4 members of Colonels on Crime podcast recording episode in studio
Above: Clockwise from left, Kristen Rock, Emily Roberts, Andrew Wilczak and Karma Collier

New True-Crime Podcast Examines Lizzie Borden Case

“Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother forty whacks.” So says the old nursery rhyme about the gruesome murder of Borden’s parents in August of 1892. But is it true? That’s the question Andrew Wilczak, associate professor of sociology and criminology, wanted to explore with his students by creating Colonels on Crime, an investigative-crime podcast they recorded in the WCLH-97 radio station on campus.

The podcast is part of his popular Murder, Monster and Mayhem spring sociology course. “We chose Lizzie Borden because it’s a very famous case, but there was never a confession and to this day no one is sure exactly what happened,” said Wilczak. “The case is actually very complex, and even though she was acquitted, she became a pariah in her hometown,” he added.

Wilczak and two students, Emily Roberts and Karma Collier, recorded a total of five podcasts with the help of Kristen Rock ’06, radio station manager in the Karambelas Media and Communication Center. “It was really interesting to look deeper into the case past the basic layer that is covered in the children’s song,” said Roberts, a sophomore criminology and sociology double major. “Having the platform to talk about it with both Karma and Dr. Wilczak allowed a lot of my questions to be answered, thanks to the different perspectives we were all able to bring to the table.”

Collier, a sophomore digital design and media art major, found the case interesting because it was so widely known. “I hadn’t really explored a lot of the details before the podcast,” she said. “I was surprised to find how the information differed from what my partner Emily found, and it was also interesting to see how our theories changed during the episodes too.”

For the students, examining the Borden case was eye-opening. “I learned that the person that you may first suspect, or perhaps the person that everyone may suspect, may not actually be the one who did it. So for that reason it is important to look at all the evidence and accounts and then make an opinion based on that, rather than just choosing what is just sometimes the easiest answer,” said Roberts. Added Collier, “I was surprised to find how little evidence there actually was. We didn’t have enough information to say for certain who was guilty.”

Wilczak said of the podcast, “I think it demonstrates the value of a sociology or criminology degree, because we come at this case from a sociological perspective, looking at it with empathy,” he said. “It’s essential to see the characters involved as people, not villains, and to look at the facts of the case and not be swayed by public opinion.”

Collier said of her sociology major, “If you are interested in studying criminology or sociology, I would highly recommend taking a class with Dr. Wilczak. Let your curiosity thrive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or do your own research into cases you find interesting.” Roberts agreed. “I never thought I’d be part of the first true-crime podcast at Wilkes,” she said. “Dr. Wilczak gave us an opportunity to succeed and helped us to get there.”

Listen to the Wilkes true-crime podcast Colonels on Crime
Kristen Rock (right), with Karma Collier, reacts to details of the trial during the recording of Colonels on Crime.