Testimony of Dr. Edward S. Wood in the Trial of Lizzie Borden
June 13, 1893

I am physician and chemist-since 1876 professor of chemistry in the Harvard Medical School. Have given special attention to medical chemistry, to medico-legal cases, involving poisons and bloodstains. Have been called upon in several hundred trials, including a large number of capital cases.

On August 5, last, I received, at the Harvard :Medical School, a box containing jars with samples of milk, and other jars containing the stomachs of Mr. and Mrs. Borden. First examined Mrs. Borden's stomach; it was perfectly healthy in appearance, with no evidence of the action of any irritant. It contained about eleven ounces of partly digested food, and of liquid. So far as could be determined from appearance it was under going the usual stomach digestion, which had progressed approximately two to three hours from the last meal, possibly a little longer.

In Mr. Borden's stomach there was very much less food. Digestion was much further advanced; nearly all the solid food had been expelled into the intestine. This would make it appear that digestion, at ordinary rapidity, had been going on somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours; anywhere from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours. His stomach showed no diseased condition, nor the action of any irritant-judging from ocular examination.

Contents of both stomachs were immediately tested for prussic acid; an immediate test was necessary, as being a volatile acid it would escape to the air shortly after exposure. The test for prussic acid showed a negative result. Afterwards, they were analyzed for the irritant poisons, also with a negative result. In short, I found no evidence of poison of any kind.

Both samples of milk were then tested without obtaining evidence of any poison.

Q. Assuming, Professor, that the two persons whose stomachs you had under examination ate breakfast at the same table and time and partook of the same breakfast substantially, what difference in the time of their deaths should you say, from the examination of the stomachs now alone, would be indicated with reasonable certainty, assuming the digestion to have gone on normally?

A. Assuming the digestion to have gone on naturally in both cases the difference would be somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour and a half more or less.

Q. Does digestion stop at death?

A. Well, it stops; yes sir. It stops so far as the expulsion of food from the stomach is concerned. There is a sort of digestion goes on after death in which the stomach wall itself is partly digested.

Q. Was there anything of the kind here?

A. The membrane was a little bit softened, but not to any extent.

Q. Is there anything in that circumstance to conflict with the opinion you have given?

A. No sir; and it was included in my answer, that they had a perfectly normal appearance, that being a post-mortem change.

Q. And ( understood your answer of an hour and a half as an answer to my question, assuming the breakfast to be at the same time and the process of digestion not interrupted, to have been the difference to a reasonable certainty? A. I didn't quite catch the whole of the question.

Q. Is that the difference that you fix to a reasonable certainty?

A. Not within narrow limits, but only approximately.

Q. Within what limits? A. I should say within a half an hour one way or the other.

Q. Have you been present and heard the evidence in the case?

A. Yes sir.

Q. So far as relates to the condition of the bodies?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And the condition of the intestines?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And the various witnesses who have testified to the appearance of the bodies after they were discovered, and to the description of the intestines?

A. Yes sir.

Q. Taking all those facts as you have heard them, and also the examinations that you made yourself, what of them do you deem to be important in determining the time, the relative time, of the death of those two people?

A. The difference in the period of digestion, both stomach and intestinal, the drying of the blood, and the temperature of the body.

Q. And taking all those circumstances that you say you regard as important, all together, do you desire to modify in any way what you have already said as to the difference in time of death of the two people?

A. I should think that one corroborated the other, that they all tended to the same conclusion.

On August 10, at Fall River, I received from Dr Dolan the large hatchet known as the claw-hammer hatchet; the two axes; the blue-dress skirt and waist; the white skirt which is there [garments being exhibited by counsel as witness names them] ; the sitting-room carpet [holding it up] ; the bedroom carpet; a false switch; a lounge cover; three small envelopes, one labelled "hair of Mrs. Borden, 8/7/92, 12.10 P.M."; one labelled "hair from A. J. Borden, 8/7/92, 12.14 P.M."; one labeled "hair taken from the hatchet."

The claw-hammer hatchet had several stains on it which appeared like bloodstains, on handle, side and edge. All the stains on the head of the hatchet were subjected by me to chemical and microscopic tests for blood, and with absolutely negative results. The two axes, which I designated A and B, had stains which appeared like blood, but tests showed them absolutely free from blood.

Q. Did you make an examination to be able to determine whether it was reasonably possible that that hatchet could have been used in inflicting the wounds that you have described, and then have been washed soon afterwards, so that traces of blood might or might not be found upon it? A. It could not have been washed quickly on account of those cavities in between the head and the handle.

The hair labelled "taken from the hatchet" was a short hair, one inch long, with a red-brown pigment. It is animal hair, no question of that, and probably cow's hair.

