LIZZIE BORDEN Gave her mother 40 whacks, her father 41 ... or did she?


Nearly 100 years after Lizzie Borden was accused of savagely killing her father and stepmother in a pique over being served hot mutton soup, a forensic scientist wants to examine the victims' skulls.

While a jury found Lizzie not guilty in the deaths, no one else was ever charged in the double homicide committed on the hottest day in the history of Fall River, Mass.

James E. Starrs, professor of forensic sciences at George Washington University in Washington, claims the hatchet that was introduced as evidence during Lizzie Borden's trial -- and now in the custody of the Fall River Historical Society -- is not the murder weapon.

He was in Fall River yesterday to determine through radar if the skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden are intact. If so, he is looking to exhume the craniums and prove that their wounds were not inflicted by the ax blade kept at the Historical Society. Having examined photographs of the wounds, he suspects that the markings on that ax will not match the murder weapon.

But Michael Martins, the historical society's curator, said even if the ax in the society's collection is not the murder weapon, it would not show who committed the infamous murders of which Lizzie Borden was accused and acquitted.

"No one is quite sure if this is the murder weapon, although it is the one which was presented in court," Mr. Martins said.

The court of public opinion, however, holds that Lizzie Borden was the real killer, and few people can be found to dispute the charge. As the ditty goes:

Lizzie Borden "gave her mother 40 whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41."

"That little ditty is interesting because it's really a fallacy," said Mr. Martins. "Had it been 40, there wouldn't have been too much left."

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