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The Lizzie Borden Murders

Updated on January 7, 2014

"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?

Lizzie Borden was a 33 year old "spinster" when when her father and step-mother were murdered with a hatchet.
Lizzie Borden was a 33 year old "spinster" when when her father and step-mother were murdered with a hatchet.
The house on Second street where the murders took place.
The house on Second street where the murders took place.

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.

Andrew Borden was found murdered where he had been sleeping on the couch in the parlor.
Andrew Borden was found murdered where he had been sleeping on the couch in the parlor.
Lizzie Borden's step-mother was the first to give her life to the ax. She was found in an upstairs bedroom.
Lizzie Borden's step-mother was the first to give her life to the ax. She was found in an upstairs bedroom.

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

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 is now a Bed and Breakfast in Massechusetts!
The Borden House is now a Bed and Breakfast in Massechusetts!

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!

What do YOU think?

Did Lizzie Borden do it?

See results

Another Theory of the Murders

What do you think about the Borden case? Did she do it? Does she haunt the house? Share!

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    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 19 months ago from Philippines

      A most compelling hub, wonderfully written from start to finish:)

    • Nicole Young 07 profile image

      Nicole Young 07 22 months ago from Chicago Illinois

      There has been too many story behind this case, but it remained unsolved until now. She was never convicted anyway.

    • profile image

      Piquerish 2 years ago

      Do I think she did it? Probably she did. Could I have found her guilty as a member of her jury? Absolutely not. The state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and defendants are never required to prove a negative (e.g. "I didn't do it."). The state failed to meet its burden, therefore, the Not Guilty verdict was proper, in my view, and is what I, too, would have declared -- even though I suspect she did the deed.

    • profile image

      Mystic 4 years ago

      What's interesting is that the prosecution told Lizzie to produce the dress to him the next day when he should have got a warrant and conducted a search for it, find and hold it for evidence. Talk about bungling the case from day 1!

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 4 years ago

      As a fan of true crime, I have always been interested in the Lizzie Borden case as well as how she became a part of American folklore. Thanks for sharing this! It was chockfull of good information and intriguing details.

    • profile image

      imarie 4 years ago

      BTW the spinster that was lizzie's stepmother was a Durfee..another well known and wealthy family as to the year of 2006 when I left and moved on.

    • profile image

      imarie 4 years ago

      i lived in fall river and have been involed in the fall river historical society. The original house on second st. has been a B&B. I have visited Maple Croft may times and it is kept as it was origianlly by Lizzie the newest owners of that property is an attorney..not stating the owners name. It is a beautiful home....all of the Bordens in Fall River are of the same breed as lizzie's father..hoarding money for what??? A former fall riverite

    • fancifulashley profile image

      fancifulashley 4 years ago

      Great Hub! I grew up with the Lizzie Borden story as I had family that lived down the road from the house. Very creepy indeed and the bungling on the police throughout the investigation makes things all that harder to decide. In my opinion she did it, but that is something witch which we may never know.

    • profile image

      marianne chaney 5 years ago

      I believe she did it, but more on the reasons why.. read where she was sexual abuse at the hands of her father.., no reason for murder but motive???

    • profile image

      haley 5 years ago

      I don't think she did it her uncle did. Because its pritty oviius

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Well written. I remembered the L.B. story from when I was a kid growing up in Michigan. I read a book around age 12 and was curious as to what happens to a person to make them snap. I suppose that was the beginning of my profession as a psychiatric nurse. Forensics is a fascinating subject.

      I followed you here from a link that cardelean placed in her hub today about Filling your Bucket--a beautiful hub about living the Golden Rule. Be sure to check it out.

    • profile image

      dave 7 years ago

      Interesting video but Arnold Brown refuses to look at the most obvious reason that Lizzie did it! In the first minute of his video he says Lizzie could not have done it because " doesn't make sense that she should. She loved her father." And that is why she DID DO IT!

      When you study the Borden household, the control that Andrew had over his wife, his daughters and the house itself, it very clear to me that Lizzie DID DO IT, and for one simple reason. The rage of a daughter who has suffered years of physical, mental and yes, even sexual abuse at the hands of her father. But of course, in Victorian times, this was not discussed. All the signs are there. Andrews control, Emma's passive nature, the step mother who kept quiet about it all. And Lizzie, who loved her father as many victims do who have repressed their emotions. Andrew was struck in the face, repeatedly, but only in the face. Revenge from someone who loved him so much. But then why was Abbey killed? Could it be she was someone who knew Lizzie's secret and therefore had to go too. And Emma, who was probably also abused by her father before Lizzie was born, kept the secret along with Lizzie because she never had the courage to do what Lizzie had done. Opinions will differ, but I am confident that Lizzie killed both Abbey and Andrew for years of physical, mental and yes, sexual abuse. The relationship a daughter has for her abuser, especially when it is her father is an interesting study in a love/hate relationship. Lizzie suffered from this very problem and in her mind there was only one way out, and she took it.

    • profile image

      cytisia hooten 7 years ago

      she is scary

    • profile image

      nessiefan43 7 years ago

      i think she did it i mean she was seen laughing from the upstairs window and someone wrote a poem about it i mean they didn't just pull it outa there butt and y would they burn there dress i mean that's suspicious

    • Tom T profile image

      Tom T 8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thank you for this story. I grew up in MA but never heard about Lizzie Borden. Then I saw the movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched fame. It was haunting. Great story keep up the good work. You have a new fan!

