Ages-old double homicide examined in Gates County

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 6, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

&uot;Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother 40 whacks.

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And when she saw what she had done,

She gave her father 41.&uot;

Accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden died on June 1, 1927, at age 67, and even though she was found not guilty of the brutal slayings of her parents when she was a young woman, the question still looms: Did she do it?

That question is the focus of a play, &uot;Blood Relations,&uot; which is being presented by the Gates County Historical Society Feb. 27-29. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the upstairs courtroom of the Old Gates County, N.C., Courthouse.

Tickets are available at the Gates County Public Library and from any of the cast and historical society members.

Tickets are $10 for regular seats and $15 for a limited number of jury seats. The courthouse and library are on Main Street in Gatesville, N.C.

&uot;Blood Relations&uot; will star local residents Sam Tackett, Lois Hofler, DeeDee Oakey, Shelbie Palermo, J.B. Freeman, and Earl Spence, all of Gates County, and Ralph Hewitt of Ahoskie. The volunteer performers have been studying and rehearsing assiduously to give a professional performance.

Dr. Joyce Elliott Brown, a historical society member, is directing this special production. Money raised will be used to restore the old courthouse. The courthouse needs extensive work done to the west wing, along with roof and gutter repairs.

The fundraiser will also benefit the congregation of the Middle Swamp Baptist Church as it works to rebuild after a January fire.

Last fall, the historical society and Dr. Brown began searching for a play to produce for this sole purpose. After fire swept through the county’s oldest church on Jan. 19, the organization decided to donate a portion of the funds to the church.

Brown spent a great deal of time in selecting a play suitable for the courtroom, casting the parts, and directing nightly practices. She is dedicated to helping save this historical site for the county.

Those attending the play may learn a great deal more about Lizzie Borden, who was ostracized by her church and society for the rest of her life following her acquittal.

Her trial lasted from June 5-20, 1893. It took the prosecution only one day to select the jury of 12 middle-aged farmers and tradesmen, and it took them only seven days to present their case. She was charged with striking her mother 40 times with an ax, and then using it 41 times on her father. The motive, said the prosecution, was greed.

It seems that Lizzie and sister Emma were to receive only $25,000 each out of their father’s $500,000 estate, which would be well worth over $10 million today.

When the trial portion of the case ended, the jury deliberated for only one hour before delivering its not guilty verdict. Lizzie was found not guilty on all three charges.

In addition to the sing-song rhyme, Lizzie Borden will be remembered as the first nationally prominent murder case in the United States.

For tickets or information, people should call the Gates County Historical Society, 252-357-1733 or the Gates County Public Library, 252-357-0110.