Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cold case re-opened

Point Park forensics students take another look at Lizzie Borden mystery

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Daniel Malloy-Pittsburgh Post Gazette-Pittsburgh, PA

Though she was the only suspect and was in the house at the time, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the 1892 ax murders of her father and stepmother in their Fall River, Mass., home because of a lack of evidence.

The sensational trial of Ms. Borden, who was widely considered guilty and even implicated in a nursery rhyme, could have turned out differently, according to some historians, if prosecutors had access to modern investigation techniques. For example, no fingerprints or DNA were taken from an ax found in the basement.

This year, students in the forensics and criminal justice departments at Point Park University will reopen the cold case.

A 1/12-scale model of the Borden house was unveiled yesterday at the school. The model house, about five feet high, was built by students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and funded in part by a grant from the PNC Foundation.

"It's a big, glorified dollhouse," said James Hudak, a senior at the Art Institute who worked on the project, "where they found dead people, unfortunately."

The project is part of an effort by the criminal justice and forensics faculty to give a more hands-on learning experience to students, who will use the model house to study the steps investigators take in a murder case.

"You can't show all that on a PowerPoint -- the proportions, the size of the rooms," said Dr. Steven Koehler, an associate professor in the forensic science program.

"You need a big area to swing an ax."

Dr. Koehler dreamed up the idea a couple years ago when he came across the Borden case in a book about unsolved murders. He said the level of detail in diagrams and photographs of the house -- which has since been converted into a bed and breakfast -- made it possible to do a re-creation.

Mr. Hudak said he and a few other students spent a couple months designing and building the house as a project for a class on building miniature movie set pieces. Each floor of the house can be removed and examined, so you can see the second-floor bedroom where Abby Borden was found, the first-floor living room with Andrew Borden's miniature corpse, and the cellar where the ax was found.

Classes will begin using the model in the spring semester, and Point Park and the Art Institute already are planning another scale model for next year: The assassination of John F. Kennedy -- complete with grassy knoll -- which will be used to study ballistics.

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