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Thank you Brenda. This was the beginning of my "research period" where I did a lot of research about the subjects on which I was writing. Lizzie Borden is one of the most fascinating historical figures I had ever encountered, and to this day I haven't decided whether or not I think she was guilty.

      After the trial she changed her name from Lizzie to Lisbeth and is said to have taken on a female "companion." Very interesting life she had!

    • TreasuresByBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 8 years ago from Canada

      WOW...I did not know Lizzie Borden was real. I am sure I had heard that poem before though...tons of great writing on this hub.

    • Miss Markayla profile image

      Miss Markayla 8 years ago from Indiana

      I had never heard of this either, and am very fascinated! I love watching "Criminal Minds." Kinda reminded me of it. Thanks!

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      It's actually a nursery rhyme type of thing, would you believe it, CJ? Weird, huh?

      Lizzie Borden is kind of a New England institution now. It surprises me the degree to which non-Americans haven't heard of her. It was the first trial by media EVER :D

    • fierycj profile image

      fierycj 8 years ago from The Fiery Heart of Africa

      That's some madman stuff. Really dark, too. I like the way you started the hub, very catchy. Even the title of the hub could make a good movie title. You're da bomb!

    • Wednesday Morning profile image

      Wednesday Morning 8 years ago

      Excellent hub. Easy to read & very interesting. I had never heard of Lizzie Bordon before today. Thanks for educating me. :)

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Interesting point, Cindy! Did you watch the last video? It talks about a theory that it was Andrew Borden's illegitimate son who committed the murders! Very, very interesting!

      On the other hand, I honestly didn't have room in the hub to include this, but Lizzie was at the chemist the previous day purchasing -- yes, you got it! -- poison ;)

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 8 years ago from Cape Town

      An axe is a man's weapon, women usually use poison

    • EcoAsh profile image

      EcoAsh 8 years ago from Hemet

      Nice hub. I saw the Lizzie Borden case on like the history channel or something

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      I concur with everyone else. A fascinating subject that was very well researched and written!

      Out in these parts, we had the "Trunk Murderess," Winnie Ruth Judd.

    • futonfraggle profile image

      futonfraggle 8 years ago

      Great hub, Miracles! Very informative.

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      I was thinking that, Diana! And then I forgot to write it down, so thank you for mentioning it!

      Debbie: Thank you! It really is a horrifying case. I went into my dark bathroom while researching and spooked myself lol

    • dianacharles profile image

      dianacharles 8 years ago from India

      A great hub. Perhaps you could also write about Jack the Ripper...that was another unsolved mystery, right?

    • dwilliamson profile image

      dwilliamson 8 years ago from Kamloops, BC

      What a horrifying story!!! I am glad I didn't read that before I went to bed, I have a hard enough time sleeping. However, EM, this is an excellent hub.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 8 years ago from Sunny Spain

      wow you did it again another riveting read it really led you along at a fast pace. After watching reality TV where actual cases are prosecuted I think a lot of innocent people are in jail because in real life evidence is mishandled and conclusions are jumped to. It is a pity that real life CSI is not like it is in Las Vegas with good old Gil Grissom investigating

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      There is so much evidence in both directions, kerryg. I think she did it, personally.

      It's odd, I don't remember learning about this in school, but I'm a huge true crime buff (thinking about continuing with a series and trying to dig up more about the Defeo murders) and it didn't take too long to find this case!

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 8 years ago from USA

      I remember reading about this case years ago, but thanks for the interesting account of it! I suspect she did it, but I don't imagine anybody will ever know for sure.

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Thank you LG :) Took me all day!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Fascinating article, really well-written

    • lafenty profile image

      lafenty 8 years ago from California

      I just recently read The Fall River Axe Murders by Angela Carter. It's an interesting look at the possible reasons behind the murders.

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Thank you Mrvoodoo. I think she did it, too!

    • Mrvoodoo profile image

      Mrvoodoo 8 years ago from ?

      I think yes, anyone who burns their dresses following a murder has got to be pretty suspect.  Although I'm not sure I'd get someone sent to a lifetime in the slammer or death-row based on that evidence but still, very suspect. 

      Great read, thanks.

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      LOL Laughing Mom!

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 8 years ago

      Well, have fun then, I guess. Let us know before you leave so we'll know what happened if you don't turn back up. :-)

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      LOL Laughing Mom! I might talk to DH about it. I want to take a trip to Salem at some point and as big as Mass is it might be an option. The rates are about $200 a night. Not terrible considering!

    • Laughing Mom profile image

      Laughing Mom 8 years ago

      I'd never be able to stay in that B&B!!

    • Everyday Miracles profile image

      Becki Rizzuti 8 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Do you just mean put quotes around it? Because we don't have the block quote feature or I'd be using it in cases like this. I'm a bit frustrated about that, actually.

      Thanks guys!

    • lxxy profile image

      lxxy 8 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

      Hard to say...she's dead, anyway. Her soul's been recycled. Probably in the form of another serial killa. ;)

      This stuff always fascinated me when I was a only advice here is to maybe "block quote" the initial beginning...


      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"

      But that's just me. Oh, and maybe add some periods and what not...



    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Great hub...good work....this story has been debated for years. Thanks! :)