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The Case Against Lizzie Borden: The Trial of the (19th) Century

Updated on April 9, 2015
Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden

The media frenzy around the Casey Anthony trial is nothing new. In the late 1800s, long before Casey Anthony, there was Lizzie Borden. People lined up outside the courthouse to get a glimpse of Lizzie, just as people lined up at Casey's trial. There are many parallels to their stories and the public reaction to both crimes are eerily similar. They both were accused of killing close family members. Both women were young, single, living at home and considered attractive. Both were even acquitted.

Lizzie Borden lived in the Victorian Era and was accused of killing her parents. Her father, Andrew Borden and stepmother, Abby Gray, were found dead in their home. The crime was bloody and gruesome. Husband and wife were killed with an axe. The case remains a mystery to this day and back in the 19th century, the public could not get enough.

Nobody knew what really happened that fateful day on August 4th, 1892 when Lizzie's parents were found dead. Many people, even to this day, do not doubt that Lizzie Borden had something to do with the murders of her father and step mother, but it was never proven. In an era before TV and Internet, the crime managed to get national attention.

Andrew and Abby Borden
Andrew and Abby Borden

Lizzie Borden's Life Before the Murders

Fall Rivers, Massachussettes in the 1800s was split between rich high society mill owners and poor immigrants who worked in the mills. The immigrants lived near mills while the upper class lived luxuriously in their mansions on the hill. The town was owned by seven prominent families. One of those families were the Bordens.

Andrew Jackson Borden was a miser who although very well off, lived in the same area as the poor did. Their house was an unusual one. There were no hallways. A person would need to travel from room to room which created no privacy for the family. The home did not have any indoor bathrooms, electricity or telephones, which they could have easily afforded.

Lizzie Borden was born July 19th, 1860 to Andrew and Sarah Borden. Lizzie's sister, Emma, was nine years her senior. Lizzie's mother died when she was still a child. Andrew soon remarried Abby Gray. She was resented by both Lizzie and her sister Emma.

Lizzie and Emma never married. Living in the working class region of Fall Rivers, they were cut off from high society and had no suitors. There was not much for women to do in that era except raise babies and housekeep, so Lizzie volunteered at the nearby church to keep herself busy.

Lizzie was not happy due to her father's stingy ways. As a Borden, she believed she should live among the upper class in a beautiful home. As an adult, she resented her father more.

Her father noticed Lizzie's unhappiness and sent her to go on a tour of Europe, with the other Bordens who lived on the hill. Her father believed a trip with her cousins was what she needed to refresh her spirits. It didn't help, in fact, the trip only made Lizzie feel more isolated from high society. She believed it was her right, as a Borden, to have all the wonderful things the rest of her family had.

Actual Photos From Murder Scene

The Borden home
The Borden home

The Murders

On August 4th, 1892, the Borden housekeeper, Bridgette was resting in her attic bedroom when she heard a frantic scream from Lizzie. She had run down to see what was wrong. In the living room laid Andrew Borden, hacked in the face with an axe thirteen times. In a bedroom upstairs, Abby was found face down on the floor. She took eleven blows to her head, also with an axe.

The police were summoned to the Borden home. The police took pictures at the crime scene, something that rarely happened in those days. Lizzie's sister Emma was out of town and was ruled out as a suspect. Housekeeper Bridgette was also ruled out. She had nothing to gain by killing her employers. The police also questioned a family friend who stayed overnight at the Borden home. He left early in the morning, hours before the double homicide took place and had an alibi. That only left Lizzie.

When Lizzie was brought in and questioned by police, her story was confusing. She was rambling and constantly changing her story. Prior to coming into the police station, Lizzie was given a morphine based sedative by their family doctor. Because of the conflicting information she had given to the police, she was immediately arrested.

The Trial Against Lizzie Borden

After Lizzie was arrested, an estimated two thousand people showed up outside of the Borden home. The story immediately captivated the attention of the public. The residents of Fall Rivers supported Lizzie through her ordeal. She was a Borden, after all. The high society rallied around her, as did women's rights groups.

The trial was pure theatrics and every move in court was documented in newspapers. Lizzie had a few things going for her: No blood was found on her or any of her clothes in the home. There was no weapon to connect her to the crime. The hatchets that was taken from the home did not contain human blood or hair on it. She was not read her miranda rights when she was arrested, so the testimony she gave police was thrown out and never heard by the jury. Most importantly, Lizzie was a woman. In the Victorian Era, nobody believed a woman could commit such a violent act.

Although circumstantial, the prosecution had damning evidence against her. Days before the murders, Andrew and Abby became violently ill after dinner. They went to the doctor, claiming they had been poisoned. On that same day, Lizzie had tried to buy prussic acid from a pharmacist but did not have a prescription and was denied. A friend claimed to have seen Lizzie burning a bloodied dress days after the murders took place. The prosecution also noted the growing hostility in the family and inheriting the family fortune as motives.

In court, Lizzie played up on her femininity. She wore black expensive clothing (as she was to be in mourning), she carried a fan and sometimes flowers. When something graphic was being said, Lizzie would cover her eyes with her fan. Her shining moment came when her defense attorney knocked over a box containing the skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden. Lizzie fainted dead away. The public ate it all up. Every morning, people anxiously awaited the morning paper. The trial was simply irrisistable.

