Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Publisher’s ink: If memory serves correctly, a black rose signifies death

From page A4 | January 16, 2013 | 2 Comments

“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.”

It took the jury less than two hours to acquit Lizzie Borden of the brutal ax murders of her father Andrew and stepmother Abby Borden. Her trial in 1893 was one of the most celebrated events of the time. The little rope-skipping ditty above was composed decades later by an anonymous writer. While keeping the heinous murder fresh in the minds of Fall River, Mass., residents, it was inaccurate. It was her stepmother, not her mother who was struck 18 or 19 times. Andrew was whacked 11 times.

Though never proven, the common belief is that Lizzie committed the crime. In her book “A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight,” author Victoria Lincoln theorizes Lizzie killed while in a “fugue” state of mind. It’s a psychiatric disorder like amnesia where the person doesn’t remember episodes during the past few hours or days.

This condition sounds similar to Colleen Ann Harris’s defense in 1986 when a psychiatrist testified she suffered from limited amnesia, as she could not actually remember shooting her second husband, James Batten. At the time she claimed he threatened to kill her and laughed about raping her daughter from a previous marriage. Harris, like Lizzie, was acquitted in less than two hours by a jury of nine women and three men.

Perhaps she was in a “fugue state” when she blasted him with a 410-gauge shotgun. And maybe she remained in that state of mind when she reloaded, repositioned herself and fired a second shot into his heart.

Harris testified during her trial that she wanted her husband to seek psychological help for his violent behavior. This came from the woman who dropped her charges against him for sexually assaulting her own daughter? And what about those convenient lapses in memory? Who really needed the psychological help?

Lizzie Borden volunteered with the Ladies of Fruit and Flower Mission, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing fruit and flowers to hospital patients and shut-ins. Colleen Harris vied for the title of El Dorado County Rose in 2008, and volunteered her time with appearances at Chamber of Commerce business mixers wearing her Lizzie Borden-like Victorian garb.

Harris now finds herself in another thorny predicament with her arrest last week for the alleged murder of husband No. 3, Robert Harris. This time she’s alleged of using another bigger shotgun, a 12-gauge, ironically at an address on the same street where husband No. 2 two was killed 28 years ago.

As prosecutors dig for evidence for their case, they might want to consider digging around Colleen Harris’ yard. Because now the question on everyone’s mind is: What happened to husband No. 1? The rose garden, if she has one, might be a good place to start their search.

History is full of notorious Black Widow killers. Many used poison as their favorite instrument of death. Amy Gilligan, owner of a nursing home in Connecticut for example, poisoned her guests for the insurance money. Blanche Moore from North Carolina used arsenic on her two husbands, father, mother-in-law and boyfriend. Janie Lou Gibbs from Georgia also found arsenic a convenient method of poisoning her husband and four members of the family before finally getting caught.

Not so with Colleen Harris, formerly Colleen Batten, formerly Colleen…? She may not live up to the celebrity status of Lizzie Borden or have a macabre poem written in her memory, but as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote:

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” — unless of course, that name is Colleen Ann Harris, the “Black Rose of El Dorado County.”

Richard Esposito is publisher of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears on Wednesdays.

Richard Esposito


Discussion | 2 comments

  • Domestic Violence is RealJanuary 16, 2013 - 11:16 am

    Does the author know Colleen Harris, or anything about her husbands, or anything about the nature of their relationship? I didn't think so.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • TTJanuary 17, 2013 - 6:40 pm

    Absolutely domestic violence is a very real issue, however in this case it doesn't apply! As a journalist, it is their obligation to investigate and research a subject matter before publishing an article. What do you feel is inaccurate about this story???

    Reply | Report abusive comment


More mountain lion sightings reported

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1, 8 Comments

Supervisor Nutting trial begins

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1, 28 Comments | Gallery

Sanford murder case to jury

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Herard over the back fence: Try fishing at Wakamatsu

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

Downtown group coordinates painting, awnings

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1

Gearing tax questions to correct office saves time

By Treasurer-Tax Collector | From Page: A3



My turn: More than a buzzword

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: A4, 19 Comments

Building restored

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

Outstanding dog

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4




By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 6 Comments

Altshuler framing

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 6 Comments

National Day of Prayer

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

‘Parents, be afraid’ letter

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 15 Comments

Ukranian situation

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 3 Comments



Pedal power at the forefront next month

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Outside with Charlie: Transitioning

By Charlie Ferris | From Page: A6

Pitching the ‘Root’ cause of Trojans’ victory

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

Sports Scene: April 22, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

Roundup: April 22, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7



4-H’ers star at showcase

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: B1 | Gallery

At a glance: Look for fireballs

By Mimi Escabar | From Page: B2, 1 Comment

Authors to share their stories

By Pat Lakey | From Page: B2, 2 Comments

Church to host human trafficking conference

By Pollock Pines | From Page: B3

Grow For It! Flower of Easter

By Barbara Schuchart | From Page: B5



Crime Log: April 1-3

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Weather stats 4-22-14

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

Building permits 4/7-11/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2



Bobby Lloyd Bridges

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Harry Frank Harper

By Contributor | From Page: A2, 4 Comments

Marion “Wayne” Griswold

By Contributor | From Page: A2


Real Estate



Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8


By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A8

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8


By Contributor | From Page: A8


By Contributor | From Page: A8


By Contributor | From Page: A8

New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Flying McCoys

By Contributor | From Page: A8