Everyone knows that Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks—and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.
That old jump rope rhyme has a few factual errors, actually: Abby Borden was Lizzie’s stepmother, not her mother, and she was on the receiving end of 18 or 19 blows, while her father received about 11. And, not least of all, Lizzie was acquitted of the horrific murders in Fall River, Massachusetts.
After winning the trial of the century, in which a jury of 12 heavily mustachioed men (picture below) deliberated for 90 minutes, Borden chose to stay in Fall River. She quickly learned that though she had been acquitted in a court of law, not everyone was willing to let her off the hook.
She bought a new house, which she deemed “Maplecroft,” in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. And, perhaps to fit into her swanky new digs, she started going by “Lizbeth” instead of Lizzie. Two years after the murder, she and her sister Emma even spent more than $2000 to purchase a 10-foot-tall blue granite monument for their famously deceased relatives.
But if Borden thought she was going to get a fresh start in town, she was dead wrong. All of her friends abandoned her. People refused to sit near her at church. And children, probably daring each other to tempt the murderess, would ring her doorbell in the middle of the night and pelt her house with gravel and eggs.
It’s not surprising that the court of public opinion turned against Borden. Had the citizens of Fall River not already made their minds up for themselves, their opinions may have been swayed when Judge Josiah Blaisdell pronounced her “probably guilty” at her preliminary hearing.
In 1905, even her sister turned on her. Lizzie often traveled to Boston and New York to go to the theater and had developed a relationship with actress Nance O’Neil. Emma disapproved, and a party Lizzie threw for O’Neil at Maplecroft ended up being the last straw. Emma moved out of the house, and though she refused to discuss the matter, she told the Boston Sunday Herald that “I did not go until conditions became absolutely unbearable.” The sisters remained estranged for the rest of their lives.
Lizzie may have gotten one final dig in at the residents of Fall River who had condemned her. After a year of illness, Lizzie died on June 1, 1927—and no one was invited to her burial.
It was like a Weekly World News cover come to life. On October 15, 2009, most of the major network and cable broadcasters interrupted their daytime programming to cover what appeared to be a silver flying saucer streaking through the air. Out of context, it was as though the world was getting its first sight of a genuine UFO.
Reading the scroll at the bottom, or listening to the somewhat frantic newscasters, provided an explanation: It was not alien craft but a homemade balloon that had inadvertently taken off from the backyard of a family home in Fort Collins, Colorado. That, of course, was not inherently newsworthy. What made this story must-see television was the fact that authorities believed a 6-year-old boy was somehow trapped inside.
As the helium-filled balloon careened through the air and toward Denver International Airport, millions of people watched and wondered if its passenger could survive the perilous trip. When the craft finally touched down after floating for some 60 miles, responders surrounded it, expecting the worst. The boy was nowhere to be seen. Had he already fallen out?
The brief saga that became known as the Balloon Boy incident was one of the biggest indictments of the burgeoning worlds of reality television and breathless 24/7 news coverage. It seemed to check off every box that observers associated with societal decline. There was the morbidity of a child speeding through the air without control; the unwavering gaze of news networks who cut away from reports on world affairs and even ignored their commercial breaks to obtain footage of an aircraft that measure around 20 feet wide and 5 feet high and resembled a bag of Jiffy Pop.
The boy in question was Falcon Heene, one of Richard and Mayumi Heene's three children. The couple had met in California and bonded over their mutual desire to get into the entertainment business. Richard dreamed of becoming a comedian; Mayumi played guitar. The couple married in 1997 and eventually relocated to Colorado; they got their first taste of Hollywood in 2008, when they made their first of two appearances on the reality series Wife Swap.
But Richard Heene wanted more. The avid tinkerer envisioned a show that followed his family around, while at the same time working on his new inventions—one of which was sitting in his backyard. It was essentially a Mylar balloon staked to the ground, which he would later describe as a very early prototype for a low-altitude commuter vehicle.
Sheriff's deputies search a Colorado field for Falcon Heene before learning he had been found safe at home.
John Moore, Getty Images
It was this balloon, Bradford Heene told police in 2009, that his brother Falcon had climbed into just before it had taken flight. Earlier, Richard said, Falcon had been playing near the contraption and was scolded for potentially creating a dangerous situation. Now, Falcon was gone, the balloon was in the air, and Falcon's parents feared the worst. Mayumi called the authorities.
“My other son said that Falcon was at the bottom of the flying saucer,” Mayumi told the 911 dispatcher. “I can’t find him anywhere!”
As news cameras watched and the National Guard and U.S. Forest Service followed, the balloon reached an altitude of 7000 feet. Police made a painstaking search of the Heene household, looking for any sign of Falcon. After three passes, they determined it was possible he was inside the balloon.
Approximately one hour later, the balloon seemed to deflate. Authorities cleared the air space near Denver International Airport and greeted the craft as it landed, tethering it to the ground so no air current could hoist it back up and out of reach.
No one was inside the small cabin under the balloon, which left three possibilities: Falcon was hiding somewhere, he had run away ... or he had fallen out.