After closing arguments, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before coming back with a Not Guilty verdict. The spectators in the courtroom applauded. Lizzie put her face into her hands and yelled for joy. Her sister and others came up to congratulate her. She wept in her sisters arms and said to her, "Now take me home. I want to go to the old place and go at once tonight."

Christina Ricci as Lizzie in the Lizzie Borden Chronicles (Lifetime TV)
Christina Ricci as Lizzie in the Lizzie Borden Chronicles (Lifetime TV) | Source

Life After Acquittal

Shortly after the trial, Lizzie Borden and her sister Emma left their childhood home and bought a luxurious mansion on the hill complete with electricity and plumbing. The home was one of the most beautiful homes in Fall Rivers. Finally, the sisters were where they belonged: Among the rich.

Ironically, Lizzie Borden and her sister were shunned from society after the trial. At church, nobody would sit by the sisters. This never detered Lizzie. She stayed in Fall Rivers for the rest of her life. She made friends in Boston and frequently threw lavish parties in her home. She befriended actors and actresses. In Victorian times, actresses were at the same level as prostitutes. The fact that Lizzie would invite such people in her home was seen as a disgrace and further ostracized her.

Lizzie had a falling out with her sister Emma. She moved out of the home. The sisters never saw each other again. Lizzie Borden died on June 1st, 1927. She and her sister died nine days apart from each other. At last, the family is together again and rest among one another in the Borden family plot, located in Oak Grove Cemetary.

Today, the Borden home is a museum and bed and breakfast. The home has been re-constructed and decorated to look as it did when the Borden family lived there. The Borden house is rumored to be haunted. Seances and ghost hunting routinely take place on the premise.

We will never know what really happened on that afternoon when Mr. and Mrs. Borden was found dead. The secret to that mystery was taken to the Borden family's graves and remains to this day, one of the most famous crimes in U.S. history.

Your take on Lizzie Borden

Was Lizzie Borden Innocent?

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    • profile image

      Kat 2 years ago

      I thought that the Miranda Warning was not in effect, as well; however, when I read the Miranda vs. Arizona Supreme Court decision, it seemed that the justices were referring to Amendments 5 and 6 of the U.S. Constitution, which were certainly adopted by Lizzie Borden's trial. Our forefathers laid solid groundwork for ethical interpretation.

    • profile image

      Anon 3 years ago

      Her father was hit with 11 whacks, her stepmother 19. Her stepmother was over-killed, a sign of pure anger and hatred. The killings were personal, which rules out an intruder. Someone really resented Abby, I wonder who?

    • bipolartist profile image

      Amy Magness Whatley 4 years ago from United States of America

      Great hub! I truly want to stay at the bed and breakfast. I doubt my husband will want the same- he is afraid of the macabre.

    • profile image

      Sarah S. 5 years ago

      @gregas i know your secret about your editing.... ;)

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 5 years ago from Washington MI

      I love this, Lizzie Borden has always fascinated me. Great and enjoyable hub!

    • hecate-horus profile image

      hecate-horus 6 years ago from Rowland Woods

      This story has always fascinated me. I love mysteries. Good job on this hub!

    • profile image

      ssnider 6 years ago

      i have a picture of her, it from that time 1800's. i need to find someone who wants to but like a museum.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      fpherj48, thanks for commenting! I never saw the Elizabeth Montgomery movie. I want to check it out now. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I'm a big fan of true crime stories.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Amymarie...Great reporting. I remember the movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie....and the Sing-Song verses of years ago..."Lizzie Borden took an axe...." You provided information I was not aware of. Good story, amy!

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Hi Ruffrdyer, yes miranda rights did take place back in those days, I was surprised to make that discovery myself. I did notice the biased statement I made about only lizzie knowing the truth. I decided to keep it in, since even she admits that the maid was in the attic bedroom asleep, there are no other witnesses. If she found them dead or killed them, only she knows that. So the statement can be taken either way.

      She was a very strong woman to stay in town the rest of her life. It shows a lot of dignity as well. Thank you for commenting. Your points were excellent!

    • profile image

      Baygirl33 6 years ago

      Amie,very interesting,I read about her some time ago.thanks for the update.

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      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      A good hub, I never knew what happened to Lizzie after the trial. A couple of points though. 1. I didn't know Miranda rights was in place at that time period. 2. Your last sentence, "Only lizzie knows," indicates you believe her guilty. If she was innocent then she may not know. You mentioned she was given a sedative before being interogated,prehaps that explains her confusion.

      The fact she remained in the town indicates to me that guilty or not she was a strong woman.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      lol, don't worry, Greg. Secret is safe with me. :)

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 6 years ago from Corona, California.

      Hi Amy, No problem. I know I would want someone to let me know when I make a mistake. I usually have my girlfriend and my sister edit and critique my writings. Don't tell anyone, that's my secret. ;-) Greg

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Thanks for catching that! I'm gonna fix it. I appreciate you commenting!

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 6 years ago from Corona, California.

      Hi Amy, Very interesting hub and I enjoyed the read. Not to be critical, but in the section The Murders, paragraph 2, you refered to Abby as being Lizzie's sister. No big deal, I just felt you would like to know.

      Excellent hub. Greg

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      'Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty- one.' Good hub on the psychopath amymarie. The O.J. Simpson of it's day.

    • The Rising Glory profile image

      The Rising Glory 6 years ago from California

      Very interesting