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The Lizzie Borden Story

"Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks, when she'd seen what she'd done, she gave her father forty one!"

The story of Lizzie Borden goes way back to 1892 in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew Jackson Borden - father to Lizzie and Emma Borden - started off his younger years struggling financially, despite coming from a family of wealth. He eventually went on to become a successful business man through the production and sale of furniture and caskets before becoming a property developer and textile mill director. Despite his newfound wealth, however, Borden was pretty notorious for his frugality. He was not one to waste a single penny and was hesitant to hand anything over. For example, the ground and second floors of the Borden home lacked indoor plumbing and despite their wealth, Andrew Borden never moved the family to the more affluent part of Fall River, where the more wealthy residents lived in a more fashionable sense.

Following the death of Lizzie's mother Sarah Anthony Borden in 1863, Andrew Borden married Abby Durfee Gray just three years later. During questioning by police, Lizzie said that she referred to Abby as Mrs. Borden and believed that Abby only married her father for his money. Lizzie told police that her and her sister Emma rarely ate dinner with their parents, and that the months leading up to the murders, there was a lot of family tension in the household. Lizzie's father had gifted property to various members of his new wife's family, It is also worth noting that in the days prior to the murders, the whole family had fallen violently ill, and it was suspected that mutton left on the oven had been the culprit. However, Abby had feared that they were poisoned, since Andrew Borden was not exactly a well liked person in Fall River.

On the morning of Thursday, August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were both murdered in the Borden home. It is believed that Abby's murder took place between the hours of 9am and 10:30am, and Andrew's murder took place between 10:30am and 11:10am.

The Lizzie Borden nursery rhyme (as shared above) paints the story of the murders as one in which Abby had received 40 blows from an axe, and Andrew 41 blows. It reality, Abby's cause of death was from being struck on the side of the head, followed by 19 direct hits to the back of her head. Andrew's body was found slumped on the couch with 11 hatchet-like wounds, one of which clearly split his eyeball in two, suggesting that he had been asleep during the murder.

The Borden family maid, Bridget Sullivan, was in the household at the time of the murder, and she said that Lizzie had tried to convince her to leave the house on the morning of the murders by telling her that there was a sale going on at a local department store, and Lizzie permitted her to go. But Bridget (who the Borden sisters rudely called "Maggie," which was the name of a previous servant at the household) was still ill and went and took a nap instead. Lizzie told police that she was outside in the barn looking for iron or tin to fix a door and that she ended up remaining outside for up to a half hour eating pears. Police were skeptical about her story, claiming that it was hard to believe that anybody could stand staying outside in the scorching heat for that amount of time (even though the temperature for that was recorded at being only 83 degrees). The police also say that there was no footprints found in the dust leading to the barn. Bridget told police that she was upstairs on the third floor cleaning windows when Lizzie called out to her, right around 11:10am, saying "Maggie, come quick! Father's dead. Somebody came in and killed him."

Police said that throughout their investigation, Lizzie's answers often contradicted themselves and were strange. At first, she claimed that she had heard a groan or a sound of distress before entering the house. Later, she would tell police that she had not heard anything, and that she walked into the house having no idea that anything had even happened. Police said that Lizzie had a very "calm and poised" attitude - despite this, however, nobody bothered to check Lizzie for blood stains. The police did just a brief search of Lizzie's room, and later admitted in trial that they did not perform a proper search since Lizzie was not feeling well to begin with. In the basement of the Borden household, police found two hatchets, two axes, and a broken handle and hatchet head. The broken hatchet was believed to be the murder weapon used on Abby and Andrew Borden, since the break appeared to be fresh and that the dust and ash found on the item appeared like it was deliberately applied to the hatchet to make it appear that it had been sitting in the basement for quite a while, in an attempt to clear it of its use. It is important to note that none of the items were removed from the house by police for use in the trial against Lizzie.

That night, police were stationed around the borders of the Borden home, as well as inside the home, and a police office saw Lizzie enter the basement and bend over the pails that contained the bloody clothes of her parents. Lizzie was also found two days later by a friend of the sisters Alice Russell destroying a dress. When questioned about it, she said it was covered in paint and she had planned to toss it into a fire to get rid of it. It was never determined if this was the dress that Lizzie Borden had worn on the day of August 4th, when her parents were murdered in the very house she was in.

The trial of Lizzie Borden began on June 5, 1893, and there were several very interesting things about the trial:

  • The hatchet head found in the basement of the house was not convincing enough to be the murder weapon. The handle has been removed, and it was believed it was done so because it was bloody.

  • There was no bloody clothing found in the home. If you were to deliver 20 direct axe hits to two people, you are bound to get pretty messy. But remember, Lizzie was seen tossing a dress into the fire after the murders. Is it possible it was the dress she had worn?

  • The day before the murder, Lizzie had inquired about buying prussic acid from a local druggist, which she claimed she was going to use to clean a sealskin cloak.

  • During the autopsies of the bodies, no poison was found in the stomachs of Andrew and Abby. The skulls of the two were also removed during the autopsy and used during the trial as evidence, and Lizzie fainted in the courtroom upon seeing them.

After deliberating for only a hour and a half, the jury came to the conclusion that Lizzie Borden was found not guilty of the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. No one else was charged following the trial, and there are many theories surrounding the case. People believe that Lizzie was absolutely guilty, and for whatever reason got away with murder. Others believe Lizzie was innocent. And there are even other theories about who else besides Lizzie could have possibly committed the murders. Some people believe that the maid, Bridget, had committed the murders. Others believe that William Borden, who was Andrew's illegitimate son, may have tried to extort money from Andrew, and that he failed in doing so. Lizzie's sister Emma was also a suspect, and some believe that she committed the murders and returned to her home in Fairhaven before receiving word about the murders. John Morse, who was Lizzie's maternal uncle, stayed in the house the night before the murders and rarely met with the family after his sister (Lizzie's mother) died.

After being acquitted in the trial, Lizzie and her sister Emma moved into a big house in Fall River, where they had live in maids, a housekeeper, and a coachman. Lizzie began going by the name Lizbeth A. Borden, and she ended up dying of pneumonia on June 1, 1927.

Many movies and books have been produced referencing the story of Lizzie Borden. and the Borden household today serves as a bed and breakfast where those who dare to stay in the house can experience the apparent hauntings that take place in the home!


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