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The Lizzie Borden Murders
"Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one"
The story of Lizzie Borden is one of the most horrific in our time. Her father and step-mother were found murdered in their home in Massachusetts, and Lizzie was put on trial for their murder. Although she was acquitted, there is still speculation about possible motives and murder weapons. Most people who know the story have an opinion about her innocence or her guilt, but nevertheless the country is still in awe of the case, the trial and the surrounding media.
What is it about Lizbeth Borden that so captures our imaginations? What is it that causes her to remain the subject of speculation nearly a century after her death?
The Borden Family
Lizzie Borden was born July 19th, 1860 in Fall River Massachusetts. Two years later, her mother died, leaving Andrew Borden with two young daughters.
Andrew Borden, who had grown up poor, was an affluent businessman who was very focused on money. Originally an undertaker, he had risen from poverty to become the president of a bank. Mr. Borden was known for being tight-fisted and stingy with money.
In fact, Andrew Borden was so tight-fisted that instead of living with the financial elite in the town, he chose to live in a small, sparse home on 2nd street. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing in the house.
When Lizzie was three years old, her father remarried to Abby Durfee, a spinstress of 38 years.
Neither Lizzie nor her older sister, Emma, were particularly happy about the marriage, as the significant fortune that their father had developed would now be inherited by their stepmother. When Andrew put one of his rental properties into Abby's name, the Borden sisters were so upset that he ultimately purchased each of them a house of equal value in order to stop their arguments.
In addition to Andrew, Abby and the sisters, the Borden's had a maid, an Irish Immigrant named Bridget Sullivan.
The Morning of the Murder
The first person to arise on the morning of August 4th, 1892 was the maid, Bridget Sullivan. Bridget, who had emigrated from Ireland in 1889, lived in the attic of the two and a half story house on second street. Bridget started the fire and began breakfast (which included mutton soup that morning). About an hour later John Morse, the brother of Andrew Borden's first wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Borden came down for breakfast.
Emma was out of town, and Lizzie slept late, not joining her father, step-mother and uncle for breakfast.
After breakfast, John Morse left the house to visit other family, and the screen door was locked behind him. Andrew Borden preferred that doors be locked at all times.
Shortly thereafter, Lizzie came down from her room, but stated that she wasn't hungry. It may have been that she was suffering from the same stomach bug that would affect Bridget later that day and that had bothered Andrew and Abby two days prior.
Andrew Borden usually did work during the day, collecting rent on his properties and other errands. He left the house around nine o'clock to go downtown, and Abby Borden went upstairs to make up the bed that John Morse was using during his stay (in the guest room).
Bridget (the maid) went about her chores, though she was sick in the yard (Abby Borden insisted that she return to her work washing the windows!).
At a 10:45 that morning, Mr. Borden returned home from his errands, and Bridget let him into the house and Lizzie came home, telling her father that Mrs. Borden had gone out to tend to a sick friend.
Andrew Borden went upstairs to his room and returned a few minutes later, when he settled on the sofa in the living room. His feet were positioned so that his shoes didn't soil the upholstery on the sofa and yet weren't touching the floor.
Bridget, feeling unwell from the heat and the stomach bug that seemed to have been going around, retired to her attic room for a nap.
The Grisly Discovery
It was some time after eleven when Bridget was awoken by Lizzie calling "Maggie, Come down!" Emma and Lizzie always rudely referred to Bridget and Maggie, the name of a former servant in the house.
Startled awake, Bridget slipped her shoes on while calling out to Lizzie. As she reached the door, she was horrified when Lizzie told her to come quick. "Father's dead! Somebody's come in and killed him!"
When Bridget made it down, Lizzie was standing by the back door and instructed the maid to run and get help. Bridget ran across the street to fetch the doctor, but he wasn't in.
Soon neighbors began to gather on the front lawn. The police had been called, but it was Bridget who was the first to question Lizzie. When she asked Lizzie where she had been at the time of the murder, Lizzie Borden told the maid that she had been in the yard and that she heard a groan and had come rushing in.
Later, a neighbor would ask Lizzie where she had been when it happened and Lizzie said that she had been in the barn.
