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Heroes, Outlaws and Other Folk--part III
Lizzie Borden--Ax Murderer
Lizzie Borden took an ax
and gave her mother 40 whacks
song based on a child’s skip rope song
sung by the Chad Mitchell Trio
Nobody ever accused Lizzie Borden of being a Robin Hood. In fact she was accused and tried for the brutal killing of both her mother and father in a very bloody fashion.
The court found her not guilty, but as the song indicates the verdict of tradition is that she did, indeed, do it. The song rather drives that home. However, the case is still controversial and books and articles are still written pro and con.
The case against Lizzie was circumstantial, without a precise identification of the murder weapon, no incriminating physical evidence. The investigators were unable to produce corroborated demonstration of time and opportunity.
So did she or didn’t she? I have read some of the books and reviews of books either about her, or about her case. Depending on your own leanings on the subject, you can probably find reasons to support your view. The late Elizabeth Montgomery played the part of Lizzie Borden in a TV movie some years ago in which it was demonstrated the possibility of Lizzie having done it. One of the things in Lizzie’s favor was they did not find any blood on her clothes. The movie demonstrated that Lizzie being naked at the time could have done it. However I did not find it convincing to show that she did do it. It is unbelievable that a church going, bible class teaching, Victorian woman like Lizzie could have confronted her father while naked.
Russell Aluto in his article “Lizzie Borden” discusses some new books on the subject, both pro and con. In much more detail than I can here, one that sound especially interesting is Lizzie didn’t do it! By William Masterton, which discusses the case in view of modern forensics. He notes that in 1997 a mock trial using Stanford Law School alumni, faculty and students presided over by two Supreme Court justices found Lizzie not guilty.
Pretty boy Floyd
Well, as through the world I've rambled, I've seen lots of funny
Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen
Song “Pretty Boy Floyd"Written by Woody guthrie
Another outlaw glorified. Charles Arthur Floyd was born in 1904 and died in 1934. He was a bank robber and alleged to be a killer. The press romanticized him and Woody Guthrie sang about him. He started out at the age of 18 doing petty theft. In 1925 he was arrested for payroll robbery and served five years. After that he fell in with established criminals in the Kansas City underworld.
Pretty Boy was arrested on numerous minor charges later. He was suspected of the death of bootleggers Wally and Boll Ash. He killed ATF agent C. Burke in Kansas City, Missouri.
There is controversy over the way he died. Chester Smith, according to one account, shot Floyd and deliberately wounded him. However, FBI agent Melvin Purvis questioned Floyd briefly and than ordered another agent to shoot him. The incident is controversial and remains unsettled.
Floyd continued to be portrayed in movies and will probably continue to be.
Jodie Foster Grave
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Killed poor Laura Foster
You know you're bound to die
Tom Dooley version on Mudcat café digital tradition
There are many versions of this song. To those of us of a certain age are most familiar with the one done by the Kingston Trio. Like the Lizzie Borden case there are many opinions on the guilt of Tom Dula (the name of the actual person involved.) Basically a Confederate war veteran was convicted of the murder of his lover, Laura Foster and hanged in 1868. She was stabbed with a large knife. Because of the brutality involved the killing got a lot of publicity.
Dula also was involved with Anne Melton. Her comments led to the discovery of Foster’s body. She was tried and acquitted in a separated trial. Thomas C. Land, a local poet wrote a popular song about the tragedy.
Like so many folk songs, many different performers have sung this one. The Kingston Trios hit recording, in 1958 sold six million copies, it was recorded by Lonnie Donegan in 1958 and was popular in England. Doc Watson recorded it in 1964.
Folk singer David Holt is doing a project for “Folkways” about Tom Dula. His website has more information and pictures. Take a look.
let me speak of a man who’s now dead
In his grave
A good man as ever was born.
Jim Fisk, he was called and his money he gave
To the outcast, the poor and forlorn.
On Mudcat Café this song is listed as “Stokes Verdict” and attributed to” Songs out of Wisconsin” Collected by George Hankins. The song in my own collection is called Jim Fisk and is sung by Oscar Brand on an old LP record called “Badmen, Heroes and Pirate songs and ballads.”
Fisk was one of what was what were called Wall Street “Bandits” along with Jay Gold. His killer was Edward Stokes was eventually convicted of manslaughter and served four years. Jim Fisk according to J.C. Furnas in his book “The Americans” Fisk was “flabby-fat fair-haired and randy James Fisk”. He was showy and gained popularity possibly because of it. “He was open-handed with beggars and hanger-on, enjoyed driving in an open carriage with an expensive trollop by his side…” Stoke who was a rival for a particular ladies affections shot and killed Fisk. “Appropriate segments of society mourned Fisk as a tallow Robin Hood.”
Like all such “heroes” you be the judge—hero or outlaw. Maybe both?