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UWP students studying Lizzie Borden
She was acquitted, but did she really kill her father and stepmother?
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PLATTEVILLE — This summer, 10 students taking UW–Platteville’s Topics in Criminal Justice: Women Who Kill course utilized the UW–Platteville Forensic Investigation Crime Scene House to re-create a 120-year-old murder scene.

The students sought to re-create what officials would have encountered in August 1892 while investigating the ax murders of Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, in Fall River, Mass.

Lizzie Borden, Andrew’s 32-year-old daughter, stood trial for the double homicide, a crime so brutally vicious in nature that it was thought a female could not possibly have done it.

Although Lizzie, the lone suspect to this day, was tried and acquitted in 1893 of all charges in the deaths of her father and stepmother, doubts about her innocence have continued in the nearly 120 years since the murders. That lingering doubt, coupled with case attributes that fit well with the course subject matter and the resources at the FICSH, made the Borden murders an intriguing study for two UWP assistant criminal justice professors.

“We looked at unsolved cases with a female as the person of interest and multiple-victim crime scenes that would provide opportunities to work with bloodstain pattern analysis,” said Diana Johnson of how she and Dr. Sabina Burton chose the Borden case.

The residential structure the FICSH is modeled after also coincided well with the setting of the crimes, said Burton.
Working in two teams of five, students researched the details of the case, such as the location and position of each victim, the timeframe of the crimes and the number of ax blows to each and where they were struck in order to accurately re-create the scenes.

Students also referenced photos from the actual crime scene to get the bloodstain pattern down exactly. “There is a certain pattern that fits with how the ax would have been used,” said Kyle Schewe, a UW–Platteville criminal justice major from Oregon.

With 11 blows to Andrew and 18 blows to Abby, Burton asked the class, “Why the overkill? Who would do this?”
Wanting to help the criminal justice community answer those types of questions and more about violent crimes by female perpetrators, Burton and Johnson are developing this co-teaching opportunity into a possible research paper and book.

“There is no definitive textbook out there right now that is focused on female criminality,” said Burton. “A lot of information is available, but the topic has been neglected. We want to show students that there is more to it than the traditional black widow and femme fatale personality types.”

Learning more about female criminality, Burton said, can also help tackle unanswered questions about male criminality.