Shortly thereafter, the doctor arrived and examined the body of Andrew Borden. Mr. Borden had been hacked to death in such a violent manner that Dr. Bowen, a close friend, at first was unable to identify the body. The nose had been severed and one of the eyes had been split in half. The murderer had dealt eleven blows to Andrew Borden's head.
Lizzie had told Bridget that her step mother was out visiting a sick friend, and it wasn't until later that someone thought to check upstairs to see if she had, in fact, come home. Lizzie changed her mind and said now that she thought she had heard her step-mother come in. The maid was instructed to go upstairs to check, but refused to go alone. A neighbor, Mrs. Churchill, went with her.
Mrs. Churchill was the one who saw Mrs. Borden's body, lying in a pool of blood, first. She rushed downstairs and announced to the crowd that there was, in fact, another body.
The doctor discovered that Mrs. Borden had been struck from behind more than a dozen times. A later autopsy would reveal that there were nineteen blows to the head alone.
Just for Fun -- A Bit Graphic!
The trial of Lizzie Borden for the murders of her parents began in June of 1893, nearly a year after the brutal murders took place. She had been arrested on August 11 of 1892 following the inconsistencies in her stories during the inquest.
The evidence in the case was suspect. A hatchet had been found in the basement and was suspected as the murder weapon. Though it was clean of any trace of blood, the handle had been broken off and it was assumed that this has been done in order to hide any blood.
Additionally, there was no blood-stained clothing, but Lizzie had burned her dress following the incident (and again, this was suspect).
The trial got off to a bad start for the prosecution, with key witnesses disagreeing with statements made by the State's attorney, William H. Moody. Both the engineer hired and the doctor who had examined the bodies claimed that the evidence being presented by the prosecution was false.
It began with Thomas Keiran, an engineer who had been hired to take precise measurements of the Borden home. The prosecution claimed that Lizzie had been heard laughing from the upstairs hallway and that the body was clearly visible from that position. Keiran, however, claimed that he had seen his partner lay down in the exact spot where Abby Borden's body had lain and that only in a particular position could he see the other man.
In the case of Dr. Bowen, the doctor pointed out during the trial that he had given Lizzie a dose of morphine after the murders and during her stay in jail. The defense stated that the morphine may have altered Lizzie's perceptions of the events surrounding the murders.
The prosecution would continue to bungle the case, and in the end, Lizzie was acquitted.
The Borden House Today
The Borden house has been converted into a bed and breakfast and visitors are able to sleep in the room in which Lizzie lived or in the room where Abby Borden died. A fascinating place to visit with a great deal of speculation about ghosts, the room rates are quite reasonable and this house should be on the "must visit" list for any serious true-crime fan or ghost hunter!
Further Reading -- Must Explore Sites!
- LIZZIE BORDEN: HISTORY & HAUNTINGS OF THIS FAMOUS CASE
A wonderful page! I loved this one and found that it was very in-depth while still being plainly written and easy to understand. This page gives a full account of what happened in Fall River Massachusetts surrounding the case of Lizzie Borden.
- Lizzie Borden
This page was very helpful in my research as it was the first page I found that actually talked about Lizzie Borden the person as opposed to Lizzie Borden the murderer (and about the trial. This page, however brief, may help in understanding Lizzie.
- Lizzie Borden: Did she take an axe and murder her father and stepmother?
Lizzie Borden on the truTV.com site. These pages are excellent in that they provide a wealth of visual media regarding the murders and the trials and are more graphically inclined for those who prefer the visuals to get the most of the story.
- Lizzie Andrew Borden Virtual Museum & Library
This site is positively incredible! It is an endless resource for photos and writings on the subject of Lizzie Borden and the murders and is very helpful to anyone who wants to know more about the woman, and the mystery surrounding the case!
- The Trial of Lizzie Borden
This page includes some listing of the evidence in the trial and comes from a legal point of view rather than that of pure speculation. An interesting page if you want to dig into the trial itself rather than the murders and what led to them.
- Welcome To The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast
The official site for the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. If you are interested in the dark history of the United States, unsolved crime or in ghost stories, this house should definitely be on your list of places to visit!
- Lizzie Borden Unlocked
These pages go quite deep into the story of Lizzie Borden, though the small font may be difficult for some people to read. This is a good source for learning about the woman behind the most gruesome murders of the nineteenth century.