother. Were you aware of that fact?”
“She was NOT my mother, she was my step-mother” she spat out. Emma is always wanting to know the truth of what happened that day, she can be rather tiresome on the subject.”
“Do you not want to know the truth, Miss Borden or do you know it already?” asked Holmes pointedly.
“The dead are dead and buried, leave them be. They cannot be brought back to life even if anybody wished it.”
“Would you wish it?”
“I have nothing further to say on the matter.”
“Very well, although I certainly have a mind to tax your memory of that day at a future date. Do you use perfume, Miss Borden?”
“Your questions are most amusing, Mr Holmes. Why in the world would you ask such a thing?”
“It may have a bearing on these current crimes.”
“As I know nothing of these crimes then I fail to see the relevance of your question, but as the answer is of supreme unimportance then I am willing to give you that answer. No I do not use perfume or any kind of scent.”
“You are not aware of a perfume which rejoices in the name of ‘Midnight in Paris’?”
“I have never heard of it. Will that be all? For, as you say, Elmer Hogan will want his turn now.”
“Thank you for your help, Miss Borden, that will be all for now.”
Holmes rapped on the door and Lizzie was escorted back to her cell.
“Well?” inquired the Chief. “What do you think, Mr Holmes?”
“She is, I believe, a very strong-willed woman, but if you want to know whether I believe her guilty or not, then you may have to be patient.”
“Thank you Mr Holmes, the evidence points to her guilt and that is enough for me to go ahead and charge her.”
“Chief Hogan,” I protested, “you have no evidence to speak of unless it’s a crime for Lizzie to have known these two people.”
“Not only knew them, Dr Watson, but had run-ins with them. There were bad feelings and look at how the murders were committed, with an axe or hatchet.”
“My dear Hogan,” interrupted Holmes, “on that basis we must attribute every such murder in the whole of the United States to Lizzie Borden! No, it will not do. Watson does have a point; there is no evidence as such.”
“As to that, this is my case and you must allow me to run it as I see fit and I will apprise Marshal Hilliard of my suspicions and intent.”
“Well,” asked Holmes as we walked towards Second Street, “what did you think of the infamous Miss Lizzie Borden? Your impressions may be invaluable to me as is often the case.”
“She brought to my mind the image of a cobra, poised and ready to strike. I believe her to be a formidable woman who is capable of anything.”
“Upon my word, Watson, she certainly made an impression on you and you her great defender too.”
“I am none too sure I should be cast in the role of defender, Holmes, I have merely noted the incongruity of someone acquitted of all charges in a court of law, but declared guilty by so many people. Can anyone really know the truth of what happened that day?”
“That remains to be seen, but who knows, two old sleuth-hounds like us may yet find a scent which has remained dormant these last five years.”
As we walked past the Borden house, I shivered involuntarily, but I was sure I was not alone in that. For everyone for whom the house held a morbid fascination there were no doubt others who gave it a wide berth.