Ask Payson resident Faye Musselman anything at all about Lizzie Borden, and she knows the answer.
Musselman, who is currently writing a book about the famous hatchet murderess, has been studying Borden, the dual murders and subsequent trial, and the people, social mores, and history of Fall River, Mass., for nearly four decades. It began in 1969 when she was pregnant with her son.
"I was reading Victoria Lincoln's book ("A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight") which she wrote in 1968," Musselman said. "It's the one I recommend people read first if they are interested in the story.
"Her mother was of Lizzie's generation and she grew up in Fall River just down the street from Lizzie."
After reading Lincoln's book, Musselman was hooked.
"I started going to the library and reading everything I could find on it," she said.
Musselman got so interested that in 1975 she made the first of what would end up being many trips to Fall River to research the case.
"I started going every couple years after that and met a lot of the local people, descendants and stuff," she said. "In 1977, I wrote to the then-owner of the Lizzie Borden house at 92 Second Street.
"This was like a historical landmark, but he had never let anybody in the house, can you imagine, except for Sen. Joseph Welch, who went with Choreographer Agnes De Mille. She did a ballet called ‘Fall River Tragedy.'"
The owner was charmed by Musselman's letter and invited her to come the next time she was in Fall River.
"He let me in the house, and for two hours took me all through it."
One thing Musselman has learned is that a lot of myths have been perpetrated about the case.
"There's the famous quatrain:
‘Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.'
"That is so erroneous from the get-go, because it wasn't her mother. It was her stepmother, and she gave her 13 and her father nine."
While Musselman believes that Borden literally got away with murder, she notes that they were not committed with an axe, but a hatchet.
She'd like to see Steven Spielberg do a definitive movie about Borden, explaining that the 1975 film starring Elizabeth Montgomery as the hatchet murderess was way off base.
"Except for some of the dialog being straight out of the trial transcript, it's really hokey," she said. "Lizzie never looked as good as Elizabeth Montgomery, and she sure as hell didn't commit the murders in the nude, and they left out so much, and they made it bloody gory, and that isn't how the crime went down. It wasn't all that bloody and it wasn't gory."
Another thing Musselman has learned through her research is that you need to understand the circumstances of Lizzie's life and the society she lived in to understand why she did what she did.
"Fall River was a mill town, the pre-eminent cotton manufacturer in the U.S. through the 1920s," she said.
It didn't have a middle class. Just the very rich mill owners who lived up on the hill and intermarried, and the poorer workers who lived down below. Borden's father was a wealthy mill owner.
"When you study the history of Fall River and how it came about and you find out how these families operated and how they controlled everything, you get to understand Lizzie," Musselman said.
"This was a town that lived and breathed on cotton fabric. I like to say the tangled weaves and threads is what gives the texture to this whole story, and when you come to study those threads and weaves you come to know the mind of Lizzie Borden and why she did what she did."
And why is Musselman so sure Borden did what she did when a jury acquitted her? It begins with the fact that while Borden's father was a millionaire, he chose to live like a miser.
"You have this woman in Victorian times -- 32 years old, a virginal spinster, school teacher," she said. "She's from the Bordens, which were one of the founding families, but they lived in the bad part of town.
"Think of this: they owned everything, the banks, the mills, but she has to carry her chamber pot downstairs because they only had one sink where there was running water."
Then in 1890, Borden's father sent her on the Grand Tour of Europe where she saw all the grand things her life was lacking.
"She comes back to this clapboard house, living with a stepmother she detests, and I think she came back feeling entitled," Musselman said. "Like most things, the motive was money. She wanted it, daddy had it, she killed him, she got it. It was as simple as that to me.
"She was acquitted on circumstantial evidence by a very biased court. Her attorney was a former governor who had appointed the judge, critical evidence was excluded, so it was no surprise she was acquitted."
Besides her book, Musselman's studies have produced a Lizzie Borden reference CD ROM complete with the entire superior court trial transcript, over 2,000 images, including crime scene photographs, and much more. She has also developed a board game called "Journey to Maplecroft," the name Borden gave to the mansion she bought after the murders.
"It's not so much a whodunnit for me as a ‘howdunnit,'" she said.
For more information
Faye Musselman considers "Lizzie Borden -- Past & Present," a 600-plus-page tome written in 1999 by long-time Fall River resident Leonard Rebello, the definitive book on the subject.
For a host of websites on the case, she recommends a Google search.
People who have information to share about Fall River or the case or who are interested in purchasing the CD ROM, board game or other items related to the case can contact Musselman at (928) 468-0581.
Name: Faye Musselman
Occupation: Configuration management document control
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii
Family: Son who is 34 and lives in California
Personal motto: I have a favorite quote: ‘I taught him everything I know and he still don't know nothin'.
Inspiration: Peter Uberroth. Of all the bosses I've ever had, he was the most inspirational -- a true visionary and a good, decent person.
Greatest feat: Serving as director of venue operations for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, because it was such a success. While I had done event coordination before, never on that scale.
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Reading and doing Google searches on the Internet.
Three words that describe me best: That's tough -- caustic wit, easygoing, intuitive.
I don't want to brag, but ... I have one of the nicest sons in the world, and I'm proud of the fact that he's never done drugs or even smoked a cigarette.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Thomas Jefferson (I feel like I know Lizzie Borden. Him I don't know).
Luxury defined: A 24/7 on-call masseuse and enough money to travel and eat what you want without ever gaining weight.
Dream vacation spot: Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Why Payson? An excellent job opportunity brought me here.