Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty one.
Many of us have heard of Lizzie Borden, we have heard the reported incident of her parent’s demise. But the biggest question remains, did she actually do it?
Lizzie Borden was born in July of 1860, to Sarah and Andrew Borden. Her older sister Emma, was born in 1851. When Lizzie was three years old her mother died from uterine congestion and spinal disease. Three years later her father remarried, Abby Gray. Lizzie always referred to her stepmother as Mrs. Borden. She believed that Abby married her father for his wealth. At the time of his death his estate was valued at $300,000 ($9,000,000 today).
The tensions between the sisters and their father and stepmother, were high. In July of 1892, an argument forced the sisters to take extended “vacations” to New Bedford. Lizzie returned to Fall River a week before the murders, she opted to spend four nights in a rooming house before returning home. Emma was staying with friends in Fairhaven for another week.
The night before the murders, the Borden’s had a visitor. John Vinnicum Morse, their deceased mother’s brother, came to talk business with Andrew. On the morning of August 4, Andrew, Abby, Lizzie, John Morse, and their maid, Maggie, were all at breakfast. After chatting for nearly an hour, John left the house about 8:48 AM and Andrew left shortly after for his morning walk.
Tidying the guest room was part of Emma and Lizzie’s chores, but Abby went upstairs to make the bed. The time she went upstairs is unknown but it was between 9 AM and 10:30 AM.
According to the forensic investigation, Abby had been facing her killer at the time of the attack that killed her. She had been struck on the side of the head with a hatchet which cut her above the ear, also causing her to fall face down on the floor. She then was struck 17 more times directly to the back of the head, killing her.
Andrew returned to the house at 10:30 AM, his key didn’t work and the maid let him into the house. She would later testify that she had heard Lizzie upstairs laughing. Lizzie would deny this. She helped her father remove his boots and lie down on the couch for a nap. The maid was excused to attend a sale at the department store, but she opted to lie down on her bed as she wasn’t feeling well.
Maggie was on the third floor, and approximately 10 minutes after eleven in the morning, she heard Lizzie calling her. “Come quick, father is dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” Andrew was slumped on the couch, one eyeball cut cleanly in two. The still bleeding wounds suggested that it was a very recent attack. The family doctor came to the home and pronounced Andrew and Abby both dead.
The police arrived and Lizzie was questioned. Police felt that her answers were at times both strange and contradictory. She reported hearing a groan, or scraping noise, or perhaps a distress call. Two hours later she told the police that she had heard nothing. When asked about her stepmother, she recalled Abby had received a note to visit a sick friend. She also stated that she thought Abby had returned, and asked if anyone could look for her upstairs. When the maid and a neighbor when upstairs to look for her, they saw her on the floor in the guest bedroom.
The officers who interviewed Lizzie agreed, that they disliked her attitude. Some stated that she was too calm after finding her father and stepmother murdered, and she was too poised. Despite her demeanor and her story changing, the police failed to exam Lizzie for any bloodstains.
Lizzie had been prescribed heavy doses of morphine to calm her nerves, and it’s speculated that this interfered with her testimony during the inquest. As her stories changed, and she refused to answer questions at times, the district attorney was highly suspicious of her. On August 11, Lizzie Borden was served with an arrest warrant and jailed.
Lizzie’s trial began in June of 1893, 10 months after the murders, and it was held in New Bedford. During the trial, evidence of Lizzie being in the house, which she denied and claimed she was in the barn. Further evidence about the axes and broken hatchet found in the basement of the home was introduced, this was not thoroughly proven by the prosecution to be the murder weapon.
After instructing the jury, they deliberated for an hour and a half before finding Lizzie Borden not guilty. Exiting the courthouse, Lizzie told reporters, “I’m the happiest woman in the world.”
After the trial, Lizzie was shunned from society. She and her sister split ways in 1905 and didn’t see each other ever again. They both passed away in 1927, days apart.
The case of Lizzie Borden continues to this day to have people talk and hash out the details of the case. Lizzie continues to be the prime suspect in the murders, but the reason behind it is really unknown. The most popular theories include; physical and sexual abuse by her father. Another suggestion was a lesbian affair with the maid, Maggie Sullivan. Maggie had gotten other employment after the murders, and on her deathbed she confessed that she had changed her testimony to protect Lizzie.
Stay Curious my Friends!