The blue skirt has, near the pocket, a brownish smooch, which resembled blood, but a test showed it was not. Another, lower down, proved not to be blood. The waist had not even a suspicion of bloodstain. The white skirt had a small blood spot, six inches from the bottom of the skirt. It was 1/16 inch in diameter: the size of the head of a small pin. The corpuscles, examined under a high-power microscope, averaged 1/3243 of an inch, and it is therefore consistent with its being human blood. Some animals show a similar measurement: the seal, the opossum and one variety of guinea pig. The rabbit and the dog come pretty near.

Experiments which I made with the two carpets, from the sitting room and the guest chamber, showed that blood dried on them with equal rapidity. I examined a pair of shoes and a pair of black stockings, and found no blood on either.

There is the small hatchet, which I should have mentioned in connection with the claw-hammer hatchet. The latter has a cutting edge of 4 1/2 inches; the small one an edge of 3 1/8 inches.

Q. I will ask you the same question I did with reference to the other hatchet, whether in your opinion that hatchet could have been used and then cleaned in any manner so as to remove any trace of blood beyond the power of your discovery, as you examined it?

A. It couldn't have been done by a quick washing.

Q. Why not?

A. It would cling in those angles there and couldn't be thoroughly removed. The coagula would cling. It would have to be very thoroughly washed in order to remove it. It could be done by cold water, no question about that. But it couldn't be done by a careless washing.

Q. And is that the same reason why you gave the answer as to that hatchet?

A. Yes sir.

Q. On account of the fibers of wood?

A. And the holes between the head and the handle.

[Witness now deposed as to a hatchet head he received from the City Marshal, a broken piece of the handle being still in position.]

Both sides of this hatchet were rusty. There were several suspicious spots on the side of it, but they were not blood. When I received it, there was a white film, like ashes, on it.

Q. How much of it when you first saw it had the appearance of being marked by this adherent film of white matter which looked like ashes?

A. Both sides. One side you can hardly see now, and the other side you can see; more in the middle of the hatchet, not near the edge.

Q. Did it appear to you to be the sort of covering that would result from being exposed to ordinary dust flying in the air?

MR. ADAMS. We object to that question.

MR. ROBINSON. It is very leading, at any rate.

MR. KNOWLTON. I see no reason why I should not put the question, unless your Honors decide that I should not.

The CHIEF JUSTICE. Excluded.

Q. Professor, what is your opinion, as the result of the examination which you made, as to the question whether this hatchet could have been used to inflict the wounds which you have heard described and then subjected to any cleaning process to remove the traces of blood, as to the question of whether or not you would be able to find them upon the hatchet?

MR. ADAMS. Well, we pray your Honors' judgment.

MR. KNOWLTON. I do not think that question is very happy.

Q. Assuming this hatchet to have been used for inflicting the wounds which you have heard described and then subjected to some sort of a cleaning process, whether or not that could be reasonably possible to have occurred without your having discovered traces of blood upon the hatchet or the handle that you found?

MR. ADAMS. We object to that question.

The CHIEF JUSTICE. He may answer.

MR. ADAMS. We would like to have our rights saved, may it please your Honor.

[Question read.]

A. Before the handle was broken, not after.

MR. ADAMS. I think the question must be answered as put, if it can be answered.

The WITNESS. If by the question is meant the hatchet head as it is—

MR. KNOWLTON. I beg pardon, Professor Wood. I don't think my brother has a right to catechise the witness yet.

MR. ADAMS. I have not catechised him.

MR. KNOWLTON. Yes, but you were getting into a colloquy with him, which I do not think is proper.

Mr. Stenographer, will you read the answer?

[Answer read.]

Q. That is to say, the conditions I named could have existed before the handle was broken off. Why do you make that difference, Professor?

MR. ADAMS. All this goes in under our objection, may it please your Honors.

A. Because it would be very hard to wash blood off that broken end.

Q. A little louder. A. It would be almost impossible to quickly wash blood out of that broken end. It might have been done by thorough cleansing, but that would also stain the fracture.

Q. Any why practicable before?

MR. ADAMS. Your Honor understands that we object to this portion of the inquiry and ask to have an exception saved?

The CHIEF JUSTICE. If you ask an exception you should do it clearly.

MR. ADAMS. I mean to do it, sir; I mean to rise in my place and object.

The CHIEF JUSTICE. Counsel for the Government are not bound to understand an objection to mean an exception. The two things are very distinct.

Q. Going back to the answer that you gave-before the handle was broken, and not after-you have told why it could not be after the handle was broken. Why do you give the other answer, "before the hatchet was broken"? Give your reasons.

MR. ADAMS. We object to this, may it please your Honor, and ask that an exception may be saved.

The CHIEF JUSTICE. It may be answered.