Not long after the craft had landed, a police officer at the Heene house decided to investigate an attic space above the garage. It had gone ignored because it didn’t seem possible Falcon could have reached the entrance on his own.
Yet there he was, hiding.
Elated, authorities explained to the media that they thought Falcon had untethered the balloon by accident and then hid because he knew his father would be upset with him.
Jim Alderden, the sheriff of Colorado's Larimer County, assured reporters that the Heenes had not done anything suspect. They demonstrated all the concern for their missing child that one would expect. Alderden stuck to that even after the Heenes were interviewed on CNN and Falcon appeared to slip up. When asked by Wolf Blitzer if he had heard his parents calling for him, the boy admitted that he had but was ignoring them “for a show.”
Though the Heenes seemed to scramble to cover up for their son's gaffe, Blitzer didn’t appear to register the comment at first. He came back around to it, though, insisting on clarification. Richard would later state that Falcon was referring to the news cameras who wanted to see where he had been hiding. That was the "show" he meant.
Alderden reiterated that he didn’t think the boy could remain still and quiet for five hours in an attic if he had been instructed to. But he admitted the CNN interview raised questions. After initially clearing the family of any wrongdoing, Alderden said he would sit down and speak to them again.
Within the week, Alderden was holding a press conference with an entirely different mood. He solemnly explained that the Heenes had perpetuated a hoax and speculated that they could be charged with up to three felonies, including conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Outlets had already tracked down an associate of Richard’s who detailed his reality series idea, with one episode devoted to the balloon.
Richard and Mayumi voluntarily turned themselves into authorities. They each pled guilty: Richard for attempting to influence a public servant and Mayumi for making a false report. In addition to paying $36,016 in restitution, Richard wound up with a 90-day jail sentence, 60 days of which was served on supervised work release. Mayumi got 20 days. Though they pled guilty, Richard maintained that he and his family had not perpetuated any kind of a hoax. In a 2010 video posted to YouTube, Richard said he only pled guilty because authorities were threatening to deport his wife.
Mayumi, meanwhile, reportedly told police it had all been an act (though critics of the prosecution argued that Mayumi's imperfect English made that confession open to interpretation). Mayumi later stated she had no firm understanding of the word "hoax."
Richard and Mayumi Heene surrounded by the media after they both plead guilty to charges related to the "Balloon Boy Hoax" on November 13, 2009.
Matt McClain, Getty Images
In addition to the fine and jail sentences, the judge also mandated that the family not seek to profit from the incident for a period of four years, which meant any potential for Richard to grab a reality show opportunity would be put on hold until long after the public had lost interest in the "Balloon Boy."
The Heenes moved to Florida in 2010, and soon after their three boys formed a heavy metal band—reputed to be the world’s youngest—dubbed the Heene Boyz. They’ve self-released several albums, and in 2014 even released a song called "Balloon Boy No Hoax."
Richard also peddles some of his inventions, including a wall-mounted back scratcher that allows users to alleviate itching by rubbing up against it. It’s called the Bear Scratch.
In October 2019, Robert Sanchez, a writer for 5280 magazine in Denver, profiled the Heenes and produced a smoking gun of sorts. Sanchez, who was allowed access to the Heene case file by Mayumi's defense attorney, discovered copies of Mayumi's notes about the events leading up to the flight. In one entry, she disclosed Richard had asked her about the possibility of letting the craft go off while Falcon remained in the basement, stirring up attention for the news networks. Later, when the saucer flew away, Richard was confused when Falcon wasn't downstairs. (He chose instead to hide in the attic.) That made the Heenes believe he might really be inside.
When confronted with the document, Mayumi told Sanchez she had made that story up in an attempt to "save" herself and her children, presumably from being separated in the ensuing legal struggle. In the Balloon Boy story, the saucer may have come crashing back to Earth, but the truth remains up in the air.
In Ohio, animal cruelty may soon be punishable by a minimum of nine months in prison.
As ABC 6 reports, a new bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would increase penalties for individuals found guilty of inflicting “unnecessary or unjustifiable” harm to a companion animal (the bill defines a “companion animal” as any animal kept inside a home and any dog or cat, regardless of where it’s kept).
The bill comes three years after Ohio lawmakers passed a law making animal cruelty a fifth-degree felony for first-time offenders. Prior to 2016, a first offense of animal cruelty was classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, a charge punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine.
This new bill would make animal cruelty a third-degree felony, meaning jail time and a fine of up to $10,000. It’s a critical change, according to Cleveland.com; reporter Andrew J. Tobias, who says fifth-degree felony convictions in Ohio rarely result in any jail time.
“There are just some atrocious acts of violence against pets, companion animals, that are literally receiving slaps on the wrist,” Senator Jay Hottinger, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Cleveland.com.
In January, two Florida congressmen introduced the PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) bill to classify animal cruelty as a felony under federal law. All 50 states have a “felony animal cruelty law on the books,” according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but each state is responsible for defining animal cruelty. The proposed PACT law would identify and ban specific behaviors in all states.