Jeopardy! took a whack at Lizzie Borden. Did contestants know their Fall River history?

Not knowing their Fall River history cost two Jeopardy! players over $25,000, while another with a bit more knowledge catapulted to victory on Thursday night — with Lizzie Borden the center of the long-running quiz show’s Final Jeopardy! round.

Going into Final Jeopardy!, contestants Karson Leperi of Beaverton, Oregon, was in the lead with $14,200, with Hannah Langhoff of Chicago close behind at $13,400, while three-time returning champion Maureen O’Neil of Rye Beach, N.H., trailed at $9,600.

The clue?

“On her acquittal in 1893, a reporter cited nearby events 2 centuries earlier, saying the days of witch trials are over.”

The answer, of course, was “Who is Lizzie Borden?” Who else would it be?

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But two contestants botched it badly — Hannah guessed Charlotte Corday, a figure from the French Revolution who was executed by guillotine 100 years earlier. Not even close! Karson guessed someone mysteriously named “Adams,” having obviously panicked under the pressure. Each one had wagered $12,601, knocking them out of contention.

But big-brained New Englander Maureen came through with Lizzie’s name, doubling her money to win $19,200. That brings her a fourth consecutive victory with $58,200, and a return trip to the Jeopardy! stage to defend her title.

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Did the answer reference a local reporter?

The reporter referenced in the Final Jeopardy! answer, unfortunately, was not one of Fall River’s local journalists, but New York Sun correspondent Julian Ralph, who covered Lizzie’s trial in New Bedford. His coverage became known for humanizing Borden and making frequent comparisons to the Salem Witch Trials, which at the time had recently marked their 200-year anniversary.

“Miss Lizzie Andrew Borden is by far the most interesting prisoner New England has ever had,” he wrote in the Sun during the course of the trial. “She is either the most injured of innocents or the blackest of monsters. She either hacked her father and stepmother to pieces with the furious brutality of the ape in Poe’s story of the Rue Morgue or some other person did it and she suffers the double torture of losing her parents and of being wrongfully accused of their murder.”

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On June 20, 1893, Ralph reported almost triumphantly about her acquittal, writing, “It took only an hour for the jury to decide that witches are out of fashion in Massachusetts and that no one is to be executed there on suspicion.”

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But not all of Jeopardy!’s Fall River facts were true.

Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings noted offhand to contestants that Fall River is “near” Salem.

Not quite. It’s an hour and 20 minutes away without traffic, Ken, and there’s always traffic.

Dan Medeiros can be reached at Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.

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