A. That hatchet handle fitted very tightly into the head, and was a smooth handle-the part remaining-so far as I could see from the part remaining. I cannot answer for the part which I have never seen.

Q. Was there any difference-of course it is now removed-in the way in which that handle occupied the head of that hatchet, from the claw-hammer hatchet, for example?

A. Yes sir.

MR. ADAMS. What is the question?

Q. Was there any difference between the way that handle fitted into the hatchet, and the claw-hammer hatchet?

A. It fitted very tightly.

Q. And what was the difference between that and the claw-hammer hatchet?

A. The claw-hammer hatchet does not.

Q. What is the nature of prussic acid?

A. It is a poison acid, gaseous. It consists of gas, and that gas is soluble in water.

Q. In reference, I mean now, to its poisonous effects? A. It is one of the most deadly poisons we know.

Q. And how instantaneous or otherwise is it?

A. Death is caused anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

Q. And what quantity of prussic acid is sufficient to cause the death of a human being?

A. Any solution of prussic acid which contains one grain of acid-any solution which contains one grain of acid is a fatal dose. That is, it is less than a teaspoonful of the solution which is ordinarily used in the drugstores, which is a two per cent solution.

Q. And what is that solution used for, if you know?

A. For medicine.

Q. Alone, or in prescriptions?

A. Prescriptions.


Q. [By Mr. Adams] The white skirt to which your attention was called had upon it, you have stated, I believe, a spot of blood appearing as large as the size of the head of a small pin?

A. Yes sir-the diameter, not the size.

Q. Are you able to. say that that was not a spot of blood which might have gotten on from the menstrual flow of the woman?

A. No sir, I am not.

Q. It would be entirely consistent with. that, would it?

A. Yes sir, it may have been menstrual blood, or may not, so far as I can determine.

Q. Could you determine from the appearance of the stomachs, assuming that the two persons had eaten their meal at the same time, who had eaten the larger meal?

A. I could not.

Q. In all the opinions that you have given, have they been based upon the digestion being normal?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And if digestion had been disturbed in the case of either of these persons, that would interfere somewhat with your opinion, would it not?

A. Yes sir, if I knew that.

Q. And it would interfere to what extent as to time? Within what bounds?

A. Some things might tend to empty the stomach more rapidly and others less rapidly; some disturbances more rapidly and others less rapidly. The action of an irritant, for instance, would perhaps hasten the stomach movements so that the food would be expelled into the upper intestine more rapidly than it would under normal circumstances. Other conditions might delay that motion so that it would go on more slowly.

I am not willing to fix the difference in time between the deaths of these persons beyond an hour. If one died at eleven, the other might have died at ten, or at nine.

As to the break in the handle of the "handleless" hatchet, I would not express any opinion as to the freshness of the break.


Q. [By Mr Knowlton] Have you had occasion to consider the subject of the spattering of blood when blows are struck in the manner in  which you have heard these blows described?

A. Yes sir.

Q. What can you say as to that generally?

A. It might spatter in any direction and might not spatter in every direction.

Q. That is, there is no rule at all?

A. No sir.

Q. What happens? Does it spatter or spurt?

A. Spatters; when any blunt surface strikes a pool of blood, of course it will spatter in that direction, varying according to accidental circumstances.

Q. Would there be any way in which you could determine whether any given surface near the wounds would receive the spattering or not, or how much?

A. No sir.


Q. [By Mr Adams] Assuming that the assailant stood behind Mr Borden when these injuries were given and received, have you formed an opinion whether he would be spattered by blood to any extent?

A. I have thought that he must be spattered with blood, but I don't think it is absolutely necessary that he should.

Q. You have expressed that opinion, have you not?

A. I have.

Q. And you give that opinion taking into mind the bloody spots you saw on the wall and parlor door?

A. I beg your pardon: I will correct what I just said. Your question was if the assailant stood behind him, at his head. I don't see how he could avoid being spattered.

Q. What part of the body would receive these spatters?

A. Above the position of the head, or from this level up.

[Indicating with the hand]

Q. From the waist up?

A. Yes sir.

Q. Assuming that the assailant of Mrs. Borden stood over her when she was lying down on the floor, face downward, and taking into account the spatters of blood which you saw there, have you formed an opinion as to whether her assailant would be spattered with blood? A. I don't see how the assailant could avoid being spattered in that place.

Q. What portion of the body would receive the spatters in your opinion?

A. From below—

Q. Below the—

A. From the lower portion of the body and upward.

Q. [By Mr. Knowlton] Is there any way of determining-you say the assailant of Mr. Borden could not avoid being spattered-could you make any opinion or in any way form any opinion as to the number of spatters?

A. No sir.

Q. Whether few or many?

A. No sir.

Trial of Lizzie Borden Homepage